Skyzoo & Illmind Jump “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
In a day and age when music is never more than a few mouse-clicks or touchscreen-swipes away, it's easy to forget that, once upon a time, the latest jams were not circulated in the form of blog features or online downloads, but passed from one listeners to the next in the form of lovingly-crafted cassette tapes. That practice is largely a thing of the past – but, fortunately, we have artists like underground emcee Skyzoo and producer !llmind to keep its spirit alive alive. Now, the Brooklyn mainstay responsible for last year's critically-acclaimed The Salvation LP and the prolific Jersey beatsmith have joined forces to create “a 2010 cassette tape” in the form of collaborative full-length Live From the Tape Deck. Released this past Tuesday the era-bridging project comes complete with singles “Frisbees” and “Speakers on Blast,” as well as reader-acclaimed leaks “Barrel Brothers” and “The Burn Notice.”
In this exclusive, five-question interview, Skyzoo and !llmind discuss the genesis of their collaboration, their chemistry in the studio, and whether or not hip-hop has lost its way in the digital age.
How did the idea of a collaborative album come about?
Skyzoo: The idea actually came from Dru Ha, so I gotta give credit where its due. !llmind and I have been friends as well as worked together musically for years now, but we never looked at the obvious and thought of a full length collabo album. Dru approached !llmind and I separately, and we both agreed immediately. It was a no brainer.
!llmind: I definitely have to bring up Dru-Ha for bringing up the idea to me. He shot me an email one day asking how I feel about doing a full album with Skyzoo. It made perfect sense granted the working relationship I had with both Skyzoo and Duckdown Records, so it was almost a no brainer.
Do your styles as an emcee and producer mesh naturally, or did you have to make some adjustments in order to make the collaboration work over the course of a full-length album?
Skyzoo: Everything meshed naturally. The one thing that !llmind and I have in common is versatility. We both like to do tons of different things musically, so it was perfect. There weren't any disagreements or tug of war sessions or anything. We were on the same page 100% of the time. We did the whole thing in a month, which is a testament to how well we work together.
!llmind: The chemistry between me and Skyzoo is really natural. Prior to the album, we both already had 5 or 6 songs together, and I've known Sky for years. I knew this project would feel organic because of our work history.
(For Skyzoo) On Frisbees you tried something out-of-the-ordinary on the lyrical tip, beginning each line with the final word of the the last. Does working under limitations make it more difficult to come up with rhymes, or is it a springboard to greater creativity?
Skyzoo: I don't really see myself under limitations because I have the freedom to what I want to with Duck Down. If anything, sometimes I feel like the fans may not get everything I wanna do lyrically, it may go over certain people's heads, etc. But on Frisbees I threw caution to the wind and did what I wanted to do, regardless of anyone catching it or not.
(For !llmind) On Live From the Tape Deck, you make heavy use of late-'80s analog synths to achieve a “warm” sound. Are there any specific old-school producers or releases that influenced your approach on the project?
!llmind: The one producer I can honestly say had a huge impact and influence on me was the late, great J-Dilla. He will always be #1 to me. I appreciated so much of his technique and approach to making tracks. He was always very free with his music, and you can tell that he doesn't conform to any one particular sound. He's also one of the few producers that you can tell has fun with it.
The concept (“a 2010 cassette tape”) and sound of Live From the Tape Deck are heavily suggestive of nostalgia for hip-hop's past. Do you feel like the genre's strayed from its roots as it's adapted to the digital age?
Skyzoo: Yes and no. Yes because of where mainstream hip hop and the general picture of what 2010 hip hop is has become so different, and no because with the digital age came the ability of finding the type of music you want, at any given time. So its easier to walk away from what you don't like, log online and search for what you do. When creating the album though, the goal wasn't to make a boom bap album. We wanted to create a great representation of 2010 hip hop and all of the different facets within it.
!llmind: I think it has to a certain extent. I think artists immediately think that they have to sound a certain way in order to capture that magic, which isn't necessarily true. I think the nostalgia of the past comes from honesty, passion, and quality. If you possess those qualities while making music, you can see the quality goes up drastically.
Final thoughts? Confessions? Shout outs?
Skyzoo: Shouts to everyone who supports what !llmind and I are doing, and all the lyric lovers. Enjoy this one, for real. And shouts to Beats By Dre headphones, which made the album so dope to record when using those in the booth. Holla.
!llmind: HUGE SHOUT to Duckdown Records, Skyzoo, everyone featured on the album, and anyone and everyone who has contributed to this project to make it a reality. "I salute to you a million times." - Skyzoo on "Langston's Pen"