Laying down the law
UNTIL Melbourne rapper Illy was 12, his idea of music was the old Bob Dylan records in his parents’ collection and the occasional top-40 hit.
Through his mates’ older siblings, though, he eventually found hip-hop – most of it American.
‘‘ I guess I just sort of connected with . . . the message they were putting out in the songs,’’ the 26-year-old says.
Illy is speaking on the phone from his car, heading home after the first writing session following his successful second album, The Chase.
‘‘ From there, as I matured and grew up, I’ve never found [ another genre] where there has been something with the substance, exactly what I was looking for. It’s the genre that really caters to everyone, even though sometimes it can be portrayed differently.’’
Illy started to rap in high school. The past six-and-a-half years have been spent juggling music and a law degree, which he finally finished in July.
‘‘ I’ve got intentions of using it in some capacity eventually, but for the time being I am going to be focusing on music,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s been such a juggling act at times. Now that I have got some time to just focus on music, there is nothing else that I really want to be doing.’’
He says in a perfect world, he could use the degree to work in the music industry. But he is not quite at the stage yet of writing his own contracts.
Although he got into hip-hop early, it was never through a talent for music. Illy doesn’t play any instruments and freely admits he can’t sing. He also works with producers who create beats for him.
‘‘ I will work with them and go over the melodies and drums and any parts that are needed. If we need live instruments on it as well, we will get live players in,’’ he says.
‘‘[ Australian producer] M-Phazes has made the majority of both of my albums.
‘‘ He’s so good at what he does that I don’t really involve myself too much.’’
While Illy believes American hip-hop has ‘‘ lost its soul’’, he says the smirks and ridicule about accent, originality and authority in the Australian scene have also largely disappeared.
Artists such as Illy and Drapht are making highly melodic, chorus-heavy hip-hop that sells well and gets major radio attention. Songs such as The Hard Road and Illy’s The Chase or Cigarettes are more about striving for something rather than the thrills of having everything.
‘‘ When I was starting to rap in high school and started going to gigs, a lot of the people I went to school with thought it was a joke and would take the piss out of me and people in the same boat as me,’’ Illy says. ‘‘ I don’t think now a kid in high school would have the same sort of stigma attached. So it’s definitely grown and people’s views . . . have changed as well.’’