ILLClinton Introduce Brooklyn to Their Atlanta Roots, Talk Influences and New Material [Exclusive Interview]
ILLClinton are keeping it all in the family. The hip-hop duo — consisting of brothers Brennan and producer Blake Belair Pierre — has been gaining some buzz in the Atlanta underground scene with ‘ILLANTA,’ a mixtape they debuted in February and ‘The ILL Experiment EP,’ which they released in September through Scion A/V.
They’re still newcomers in the game and while their show at Brooklyn’s The Knitting Factory for the Scion Open Mic series on Wednesday night (Oct. 9) marked only their second live performance, it proved to be a respectable New York debut for the southern natives.
They started off performing more traditional, New York-style production before segueing into more contemporary, adrenaline-pumping tracks. Their novice showed however, as Brennan merely rapped along to the songs (not instrumentals) and managed to trip over the same speaker multiple times. An audience member sipping from a seemingly bottomless can of Pabst Blue Ribbon was willing to give props, however.
“You can tell he was spitting some s—,” said the concert-goer. That of the good kind, by way of Atlanta.
Before they graced the stage, Brennan and Blake sat down with The Boombox in a dressing room to speak about their work and progress. Brennan, the more outspoken member of the group, also spoke about his relationship with Scion AV — an in-house record label and lifestyle marketing division of Scion — and ILLClinton’s upcoming album, which they’re aiming to drop in 2014.
“Always expect something new,” Brennan tells The Boombox of their forthcoming album. “In the project, you’ll probably hear something that doesn’t sound anything like the previous two projects.”
That’s not to say the second sounds like the first either; which is a constantly shifting body of work in itself. It’s hard to classify just what genre of hip-hop ILLClinton fits in to because of the variety of styles on the ‘ILLANTA’ tape.
Pegging them as “Golden Era” nostalgists à la Joey Bada$$ and Bishop Nehru is understandable since the first two songs on ‘ILLANTA’ include a J Dilla beat from Common’s ‘Be’ and another instrumental whose DNA can be traced back to the ‘Late Registration’/’College Dropout’-era Kanye West.
Then as the mixtape progresses, the slight trap influences (e.g. the chopped and screwed vocal sample) become apparent. We also get breezy piano keys reminiscent of Chance the Rapper’s or West’s production and psychedelic sounds on tracks like ‘Forever.’
The varied sounds speak to ILLClinton’s wide range of influences — which include OutKast and West — but the duo note they don’t necessarily attempt to imitate from their the artists who’ve influenced them. For them the artistic and career ambitions are where the similarities end–their sound is wholly original.
“In music I feel like we’re kind of in our own lane, but I definitely look at artists we grew up on,” Brennan states. “The way their careers went, it’s a model… but as far as music, we stay in our own lane and try to make something new.”
‘ILLANTA’s’ theme of sonic diversity continues on ‘The ILL Experiment EP.’ The duo added another track to what was supposed to originally be a five-song EP and made an almost complete switch from boom-bap beats to more experimental production.
The lead track, ‘New Alexandria,’ revolves around cold, computerized keys. Lyrically Brennan manages to name-check everything from characters in Greek mythology to the Pangea super-continent all in little over a minute. The keys get spacier and the percussion more abrasive in the next track, ‘Never Coming,’ and by the end of ‘The ILL Experiment’ we get a little bit of ambiance and trap, while in ‘Hip-Hop,’ Brennan insists ‘“if hip-hop’s dead then we gonna resurrect this s—.” In short, the EP doesn’t sound like anything that’s on the radio.
“We kind of just stay in our own lane, it’s something that’s not all over the radio in Atlanta. But we feel like we can change that… to bring real hip-hop back,” he says.
ILLClinton definitely has the talent to do so, but do they have the charisma? The fact that the Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking fan complimented the duo despite admitting he’d never heard their music shows people are at least willing to listen.