It's been a long time coming, but Australian hip hop has well and truly gained a great deal of penetration throughout the mainstream channels. Any cringe-worthy notions attributed to rap with a 'Strayan accent have long dissipated. So it's strange to find the ultra-naff term 'skip hop' weaselling its way into the vernacular. It's a term that one of the biggest names in the game, Melbourne MC Illy, stays fairly agnostic. "Ha! Nah man, well I just call it 'local hip hop'. I suppose anyone can just call it what they like, it doesn't really matter."
2010 proved to be a momentous year for the Melbourne-based rapper, with the release of sophomore LP The Chase, which contains the crossover smash It Can Wait. Illy saw out the year with a slot at Pyramid Rock, and the crowd's reaction proved to be a testament to Aussie hip-hop's broadening appeal. "Pyramid was fuckin' sick man, like that's obviously my local festival for New Year's - I think I've been about three times as a punter. So be able to play that was incredible," he explains. "All due respect to the other artists, I think we had one of the biggest crowds in the tent for the whole festival. It was fucking awesome," he recalls with a happy sense of amazement.
The start of the New Year finds Illy enjoying a brief respite from music - which isn't to say the dude's exactly been kicking back and relaxing. "Yeah the year's been pretty good so far, just trying to get through some subjects at uni, then it's back into the music," he states with a grin.
Finding the balance between a burgeoning music career and intensive tertiary study is a pretty hefty task, and it seems like Illy's pretty chuffed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. "Yeah five more months then I'm finito. Can't wait," he laughs. Then it's onto a mammoth country-wide tour, "Yeah I've been hittin' the gym every day, you know?" he laughs. "Yeah like running up stairs with my hoody up, punching the air…
"Nah," he grins, "but I've just been going through the set really, getting the show together. The drummer's coming on the whole tour, which is a first. So it'll just add another element to the show. So it'll be Cam the drummer, and M-Phazes as DJ. Just the three of us wiggin' out on stage pretty much," he laughs.
As well as gaining a deal of commercial recognition, The Chase has also received its share of critical praise, a fact not lost on Illy. "Yeah I'm stoked; all the people I really give a fuck about have given it good reviews. I mean, there are a few negative ones, but you just take the good with the bad. In this case, the good far outweighs the bad," he shrugs. "I knew it was a strong album, I just didn't expect it to explode like it did."
That explosion can be attributed to the runaway success of lead single It Can Wait, featuring fellow buzz-garnering Melbournite Owl Eyes. "It was originally just me singing the harmony in the chorus, which was cool, it just didn't have that little cherry on top, so to speak. One of my harmony tracks is still in there. Then Owl Eyes came in and nailed it in one take. It was just gonna be just either my vocal or hers on the hook, but neither kinda sounded right," he explains.
"Like mine wasn't hitting enough, and hers didn't really have enough low end. So I was pulling out my hair for three weeks, then it came to the day before I had to hand in the mix and I was losing my shit, thinking I'm gonna ruin this fucking awesome song. Then we managed to get it just right. Obviously I'm not as good a singer as Owl Eyes, so there's a bit of fucking around in the mix. In the end we got there, and now she's well and truly on her way," he muses. "She's gonna be massive, for sure."
As for the current state of Aussie hip hop, Illy holds an excited outlook. "I think it's been rising and rising since the 'Hoods dropped The Calling in 2003. You know there's a lot of young dudes coming up and kicking arse. It's established itself a legitimate genre, rather than just a fad," he states. "Just going from strength to strength - the sky's the limit, really."
ILLY plays the all ages PUSH OVER 2011 at The Abbotsford Convent this Sunday March 13 - along with Children Collide, Deez Nuts, Oh Mercy and a raft of Australia's finest young talent - tickets and info at thepush.com.au. ILLY also plays some massive shows at The Corner Hotel as part of the tour for The Chase on March 18 (sold out) and 20 (tickets from The Corner box office, 9427 9198 or cornerhotel.com). The Chase is out now through Obese.