Illy explains why there is room for everyone in Aussie hip hop
“People like to shit on pop music, but it’s actually really hard to do,” he confesses to TMN.
“I’ve always had that pop sensibility with melodies, even going back to my mixtapes where I had melodies that no one else in the country was really doing in hip-hop.
“It’s taken me a while in my career to make an entire album where I had the confidence to do it.
“I’ve always loved it but it just took me time to get to that place. I’m definitely there now. I find it more of a challenge and more rewarding to write a song with a pop sensibility than to write a straight-up hip-hop song because of all of the layering.”
This shift has been met with some criticism from the industry and fans but he’s not too worried about what they think. He’s genuinely happy and proud of the material he’s creating and the messages he’s inhabiting within the music.
“Industry people that have something to say can fuck off, I don’t care what they think if they haven’t been involved with the process.
“They are entitled to their opinion but I’m entitled to not care at all about their opinion,” he admits.
But to his longtime supporters, his approach is a little more diplomatic – he wouldn’t be where he is today without their backing. He talks to them without animosity and explains that he’s grateful for their past support.
“I’m making this music because I love it, I think I’m good at it and I really believe in it.
“I’m not doing it for a dollar because if I was, I would make the same album every time when I had a little fanbase in Aussie hip hop. That would be playing it safe.”
Teaming up with Robinson for ‘Lean On Me’, Illy really wanted the New Zealand indie-pop singer to bring her unique feel to the track. Much like Vera Blue did with ‘Papercuts’.
“I never want to do a collaboration where I tell someone how to sing and navigate the whole process. I want them to feel it in their own way. Otherwise, it’s not really collaborating, is it?” he ponders.
His confidence is really coming into full fruition and he highlights his personal shift in self-belief.
“I’m a lot more capable of doing these things than what I gave myself credit.
“For a large part of my life, I didn’t believe I could. I come from the hip hop scene, I will love that shit.
“I grew up in battle raps and going to open mic nights, and that’s never going to leave me. But I’ve always wanted to do pop and work on doing bigger live shows, but I never had the confidence or belief within myself to do it until now,” he says.
“Three years of performing ‘Papercuts’ also means I can now hold a note in the live show,” he laughs. “That goes a long way for the confidence.”
Looking at the Australian music industry and the growth of hip hop, Illy eyes a diverse future. Especially with so many different stories being told and different styles and sounds surfacing from all over the spectrum of hip hop. There is truly now something for everyone within the once misunderstood genre.
“It’s such an inspiring time because there are young artists out there who are hitting the ground running. I’ve been saying this since I was the young dude coming out, but every year the scene and culture is getting stronger and more vibrant.
“For example, Tkay Maidza is doing the first-ever Australian Instagram ads, Hilltop Hoods are selling out arena shows, Mallrat and Allday are doing big all-ages shows. Then there is everyone in between like Baker Boy who is doing amazing.”
He’s also putting all of his success into perspective and is unashamedly proud of how far he’s come.
Two Degrees and ‘Papercuts’ received nine ARIA Awards nominations and didn’t win one award, which he admits was a little disheartening at the time but he came to appreciate the success he had.
“ARIAs are nice and I’m never going to say no to one, but at the same time, it’s like, ‘whatever’.
“Playing sold-out shows and seeing ‘Papercuts’ become 6x Platinum is more special. You can’t say that’s not successful”.