Words: Adam Chester
Considering An Idiot’s Guide To Anarchy has been 10 years in the making, you can assume that Ill Poetic is speaking from a place of authority. Based in San Diego but originally from Ohio, the MC slash producer slash sound engineer slash everything else has thought long and hard about what it means to discard expectations and rules, whether musical or societal.
But there’s no need to wax lyrical on behalf of an artist that has so much to say, and such a clear way to say it. We caught up with Ill Po via email to find out what he had to say about rules, regulations and Bleach, the track we are premiering today.
“Years ago, my friend was at a club with a girl. At the end of the night, the girl was drunk and saw another girl she didn’t like and told her to ‘drink bleach and die’. My friend and I both thought this was hilarious, but also appalling. The phrase stuck in my head, and I knew I wanted to make a song that felt equally appalling and hilarious; something that was sort-of a critique on American pop-culture but with the skin of a pop song.”
What does anarchy mean to you?
For me, Anarchy is much less political and much more personal. When I began to realize there were really no rules to how you can develop your path in life, I realized it’s all just Anarchy. Adults don’t know that much more than kids. Anyone who pretends otherwise is full of shit. Once I realized no one had the answers, it was both terrifying and freeing, like walking alongside the edge of a cliff. That’s what Anarchy feels like to me.
What rules are you most happy about having broken? And what rules have you been unable to break?
The tricky thing about breaking a rule is that you begin developing new rules in the process. When I started this album, I started breaking my own rules as an emcee and producer as to what type of art I wanted to produce. I tried to strip away my process and build a new one from the ground up, but in shifting away from that initial process, I learned that I was still building a new set of rules for myself. So I feel like I constantly have to break all of my new self-imposed rules, too. It’s a never-ending cycle. Beyond the creative process, I’m most happy to have broken the rule regarding who I’m supposed to be as an adult as it relates to other people’s opinions; what type of job I should have and how I should act. It’s a rule I constantly have to challenge myself to break because it’s easy to slip in to that thought process.
The biggest rule I’m unable to break seems to be a full escape of myself, period. As much as I try to grow in certain areas, I feel like I fall back down often in the same exact spots. I can’t break over-thinking things out no matter how hard I try. I can’t break the ‘starving artist’ mentality unfortunately, because I can’t break the habit of continuously under-valuing myself. I don’t give up though, I just keep doing my best to break these rules with the faith that one day I’ll get it right.
Could America benefit from some anarchy right now?
Probably so. In one aspect, the country feels chaotic enough as it is, but sometimes I look around watching people function, smile and enjoy life everyday and think to myself ‘what’s really so different’? From a present-tense mindful place, people are still enjoying the beautiful moments of their lives and hopefully that will never change. At a macro-level, there’s a shit-ton different though, mainly in the overall disposition of the country, and since I find myself contributing more and more time and energy to showing up at shit like nazi protests, I guess a certain level of Anarchy may be on the horizon and I’m for it if need be. Systematically there are things that definitely have to change and people (young people in particular) are extremely aware and active in trying to make that happen in a way I haven’t really seen before. That’s just my perspective though, and it constantly evolves with every passing moment.
How has your life and music changed in the 10 years since your last album?
Like anyone’s life, it’s nothing like I’d imagined. It doesn’t even feel like 10 years until I really start breaking down all the shit that’s happened in my life within that time span. I’m just as determined as I ever was to put my art out, so that hasn’t really changed. I’m a little bit more secure and confident in my shit now. Though I may just be tired and not giving a fuck what people think anymore. I’m not sure if that qualifies as confidence. Consequently, I still hate my voice when I rap and I still think I’m falling off every time I write or make a beat. I’m still chasing the sounds in my head. I’ve grown a lot as a producer and writer; I pull some such a wider palette of influences than I used to. I’m married with a family now, so my understanding of real, practical love and selfishness vs. selflessness is much deeper. I used to imagine how rewarding it would feel to pay my own bills with my art, let alone support a family. It feels rewarding but it’s definitely a struggle.
This is clearly a very personal record for you. Why was it important to be involved in every aspect of production?
This album is my baby. I’ve been producing my own material since my early days, so this was just the next logical step for me. It was just a bigger and longer-lasting step than I’d anticipated. Very early on in the process I had what felt like very big ideas developing in my head. I didn’t know how they fit together. Because of how they developed, I wasn’t on a search for beats to rap over, I was searching for the material and knowledge to build the landscape for these ideas. There’s a decent amount of co-production on this album to where I studied producer-friends around me and what I loved about their styles that made them special. I wanted to figure out how to insert what I loved about their work into this big landscape and then mesh them with the special qualities of all these musicians and vocalists. I’m less concerned with being a beat-maker and more into being a producer who collages it all together, so this was a natural progression to me.
What do you get out of producing as opposed to MCing?
I think great production can bring emotions that words can’t. I think music production has the potential to be truly timeless more so than lyrics, where slang, pockets and patterns change. Obviously there are timeless lyrics out there, but I’m not sure I’ve written any of them. With production, I can revisit songs I’ve made from 10+ years ago and it hasn’t aged a second. I’m back in school studying music theory, jazz, world music and more, and I’m really passionate about juxtaposing different vibes, rhythms, instruments and sounds from present-day electronic-based future shit and older but amazing progressive genres of music. There’s just so much room to explore that leaves space for different perspectives to lend their voice to. Emceeing is forever my perspective, it’s just so much more narrow a palette. Shameless plug, my band & I actually put on a monthly event out here in San Diego called SEANCE, where we bring up various musicians, emcees and producers from all these genres and jam sessions to cross all these vibes together and create some futuristic new shit. To me, it’s the next step in producing; doing it live on the spot and seeing what moments come out of it all.
What was it like working with musicians from the Ohio Funk scene, and why was it important to you?
I initially started work on this album with a friend who was working on his album as well. His dad actually came from the Ohio Funk era, playing in bands like SUN & Dayton. His name is Dean Hummons, Sr. and he was my music mentor for the longest time. Both him and his son played a huge role in teaching me how important is it to keep the roots and heritage of your city’s sound inside your music. Years later, I was set to begin work with Marshall Jones (bassist of the Ohio Players) before he passed away. He had some very thoughtful comments on this subject that really stuck with me and kept that sound and influence a priority for me. Everyone I mentioned here, alongside the other musicians who played on this record deserved a huge amount of credit for building the sound and direction of this album.