(AllHipHop News) I first discovered The Boy Illinois as an opening act for a 2016 Lupe Fiasco show in Atlanta. One of the most memorable moments of the night was watching the audience react to the Chicago native’s Kurtis Blow/Nas/Lauryn Hill homage “Ruling Class ‘15.”
Over the next 18 months, Illi continued to tour and occasionally stop by Sway In The Morning to spit a freestyle, but the loafer aficionado hadn't dropped a project since 2015’s Dusable. That changed in October when The Boy Illinois returned with a 9-track audio dedication to his hometown.
Windy features fellow Chitown representatives Rico Recklezz, YP, Saba, Frsh Waters, and others. Sections of the mixtape once again showcased Illi’s admiration for the iconic emcees that laid the groundwork for him to build his brand of Hip Hop.
Last week, The Boy Illinois and I connected on the phone to discuss his latest project. Other topics like paying tribute to OutKast and Tupac Shakur as well as the problematic personal life of R. Kelly were part of the conversation too.
AllHipHop: What led to the two year break between the last project and Windy?
The Boy Illinois: A majority of that was because I was on tour with Lupe for like a year and a half, so we weren’t able to sit for two or three months to do a project. It was like we were on the road for three months, off another month, then we’re back. So I was dropping songs, but I couldn’t put a project together. I like to sit with it for a second. After the tour, it was like, “Alright, we’re going straight to the studio 24/7." We got like three other projects besides Windy finished.
AllHipHop: So you have more projects on the way?
The Boy Illinois: Yeah. The original project that was supposed to come out under Priority as my EP was Road Winds. But I had a conversation with my manager and Malik Yusef, and they told me I needed to put a mixtape out. I had all this material that I was sitting on. It was like literally a must that we made Windy. It was just me linking up with all my people from Chicago. It’s pretty much all Chicago producers and features. My publicist named the project when we took it to her to listen to the songs. She was like, “This is just Chicago, so you gotta call it Windy.”
AllHipHop: You mentioned Priority. Can you explain your relationship with them?
The Boy Illinois: They’re a very good middleman. We have a great relationship with the people there. I think Trackster is at Priority. He’s from Chicago, so we got some fam up there. No I.D, he’s from Chicago. That’s Capitol which is like the same thing. They’re the third party, strictly distribution. So whenever we got some sh-t and we feel like we need a bigger platform to release it on, instead of doing it ourselves, we can pitch it to them and see where we go from there. That door is open now off of the “Dancing Like Diddy” joint. So we’re gonna use it to our advantage and hopefully we’re both gonna gain something good out of it.
AllHipHop: Do you know if Diddy saw that video?
The Boy Illinois: I have no clue. Everybody is like, “Yeah, he’s seen it by now.” My big homie Twista was like, “He sees everything, so he’s probably seen it by now.” I was like, “I don’t think he’s seen it.” Twista said, “Nah, I’m pretty sure he’s seen it.” Somebody else in the industry told me, “Yeah, he probably saw it already.” It would be dope. Even if I don’t know nothing about it, as long as he’s seen it, that’s cool with me.
AllHipHop: When I saw the cover art for Windy, I instantly recognized you were paying homage to OutKast. Why did you draw inspiration from Aquemini?
The Boy Illinois: I get a lot of people saying I look like André 3000 because of my hair and the way I dress. That’s one aspect of it. On the spiritual aspect of it, we had just come into the Age of Aquarius and you have Aquemini the album. So it was paying homage to one of my favorite groups, and at the same time, being it corresponds with the universe, I wanted to do that. And [OutKast] had the women [on the album cover], and women represent a powerful aspect of the forces of nature. The woman at the top is Oya. In the Yoruba religion, she is like the storm that comes through and destroys thing so that you can build anew. The woman at the bottom is her mother Yemaya which is the ruler of the waters. So the spiritual aspect and Hip Hop, mash it together and you got Windy.
AllHipHop: Besides the OutKast connection, when you listen to the project you hear that you make a lot of references to legendary artists, like with the 2Pac soundbite on “Salute.” There’s been a lot of conversation in the culture lately about the “generational gap.” Why is it so important for you to show love to the emcees that came before you?
The Boy Illinois: I was raised by good OGs. No matter what they were into in the streets, they knew what they were doing was ultimately going to lead to some sort of demise. I got a lot of the "you’re a hooper” or “you rap, you need to move from this area.” So being raised on that and being around older cats, this was the music I grew up on. I hung around older folks, me and my homie Rel who’s one of my producers. Hanging around older folks all the time, you pick up certain traits and values. Not only that, you pick up the music they listen to. Because of the lack of education being passed down on a cultural basis, you want to reinforce it without having to preach it. That’s kind of one of the ways I do it.
AllHipHop: You recently dropped a video for “Didn't I.” Are you planning to create more visuals from tracks off Windy?
The Boy Illinois: We’re probably gonna do seven of the nine videos. We finished “90/94 Freestyle" with my brother YP. We’re getting ready to shoot "Cool" with Saba and Frsh Waters. After that, we’re gonna be running with Rico Recklezz. Then at the end of the year, I’m probably gonna shoot “Run Around.” So we’ll probably have four more videos coming out before the end of this month.
AllHipHop: Before the end of the month?
The Boy Illinois: Yeah, well, probably two of them. I know my folks are gonna be like, “Nope. We’re not gonna release all of them.” [laughs] But we’re shooting all of them within the next two weeks. So who knows?
AllHipHop: You stay on it.
The Boy Illinois: Yeah, it’s no games. I’m at a point now where I haven’t been in this position before, so I gotta keep showing and proving. It’s work, work, work.
AllHipHop: What was the thought process behind the “Othello” track posted to SoundCloud?
The Boy Illinois: That’s a great question. I really just posted that to post it. I had been sitting on that for a minute, and I was like, “I’m not even gonna tell nobody I released it, so whoever follows me on SoundCloud are gonna be able to hear it." It was just something I did in the studio. I have tons of songs. Free Chill. I record out of 1st & 15th Studios. Since the top of the year I’ve just been recording. So I just put it out there to put it out there. People will probably stumble across it later.
AllHipHop: I noticed a tweet that you posted where you tweeted about R. Kelly still having this large support, even after all these years of abuse and sexual misconduct allegations. There’s been a lot of news recently about these famous men, and in some cases women, facing accusations. Why do you think R. Kelly still has this large, supportive fan base despite all these allegations?
The Boy Illinois: As I said, we as people, men and women, and especially melanated, black, or whatever you refer to yourself as - we have a syndrome and condition that we keep going back to the people that don’t like us and the people who abuse us for some reason.
AllHipHop: Like Stockholm syndrome?
The Boy Illinois: Yes. If you look at R. Kelly’s victims, they’re young black women. Then you go to his fan base, and his fan base is older black women. There aren't dudes like, “I’m finna go to this R. Kelly concert.” I’ve never heard that before. If a dude goes, he’s going with his girl or because a lot of women are gonna be there. So predominately, the people that support him are the people that he’s abusing. The same goes to the retail game with things men and women buy, knowing that these people don’t like us, we still support them. That’s a big part of it. And when the fashion or the music is so good, it’s hard to detach yourself from it.
AllHipHop: On a lighter note, I asked this question last year, so I wanted to check back in with you. How many pairs of loafers do you own now?
The Boy Illinois: Oh man, I have more gym shoes now. But I feel like I’m at like five pair of loafers. I live with my girl now, so my closet is pretty small now compared to hers.