Here’s a fresh interview with Illa Ghee. The Brooklyn native and former Mobb Deep affiliate just released his new album Social Graffiti, which is arguably his best work to date. In our conversation, Illa Ghee discusses how and why he stepped his lyrical game up, which is evident in how he goes line-for-line on Social Graffiti with other lyricists in the upper echelon of the game, from Sean Price to O.C. to Royal Flush, as well as working with Large Professor on “90,” what went into the making of Social Graffiti, his history in the game, and much more.
Here are some quotes from the feature:
On his new album Social Graffiti:
Me, personally, I called it my “revenge” album because before, I felt quite a few people didn’t think I could rhyme like that. I mean, I always rhymed like that but I dumbed it down. I listened to a few friends of mine and they said that fans would not always understand what I say but I got tired of rhyming that way. People wanted to put me in a box as far as rhyming about the street life thing and I didn’t want to do that. That’s not my natural thing to rhyme about. I just wanted to go and be as lyrical as possible and feel as comfortable as possible with myself.
How his title Social Graffiti relates to the music:
Some people that don’t understand [hip-hop], all they hear is the curse words. For years, when I would write rhymes, the only thing that I would say was my words were “rob a store” and then “be on time on tour” and the only thing people would hear was that I robbed a store. They didn’t hear that I said my words would do that. They’re just looking straight for the negative. They’re not looking for the artform of it. But once you sit and listen, you’ll hear the artform of hip-hop, how the words come together, how it’s about being egotistical and saying you’re the best person. This is like Ali rap. Everyone is Ali and saying they’re the best they are and that’s what hip-hop is. It’s a competition. You can brag on your DJ, you can brag on your sneakers. You can brag on anything. And then it’s also how you put the words together and people don’t look at that as an artform, just like graffiti. People used to say, “Look at this trash that’s on the wall.” They weren’t looking how the people put the words together and the scheme and how the pink and green blended and how it’s an art. So for me, it’s like a social arfrom. You have to sit and listen to it to get the artform of hip-hop.
On his writing process:
My best writing, actually, it’s when I’m half-awake, half-asleep, actually. I do it at home. Sometimes I just go and sit outside and write. It could be millions of places, but when I’m half-sleepy…I really don’t drink too often and I don’t smoke weed too often. For me, it feels like a different level. But when I’m half-sleeping, yeah, I say some real crazy things.
On working with Large Professor on “90”:
I met Pro through DJ Premier. I forget where this club was but it was by 14th street. Preem was like, “Do you know Illa Ghee?” And Large Pro was like, “You got a song that’s a slow song, that was so dope.” And I just kept up with him. We talked here and there and I said, “If you don’t mind, I would love to rhyme on one of your beats.” When he sent me “90,” it had such a ‘90s feel so I had to rhyme that way. When he heard it, he loved it and he said it was crazy. That’s really how “90” came about and I just held onto it until it would match with everything else.