NMV Sit Down: The Boy Illinois
The Boy Illinois talks being the best-dressed, Afrobeat and the biggest misconception about Chicago.
We caught up with Chicago emcee The Boy Illinois, as he continues to make headlines performing all sorts of shows this summer and receiving acclaim for his recent single "PTSD."
SM: Steven Mainzer
Illi: The Boy Illinois
SM: Illi! How is it going? What have you been working on lately?
Illi: What’s going on, man. Lately I have been performing, doing a lot of spot dates, and putting the finishing touches on my next couple projects, about three of them, a lot of music and music related things.
SM: I would put you into the umbrella of Chicago artists that is forward thinking and kind of paved your own lane. How do you keep a focused mindset?
Illi: That’s a great question. Being spiritual.
SM: How so?
Illi: Meditation. Practicing patience. And discipline. Two very important things. Patience and discipline, that’s how I really stay sane, period. Stay balanced, stay afloat so I can still do my art and not go crazy.
SM: : You just performed Taste of Chicago, how was that experience?
Illi: That was an interesting experience. Lot of people, different demographic, because a lot of people came to see George Clinton, so it was a bit of on older crowd.
SM: Were you opening?
Yeah it was me, BJ the Chicago Kid, and George Clinton.
SM: Did you get to meet them?
Illi: Yes, I know BJ but George and I were talking about each other’s outfits. We had talked backstage. I had opened up for him at another show at SXSW three years ago, that’s when I realized he didn’t have his hair anymore.
SM: You have been performing a lot of shows lately. SXSW you were everywhere, Windy City Live, the Taste. What is next for Illi?
Illi: I want to be an international artist really. That has always been my ultimate goal, I grew up with a lot of African folk including Nigerians. I want to prove that if I get it poppin’ over here, then I can migrate to Africa and Europe, and really pick up a bag. I really want to travel and do music. We are starting to set up some things in West Africa.
SM: Where in West Africa? What are you working on?
Doing a show in Ghana and Nigeria for now. Nigeria is a place where I have a lot of people who I grew up with. Some people had educational or visa issues where they had to go back, I have a lot of people out there that look out for me. Same thing with Ghana, same thing with Cameroon. But there’s a lot going on there right now. One of my homies’ who I grew up with is back in Cameroon, I need to check up on him.
SM: You’re considered as one of the best-dressed artists out there. When you wake up in the morning do you have to put thought into what you’re going to wear or does that come naturally?
Illi: Nah, it will come. I have it in my head then I’ll put it on, but if it doesn’t look like I had envisioned in my head, I’m going to take it off. I will switch outfits at least three, four times before I leave the house.
SM: How did you plan your fits for SXSW?
Illi: You have to pre-plan outfits. So, I gotta be smooth, efficient, one outfit a day and then have a backup if you get sweaty or dirty. I play it like that when I’m doing and traveling.
SM: "PTSD" is one of my favorite records this year. What motivated you to write that song? How is it working with DGainz?
Thank you. What influenced me to write that record was after I came to the conclusion I was manic-depressive in college. After that, I switched my major from political science to sociology, got more into mental effects and how it affects people’s behaviors. I thought, “Yo man, if we living in these conditions for years imagine how fu**ed up our heads are?” I figure that some people may be going through post-traumatic stress incidents and they may not even know about it. I been knowing DGainz for four, five years now. Cool person, very open minded, very creative and we just get along. Because we get along he is easy to work with, I give him an idea and he just flows with it.
SM: What is the biggest misconception about Chicago? Can you drop some knowledge real quick?
Illi: The biggest misconception is that the streets are more dangerous than the political arena. I think it’s the other way around. People don’t really realize that. If you look at the past couple years, you see how many politicians have been to jail from Illinois. Particularly from Chicago.
And you think, wait a minute, its not really the streets, the streets are the effect from the causes of the politicians and the schools not being stable. Then, that’s where the streets come in. People like to blow it up and use it as propaganda, when you put people in certain conditions they will act a certain way.
SM: I definitely feel passionate about this as well, considering you go into some neighborhoods in Chicago and see no opportunity.
Illi: There are a lot of closed streets and abandoned businesses but it is what it is. It’s a part of the game and we just at the bottom of the game and you have to really strategize to get up and out of it if you want to level up.
SM: How did you get started with music?
Illi: I was born into it. My dad was a musician, taught my sister how to play the piano and sing, I was just born into it.
SM: Who are your current biggest musical influences?
Illi: Biggest musical influence rights now, Whiz Kid from Nigeria. I listen to a lot of Afrobeat. It’s a genre of music.
SM: What’s that like?
Illi: It’s like Drake “One Dance”, that’s Afrobeat. When Drake was making Caribbean songs he was making Soca/ Afro beat songs. Also Sade, she’s the OG. And that’s pretty much it as far as influences right now.
SM: I know you have a Haitian background. How does that come out in your music?
Illi: My dad is. Not really too much, just getting around the culture, I wasn’t raised that way and he wasn’t raised that way. He had a crazy childhood and I’m just blessed he was always around to raise me. It came out later because I hung out with more Haitian people, then I thought this is mine, this is what my granddad would want me to do. It plays a small role now but will play a bigger role once I get back there.
SM: Favorite hobby outside of music?
SM: Where have you been?
Illi: Pretty much every state in the United States. I’m going to Cuba next month for a vacation. Then, I’m going to Africa at the end of the year. Road-tripping is fun especially being on tour.
SM: What are your next show stops?
Illi: Next one will be SoFarSounds, non-profit event that I don’t know the date of, tour after I put out the new project, Illi Dee Williams.
SM: Why the name?
Illi: Because Billy Dee Williams the actor...smooth player, was in Star Wars..the original one. He a smooth guy and I feel like I’m a smooth guy. I’m Illi, Billy his name, he a smooth guy, they know who I am.
SM: Favorite cartoon character growing up and why?
Illi: That’s a good question. The Tiny Toons adventures. Buster Bunny. He was like a little asshole. Then, the grown version was a straight asshole. So I like it.
SM: One piece of advice to upcoming artists?
Illi: I would say patience pays off, I been doing this for like eight years so we just getting started. I seen a lot of people quit, a lot that was close and just stopped. So just never stop. Somehow someway you going end up doing what you want do. It’s inevitable.