In this installment, I’m taking you up close & personal with one of my favorite independent emcee’s, and that’s saying a lot. With a name like “The ILLZ” — you knew it was only a matter of time until we linked up and gave readers something genuine. This Hudson County emcee is still some-what fresh to the business, but in today’s game, he’s already passing up legend’s in this race of shooting stars. He’s a smart young man, very meticulous and cultivated, humble in his quest to be one of the best, but not afraid to burn pages if the words have no meaning, here’s why.
Born Delgis Jose Mustafa Rodriguez, on July 6, 1986 — in the town of Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. At the age of 4, Del came to America with his mother during her pursuit of a better life, they resided in New Jersey while she turned sweat into shelter. Hip hop struck a chord in Del at an early age, by the time he was 11 years old, him and a close friend were already recording raps on Windows Sound Recorder. As clock hands came and went, and his passion for hip hop grew beyond avocation, Del knew this was his calling, never being able to escape the ringing in his ear.
At the age of 17 his mom flew to Miami, leaving him the choice of going with her, or staying in New Jersey. With the alcazar of music just over the bridge, Del decided to stay behind and pursue his own passion… Music. On June 29th, 2009, Del, now known as The ILLZ, released his first project entitled, “This Is… The W.C.A.Sessions EP.” From there on his catalog would match his prevalence, dropping “The Pursuit,” “In Between Video Series,” & just recently “03: From Gold.”
His style is thought provoking, emotional, up lifting, and most importantly, authentic. His voice and delivery are at the right height to depict the personal struggles in his lyricism, presenting modern art over beats that varnish touches of film-noir, and temperamental harmony. So with out further a due, we bring to you, The ILLZ.
CORY: You have some great metaphors through out your catalog, lyrics like –
“and when my time comes hope I don’t miss it
so when I wanna give up, I resist it
cause that moment comes to you in an instant
could be infront of you and still feel distant
and when its coming, well you never know it
I’m just hoping that I’m ready for it “
“…Be on the level that recently I have reached/
Able to paint a picture/
The rhetoric that I speak/
Over the heads of weaklings/
Nothing that they could reach/
Something that you are born with/
Nothing that they could teach/
I swear this motivation is something unprecedented/
absence of higher learning restricts from comprehending/”
What is it that drives you to be lyrical in an age where mainstream only looks for catchy hooks and new dance moves?
The ILLZ: I think like any other artist when you begin creating there’s a want to appeal to the masses and mimic what’s mainstream but as you develop your craft you begin to realize that it becomes about finding your voice and your own unique sound. If you create with the primary goal of monetary compensation you’re sure to lose. You might make it far but eventually you will lose because people don’t respect fraudulence or insincerity. They feel disrespected by it and turn against you in a heartbeat. As an artist you have the responsibility to give people something authentic, genuine, and heartfelt. If you just want to make hits and pop that’s one thing but if you want to be a true artist and create something that can resonate and spark strong emotions in the human heart then you really need to create with a blind eye to the mainstream. If you’re good enough you will make it no matter what. In this day and age the internet has made sure of that. You have bands like Mumford & Sons that are the complete parallels of what is at the top of the charts and they found success. So to answer your question I don’t necessarily feel driven to be lyrical, I’ve never thought about it like that. I’m just being me and speaking from the heart, if that means I’m lyrical then so be it. My only goal is to change people for the better and hopefully they can find answers to questions they’ve always asked themselves or never thought to ask at all.
CORY: Who are some of the artists that encouraged you to rap in a conscious format?
The ILLZ: My influences haven’t encouraged me to “rap in a conscious format” per say, truthfully speaking they’ve encouraged me to be myself and not care about criticism. Artists like K-Os, Nas, Jay-Z, Doves, Radiohead, The Abbasi Brothers, The American Dollar, Weekend Players, Rachel Foster and Andy Cato respectively even outside of that group, Telepopmusik, Arms and Sleepers, Mobb Deep, AZ, Cormega, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Tupac, Everything But The Girl, Angela McCluskey, Saltillo, Alpha, Rekevin…honestly I’d be here all day, I think my list of influences and artists that have encouraged me to create is in the thousands. I’m a fan first and one of my main goals in creating is to expose others to artists that have helped me so much through the songs I create.
CORY: You recently just dropped 03:From Gold, a five track ensemble of incredible beats and in my opinion your best lyrics to date, from a personal level, what’s your favorite track from the EP and why?
The ILLZ: I think my favorite track has to be “The Sun Doesn’t Know It’s a Star (below)” because it represents the moment of self realization. That title was so fitting to how I felt because it’s amazing in life how you can be someone or have these amazing things in front of you without even knowing it. That’s all based around the fact that we look at life through certain lenses that are blind to things because of our visual perception. I felt like Jay-Z and Werner Herzog were speaking to me, but it speaks to everyone at the same time. The instrumental by Arms and Sleepers is powerful in its own but when you add all the other elements it just makes it a force. Besides that I think “To Know Your Place in The Universe” is also a personal favorite. I love it’s simplicity and I think the shortness of it only adds to the strength of the core message which is mans constant yearning to understand the purpose of his particular life in the grand scheme of it all.
CORY: My favorite track of yours is “Learn To Fly (The Rocket)“, you say “dealing with these spiteful, envious people, only the day you make it will they ever believe you, until you’re in the spotlight nobody sees you.” Now that you’re getting more exposure and the world is getting to know you, how does it feel to finally silence those personal critics and take the next step to success?
The ILLZ: I think the more you learn about yourself the more you realize how little importance or attention should be allocated to critics. Everyone isn’t going to like you, you should be comfortable with that and not make it your main focus because it literally is an impossible feat. When you have achieved that it becomes about silencing your inner critic, the voice within that speaks volumes about how you can’t do things, you aren’t good enough, and isn’t shy to tell you the million reasons why you can’t achieve something. That is an incredibly empowering feeling, it’s something you will have to deal with for your entire life but once you get a grip on it you feel invincible.
CORY: Now my favorite music in the entire business is trip hop, and luckily it’s not well known here in the states, so when it’s heard, us real trip hop fans are drawn right in. On your previous release, The Pursuit, you flowed over some really old school trip hop tracks from Everything But The Girl, what attracted you to those beats? What made you decide those were the right tracks to canvas your lyrics?
The ILLZ: I’ve always felt like I sounded really well over dramatic, emotional, and cinematic beats that were laid over traditional boom bap Hip-Hop drums, so when I came across all these great artists through outlets like Last.fm it just made so much sense. It was natural and effortless. It felt right.
CORY: Who gets the production credits on 03: From Gold?
The ILLZ: “To Know Your Place in The Universe” belongs to Coldcut and DJ Krush, “November Sky” and “The Sun Doesn’t Know It’s a Star” are from Arms and Sleepers, “Learn To Fly (The Rocket)” is from a really underrated artist named Avia and “DE SIDERE (The Gold)” is from an underground German producer named Serphonic, he’s really dope!
CORY: You also recently dropped the videos for “Moment You Feel Definite Hope” & “To Know Your Place In The Universe“, you also attended film school in the past and shown a lot of interest in filmmaking, is there any chance you might take up directing your own music videos someday? Or do you have bigger plans in mind for the reel world?
The ILLZ: First of all shouts to Kristopher Rey-Talley for doing that video, we actually weren’t supposed to ever shoot it we just had some time on our hands before shooting the video for “ILLYTAL” off of the In Between Video Series. As far as me shooting my own videos, at one point that was something I wanted to get into. The short period I spent studying Film I focused mainly on camerawork, editing, directing and screenwriting but as time progressed I’ve grown a love for acting that is undeniable and impossible to ignore. Acting in Films has now become a lifelong purpose that I hope to begin soon. I think Music and Film are some of the best vehicles for change. You can communicate so much and penetrate straight into the hearts and minds of viewers. For me it became impossible not to be passionate and committed to both.
CORY: What do you got going on for the rest of 2011? What’s next for the ILLZ?
The ILLZ: Finally we’ll be dropping the videos from our initial full length release The Pursuit, next we will be releasing the remix project Let it Fall: The Pursuit Remixes, and after that I look forward to dropping the follow up to The Pursuit which has been done for some time now. I expect a September/November of ’11 release.
CORY: And last, the one question I always like to ask everyone. What advice do you have for all the people out there pursuing the same success as you? All the young, informed artists who have a dream in today’s world?
The ILLZ: You can reach the masses without sacrificing self, quality, and your overall sound. You just have to be great. Good doesn’t cut it anymore with the saturation the internet has caused, nowadays you have to be great. If you truly believe in what you create then push it as much as you can. I read the Bob Lefsetz Newsletter daily and recently he said something that really resonated with me. Focus on creating land mines not rockets. The internet has made it possible for your project to live on even years passed it’s release, a tipping point can cause your project from 2007 to blow up seemingly overnight in 2012. That’s a beautiful thing and you must use it to your advantage. Don’t focus too much on quantity and make it more about quality, make your primary focus developing your craft. Nowadays people either like train wrecks or greatness, if you’re just good it will be very difficult to reach the masses. However, more importantly its about creating what you feel and love. Once again, forget about fame and notoriety and create something real, something you can feel. That is what’s going to give you true happiness and satisfaction, if fame and notoriety come with it so be it, that’s just the icing on the cake. Listen to your heart, always remain positive, outside of those providing truly objective constructive criticism don’t listen to a word. People always have their own agendas and like to reflect a lot of their own insecurities and issues on to you. It’s very important that you learn how to recognize the ones trying to help you and the ones trying to keep you from achieving something they feel they can’t do themselves. Lastly, make sure you have fun, enjoy every moment of it, if you truly want success it will come to you as long as you’re doing everything that is in harmony with that thought. Work smart, have fun, focus, develop a plan, follow the plan, and never sacrifice the quality of your work. It’s that hard and that simple.
I want to thank The ILLZ for the interview, please check this guy out. Follow his Twitter, Facebook, & Youtube. You know how picky I can be when it comes to hip hop these days, but I put my full co-sign (and Plex’s car title) on it. Until next time, support real hip hop.