Over the past few years, the DJ’s role in the distribution of Hip-Hop music has changed drastically. For artists looking to get their music out to the fans, a mixtape DJ is needed to host the project. In some cases, artists acquire as many as 3 or 4 DJs to host their mixtape. Oh, how times have changed. Gone are the traditional days of popping your trunk to build the buzz, right? Nope, not so fast – not according DJ Ill Will and his Alumni Music Group.
Don’t know Ill Will? Well, then we don’t want to know you, because after hosting some of Hip-Hop’s most downloaded mixtapes, Ill Will is at the forefront of online mixtape DJs, and has embedded his footprint on the Los Angeles and online Hip-op scene for years to come.
Always thinking ahead of the curve, DJ Ill Will’s path in the game hasn’t been like typical club or street DJ. After leaving South Bend post-college and making the jump to Los Angeles, Ill Will has been developing his lane online for roughly the past five years, mostly via the Alumni Music Group brand and its flagship artist, Kid Ink, who has 30 million plus views online.
Trust us when we say that your wifey knows a song is a hit record, especially when she hears the “cuff yo chick,” drop on a DJ Ill Will mixtape. But that name brand recognition didn’t just evolve over night. Ill Will credits his early embrace of the more Pop and R&B-sounding Hip-Hop artists in ’07, as the bridge that led to his work with Soulja Boy, Tyga, Ya Boy, Wiz Khalifa, Gudda Gudda, Bow Wow, Jae Millz, Yung Berg, Trey Song, and Drake, to name a few.
So what does Ill Will think it takes to make it these days? What is the best way for artists get their music posted by taste-making bloggers and popular websites? Take a look at AllHipHop.com’s exclusive sit-down with one of the hottest online mixtape DJs in the game, as we go to school with Ill Will and find out what it takes to be an “Alumni.”
AllHipHop.com: Ill Will, what’s good, sir!?
DJ Ill Will: Chillin,’ man. We on the West Coast, so I’m just getting my day started, was in the studio late last night.
AllHipHop.com: Ok, that’s whats up.
DJ Ill Will: Yeah, we were in there with Kid Ink and Ty$.
AllHipHop.com: Word, that’s dope. So to get started, for the viewers that don’t know, tell us a little bit about your background.
DJ Ill Will: Yeah, to be honest I’m originally from South Bend, Indiana, graduated from college and moved to L.A., no aspirations to join the music industry. It just so happened I kind of became friends with a lot of upcoming rappers. So, I did my first mixtape in ’07 just to support some kids locally and kind of help them find a different kind of fan base. I have always been big on using online blogs and forums, before it was as big as it is now, and a lot of these kids that we knew were just ‘hood rappers that were talented, but they didn’t really understand the online game. I just started dabbling in the mixtape game just to really try to give them another outlet and sense of awareness and it kind of just exploded and went from a hobby to a career [laughter].
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, man, over the last couple years, you have had some of the biggest mixtapes to drop in the game. From Wiz to Kid Ink, to Chris Brown and Tyga to Soulja Boy, you have been busy, bro.
DJ Ill Will: Yeah, it was perfect timing, and when I first started online was kind of frowned upon and people were considered internet DJs, and as time went on, and as the Internet became a focal point, I think that it really kind of turned the tables for my career because it went from frowned upon to being embraced, and already I was a foot ahead of the competition because I had built my awareness online, people trusted my brand. So you know once that whole thing hit, when people would be like, “you have to get it poppin online,” I was just one of the go-to guys. It kind of just happened that way, and I was just working with Tyga and Chris Brown and Bow Wow, Soulja Boy, and it kind of just exploded after that.
AllHipHop.com: Ok, that’s not a bad start. So, Tyga and Chris Brown and Bow Wow were some of your first real big mixtapes?
DJ Ill Will: Yeah, definitely, as far as like Tyga, I been working with Tyga since ‘07 or ‘08, and being he is from L.A., I was heavy in the streets out here, because I was working with all the West Coast artists. Tyga, I’m not saying he was a fan, but he was aware of my importance out here on the West Coast, and as he evolved, I tried to evolve as well to work with bigger and bigger acts, and taking advantage of that.
Then he teamed up to Chris and he reached out to me to be a part of that project, you know because obviously he was just being a loyal person because I was down with him when nobody else was really f*ckin with him. So working on the project with Chris was definitely one of the biggest projects I did, and probably the only thing that could compete with that is Wiz’s Burn After Rolling and Meek Mill’s Mr. Philadelphia, things like that. Obviously, Kid Ink’s projects now are doing extremely real well at this point ,so I could say they are definitely in that competition level of those projects as well.
AllHipHop.com: Talk to me about your relationship with Kid Ink. He’s the main artist you are working with right now, right?
DJ Ill WIll: Yeah, I’m the CEO of the Alumni Music Group, and Kid Ink is the flagship artist on the team. I was successful getting my money up, and I was doing well in the mixtape game, and I was looking for something else because I don’t want to be a mixtape DJ at 50 or 60 years old. So, I had been looking for years for the right artist to manage, and you know I took a couple shots and tried it just didn’t fit. But when I heard him, I was like, “Wow, this kid is gonna be a problem.” I sat down got the business right, and we explored what we both wanted to do professionally, and it was a perfect fit, and bam, it’s been a blessing, the kid is a work-a-holic, which is perfect for me.
AllHipHop.com: That’s whats up, man. So, how did you come up with phrases and drops used in your mixtapes?
DJ Ill Will: Early on, I was only doing West Coast mixtapes, and I was going for a more rugged appeal, and I just realized, I’m not a real rugged gangster dude, and I wasn’t trying to bite off those mixtape DJs heavy in the streets and those type of DJs that have that appeal. So I said let me separate myself from the music that I don’t do and I always liked the urban pop and R & B. I always f*cked with more urban pop than electro or club pop. So I sat down one day, I came to a realization that I needed to be in a different lane, being more pop than street. So I started dabbling in the R&B mixtape scene, dealing with a few artists that were more pop than street, then that’s when it all started making sense. Then my friend was like, “You’re like the only mixtape DJ that my girl will listen to; you’re my wifey’s favorite DJ.” I was like, “Ohh that’s so ill, I gotta use that.” So that was so ill I had to use it, and that was recorded and remade and redid, so it was really clean.
Basically, man, like my whole awareness popped off on the Internet when I would leak these big records on the Internet from huge artists. When I was leaking these big records from huge artists, I would put, “cuff yo’ chick,” on all the big records. So I don’t put “cuff yo’ chick,” on every record – only the dope ones – and I just put it on all these records and so I put that tag on only a 1/10 of the records that are really out there and only the biggest ones. So if you hear “cuff yo chick,” you know its gonaa be a big record, it just kind of evolved and the records spread across the world to where it kind of just brainwashed them.
AllHipHop.com: OK, tough question, man…Live Mixtapes or DatPiff?
DJ Ill Will: Dat Piff all day.
AllHipHop.com: How come?
DJ Ill Will: Well, my relationship started with Dat Piff started with me just being a fan, and I just was like if you are going to be the featured mixtape, you made it. That’s how big of a fan I was. I never reached out to them, but the timing was right and they reached out to me, and the relationship was built organically. But the dude that runs the site KP is one of the coolest, dopest dudes I met on the website. So DatPiff and HotNewHipHop are my sites I go to everyday.
AllHipHop.com: The L.A. Hip-Hop scene is really budding, things are really shaking out nicely out there. Can you explain your take on the LA Hip-Hop scene?
DJ Ill Will: I mean, L.A. right now is on the verge of breaking, and I think it’s a whole new wave, I think it was a very confused movement for a while. It was like so West Coast, like gangsta with khakis and Chucks, gangter, Crips and Bloods, and it was like so many kids thought they had to follow that format, and it wasn’t right. People felt they had to make certain types of records with that khakis, low-rider, g-funk sound music, and because the way the West Coast was perceived outside of the west was the same, and I don’t think it was right or that people believed it. So I think eventually these young kids were like, “f*ck that, we don’t listen to that,” and just started creating their own sound, thats where you see the YG’s popping up. Nipsey Hussle is one of dopest artists out right now; Kid Ink, Schoolboy Q is getting big now, Kendrick Lamar, Casey Veggies, Dom Kennedy, Pac Div, there’s so hot many artists out here on the West Coast and it’s not just regionally. I am really excited to be a part of it, because I really believe in it this time around.
AllHipHop.com: That’s crazy, man. It’s dope, man. Just thinking about it, you just listed off a whole bunch of artists, bro. Its impressive what the West has to offer now.
DJ Ill Will: [laughter] Yeah, man. There’s a huge movement out here and these kids are doing their own shows and its never been like that on the West Coast. To even pack a club, it would have to be three or four New West acts, but it would be 500 rappers standing around mean-muggin.’ Now, it’s like thousands of White kids at a Kid Ink or Tyga show, kids screaming and yelling, trying to pull their shirt off. It’s crazy.
AllHipHop.com: It’s funny how it just takes a lil’ bit for the scene to evolve.
DJ Ill Will: That’s exactly what happened, and even Wiz, I would consider Wiz as a West Coast artist. He’s as West Coast as it gets, to keep it 100, and I think that he helped evolve the scene, letting artists know that you don’t have to go that lane and opened some doors and let artists know that you can still be accepted and appreciated.
AllHipHop.com: Throughout the convo, we have talked about online marketing and developing an online presence. If you can, give your overall feelings about the online world with mixtape DJs etc., your feelings about the growing your buzz as an artist.
DJ Ill Will: Well, I think right now it’s more competitive than ever, and it’s really tough for a new person to crack. I think that it all really begins in the streets. You can’t just get on the Internet. I don’t think that you can just go out there spamming people with your link. I think that it starts with the buzz and movement in the streets, getting people to talk about you, and share your info with people online. I think the work ethic and the quality has to be high quality dope artwork and videos.
I think videos are the new mixtape. If you are shooting quality videos for dope records, more people are going to take two minutes out of their day to watch a video than to go to a website, download a link, unzip it, burn it to a CD and put it in their car. There are so many steps that it takes to actually get people to listen to you, I think that if you shoot five dope videos to your records then your buzz is really going to change. The YouTube movement is crazy. Kid Ink has 30 million YouTube views, and I can’t tell you how important it has been for our movement.
You have to understand it’s so competitive. There are like a million artists out there, and it’s just so hard that its really key to get people not depend on HotNewHipHop’s, Rap Radar, 2Dopeboyz, NahRight, OnSmash, and Hot New Hip-Hop. It’s too competitive to dry e-mail them and expect them to embrace you; it’s just not going to happen.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, I know what you mean, bro. It gets hectic.
DJ Ill Will: You can try and keep up with it, but then it becomes your job to listen to music 24/7. You couldn’t imagine how many people bang on me, and you can’t take it personal and its really not personal because they don’t know me and I don’t know them. I would have gave you the chance, but you are couple years late online. So to add, I think they need to find a local DJ to run with them, that’s going to be key for them, to have a middle man and someone that can push their music for them.
AllHipHop.com: That’s good advice, man. Everyone thinks they need to be on those sites.
DJ Ill Will: But you really don’t. Odd Future, they created a movement from the streets and of “ 2dopeboyz,” or “f*ck NahRight,” because they were getting no support. Like they worshiped those websites and never got embraced, and they went a different route and those websites still don’t f*ck with them, and they got a huge buzz. They never got that blog support from them, they created a new movement through the streets. They went through YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, whatever they did. They are where they are and people are forced to f*ck with them, because they are so hot and once you create a certain amount of traffic, whether you like an artist or not, the Internet game is all a business. If you aren’t bringing traffic to the site, then you aren’t going to be in business long.
AllHipHop.com: Explain your role as a producer, or any role you are looking to take in the future as an A & R.
DJ Ill Will: I think a lot of people, they think that I produce and make beats, but I definitely am not that guy. (laughs) Any bit of production that I do is more along the lines of picking out beats for a project as an A&R to find the right sound and right producer and getting in the studio with Kid Ink. Like, this is the kind of sound that I want to go with you, just trying to evolve the sound, and take it to that next level by being creative, but staying in the same mold.
I would consider my self as a producer with Ink because I have been there from the ground up with him as far as helping him evolve his sound. Whether it just is feedback or production that I get to him or by saying, “yes this is the right record,” or, “no this isn’t the right record.” So, I would consider myself a producer in the aspect that I help him decide which records to push and which records are hot and which ones to keep on the shelf and which ones to push. People hit me every day like, “you are the best producer ever!” But I have never made a beat in my entire life.
AllHipHop.com: [laughter] So when you DJ, are there any particular pieces of equipment that you like to use?
DJ Ill Will: Pretty much, I bring my Serato, and I deal with whatever the club has to work with. Technology has evolved so much at this point that quality should never be an issue, but the key is always making sure your brand is always quality and top of the line.