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ILLY A Very Good Year

ILLY - Groovin the Moo Bunbury - Photos by Rachael Barrett

“You have to keep evolving and doing different things. If you just make the same thing over and over again, you’re going to lose touch and then people won’t come back.”

It’s been a huge year for Illy, who has been announced as the headliner for Hyperfest 2015 happening on Sunday, March 29, at Midland Oval, along with Make Them Suffer, Japanese Wallpaper and The Bennies. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.

The history of modern Western thought comprises a number of hugely constructive teacher-student relationships.

For instance, cast your eyes towards continental philosophy, which has basically progressed by virtue of younger thinkers learning from pre-eminent elders and subsequently positing their own novel theories. The same could be said about most major 19th and 20th century art movements, and, of course, popular music.

Australian hip hop is one genre that continues to cumulatively expand, thanks largely to established artists fostering rising talent and assisting in the development of new genre variations. These days, Melbourne rapper Illy (real name Al Murray) is one of the leading practitioners of the form. Despite his current star status, Illy hasn’t forgotten the tremendous leg-up he got from his predecessors.

“I’ve had a lot of people that have helped me and quite a few people who came before me,” he says. “Pegz and Phrase and Daniel Merriweather – I was doing shows with nobody and they helped me out, took me on the road with them. Then after that, Pegz put me on with Obese Records and he sort of showed me some of the ropes. Then more recently, having Drapht and the ‘Hoods as good mates, I know that I’ve still got people that I look up to who give me advice and I’ll listen to them.”

It’s been a huge 12 months for Illy, whose fourth LP, Cinematic,came out in November, 2013. Shortly after he released Cinematic, Illy’s 2012 record Bring It Back won the ARIA Award for Best Urban Album. Cinematic then went on to achieve gold sales and the record’s fourth single, Tightrope (featuring San Cisco’s Scarlett Stevens) went platinum.

“It’s been such a crazy year,” Illy says. “To think that Cinematic came out a year ago, everything that’s happened since is nuts. It’s just been crazy, it hasn’t really stopped.”

Looking at those sales figures, it’s no surprise that Illy’s appearances on this year’s Groovin The Moo tour were feverishly received. He also found time to jump over to Europe in July for a string of dates supporting Hilltop Hoods. This feat is especially noteworthy for Illy, who describes the Hoods as “the undisputed leaders” of Australian hip hop.

“Getting to tour with the Hoods in itself is crazy,” he says. “Getting to do it in Europe is wild. For the first experiences in Europe to be with those dudes, you couldn’t really ask for a better introduction. The boys were saying it was the best response and turnout they’ve had so far, which is awesome.”
Illy’s no stranger to presiding over rapturous audiences on his own terms, either. Another unforgettable moment from the rapper’s golden 12 months – one he says will be “very hard to top” – saw him headlining triple j’s One Night Stand in front a crowd of 17,000 people gathered in Victorian outback town, Mildura.

Illy’s outstanding success over the last 12 months is indicative of his overall career trajectory. With each successive release, the rapper has climbed higher up the ranks of Aussie hip hop. It’s all happened in a reasonably short amount of time, as well – his debut LP Long Story Short came out in 2009, and since then Illy has scarcely been absent from the stage or the airwaves.

“I got told a long time ago that from the moment you have a hit – the moment that you have people caring about your music – it’s just a race against the clock, really,” he says. “It’s a countdown to the day that no-one gives a fuck anymore. So I try to make hay while the sun shines and not be complacent. I try to make the most of this incredible position that I’ve been put in.

“You have to keep evolving and doing different things. If you just make the same thing over and over again, you’re going to lose touch and then people won’t come back.”

These days, Illy isn’t only kicking goals behind the mic. Prior to the release of Cinematic, he set up his own label, OneTwo. It’s increasingly common for artists to release music through their own labels, but OneTwo isn’t simply dedicated to Illy releases. The label’s roster has grown to include Adelaide (via Melbourne) rapper Allday, who’s also had a pretty unbelievable year.

“He’s worked his arse off for it,” says Illy. “It’s great to see it happening. He’s done it on his own terms as well. He’s never really been too involved in the Australian hip hop scene, he’s kind of created his own lane. Some people don’t really appreciate how fucking hard that is. He’s got long hair, he doesn’t make stereotypically Aussie hip hop. That’s a lot harder to do than just follow a formula of Australian hip hop. I think what he’s done this year’s crazy.”

Perhaps Illy’s decision to stretch out into label management is motivated by a desire to prolong his career by whatever means necessary. However, he suggests it’s more about taking pride in the genre and preparing the land for the next crop to rise up.

“Like I said, I’ve had a lot of people that have helped me and quite a few people who came before me. So OneTwo is trying to do that with the next generation, really. I enjoy doing it and if I do get to be involved in music through that for longer than I can be as an artist, then great. But it’s more altruistic than that.”

Photo: Rachael Barrett

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