ILLISM: Straight Minnesota Dreaming
“When Jellybean Johnson pulls you to the side and says ‘Carry the Torch,’ You’re kind of like…’Oh Okay, I’m gonna do that,’ Fancy — half of the duo ILLism — laughs and recalls as we sit in a booth in Can Can Wonderland’s Red Room. “Or when Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis asks you to perform at Super Bowl Live…” her husband Emmanuel, also known as Envy, chimes in as they recall some of the surreal moments of their music career.
“And you say it in front of them, too, and in front of a crowd of 5,000 people…’We’re the new generation of the Minneapolis Sound!’” Fancy adds. It’s a bold claim they made that frigid January day, but with the stamp of approval from their local predecessors and plenty of radio-friendly hooks, this duo is paving their way there with a dash of their own added originality.
The glossy sheen of their music — with its bright R&B hooks provided by Fancy that are supplemented with hip-hop verses from Envy — is the culmination of various influences. Church choirs, poetry, the Minneapolis sound, and battle rapping (Envy once battle rapped the late Rhymesayers mainstay Eyedea) have all helped lead to their current musical direction.
Both members had brief brushes with success in their solo careers before inevitably realizing that combining their strengths & their chemistry as a couple resulted in an undeniable groove. Modern radio is full of big hits from R&B powerhouses with guest verses from rappers – having both of those elements in-house is a huge advantage for the group. Many have approached the group after hearing them to say that they didn’t like hip-hop music – until they heard ILLism’s approach.
This year’s album release, titled iLLuminate, reached number one on the NACC’s (North American College & Community) Hip-Hop chart. Their music is obviously connecting with a whole crop of college students across the country that crave relatability. “Human emotion is our very connection,” Fancy says at one point, explaining she believes fans are drawn to the realness & the love found in their records.
Their recording process is often cathartic, with the two of them recording songs that help them process the issues & problems that arise in their own lives. It’s part of their journey as they live & grow together. Once their music is released into the world, however, they want it to stand alone. Despite all of the labels their art can garner, their goal is for the listener to attribute their own meanings & interpretations to the songs, expanding the journey of two into the journey of many.
Another attractive component of their appeal is the confidence embedded in their music & in the duo themselves — but both will readily admit it was an inevitable build up and not something they were born with. Figuring out their respective self-identities, exploring their roots, valuing their own uniqueness, and just putting themselves out there is what destined them towards their role of carriers of the torch.
ILLism is also rounded out in the studio & in live performances by an array of talented musicians. Yanni Davis serves as a guiding music director & arranger, as well and performing keys and bass. His stand out contribution is the piano solo at the end of the song “BET” off iLLuminate. Colin Mitchell played drums on some of the latest album, while Detroit native & jazz musician Solomon Parham handled the trumpet. The standout saxophone on “MNsota Nice” is courtesy of Willie Moore. Marcus Woodard helped produce “Get Away” as well as contributing keys, synth solos, and arrangements. Lastly, guitarist Mike Green has made several contributions to current and former projects of ILLism’s.
Success has allowed them to monetize their passion & invest in the communities that shaped them, as well. They utilize local businesses, like the radio promotion company Tinderbox, to help bring them regional & national success. Nurturing the communities that have shaped them has also become a passion, and they often visit schools and have spearheaded winter clothing drives.
“Minnesota made us who we are,” Envy declares after discussing the themes that arise in their art for a bit. The specific temperament of its residents, the hyperspecific funk that arose in the shadow of the Purple One himself, the lakes & the trees & the gorgeous summer nights — all of these factors have nurtured these two in indescribable ways. Whether you’re riding the 21 down Lake Street, celebrating Juneteenth in North Minneapolis, or just spending time with those who love & support you, you’ll be able to find something to relate to in this duo’s contagious melodies.
Find ILLism at:
Website – https://www.illismmusic.com/
Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram at iLLismMusic
Streaming on Apple Music & Spotify