WORDS BY KHALID STRICKLAND a.k.a. BLACK PACINO
PHOTOS BY SUNDIATA ACREE a.k.a. THA SNYPER
Long before Ill Bill gained notoriety as a soloist and member of both Non-Phixon and La Coka Nostra, I predicted the hardcore rapper’s rise to greatness. At a time when lyricism mattered, I saw Bill and his brother Mad Mooney (now known as Necro) perform in the basement of an East Village lounge. The place was half-empty but those of us in attendance were impressed by the demented duo’s maniacal rhymes. When they left the stage, I gave my fellow Brooklynites due props and wished them luck in their budding careers.
At a recent listening party for Kill Devil Hills, a collaboration album by Ill Bill and legendary producer DJ Muggs, I amused Bill with that old story. The gathering took place at DJ Premier’s Headquarterz Studio in Midtown Manhattan. Headquarterz was formerly D&D, a studio with a rich Hip-Hop history and the walls are decorated with precious-metal plaques by B.I.G., Jay-Z, Gang Starr and many others. Fat Beats Records will distribute Kill Devil Hills so DJ Eclispe, who oversees all of their retail operations, was on-hand to host the listening session.
With grungy beats exclusively produced by Muggs and finely-crafted bars delivered by Ill Bill, Kill Devil Hills is 16 tracks of pure crack. Steel sharpens steel, so the special guests bring their A-game to this mosh-pit of an album. Raekwon leaves “Chase Manhattan” riddled with poison darts. B-Real feels right at home on the funky “Amputated Saint.” Everlast and Slaine of La Coka Nostra make requisite appearances on “Skulls & Guns.” One of the standout gems, “Trouble Shooters,” features wicked bars from Sean Price, O.C. and Sick Jacken.
After a group of journalists soaked-in the album (and plenty of free beer), Ill Bill explained the motivation behind this heatrock…
“I hope people dig it. I love the record and Muggs loves the record too… that’s the most important thing at this point. Records aren’t even selling anymore. When me and Muggs were recording this he was telling me he feels like he’s 21 again and this is like a reboot. Muggs is the last dude making records for money… he doesn’t give a fuck about money at all. I really wish we could give out copies of the record, I really don’t like doing this kinda shit. I don’t feel this is the way to really experience the record. If it was up to me, I’d chill with each of ya’all individually and smoke ya’all out and listen. This is a walkman album to me, I used to take the train every day for years and listen to albums. And this is a walkman album to me.”
Much like the subway train Bill used to ride, Kill Devil Hills rumbles through the dark, dirty underground with powerful momentum. The trailers and videos used to promote Kill Devil Hills have made great use of both traditional and computer animation.
During the free-for-all Q&A session, Bill explained to us how these clips came to be.
“I actually manage the animation company called More Frames. The story with them dudes is… the going rate for animation right now is $7,000 a minute. So I’m trying to get these dudes $7,000 a minute. That’s low-end, na’mean? But it’s hard to get 7,000. We’re having a hard time getting these dudes the work we wanna get ‘em. We’re getting offers from all kinds of people; got Pharrell hittin’ us up. People are interested but people don’t want to cut the right type of check for the amount of work that these guys are doing. And the videos they did for me, just on the strength of them being my homies and me being their manager, they’re doing these four videos for me at cost price which is way lower than $7,000 per minute. These four videos on the low-end should technically cost 70 or 80G’s ‘cuz it’s 11-minutes of animation.”
“But it ain’t about budgets for me. Somebody asked me, ‘What did you pay Muggs to do this record?’ Huh? What did I pay Muggs to do this record? What are you talking about? We made the record together, I didn’t pay Muggs. We made the record ‘cuz we love the record, then we went and played it for some people and secured the distribution. It’s weird how people think nowadays. I think it’s like, the gap between the independent stuff and the major stuff has gotten really big. It’s spread to the point where… I still hear crazy money being spent on a major label. It’s kinda like The Empire’s last-ditch attempt to try and turn it out.”
The rookie journalists asked the usual stupid-ass questions, like “How are you promoting the album?” (Duh… that’s why he invited us to the studio, bubblehead). So I asked Ill Bill why he chose to work with Muggs on this project.
“Well, I’ve always been a huge Cypress Hill fan. I always wanted to work with Muggs; I have a short-list of producers I’d like to work with and he was the last one on the list I hadn’t worked with. I got to work with everybody else so far. I wanna work with Just Blaze but he wasn’t on my list 10 years ago so I won’t count him. But Muggs is the producer I wanted to get on The Future Is Now and that didn’t happen. But I’ve had a relationship with Muggs for a while and I always knew who Muggs was… but Muggs (also) knew who I was. Back when Non-Phixon got that first deal with Geffen Records back in ’96, we were talking to him about doing production. It’s just one of those things where I always wanted to work with him.”
“Having said that, it was also like… did too many years pass before I got a chance to work with him? I didn’t know if the chemistry is there, na’mean? Or the expectations or whatever it is that I built up in my mind about how dope it would be to work with Muggs, if it didn’t live up to that, you know?”
“I ended up getting to work with him on my last album, The Hour of Reprisal. I worked with Muggs on two tracks and that’s where the rapport really started and at the same time we were doing the La Coka Nostra record. We got together with him a few times but it just didn’t materialize. We did a few joints with him but we never finished everything. And over the years I would just bump into Muggs at clubs, different functions like Magic in Vegas. It’s been so elusive. But it finally happened… I went to L.A., got in the studio with him and after a few days, the chemistry started becoming evident to both of us. We were kinda trippin’ and it just felt like we’d been working together for years.”
Ill Bill and Raekwon have collaborated on a shitload of songs, such as “Brazil” and “Enemy,” which has seemingly been remixed a dozen times.
They make for a good combination and there are musings that the two of them will do an album together. That’s a project I’d like to hear, so I asked Ill Bill about it and he set the record straight.
“It was never supposed to be an album; the internet turned it into an album. It’s one of those things where people started calling mixtapes albums. The way it started, I met Rae through a mutual friend of ours. He introduced us and it was his idea for me and Rae to do a mixtape called Weed Vs. Cocaine. (Raekwon and I) were like, ‘Cool, whatever.’ I guess I’m white, I’m the cocaine. We started recording songs at random. “Brazil” is one of them. So the 8 or 9 joints you’ve heard, those were all recorded for the mixtape. But what happened was, Rae was runnin’ around with the Aftermath possibility and Cuban Linx… I was doing stuff with La Coka. It just wasn’t focused, we never really got it done.”
“So little by little, the joints started getting leaked. Then somebody caught wind of it… Koch caught wind of it and a couple of other people… and started offering money and started adding their own ideas onto it. And saying, ‘You should get RZA to do a track! You should get Primo to do a track! This shit would be crazy!’ And when I went to Rae with that he was like, ‘Cool, tell them to get us the paperwork.’ And it’s a Catch-22 ‘cuz when I wanted to get the paperwork, they wanted to hear more music. It was just one of those things. The mixtape didn’t get done but I’m always down to work. If Rae calls me up and tells me to come to the studio, I’m there. Timing is everything.”
Indeed it is. I hope Coke Vs. Weed comes to fruition because it has the makings of an underworld classic. Keep in mind that Necro produced “Gihad,” one of the hottest cuts on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. If he contributed a few tracks this mixtape, that shit would really be fire. But that’s a story for another day.
DJ Muggs Vs. Ill Bill Kill Devil Hills will be available on August 24th and if you love hardcore, lyric-driven rap with the sickest beats imaginable, you’d be wise to cop it.
And now, here’s a sample of the bling on display at Headquarterz, courtesy of Tha Snyper…
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