INTERVIEW: ILLY

Illy has cemented himself as one of Australia’s leading hip-hop acts. With a live show that is full of energy, empowerment and hype status, the Perth rapper has come a long way from his humble beginnings. His 2016 album ‘2 Degrees’ saw him breaking through to commercial status with the 6x platinum single, ‘Papercuts’ featuring Vera Blue. 

His new single ‘Lean On Me’ hears him diving deeper into the pop injected hip-hop sound he’s embraced over the past couple of years with a euphoric layering of self belief and empowerment. Underlining the importance of hope and realising that you always have someone you can rely on and talk to during the darkest moments, he shows a lot of personal growth. 

I recently chatted to Illy about learning to believe in himself and opening up to others, collaborating with Robinson on ‘Lean On Me’ and reminisce on the touring memories that stand out to him. Check out the chat HERE; 

TB: Your new single ‘Lean On Me’ is an anthemic track that continues the pop injected hip-hop sound you’ve mastered over the years. So where in the timeline did this song come together and where did the idea originate from? 

I: I first wrote the hook on a writing trip in Miami in late November last year. So it’s nearly been twelve months since the idea first came to fruition.

Someone close to me got some really awful news and I found out just as I was walking into the studio so I was immediately in a bit of a weird space that day. So I think it’s clear that the song was directly related to that happening.

I wrote the hook during that session and then over the next ten months we’ve refined it, re wrote it, had it re-produced, added to it and then recently had Robinson jump onto it and add her vocals to it which really shifted the layering again. So it’s been a pretty long process compared to the usual timeline for songs. No other song of mine has ever taken this long. 

But this was a song that I had to learn to take a stride of pride with because originally it did sound pretty different as it wasn’t finished and whenever I showed people it there wasn’t too much support for it. But I really saw something special and it really took a while to get it to that point where everyone else was feeling that energy. 

It’s cliche but it’s really been a journey with this song. Because it means so much to me on a personal level, I’m really proud of it and I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction as I really love the song and I think people will find a special perusal meaning for it as well. 

TB: With the hopeful and trusting feel of the song, how did the sessions for this track feel for you and your collaborators? 

I: Really good, I think! So much of it was done remotely because for the past twelve to eighteen months I’ve spent so much of it all over the place and it’s been hard to get into sessions with people and be at the same place at the same time. But I feel like everyone that has been involved with this track has really believed in it. And obviously if they are going to work on something like this then they are going to bring their A game, and they obviously vibe on it. 

TB: This song hears you channeling hope and realising that you have someone to lean on in the darkest moments and to help pick you up when you need it the most. So in your darkest  and hardest moments, how have you found the courage to open up to people and speak about things? 

I: To be completely honest, I actually don’t think I’ve dealt well with it. Quite recently I’ve been dealing quite toughly on a personal level with mental health and opening up to people. It took a few moments of breaking down and perspective to realise I had to do something about it. It wasn’t a sustainable way to be. 

I ended up talking to someone for a while and I’m much more open about this stuff now than I was back then. There is such a stigma about opening up to someone but it doesn’t need to be like that. I don’t think necessarily hiding it does anything but detrimental stuff. It’s been a learning curve and experience for me over the past 18 and 24 months. I’ve been moving around so much by myself, there has been some changes in my personal life and in my professional life, so navigating that has been tough. There was a lot of feeling alone. But I’m feeling a lot better now as I’m on the other side of it and I’m a lot more comfortable to talk about it. 

I recognise that I wasn’t the best person to ask that question to until quite recently but the most important thing is to realise that it’s absolutely acceptable and should be encouraged more to speak up and be open. You need to realise that more people care about you than you think and they are people you can speak to and if you feel uncomfortable chatting to them, then there are professionals you can talk to. It’s all about breaking stigmas. 

TB: With some really empowering lyrics and mantras in the song, what is one of your favourite lines from the track? 

I: I think the line in the hook, “when it brings you to your knees, just lean on me” is the one that really resonates with me a lot. 

TB: Teaming up with Robinson, she definitely brings a slick pop polish to the track. So how did this collaboration come about and what about her artistry stood out to you?

I: Basically I heard her song ‘Nothing To Regret’ last year and I immediately loved it. I reached out to her with no ulterior motive to try collaborate, I just wanted to let her know that I really loved the song and would love to chat. 

Fast forward a year, I had finished writing the track and we were spitting out names of who we could invite onto the track because me singing the hook didn’t feel right. No one was sticking. I had music on in the background and ‘Nothing To Regret’ came on and I was like “OH, this would be a perfect fit”. So we reached out to Robinson and her people and she was into it, so it happened pretty quickly from there. 

TB: How did the creative process behind ‘Then What’ and ‘Lean On Me’ differ? And are you finding that you creative process with this new music has shifted a little since ‘Two Degrees’? 

I: ‘Then What’ and ‘Lean On Me’ are wildly different sounds. There are obviously going to be similarities in some ways but they did come about quite differently.

‘Then What’ was more completely finished during the first session. It was about 80% done the first day. The hook was there, the vocals were pretty much there and the production was there. All it needed was to be properly recorded in a big studio and final production touches.

‘Lean On Me’ was definitely more of a grind. But as far as the writing, I think I’ve just got more confident. Coming from a hip-hop background where I occasionally dealt with melodies to where I’m at now sonically is a massive difference. I can rap as good as anyone in the country but I want to be known as a songwriter as well. 

TB: You’ve spent the last couple of years doing a lot of touring since the release of ‘Two Degrees’. With extensive shows all across the country what has been one of your favourite touring memories? 

I: As someone who grew up along the north west part of the country, it’s an area which is untouched in so many ways. So being able to tour and see so much of the coastline and explores places that I’ve never seen or even thought about before was really cool. 

I’m really looking forward to heading out on the next tour and being able to head out to those places again and make even more memories. 

TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some questions that you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind…

I: Oh god! If you dare, go ahead! *laughs* 

TB: The emoji that best describes my new single ‘Lean On Me’ is…

I: The two pink love hearts with the spinning line in between them

TB: My pre-show pump up song is…

I: ‘Right Above It’ by Lil Wayne

TB: Pineapple on pizza is…

I: Acceptable but frowned upon 

TB: Most mornings I…

I: Struggle to speak before I have a coffee

TB: If I could have any superpower it would be…

I: Flying or teleportation which I know is really cliché *laughs*. 

TB: It’s okay, it’s a cliche question so you can give a cliche answer

I: *Laughs* Thanks for taking some of the responsibility for that one 

‘Lean On Me’ featuring Robinson is out NOW

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