A form of music wholly invented and exported by our US neighbours, many of us have grown up with hip hop pervading every corner of cultural lives. But hip hop’s influence is most assuredly not limited to our neck of the woods. Around the world, on the other side of the Pacific, the influence of hip hop is strong and gaining momentum all the time. “Australian hip hop has been around since the early ‘90s but it got really big around 2000-2001,” says Illy, an Aussie rapper talking to me from a beach in Melbourne as he prepares for his Canadian debut tour.
“I was from the generation that came after that, so I’ve kind of grown up the whole time with it being really popular. It’s kind of hard with the accent for a lot of the stuff to get outside Australia, but over here some of the biggest artists in the country are hip hop acts.”
For over a decade, Illy has been thumping away with his catchy, hook-laden rhymes, treading his own path in the growing world of Australian hip hop, and earning him critical acclaim and commercial success along the way. “I’ve just started to break out of Australia and do some international shows. I’ve done Europe a couple of times, including an opening spot touring with Hilltop Hoods. It’s no exaggeration saying how much we’re looking forward to getting over to Canada.”
It’s a new challenge, to be sure, but Illy sounds completely ready to take on the Great White North.
“There are some things that we play that are more relevant to people here than to people in Canada, but I’m confident in the music that I make and I think that’ll translate. I’m not stressing too much.”
The laid-back confidence and positivity Illy radiates over the phone runs through his music too. It’s a hallmark of the hip hop that comes from his native land and something he holds true to in all his art. “It’s a very different lifestyle to a lot of what American rappers are talking about. The songs definitely tend to come out more positive. It is just such a different culture that it would be hard to take it seriously if you came out talking about guns and money and shit. It’s just a different game.”
At the end of the day, no matter what’s happening in the music, none of it matters if you can’t deliver the goods in the live setting. An emcee coming to a new audience for the first time has to have an ace up their sleeve, something that will set them apart of from the herd. Illy, the surprising vet that he is, has honed his live show for years at home, preparing to unleash it here in Canada, with his first stop in Victoria to help warm up our last winter months.
“I play with a DJ and a drummer. It’s a really good dynamic for a live show. That live element to the beat really brings the show up a couple of notches,” says Illy of his live show. “We’ve had a lot of experience, particularly in the last year, getting it to a point that I’m really happy with. People coming out can expect a really high-energy show, and if they come with an open mind for the Australian accent in rap, I’m sure they’ll have a good time,” he says with a laugh.
Illy plays at Distrikt Nightclub, Feb. 20. with DJ Rich-A. Tickets are available at the door for $18 and in advance for $15 at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, and online at ticketfly.com