Brooklyn-based emcee iLLspokinn presents the video for “The New JC”, a song from Vagabond Road, the collaboration EP between iLLspokinn and French DJ/producer ZaJazza (watch the music video for “Vagabond Road”). Raised in Taunton, Massachusetts by his Cape Verdean mother, iLLspokinn has collaborated with Sadat X (listen to “A New York Minute”) and Grammy award-winning vocalist Maya Azucena (listen to “Breathe”), and was named one of Rawkus’ 50 next important hip-hop artists as part of his band Spokinn Movement. He regularly performs worldwide, recently at Super Bowl LI for the official NFL pre-party in Houston, the Atlantic Music Expo in Cabo Verde and the Timitar Festival in Morocco. He also performs worldwide as a DJ, regularly DJing NBA events. “Last Call” his 2011 collaboration with Marsal Ventura, Jordi Vèliz & Aritz, remained at #1 on Barcelona’s FlaixFm dance charts for fourteen weeks (listen), and his single “Here We Go Again” has been featured on The Mindy Project, Rob Dyrdeck’s Fantasy Factory and Alpha House as well as Winter Olympics coverage. iLLspokinn is producer, host and co-founder of Freestyle Mondays, one of New York City’s longest-running hip-hop events, and is co-founder of Urban Art Beat, which partners artists and volunteers with underserved schools and organizations.
Based in Lyon after spending several years in New York, Dubai and Latin America, ZaJazza has collaborated with Homeboy Sandman (stream “Grown Folk Biz), performed alongside Quantic and Andy Smith of Portishead, was named Middle East DJ Champion in 2014, and has had his music used in FIFA World Cup coverage (ZaJazza on Bandcamp). “The New JC” is directed by Mtume Gant, the emcee/director currently touring in support of his second short film White Face. “As a teenager I was warned by my pops about the police force and how to act to stay alive,” iLLspokinn says about the track. “I was told that I may be treated differently and it wasn’t until it really happened that it sunk in. It’s important that people know that this conversation still has to happen today. I also wrote about my personal experiences with my family for the first time on record. I grew up in a Cabo Verde/American household. Cabo Verde is an African island country that was colonized by the Portuguese. A lot of Cape Verdeans identify with being Portuguese and not African, and that is an issue. That colonized mindset, like in a lot of cultures, carries on through generations and it affects the darker-skinned folk of that group. I also address the struggle of having close family members in the police force. I know they are good humans but I’m aware of what that badge stands for in a lot of our communities. We do NOT live in a post-racial society.”
What’s your process of collaboration with Zajazza? How do you guys tend to make music together?
Inspiration comes from both ends when we connect on each song. Either I’ll have an idea for a beat or he’ll have an idea for a song then we send each other scratch versions of what the vision is. It’s always easier to explain through the art. Since he lives in France a lot of our work is done over the internet. We work out our live sets when on the road.
How is the US hiphop market different from the overseas markets? Pros and cons?
There’s isn’t a “better” market overall but it depends on where you live and where you are traveling to. People tend to pay more attention to artists that they do not get to see often so, generally speaking, shows will have a higher attendance than in the artist’s hometown. This question cannot be answered in black and white. Hip Hop is still very young in a lot of different countries and that excitement is reflected in booking and merchandise sales. I’m blessed to have NYC as my home because what works here will work anywhere. NYC is tough because there are so many dope artists here consistently raising the bar. The market here is great motivation to head back overseas and crush.
What’s your opinion on freestyling and battle rapping in this new era? How do you feel its role has evolved in the culture?
I respect the skill of writing for your opponent and battling with no beat but I’m not a huge fan of it. I enjoy watching emcees actually freestyle, like real improvisation freestyle. The freestyle is still respected but it’s not used as much. There are events in NYC that keep the freestyle culture alive like Supreme Bars, EOW, Nocturnal Cyphers, Legendary Cyphers, and my event Freestyle Mondays. Battling is completely mainstream now so the freestyle element is becoming more and more of a risk. I dig heads who enjoy taking that risk.
What would be your dream team collaboration and why?
iLLspokinn x Black Thought x Andre 3000 x Anderson Pak. Why? Because they are the most versatile emcees in the game.
You tour relentlessly. What advice do you have for rappers about to hit the road?
Don’t treat all of your interactions as transactions. Build with folks around the world and stay genuine. The other is an obvious one that emcees don’t do often enough, work tirelessly on your live show. Make it better than your album.