Family First is the new album from MC/Producer/Illustrator Adam “Illus” Wallenta.
Illus speaks with HypeStyle exclusively about his tenure as an independent Hip-Hop artist and other endeavors.
HYPE: First, can you elaborate on your MC moniker, “Illus”? Any story behind that?
Illus: Of course. For those that don’t know I am also a professional illustrator so that is where the name originates from.
HYPE: Give us a brief synopsis of your career. For how long have you been involved with Hip-Hop music?
Illus: In regards to just the music, I started out as a deejay around ‘86 and from there, started writing rhymes and performing at local parties. I released my first single on tape in late ‘91/early ’92, and have been recording and releasing music independently ever since. I’m an old fart.
HYPE: How many LPs/EPs/Maxi-singles have you released so far, and what are they?
Illus: Oh man, do I have to include some of the really bad stuff? (laughs). Let me think…
91/92: You Need Protection (Single); 1992: Complete/Like That (Maxi-Single); 1993: A to the K/Brain Damage (Maxi-Single); 1993: Who Got the Heart (Single); 1993: Meaning My/Skills (Maxi-Single); 1994: HipHop (Single); 2001: Visions of Apocalypse/Free (Maxi-Single);
2001: The Sacrifice (EP); 2002: Damaged Goods (LP); 2002: Lonely High (Single); 2002: Unemployed Slave (Mixtape); 2003: Ear Pollution (EP); 2004: Hello, Illus (LP); 2005: Rise of the Machines (EP); 2010: Feel Good Music (LP); 2011: For Adam (LP); 2011: The Mask (EP);
2012: Family First (LP)
Illus: There’s a lot of rare jams there, I also did tracks with other groups like the Impossebulls that I am forgetting now.
HYPE: Who are some performers you’ve shared the stage with?
Illus: I’ve done shows with as well as opened for acts such as the Impossebulls, NeighborHOOD Associates, Public Enemy, Dilated Peoples, Blackalicious, Regenerated Headpiece and others.
HYPE: Why call the album “Family First”?
Illus: My wife and I recently had a son and the album is a tribute to and celebration of the family spirit. Not just in regards to blood but the larger, global community of Hip-Hoppers. I also decided on the title because I feel it may be time for me to step away from music and refocus. As a father I have to be able to provide, not only financially, but in regards to quality time. I’m not sure music as a career is the best use of my time for either.
HYPE: Who are your collaborators on the album in terms of producers?
Illus: Each emcee that guest appears on the album is also the producer of the track they are featured on. I wanted to really collaborate and show off the multiple talents of these artists and vibe off of their individual sounds to create something unique. Family First features: Blueprint, Ill Bill, Apathy, J-Live, Erin Barra, Esoteric Phashara from the Beatmonstas and some other surprises. I am still putting a few tracks together so I will reveal more soon. The entire album is also executive produced by DJ Johnny Juice from Public Enemy. Juice will be adding scratches as well as mixing and bringing it all together.
HYPE: How would you describe the creative chemistry with these producers?
Illus: It’s been a great experience working with each of them. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most professional people in the business. Working with this caliber of talent is inspiring and motivated me to really step up and pour my heart and soul into each track. I only work with people I respect that will push me to be better, and the chemistry and connection and the love we all have for the culture is sincere and comes through in the music.
HYPE: Who are the featured guest MCs on the album and why were they chosen?
Illus: The emcees I mentioned. The reason I chose these particular emcee/producers is because I had a connection with them in some way. Some of the connections are life long friendships and others are through mutual friends. Most importantly I wanted to work with these artists because I respect their skills and talent and I am a fan of their music.
HYPE: Where is your current home base, and how would you describe the Hip-Hop scene out there?
Illus: I currently live in Connecticut. We have a lot of incredible talent in this state, some of which gets shine but a lot of it does not unfortunately. Everyone I know personally is very supportive of each other and there is a lot of grassroots building going on at the moment. For years, CT has been highly slept on but I think a lot of these guys are about to break through and really take it to the next level. Unfortunately I think the local talent outnumbers the local fan base. Most people still only want to support national acts or artists that get play on the radio.
HYPE: What’s your take on being an indie-culture musician vs. being affiliated with a major label?
Illus: I’ve always been independent. I’ve had offers from labels in the past but it never felt right and I never wanted to be trapped. I have to always be creating and I can’t hold back nor am I very good at doing what I am told by some jerkoff in a suit that doesn’t know anything about being creative. That being said I may have shot myself in the foot by not playing the game better. Major label artists usually get national exposure, more opportunities and bigger paychecks. Both cultures produce quality and crap, it really depends on the artist and how well they can maintain their integrity and creative control.
HYPE: What’s your take on the ‘backpacker’, ‘conscious’ labels?
Illus: People need to label things so they can make sense of it all and “fit in”. Everyone wants to be part of a group or connect with like minds. I prefer to just keep an open mind and connect with whatever moves me or makes me feel good. Whether it is “backpack, conscious, commercial, political, gangsta, hardcore”, whatever. It’s music, and it is either good or bad. In regards to life style I probably relate to independent, “conscious” emcees/artists more than anything. That’s just a lifestyle though I guess.
HYPE: What current trends in Hip-Hop are you a fan of and why?
Illus: I’m a fan of independent emcees who stay original and work hard and create music that represents them and their experiences. I’m not sure that is a trend but there are a lot of talented musicians out there who inspire me with their originality and creativity.
HYPE: What current trends in Hip-Hop are you not a fan of and why?
Illus: I’m really not a fan of “Trends” I guess. Trends, to me, means someone did something original and everyone else is biting and following their lead. I guess the trend I hate the most is that in this day and age it is ok to be a wackass biter. Biting is a horrible trend.
HYPE: What’s your favorite show you performed at and why?
Illus: I can’t say I have a favorite. They are all special moments I get to share with people and it’s always a good time. I guess if I had to pick, it would be the shows we did with Public Enemy years ago. That was an incredible learning experience and as a fan always fun to be a part of.
HYPE: How much do your graphic artwork endeavors inform your approach to creating records, or vice-versa?
Illus: As an illustrator and graphic designer it’s my job to convey an idea, story or emotion…same as when I write songs. Sometimes I paint with a full palette of colors, other times the work is in black and white or various shades of blue. It’s all about expression, and being original. No matter what I do I always put my heart and soul into it.
HYPE: You illustrated the cover to KRS-One’s “The BDP Album”. What was the concept behind it?
Illus: I was actually asked to work with and design the cover around a couple of photographs so I didn’t have the creative control I would have liked to really go all out. Once photos are involved it really limits what I can do with the illustrations and design. So what I tried to create was a visual that established the longevity of BDP from their origin to present day.
HYPE: You co-wrote and illustrated the Public Enemy comic book and graphic novel collection. How did that project come about?
Illus: That came about while I was touring with P.E. I knew Chuck was a comic book fan and I shared my ideas with him and he loved the concept. He knew I worked in the business and was capable of bringing it to life and suggested I also work with S1W James Bomb. From there it took some time to flesh things out but it was really pretty simple in regards to working together and the connection we had.
HYPE: Beyond Family First, what music or media projects are you working on for the future?
Illus: At the moment my focus is finishing up Family First for a January release. I’m considering shooting some videos but I am not sure what time or resources will allow.
HYPE: Where can people purchase Family First and your other music?
Illus: For the time being they can pre-order Family First off of my website at http://www.americanmule.com/shop. Each cd comes signed and is extremely limited. You can also find me on iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/illus/id349574652 and wherever digital music is sold. If you want to stay in touch with new projects subscribe to http://www.AdamWallenta.com, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @AdamWallenta.
Christopher ‘Hype:’ Currie