Tuesday, November 17, 2009

iLL-literacy- A New Wave of Digit-iLL Funk

Futuristic, unique, intellectual, different, and peculiar are all words that can be used to describe the hip-hop group iLL-literacy. This past weekend I attended one of their shows here at the University for the first time which was hosted by Black.Expression.And.Thought.Society (better known as B.E.A.T.S) and the Asian Student Union. The group consists of members Dahlak, Nico, Drizzletron, and DJ Ada Clock. I later learned from group member Dahlak that they all met while attending University of California, Davis.
The group performed a mixture of hip hop music and spoken word. While interviewing group member Nico, I learned the group is transitioning to more hip hop pieces rather than spoken word. He explained that being an MC was his first passion and he kind of stumbled upon spoken word. Nico also went on to explain the music that they perform is considered hip-hop, but the group members refer to it as digital funk.

The production of the music was interesting within itself. I have attended several different hip-hop concerts before and every one of them had a DJ, but none like DJ Ada Clock. He produced the music as it was being performed. Most of the time when hip hop artists perform DJs spin the record and maybe scratch here and there. DJ Ada Clock actually chopped samples and used a beat machine live. I found this very intriguing because he allowed the audience to listen to the song for a short amount of time before creating something totally different. Different sound effects were used to create a futuristic sound similar to what Afrika Bambaataa did in the song, Planet Rock. Dahlak also played the keyboard simultaneously on a couple of tracks. At one point, DJ Ada Clock was playing a recorder and Drizzletron was playing a drum. Because they aim to be as futuristic as possible, the group’s stage presence is rather bizarre.

The lighting and stage setup was not like a normal hip-hop concert. The lighting was very low and almost eerie. At times you could not see the performers. They had flashing lights wrapped around each of the microphone stands. Also, the group used props and costumes during the show. These consisted of huge sunglasses, hats, newspapers, and lego costumes. These were all props that would not traditionally be seen at a hip-hop concert.

The group members are racially diverse. This element has a great effect on what iLL-literacy addresses in its music. The group consists of two African American males, an Asian male, and a biracial Asian and African American male who refers to himself as a “half golden child, half black baby.” The group addressed issues related to those that concern both Asians and African Americans. Their lyrics were very anti-establishment. They talked about controversial and current events such as the economy, the president, and racism. Oppression was an ongoing theme in each song. They even went down a list labeled the “Fuck U List” where they expressed everything and everyone they did not like in today’s society. The boldness of these statements caught the audience by storm, but at the same time the audience was whistling and cheering for them. The audience demographic was mainly African American and Asian.

The group once had a Pilipino female member, Ruby, but she left to pursue a career in television according to Drizzletron. Since this was my first time seeing the group perform, I had never seen Ruby perform with the group before. While watching the show, I could not imagine a female counterpart in the group. The guys dominated the stage and the scene appeared to be a “boys club.” I am not sure how the gender dynamic would work in the group now because one song they performed could only be performed by males. Their first single from their new album 1B4THE1.1, “Gentleman’s Kool-Aid,”is a song about what it means to be a gentleman in today’s society.
The first few songs of the group’s album, which was released today, are available on http://www.ill-literacy.com as a free download. iLL-literacy is definitely a new wave of the future. They take their spoken word skills and transform them into songs that are easy to identify with as a racial minority. Even those who may not be able to relate to race politics because they are in the majority can resonate with the social and political issues presented in the music. Although this may sound cliché, iLL-literacy is ill. Check them out.

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