HHS: How did the two of you link up for Feel Good Music?
J.J. Brown: I met Illus at a CMJ function a few years back. He invited me to come here him speak on a hip-hop comics panel. He was a great supporter of my work with louis logic so he brought some art he made of us and I was really honored so we just kept in touch after that.
Illus: Like J.J. said, after that initial connection, we stayed in touch and we kept building. He eventually asked me to create the artwork for his solo album (Connect the Dots) and I was honored to do so. Around the same time we started working on Feel Good Music and we just clicked.
HHS: The record has an uplifting, positive vibe through-out. Was that a conscious decision when you started working together on the album?
Illus: Yes. I knew from the first beat that J.J. sent me, that he was the producer who could help me pull this off. If you listen to a lot of my older stuff, it is more political, angry and even immature at times. Feel Good Music is not only a positive progression for me musically but also personally. I had wanted to record a record like this for a long time but I didn’t want to produce it myself, I wanted it to be a collaboration, but I never connected with the right producer who was willing to put in the work. Just before I met J.J. I had been going through some real hard times and things were really grim, and then all of a sudden we connected and he hit me off with Beautiful Day. I struggled for awhile to write the lyrics and hook, and all of a sudden I met this beautiful woman, fell in love, and got married, started getting more work, all while we were having this shift in politics with Obama being elected, and just this incredible positive vibe in the air and the album finally came to life.
J.J. Brown: Illus chose the type of beats that would match the positive vision he had. My grooves span a lot of different moods so I think he did a good job of picking the ones that worked best for him. After we got into a nice work flow I was also able to put some tailor made stuff together for him.
HHS: Illus, you’ve been rhyming for years now. I’d like to know who some of your influences were coming up and who influences you now.
Illus: I am influenced by a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. If you look at the cover art for Feel Good Music you’ll get a pretty good idea of some of my HipHop favorites, mostly guys (and ladies) from what is considered the “golden-era”. Artists like Run-DMC, Public Enemy, KRS-One, De La Soul, Kool Moe Dee, Tribe Called Quest, Special Ed, Chubb Rock, LL Cool J, Fresh Prince….I know I missed a lot as well but you get the idea. It’s hard for to lock down just one but I was a huge BDP and P.E. fan back in the day, and still am. The great thing about these artists is, most of them are still making amazing music today that influences me. I’m always checking for new De La Soul, P.E. KRS, Q-Tip, LL…but I also really love artists like Blackalicious, Pigeon John, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Freddie Foxxx, J-Live, Nas, Everlast…and there is a whole crop of new talented emcees and producers that inspire to step my game up, like GodAWFUL, Logic, Reef the Last Cauze and more. I’m really influenced by all music, a lot of old blues, jazz, rock, and soul artists like John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, the Beatles, War, the Animals, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the list goes on. No matter what musical genre, I’m really inspired by passionate lyrics and soulful, hard-hitting music. Music that has heart, that I can relate to, or can open my mind to new ideas.
HHS: J.J., as a producer, you’ve had the chance to work with many people including Celph Titled, Poison Pen and Louis Logic among others. What was the recording process like when you got in the studio with Illus?
J.J. Brown: He always comes well rehearsed and ready to work. Every artist I work with has their own way of easing into the real guts of a session, but Illus seems to be in that head space from the moment I open the door. He also takes direction well which a win win in any type of creative situation where there’s really no room for frustration.
HHS: Illus, you’ve had Feel Good Music out for a few months now as a download only album via iTunes, Amazon.com, etc. Now the album has just been released as a physical cd. Was that in the plans from the beginning?
Illus: No. Actually I thought I would stick with a straight digital release. However I kept getting requests for a physical cd from the hardcore collector’s so I decided to put together a limited edition for them. These days I imagine most physical cds are “limited” compared to what used to be pressed up but I wanted to give the fans who support me and love what I do, something.
HHS: It seems like many artists kind of go through the motions and call it hip hop, while the two of you really seem to have a passion for it, and it comes through in the music you create…
J.J. Brown: It’s not even really about “hip-hop” for me anymore. It really hasn’t been since the “Sin-A-Matic” days. What I do is make great music and give all the artists I work with a platform to be as risky and creative as they dare to be for their listeners. If it comes out as hip-hop because that’s where my heart is at, and that’s the medium where I learned most my production techniques, then that’s cool. But I don’t bother to put a label on my work anymore because what the hell is the definition of “rock” or “rap” anymore anyway?
Illus: Thank you. I agree with J.J., everyone has their own opinion of what HipHop is or what “real” HipHop is. I’ve given up trying to live or create by anyone’s definition. I work really hard to make good songs. I love the HipHop culture I grew up with but it is also very different from what kids are growing up with today. So I just draw from my own experiences and live the culture and art as it relates to my life. I think the reason our music feels authentic is because we are just being true to ourselves as individuals and don’t try and cater to any one specific audience. We love Hip-Hop and music and just strive to be great song writers.
HHS: Illus, along with being an emcee for many years, you also are a real deal artist and illustrator. Can you speak a little on the Public Enemy comic book series and how that all came about?
Illus: I’ve been a P.E. fan since day one and I always saw them as this larger than life group. They have always had comic book influenced lyrics and I could always loved that since I am a big comic book geek. Years ago I worked at Marvel Comics and they had a music division and had tried to put together a P.E. book but the division folded and nothing came of it. Sometime later I connected with Chuck through his Slam Jamz label where he released several singles of mine. I eventually went on tour with the Impossebulls and P.E. as well as Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious. On tour, Chuck and I got to talking about comics and he knew of my background as an indie publisher, and he told me I should make it happen. So I put together a presentation and he loved it.
HHS: J.J., you had your Connect The Dots album which dropped last year. What are you currently at work on?
J.J. Brown: My partner Danny and I just mixed the Celph & Buckwild album which is really gonna make a lot of heads happy, and I’ve been working on beats for Kelly Rowland, Musiq Soulchild and a host of others, both on the underground and everywhere else. I’ve also be getting into movie and television scoring, as well as teaching Pro Tools to upcoming producers and engineers. I made a full album worth of real quirky stuff that I want to use for the right artist… I got a few cats in mind but nothing I want to really talk about yet. I work hard on my craft every day and the rest usually works itself out. Check out my blog www.jjbrownsstory.com for all the latest.
HHS: What’s next for Illus?
Illus: I’m already hard at work on a new album. I just finished a song that J.J. produced that features my man, Paul Dateh and I’ve got another with Freddie Foxxx we are working on. The album is in the very early stages but I am having an incredible time working on it. In the meantime I will be touring to promote Feel Good Music and continuing to improve my craft. I’m also working on some new album art for other artists and in the process of putting together two new comic book projects, one with DMC (from Run-DMC!) and the other with Kool Moe Dee. I’m always working on new illustration projects and if you do a search on Amazon for Adam Wallenta you can usually see what I am up to. You can also check my blog www.adamwallenta.com and www.americanmule.com for new projects. You can order your copy of Feel Good Music at http://www.undergroundhiphop.com/store/ or www.americanmule.com/shop or digitally on ITUNES and Amazon worldwide. Thanks for the support! Peace!
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