The suspense rises as rapper/producer, ILL Tone announces that the music video to the title song of his latest EP, Up in My Head, drops tomorrow. This weekend, I had the opportunity to interact with him via an email interview and got a sneak peek into what the MC had going on in his mind.
You recently released an EP titled, ‘Up in my Head’, what inspired you to do this project? What message do you intend to convey with it?
Originally, I meant for the EP to be a full length album, but I relapsed while working on it, after having been clean from drugs for more than two years. I was so messed up that I couldn’t keep the project organized. I was trying to make the beats and write the raps, and was planning to engineer it myself. Around half the songs I’d been working on were centered around chemical dependency, so I decided to finish them off and to scrap the rest. Many of the verses describe my battle with mental illness and substance abuse, but also my journey to overcoming these obstacles. Am I Good Enough (one of the tracks on the EP), a testament to the self-doubt I felt while struggling, was a late addition. It was produced by a friend of mine, Dylan Sterling, who is now deceased.
You additionally announced that you are releasing the ‘Up in my Head’ music video on Wednesday. How do you feel about that and what are the responses you are hoping for?
Pretty stoked to release the video! It was shot and edited by Clicks by Klauss. He’s doing a lot of work on Vancouver Island where I live, and rightfully so. He’s a beast. I’m happy with his production. We’re gonna push this out to thousands of people and hopefully reach some new ones along the way.
I love the tracks in the EP and one particularly stood out for me: ‘Clubs n Drugs’. For me, it was a song with stellar punchlines and it also highlighted your ability to switch and rap in different cadences. More importantly, I know the song comes from a special place as you did have a bad relationship with drugs before and came out of it. What was that like?
It’s no secret that live music and substances, particularly alcohol, go hand in hand. It was always difficult for me to exist in the hip hop scene as a live performer while trying to abstain. When I’m in my shit, I’m a man of many vices. Back in the day, I relied heavily on chemicals to get loose. I thought they enhanced my ability to hype a crowd. Since cleaning up again, I’ve learned that I was lying to myself. I’m at my best without all that stuff. Everyone else can do as they do, but I, too, will do as I do.
You have also headlined for some really proven and tested MCs ( Some may even call them GOATs) for eg. Talib Kweli, Xzibit and Rakim to name a few. Did you have a chance to interact with them? What was that experience like?
Actually, when I opened for the three MCs you just listed, I didn’t get the opportunity to interact with any of them. Those were great shows, though. Xzibit, especially, brought a pretty ridiculous live set. I rocked that opener with a huge Movember ‘stache, which was hilarious. I did, however, tour in Europe with the Beatnuts and got to know them pretty well. Solid dudes. JuJu and Les were really cool and the tour was a lot of fun. Back when I was living in Vancouver, I hopped on a lot of bills with a lot of legends and often got the chance to chill. One night, I slayed a soundcheck with Tha Alkaholiks, I met Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and was once schooled on some shit by Fredro Starr from ‘Onyx’.
On a recent post you mentioned that, when you opened for Xzibit, some individuals passed some inquisitive looks to you because you don’t fit the image of a rapper to them. But as you proved your lyrical capabilities, all judgment was forgone. The irony is that currently, we have a set of rappers (loosely defined as ‘mumble rappers’) who look real thug but don’t add lyrical value to their raps. On the other hand, there are generic-looking MCs who are lyrically amazing. What do you think of this direction in which hip hop is heading: a direction in which imagery is valued more than the craft of MCing.
Oh man, I think it’s ridiculous that sounding and looking as ridiculous as possible has become what some people consider “ridiculous”. I used to say, “That shit is ridiculous!” when something was crazy-lyrical or whatever. Now I find myself saying, “That shit is ridiculous,” when something’s actually just ridiculous, as defined in the dictionary. I’m not too in touch with what’s happening these days and I’m sure that good rappers still exist, but some of what I’ve heard is just objectively terrible. And just for the record, nobody judged me too hard on that occasion.
Do you have any other projects in mind ? What might they be about ?
Well, unfortunately, I’ve got a legal thing that could result in me going away for a while, but I’ve got another EP fully written and ready to record. It’s my best material yet. Planning to sit on it until shit blows over. And there’s a second new EP in the works that flows as a story about the exact situation that I’m in currently. I don’t wanna give too much away!
Any closing comments you would like to add?
Major thanks to everybody listening and major thanks to all the people in my network who have been helping me stay clean and sober. Without my supporters, I wouldn’t be doing as well as I’ve been doing. To my family, too, I love you.
To learn more about ILL Tone please visit : ILLtone.bandcamp.com
For latest updates about the rapper and his music follow him on: