An interview with Illumination

Illumination is part of a new movement. The movement is centered around bringing enlightening hip hop to you in a musically diverse format. The live band, in hip hop, is the genuine article. Only a few bands in this genre have sounded unique and distinct. The Goonies from Syracuse, are one of those unique and gifted examples. Their self titled album, produced by producer legend, Hans Dekline, is an amazing snapshot into what an instrument laden hip hop band can be! Illumination spits knowledge! With his love of the craft, and his band members being top notch and ahead of the curve, anything is possible for this great Upstate band. The band, which recently won a SAMMY award for best new act, is coming to a town near you, and you had better check them out! Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Illumination to talk about everything in the land of The Goonies!

CNYLIVE: Who are your biggest musical influences? Furthermore, do you have other people who influenced you in the realm of what you do?

Illumination: Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix and Duke Ellington. People who have influenced me in Hip Hop and Rock for that matter are Eric B. and Rakim, KRS One, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Slick Rick and The Rza.

CNYLIVE: Before the Goonies, what were you doing on a musical level? How long have you been writing verse?

Illumination: I’d just completed a solo album entitled Victors Circle. I’d also started up my label and I’d begun working with numerous aspiring artists on their projects. I’ve been writing and rhyming since I was 8 years old.

CNYLIVE: How did you meet Clam Weezy initially?

Illumination: Clam Weezy was one of the first people to buy my album. He’d mentioned that he was trying to get into Hip Hop and I told him about the things I was doing with Mt. Olympus . He gave me his demo cd and I called him the night I listened to it.

CNYLIVE: How did the Goonies come about? When did you decide to go with the band hip hop format?

Illumination: We both taught each other things that changed the science of us. He introduced me to the real instruments like bass and electric guitar and I showed him how you do real hip hop, beats rhymes and life. Working together built camaraderie. We both realized that we were on the verge of something special. The band was the only way our music could translate from the studio to the stage. You see our first record was a studio record, only me and Clam played on it. But the music was so immediate, so real, that spitting on top of the instrumental wasn’t enough. We needed the music to live again at that very moment the audience hears it, a band was the only way to accomplish it.

CNYLIVE: How tough has it been bringing hip hop into clubs that historically, would have none of it?

Illumination: Well, I’d already seen in the past, what happened in Syracuse when you approached bars and said you were a Hip Hop artist with a DJ. They’d tell you quickly that only bands played there. The only way to get in the door was with instruments. So when we (me and Clam) had this record finished and we decided to promote it with live shows, I immediately said we need a band. To me we had something so good, that I was coming knives out to get it heard. It was still hard to get that first gig. Hip hop let alone a Hip Hop band, is still a tough pill to swallow for live venues and it took a lot of footwork to get people to take us seriously. It was tough, at times frustrating and it was the best thing that ever happened to me as a musician because it built character.

CNYLIVE: What aspect of the movie “The Goonies,” influenced the band name?

Illumination: Well first off, every time I’d tell Clam something he’d be shaking up that stupid inhaler and taking a hit. It’s pretty hilarious, but even more so when there’s all these people around writing lyrics about fighting in the streets, or harmonizing about some hot chick and here’s this kid sitting at my side hitting his inhaler while I’m teaching him how to sequence a hip hop beat. One day I said, “You’re like that White boy from The Goonies!” It stuck and that was also the day that I proposed we start a Hip Hop group called The Goonies.

CNYLIVE: How was it working with a genius like Hans Dekline on your debut record? What prompted you to reach out that far on your first record?

Illumination: Working with Hans Dekline is a blessing, nothing less than that. What he does for independent musicians is nothing short of benevolent. First thing he’s a great person to talk to, second his demo master of our song “The Truth” is the one that made the actual album. It was like instant record. I was floored. As far as why I reached that far out( Los Angeles ), it was because the record deserved it. I wasn’t going to be another rapper with a blank face CD, with cheap inserts. I wanted this record to be the real deal. I remember telling Hans how much I loved the mastering on Big Pun’s first album Capitol Punishment. He went and bought the record and used it as his reference for our album. Hans made the most sense. He still does.

CNYLIVE: I see you are spreading out, and expanding the show base. What is next for The Goonies on every level. Are you planning on doing some more recording?

Illumination: As far as what’s next, it’s always about the next show, the cities we haven’t played yet, one day the states we haven’t played yet. In the next couple of years we’re thinking the countries we haven’t played yet. As far as recording, it’s a constant for us. Clam always has ideas, me I’m always coming up with new material and the band now is contributing to the songwriting process, so there’s a lot more to come from us. It’s a beautiful thing because it’s self sustaining. Plus the band is the group now, so it’s a complete metamorphosis from 2 guys rapping with players to a complete band (Illumination and Clam Weezy - vocals and keys, Elizabeth - drums, Chris - bass, Tom and Jon - guitars). Everybody does their part. It totally changes the landscape, spiritually, visually and sonically. This is our evolution.

CNYLIVE: Tell me about Mt. Olympus Records, and what it is you do?

Illumination: Mt. Olympus is the independent label I own and run. Technically, I’m the CEO, but I’m an artist too. It was started as a place for independent artists who were seeking a fair deal on their contracts. My motto is still half for the label and half for the artists. My brother I Born Justice (the label president) helped me distribute my first record Victors Circle in Connecticut and New York City . What we learned from that experience, helped when The Goonies record was released. Currently, I’m involved in the musical as well as the management aspect of the label. In short, I’m usually up at 6 am and in bed around 130 am. It never ends.

CNYLIVE: Syracuse has been very good to you. Tell me about what Syracuse, and Upstate in general, mean to you?

Illumination: Syracuse is my home. It’s where the band is from. Syracuse taught me Hip hop, taught me humility, helped me grow as a musician. The advantage with being here (Syracuse and Upstate) is that you have this huge musical community that isn’t really corrupted by form or function. You don’t have a lot of music schools here, most of the people are folks who grabbed an instrument or started singing because it called out to them. There’s no obligation to be musical here so its much more natural of a environment. Plus in Syracuse, we do anything we want here. Be it cultural mixing to musical mixing, we have no defined lines over what is and isn’t taboo. Anything is possible here.

CNYLIVE: You have often been compared to another Upstate band, Gym Class Heroes. What do you think of those comparisons, and where do they end!

Illumination: Well to me Gym Class Heroes and The Goonies for that matter are both part of the same movement. Like two books on the same shelf. So in that regard I don’t mind comparisons because we both embody a lot of similar positive ideals, as far as the quirkiness and how that can be cool, the merging of musicianship and Hip Hop and the unifying multicultural elements of the bands. As far as where the comparisons end? Well I think that The Goonies is a very heavy, very raw product. We’re definitely rough around the edges and it shows in our choice of songs, how we approach them and what we continue to deliver to our fans and new audiences. Gym Class Heroes are an awesome band and I see them as a much smoother, polished take on the Hip Hop band format. Sort of like The Goonies are like (P funk) Parliament and Gym Class Heroes are like Earth, Wind and Fire. Both are dope bands, but there are definite distinctions between the two.