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Since the release of his first album, Long Story Short in 2009 (which reached #24 on the ARIA Top 40 Urban Albums chart), Caulfield native Illy has been a certified Australian hip-hop star. With multiple hits in the Australian charts, as well as a certified gold for infectious party track ‘It Can Wait’ featuring Owl Eyes and a spot on Triple J’s Hottest 100 with ‘Cigarettes’, Illy has gone from strength to strength. We had a chance to link up with the Melbourne rapper and discuss latest album Cinematic, which is due for release this week on his own new label ONETWO.

What are your influences? Who do you listen to?

I take influence from a lot of genres: I love current rap, I love old school rap and I love Southern rap from the mid-2000s. I grew up listening to gangsta rap then Southern rap, and I got into Aussie hip-hop in around 2002 – and I’ve never really stopped loving it. Wherever my musical tastes have gone, I’ve never stopped listening to Aussie hip-hop as well.

Now, my influences are coming from the people that I work with and the people that I am around being a musician in Australia.

You worked with quite a few people on this record – producers and guest artists. Was there anyone that really stood out?

The track with the Hilltop Hoods was a really big deal for me. I grew up listening to them, and actually one of the first live shows I ever went to was a Hoods show, about ten years ago, that I snuck into with a fake ID. And now I’m doing a track with them! I had the most fun with them, as well.

The track with [Daniel] Merriweather was great as well. I’ve known Dan for a long time now and I credit him with helping me get started in taking my music more seriously. We’ve been mates for like eight or nine years and we always wanted to work together but have just never been in the same place for long enough to make it happen so this time it finally came about and I’m really proud of that.

But it’s not like any of the collaborations were like a pain in the arse or anything – I really enjoyed working with everyone of course.

This is your fourth album in five years, which is pretty a pretty quick release schedule. How do you think your music has progressed/evolved in that time?

I’ve been really hard at it. It’s been non-stop. There has been a lot of touring, a lot of work and lot of me consciously working on improving my art. It’s not like I’ve just been casually putting out shit – I’ve been honing my craft and even though its only been a short time, I think I’ve developed hugely. Same with M-Phazes – I think that he’s made huge steps in his production over the last five years. He has just got a beat on the new Eminem album and he’s handled 90% of the tracks on this album. So it’s just been a matter of really stepping it up and putting in a lot of work.

The first single, ‘On and On’, is really hard to nail down into one genre. How would you describe it? And was it a conscious decision to try and blend so many different styles?

It wasn’t really a conscious thing – I think it’s just the way music is going now in 2013. If you listen to artists like Lorde or Flume, there’s influences from electronica, there’s pop, there’s hip-hop, there’s R&B. There are all these influences merging in the one genre and I think that’s happening a lot more and it’s not a bad thing. The current generation are taking influence from everywhere because they’ve been exposed to genres across the board and music is just going that way. ‘On and On’ isn’t exactly like that, but it’s kind of like that. I don’t think it’s as prevalent through the rest of the album, but there are definitely influences from bits and pieces across all of it. This album is up to date, and it wasn’t conscious, but it’s like – that’s what I’m listening to and that’s what I’m writing.

What’s your writing process like? For example with the new single, ‘Youngbloods’. Tell me about how you made that track.

It was a bit different with ‘Youngbloods’, because it is a cover, almost, of the Amity Affliction song. So that hook was already there and that made everything else quite easy and it just came together. M-Phazes just built the beat around that hook and then I put my verses down over the beat.

Usually it’ll be that I get a beat, and then I’ll go and write the hook. And after I’ve got the hook I’ll write the verses. Then when it’s done roughly we’ll go back and build up the beat, then I’ll go back to the verses again. It just goes back and forward step by step until we’ve got the track.

So for you its beat first then lyrics, and not lyrics first then a beat to match them?

Yeah I usually start with the beats, but the beats that we start with are very different to how they end up, and I usually try and have a bit of input – at least into how the beat is developed.

So does that mean you are thinking of getting into producing as well?

Oh man. Nah – I know what I like, and I can do it by ear and sing the notes out or something, but I don’t have the technical ability to be a producer, and I don’t have the time to get good at it.

This album is also the first being released on your own label. Can you tell me a bit more about why and how that came about?

I was off contract, and I’ve always been interested in this side of the business and I realised that I am surrounded by great people on the business side of it, who are now involved with ONETWO. So it was kind of a natural thing. I figured that I am as capable of doing it as anyone else, so I’ve just backed myself and I’m doing it.

Can you tell us who else we can look forward to seeing on that label?

We just signed Allday about a month ago. I think he’s the most exciting of the next generation of Australian hip-hop artists. He’s in that bracket with artists like Lorde and Flume where they really merges genres. I wouldn’t even think of him as an Aussie hip-hop MC the same way that I or a lot of my peers are. And I’m just really excited to be working with him. I think he’s going to be big next year and in 2015 and even after that.

And we’ve also signed a kid from Wollongong called Elemont, who is one of the best, down the line straight flow and lyric MC I’ve heard for his age. He’s a little bit rawer, and needs a bit more time to develop. But when he gets his shit together he’s going to be deadly as an MC.

So a couple of signings so far, and obviously Cinematic will be the first release on ONETWO. So it’s all looking pretty good so far.

What else does the future hold for Illy?

I’m going to take some time off writing for a little while because it’s been pretty intense over the last year, and I’m just going to hopefully ride out Cinematic. Hopefully people enjoy it and I’ll get to do some shows next year. I’m really just going to try to get the label up and running as well. And hopefully get a bit of travel in as well if I can get any down time – it’s wishful thinking probably though!

Illy’s Cinematic album is out today, November 8, on Warner Music Australia.