Brooklyn emcee Joell Ortiz and New Jersey producer !llmind connected for two tracks on Joell’s 2014 album House Slippers. The two East Coast representatives decided to continue the artistic synergy of their previous collaborations by joining forces for additional music.
Joell and !ll logged in more studio time together, and the result of those recording sessions is their first joint LP Human. The 11-track project is described as a “musical manifestation of their long-time friendship.” The album also represents the duo’s reflection of the current human condition.
With help from Emilio Rojas, Bodega Bamz, Chris Rivers, Father Dude, and Jared Evan, Human breathes life into a Hip Hop universe looking for a cohesive lyrical offering. Joell’s energetic rhymes riding over !llmind’s dynamic beats forges a union that will likely lead many listeners to call for a sequel.
AllHipHop.com interviewed Joell Ortiz and !llmind about their Human album. The Slaughterhouse member and the Roseville Music Group founder cover the highs and lows of social media, the music industry’s shift toward streaming, and what the future holds for the partnership as well.
Are you going by “Human” as a group name?
Joell: Human is just the name of the album, but to me it’s more what the music embodies. It’s really just the symbol for the music that we’re making together.
You two have been working together for a while. Why did you decide now was the time to do a full joint project together?
Joell: We actually didn’t decide that. The music took its own life. We wanted to do a couple of records. A couple of records turn into the Human album. Like you said, we’ve always had a good relationship as friends and as colleagues. The music this time around – it just sounded so now that we just kept recording. We kept vibing out. The energy of the studio was great, and we ended up doing a whole project.
!llmind, the beats that ended up on this project, were they always meant for Joell? Or were they just tracks that you created and as you got in the studio you saw they fit together?
!llmind: It was a lot of the stars aligning. When I first got with Joell, and he wanted to lock in and work on a project, at first it was just him wanting to make music with me.
It’s crazy, because I just so happened to have tracks that I literally did the last few weeks at that time. I wasn’t necessarily shopping them. It was more so music that I felt like I needed the right person to get on those kinds of tracks, so when I got with Joell the timing was perfect.
We just went with the flow. We started with one song. Actually, I think the first song we did was “New Era.” From “New Era,” that opened up the creativity of the direction for the songs. We took it from there. A lot of it was just us vibing together.
None of it was me emailing Joell a bunch of beats and him picking them with me not being there. Every session we did together in the studio, brainstorming together, switching things here-and-there, and trying new ideas. So it was very much a creative process that was done together in the studio.
When you guys are doing joint projects there has to be some artistic compromising that happens. Was there any point where you had different opinions about the direction of the recordings? If so, how did you settle that to come together to create the final project?
Joell: To believe it or not, there wasn’t too much compromising. It was more just building. It was ideas on top of ideas, not talking and ideas replacing others. It was more like, “I get that, and maybe if I did this and flowed this way.” “Yeah and if I drop the beat here and maybe add a chord progression.” It was all building. It wasn’t compromising.
I was excited to hear the music, because it’s not something that I’m normally known to rap on. That sound is not something people associate with Joell rhyming over. It was challenging, and I’m always up to a challenge. It was fun and different this time around.
So there wasn’t really any compromising. It was just building of ideas and tossing around different elements in the music and in the rhymes to make the songs and the album sound cohesive and true.
Joell, on the intro, there’s audio of you talking about being a part of Slaughterhouse but missing being able to talk about where you come from. Was your lyrical approach on this project different from your approach on Slaughterhouse projects?
Joell: When I’m dealing with Slaughterhouse, I’m not always leading a song. Sometimes I’m finalizing an idea of Royce, Joe or Crook. It puts me in a certain mind frame. The song wasn’t spawned from me. It was someone else sparking my creativity, and then I follow along and bring Joell to the idea.
When I do Joell stuff, it’s just me brainstorming, talking about the things I want to talk about, and me just being me all the time. I’m leading and finishing everything, and that’s not the case with Slaughterhouse. I love my brothers for that, because we make incredible music bouncing the lead off of each other.
I love doing that, because you’re not always in a certain mood or you’re not always in a certain mindset. So you need that little spark. On the solo stuff, I search inside myself to see what I want to talk about and why. It’s a little bit of a different creative approach.
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You dropped “Latino Pt. 2” as a single. Why did you decide to revisit your 2007 song for this particular album?
Joell: I wouldn’t call “Latino Pt. 2” a single. It was a leak off of the album to get people talking and to get people to realize this was happening, it wasn’t just an announcement that was gonna go away or something that was just in the works, this was getting done.
When I hollered at Emilio, Chris, and Bodega, they were all on board. I needed “Latino Pt 2,” because it was the sequel to that proud feeling I had off that first album with the original. Two totally different energies, but a very proud song.
I wanted to embrace the Latino culture wholeheartedly. I brought those guys on. They’ve been grinding forever. It was just one of those real rap records that we wanted to put out first.
The album has been described as both of you reflecting on your current conditions. Recently, there has been a lot of focus on race relations in America. How does that topic of race play into your individual lives and did you feel the need to address that on the album?
!llmind: I don’t think race was a focal point in the creation of it at all, but race being one aspect of what a human being is or what humans are. That’s sort of where the connection comes from.
The focal point was more so human, being human, and what it means to be human. All the errors, all the love, the hate, and those different things that make up what a human being is. We felt the word “human” perfectly describes what the album is and what we’re trying to accomplish.
At the end of the day, when you think “human,” it’s everything from the aggression to the honesty to the sacrifice and vulnerability. All those emotions that makes up what a human is. That is what the theme of the album was. I don’t think it was a race thing. I think it was a human thing in general.
Joell: I definitely agree with that. It wasn’t a race driven record. It was more of a Hip Hop record with Latin people on it. We didn’t have a big meeting like, “Let’s make a Latin record.” It was just a “vibe out” thing like the rest of the album. It was just energy, music, and rap.
Not snap chatting. Nope
— Joell Ortiz (@JoellOrtiz) June 15, 2015
Joell, I was listening to the album, and I noticed you had a line on “Six Fo” where you rapped about someone getting shot for being a blogger. On “Lil’ Piggies” you say social media isn’t real. Then I saw you posted a tweet where you said you weren’t really into Snapchat. What are your thoughts on internet culture and social media?
Joell: It’s the freedom to express yourself, but I feel like people are using it in the wrong way a lot. It’s the freedom to be ignorant. It’s the freedom to be a clown. For me, it’s a way to be one-on-one with my fans, for them to get to know me better and get to know my personality.
But I do see a lot of things going on where people are using that platform in the wrong way. You have kids following the wrong kind of things. As a parent of two boys, sometimes I look online and I’m like, “Man, my kids have access to some of this foolishness and ignorance.” I dislike it, and I don’t stand for it.
There’s some great things about social media. Being on an independent level, it works as a label for us. We do a lot of promoting and business on our social media feeds, but that’s not always the case with Joe Schmoe in the middle of wherever flashing guns or just doing some wrong things with that power.
You got people with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, and the message they’re portraying on their media feeds isn’t the greatest one. I feel like this is great for independent artists to get people to know you and your brand. On the flip side, there’s a bunch of wrong happening on those social media platforms, and I don’t really feel them.
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This generation is not consuming music as far as physical copies like CDs or even downloading. Everything is switching to streaming. There have been a lot of wrangling for position among the streaming sites, and some artists are pushing back against that. How do you feel about the direction the music business – in particular the streaming portion – is taking at the moment?
!llmind: I think it’s a little too early to tell what’s working and what isn’t, but one thing I can say is that technology is evolving at a really rapid pace right now. Moving into this streaming thing seems like a normal progression in technology.
My whole thing of dealing with music is as long as people are listening to the music and want access to the music, I think guys like me, Joell, and people that rely on music for a living – as long as there’s a way to monetize that, that’s always going to be a good thing. Tidal and Apple, these are multi-billion dollar corporations that are trying to figure out how to monetize this stuff and make money for themselves too.
At the end of the day, as long as people have access to music I personally don’t care what platform it is. As long as they can get it, hear it, love it, come to our shows, and support us in other ways. We’re in this weird shift happening right now, so only time will tell.
Joell and !llmind have the Human album. You have Human merchandise. Can we assume you guys will release more music and do more tours together as a duo?
Joell: The formation of this album came off vibes. The vibe is still happening. We’ve already discussed recording on the road.
You’re dealing with two guys that are passionate about making music, capturing the moment, and recognizing the time. I can see more music in the future, but right now we’re focusing on our Human vibe.
We’re happy. We’re creating good music. It’s been a success on every level for both of us. We’re doing what we love to do, and we’re executing it. We’re experiencing and enjoying the life that comes behind creating music.
[ALSO READ: EXCLUSIVE: Joell Ortiz Discusses The Possibility Of A Total Slaughter 2 Battle Rap Event]
Joell Ortiz and !llmind’s Human is scheduled for release via Roseville Music Group on July 17. Pre-order the album on iTunes.
For more information about the “Human Tour” visit waytoohuman.com.