When you think of Kiwi rappers, most people think of the likes of Scribe, Young Sid, Savage, and P-Money.
And then there’s Tommy Ill. A one of a kind cross between indie, rap and the old school blues and soul influences he stumbled upon in this parents’ basement, mixed in with a wicked sense of humour.
Tommy Ill, formally known as Tom Young, is a graphic artist by day and rap artist by night, having fallen into music quite by accident.
”I’ve kinda done it for such a long time; I was 14 when I started making music. It just happened. I was just singing along to a whole bunch of rap songs and I thought; hey, I can do this myself. Then I did,” he says.
For an indie kid growing up Wellington and with friends in bands, Young knew he wanted to make music but ”I could never really sing very well, so rap was kind of the only option”.
”I was pretty into the Beastie Boys and things like that, and I’d memorised a bunch of their songs. So I went off that.
“I just needed some beats to rap on…back then, we didn’t really have a very good internet connection or anything like that, so my options were kind of limited, so I’d go down to the basement and dig through dad’s old records and things.
”I didn’t really know much about music so I didn’t know what I was allowed to sample and what I wasn’t, so I’d often end up with some stuff that you wouldn’t be able to legally put out now.”
It’s a problem that’s followed him to this day, having to put out the Iron Gosling album and his latest album, Fearless Bueller via the internet for free download to avoid the legalities.
”There was a lot of trial and error, it started out pretty terrible and eventually got to where it is today, which is hopefully a bit better. But there are a lot of samples on there which…would be illegal if I tried to make money out of them.”
But despite the drawbacks, the style of those samples is what Tommy Ill is built on.
”I’m really into soul and blues and that, so those samples come from there. When I’m not listening to rap music I’m listening to things I can make music out of, so that’s kind of shaped my tastes and taken my music in a kind of cool direction.”
That direction is one which, despite being a rapper, has displaced him from the New Zealand hip hop scene.
”I don’t really mind if I’m included or not. I know there’s a few people out there who aren’t that keen on my stuff, maybe think I’m not doing rap the ‘right way’. I think some people take themselves too seriously, you know There’s a lot of purists.
”But my reason for doing it, is to have a good time. ‘Cause there’s not much point doing it otherwise, there’s not very much money in music. You might as well have fun.
“I think some people think that you can’t make serious music and still have a laugh with it. I’m tryna do both. I’m serious about music and the stuff that I put in my songs, but that doesn’t mean they’re always serious songs and that doesn’t mean that we have to be serious on stage.”
And that attitude comes across in his live show, and is highly infectious.
At times he and the crew are barely able to contain their own laughter as they’re hip thrusting and serenading the front row.
It’s a high energy show, even though when they played Auckland last week it was on a couple of hours sleep between the four of them, they spent the entire show in full speed.
The crowd favourites are obvious within the first couple bars of each song – tracks like Living Dead, Best Damn Evening, New Car Money and 5th Beatle saw even the dedicated head nodding wallflowers take to the dance floor.
And it’s probably the only rap show you will go to where the entire crowd will sing along to a Carly Rae Jepsen cover and not even regret it.
Tommy Ill will play a sold out show in Puppies in Wellington tonight, which will be hype man Kelvin’s last show in New Zealand before heading to Berlin.
On future plans, he said he has high hopes for a more extensive national tour, ”getting off the beaten track” and then tackling Australia and then the world. But for now, a promise:
”I’ve got a few EPs to put out this year, I don’t know about another album for the time being but I’ve got a whole lot of projects up my sleeve that I’m not allowed to talk about. But there will definitely be more Tommy Ill coming out this year.”
It’s a big call, but he seems like an artist who can and will go the whole way – he’s definitely one to watch.
Check out tommyill.bandcamp