Considering the amount of conscious thought, creative effort and tedious work that goes into constructing an LP, it might seem a strange choice of words to describe Illy’s new record Bring It Back as an ‘accidental album’.
Yet it’s a term that aptly summarises the beginnings of the Melbourne MC’s third release. What started off with Illy working on a couple of unassuming disjointed tracks quickly escalated into a series of happenstance collaborations. When compiled, they resembled the makings of what would eventually become Bring It Back.
“When I started making the tracks that wound up on the album (Bring It Back) it wasn’t even intended that they were going to form an album; it was just sort of fucking around, just making tracks,” Illy reveals.
“Then we had a few people come in and do collaborations that were again just sort of making the tracks to make them; there wasn’t sort of a purpose or aim for what to do with these tracks. Then it got to about half a dozen and they were all sounding really good and really different and I think it was at that point that I decided that, ‘Well, I think we can make an album out of this’.”
“So the idea of it being an album only came in about halfway into the whole process.”
The unintentional genesis of Bring It Back meant Illy temporarily shelved his planned follow-up to 2010’s breakthrough The Chase. Although chronologically succeeding The Chase, Illy attests that musically Bring It Back is not a direct descendant of its popular pop hook-friendly predecessor, but rather an exercise in unadulterated hip hop free from hybrid infusion where rapping is as rapping does.
“I think Bring It Back is more of a sidestep then anything. It’s a bit of a passion project, something that I’ve wanted for myself for a while. It’s basically just getting a lot of mates together and just sort of making rap songs,” explains Illy.
“I usually work with a very small amount of people; I keep the circle quite small. This time I sort of threw that out the window and I just drew up a little wish list of people I’d want to either get on tracks in terms of rapping or making the beats, and thankfully pretty much everyone obliged.”
“I guess I’m not really trying to achieve anything with this thing, just wanting to do something different, perhaps show a different side to who I am as an artist, and hopefully people are with it.”
Having just successfully navigated his biggest headlining national tour to date, free from fan-frenzied intoxicated shirt-twirling antics, and with Bring It Back now out in the wild, Illy is ready to turn his attention back to his originally intended sequel to The Chase.
With famed producer M-Phazes on board, Illy is hoping to have the album ready for release sometime in 2013. If all goes to plan that will make four records in five years from the ever-rising rapper. The current condition of the music industry might allude to a financial imperative as the reason for the constant output, but Illy assures that his work ethic comes not from monetary need but rather the environment in which he is immersed.
“It’s definitely not done to just churn stuff out. I’m fortunate enough to work with and to have some of the best producers in the country as really good mates and they’re also quite prolific in the amount of stuff that they put out,” Illy assures.
“So I guess it’s just the sort of culture that I’m surrounded by. My mates…they work full-time doing music, I’ve just finished…my law degree and I now have time to be in the same boat, whether it’s for a long time or a short time I’ve got this window to do nothing but music, so I’m trying to get a fair bit done.”
Illy’s relentless efforts have rapidly established the young wordsmith as one of the biggest names in Australian hip hop. Although the local scene is wildly thought of as ‘beef’ free, Illy concedes his relatively swift success could perceivably have an ill effect on the egos of longer-established but less-exalted emcees.
However, if any such resentment does exist, Illy has little time to pay it any mind and is quick to praise the pioneers of Australian hip hop, whose mission is to nurture the music rather than their own pride.
“I have had a pretty good run for the last few years but it’s (potential jealousy) not something that I’m going to concern myself with,” Illy rationalises.
“Dudes like Reason and Bias-B, those dudes who really are pioneers are mates, you know, I don’t see them all the time but when I do we’ll have a beer and those dudes have no resentment and I don’t really give a fuck if some dude I’ve never heard of does.”
“I think…the people that are touring a lot or that are doing the festivals or all that are all pretty cool because we all bump into each other quite a lot and so we get a lot of time to hang.”
“So I think it’s the people who feel like they should be doing more than they are or feel that they should have more success then they’ve got; those are usually the people who are quick to fucking give an opinion that’s negative.”
“I don’t really have much interaction with that and I think a lot of it is based on sort of presumptions. If you sit down with people you pretty quickly establish like a common ground and it’s all good. It’s just a lot of sort of hype built up around it all.”
Illy’s rise to notoriety is an individual representation of the Australian hip hop scene on a larger scale. What was once laughed at and dismissed due to a cultural conditioning that had most believing an American accent was the only valid voice in rap, local hip hop is now a magnet for music fans who are drawn to the genre’s infectious hooks and the unique inflections of Australian rhymers.
The scene’s increasingly popular status has manifested into the Brisbane-based Sprung Hip Hop Festival. With a lineup entirely comprised of Australian hip hop artists. The concept of Sprung was perhaps inconceivable as little as five years ago and yet the festival is now entering its second year.
For Illy, Sprung Festival along with the smaller Sydney-based Come Together serve as a marker for Australian hip hop, one that denotes how far the scene has come.
“I guess (Sprung represents) just how big the scene has become that we’re able to do a festival of that scale purely with local hip hop artists; it’s pretty amazing to see. I wasn’t around from the start, but I was around pre-Hilltop Hoods exploding and to see how far it’s come in the last, you know, eleven of so years is pretty mind blowing,” Illy joyfully admits.
“It sort of…legitimates what we’ve all known for a long time; what has been said was going to be a fad, the fact that we’re able to put on these sort of scale festivals is testament to how popular the genre’s become, which is awesome.”
“I don’t know if it would have been possible five years ago, maybe, but it’s definitely possible now and I think that in the next year or two you’re probably gonna’ see a lot of the other capital cities get a similar sort of treatment.”
“As long as it doesn’t reach oversaturation and people just can’t be bothered anymore I think there’s definitely enough talent and enough great music coming out to sustain even bigger festivals in the future.”
Sprung Festival may not yet signal a changing of the guard in a country long dominated by rock festivals and an ever-increasing number of electronic dance events, but it does stand as a testament to the commitment of both Australian hip hop artists and fans alike.
Arguably the most inclusive form of music, Illy isn’t necessarily surprised by the rise of hip hop in Australia, but rather sees it an inevitable outcome of a community where punters participate in a show almost as much as the performers.
“I’ve been asked in interviews sort of when this popularity happened and I think that it was always there but it was just that people hadn’t been exposed to it coz as soon as people got over the Aussie accent and actually listened to the songs, you know, it was just natural that people were going to fucking connect with this music that’s written by people like them.”
“Having done a lot of festivals…backstage you see a lot of the different genres (represented) there and the hip hop dudes are always the ones who are the easiest to approach, the sort of less cliquey, the best with their fans as well; I think hip hop dudes really sort of appreciate the privilege, in my experience anyway.”
Bring It Back by Illy is out now.
Watch: Illy – Where Ya Been (feat. Pez)