The world of hip-hop is as competitive as ever, and nowhere is that truer than among producers, one of the few lucrative positions left in the market. Like emcees, producers are now battling in competitions to establish their name and separate themselves from the rest of the MPC bangers. The name Illmind first popped off on the Beat Society circuit, where he battled heavyweights like Kanye West and Just Blaze. Primarily know for the heavenly strings on Little Brother’s “Nobody Like Me,” Boot Camp Clik’s bouncy “Let’s Go,” and Sean Price’s rugged “Cardiac,” G-Unit has recently upgraded the New Jersey beat-smith’s seat from economy to first class. But before the backpackers and Okayplayers get their blog on, the equal-opportunity producer shows that with follow-up projects with the 9th Wonder-less Little Brother, the Boot Camp Clik and Diamond D, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
When did you first start making beats?
I started when I was thirteen, just kind of messing around. My father was a musician; he had this old Roland KR 4500 and made his own music with it. So I kind of started to play around with it, and that’s about the time I got into hip-hop. I started taking it really seriously probably around ’99 or 2000, when I started sampling.
What was the first record you broke?
First record I broke?
Yeah, a record you just beat the shit out of.
It had to have been a record called Pinoy Jazz, a Filipino jazz record. When I first started sampling, my dad had about four crates of old jazz and soul — one full crate of it was all from the Philippines. There was this one record called Pinoy Jazz; it was the illest jazz record I had ever heard. I knew chances were nobody else had it, so I just fucked around with it. Used everything possible on that record. I’m not going to say who the artist is; I don’t want anybody to put me on blast or anything. But that was the one record that I just murdered.
So you started working primarily in the underground with Symbolic One, The Art of Onemind (2005), and in particular Boot Camp Clik. How did you get hooked up with them?
I got hooked up with them through Khrysis, from North Carolina. It was real simple. Basically when Sean P was working on Monkey Barz and when Boot Camp was brainstorming The Last Stand, Khrysis and 9th did a lot of those beats, and that’s when 9th and Buckshot were working on Chemistry. So I was talking to Khrysis online and he was like “Yo, I’m in the studio with Sean P, looking for some beats.” So I sent him like thirty beats. Sean P heard them and was like, “Who is this cat Illmind?” So they hit me up through that. And then Buckshot heard them, Dru Ha, and from then on I built a relationship with them.
What about Little Brother? You did the single for the Chittlin Circuit mixtape.
I’ve known Little Brother since the early days, before they blew up. My man Slop from Florida put me on to their music in like 2000. I remember I heard “Whatever You Say” and “Speed” and just fell in love with their sound. This is way before people even knew who they were. Then, when they started to post their music on Okayplayer, it kind of blew up. I built up a relationship with them early. I had respect for their music, and they had respect for my music. I got cool with them, sent them beats. We finally made it official with the “Nobody Like Me” joint, which was the first Illmind-Little Brother record to come out.
Now that 9th is out of the picture, do you plan to get involved in their new album?
I already did two joints on that, actually. I think we are up to three now. They’re going outside when it comes to producers. I did three joints, Nottz did some, I think Alchemist [worked on it], I think Just Blaze did one or two, but don’t quote me on that. That’s the rumor. Look out for that.
Let’s talk about being Asian and doing the whole hip-hop thing. Did you feel it was an obstacle?
To be honest, it’s actually a good thing, ’cause at the end of the day, the music speaks for itself. Being Asian and a hip-hop producer, as competitive as the production game is right now, it’s kind of beneficial for me. I kinda stick out. I am not just your typical producer. Not a lot of Asians are really doing it in the production world. As shallow as it sounds, people tend to remember you more ’cause you’re Asian, and they see Illmind this Asian cat doing it. It’s different from being an emcee; if I was an Asian emcee, like Jin, I am sure that would definitely be harder, in my opinion, because of the visual thing.
A lot of your beats sound different from each other. Take the Boot Camp stuff. “Let’s Go” has a lot keys, almost a West Coast vibe. Then you did “Cardiac,” which is straight East Coast gutter shit. Do you feel you need a distinctive sound?
I’ve noticed that you really like to use hard drums that just boom out the speaker . . .
Definitely. I always spend an extra amount of time on my drums, ’cause to me the drums pretty much make the beat. I definitely spend more time EQing my drums, picking the right drum sounds, chopping up the right breaks. At the end of the day, the drums definitely got to bang.
You started in underground, but you recently signed with G-Unit. Was there any backlash?
Actually, no. So far it’s been cool. I am not going to stop making the music that I make. Shout out to D-Prosper, senior A&R at G-Unit. He was the one who found me and scooped me up and gained an interest in my sound. I am not going to change my sound just because I messing with them now; they’re fucking with me from hearing the shit I’ve been doing. If the underground says Illmind sold out, that ain’t the case; if you listen to G-Unit records, they are on some straight hip-hop shit. Listen to the beats, to Young Buck’s album, to the G-Unit compilation album; the beats are banging on there. They fucking with Hi-Tek, Nottz, Alchemist, and they’re known to mess around in the underground. G-Unit definitely knows how to pick beats. If it were any other label it would be different, but just being affiliated with G-Unit and being able to work with them, I don’t have to sacrifice anything for that.
Who are you looking forward to working with?
My goal is to work with Nas, straight up. Underground, mainstream — I want to be everywhere.
What do think about the Timberland and Scott Storch beef?
Man, I’m disappointed in that ’cause I never thought it would come to that. There has been so much beef lately, especially in the East Coast — Cam’ron, 50 Cent, Jim Jones all that shit — I never thought it would go down to producers dissing each other. Personally, I respect both of them, but I just think what they are doing is foolish, usually producers who respect each other. That is something I would never do, unless someone stepped on my toes, but I wouldn’t make a dis record. We would handle that some other way.
So, you’re not beefing with any producer . . .
Nah. I got love for everybody.