When thinking of art and music, one mantra that has constantly been conveyed here at Lavatory Records is that “music connects us all”. Be it film, theater, radio and television – every form of entertainment has music encompassed in it. This mantra also applies to rapper Tommy Ills from the Revivolution clique – bar a slight nuance from that norm.
Tommy Ills, who used to be known as One L during his battle rap days, was an aspirant film maker who discovered rap music along the way. For Tommy, his life can be likened to a screenplay that converged into the perfect musical script (rap sheets even so to speak). With his forthcoming release, Pizza and Pu**y Parlour, a collaboration with producer Vez Fullstop, he aims to “Do The Right Thing” for his career and artistic direction. Hence the change of aliases from One L to Tommy Ills was more than suited to his new outlook.
We were able to get word from Tommy Ills about his origins and artistry, his love for fashion, musical direction, battle rap history and much more. Without further ado, we get into the fourth Revivolution feature on Lavatory Records.
Lavatory Records: Describe who Tommy Ilniger is to the streets?
Tommy Ills: Tommy Ills is a hood born dude with a suburban lifestyle. I would say I’m just a dude caught in between so many worlds and manage to make it all into one. I’m like Howard Hughes on the street, I’m just a product of the streets. I’m a graffiti writer. I’m a street fashion connoisseur and rapper,creative but all in all I’m a just dude that’s in love with the streets.
LR: Why did you decide to drop the One L moniker and adopt Tommy Ilniger?
Tommy: Funny enough I was never serious about rap. I just use to do it ‘coz most my friends where rappers in high school so I would rap for fun but I was always into the way rappers dressed more than rap itself. Also because I dressed better than most rappers, so I thought why not jus’ be a rapper, but I couldn’t think of a name that would stick. One L was more of a nick name from the streets that sprung off a joke because my name is Litha so people would always say “oh, like 1Litre”. So I embraced the joke and the nick name and became One L. I adopted the name Tommy Illniger a while back before actually using it. Like growing up I just remember my uncle getting props every time he wore Tommy Hilfiger and not many people had it, or even knew what it was. It was an exclusive brand and that’s kinda like how I view myself and my brand, not many people know of me and the cool s**t I do besides rapping but those who do know what I’m trying to do with the name “TOMMY ILLS” will give out props. Also Tommy Hilfigure was rumoured to be a racist yet the black community made him more succesful so I took the name back to the people it belongs to by using the word ilniger instead of hilfigure and TOMMY as a way to disrespect the noton of uncle Sam not to mention I lowkey I didn’t want to be known only as the guy “who battled Tumi” because I didn’t want to be stereotyped as a battle rapper because I’m a creative not just a rapper or battler rapper
LR: How did you get started in the music game and what made you decide rapping was for you?
Tommy: I’ve always been a creative kid and liked anything artistic, in the beginning. I just liked the way rappers dressed and because I spent a lot of time being influenced by American TV shows, I began dressing like a rapper/ skater, even more so as I grew older. I would always be friends with guys who liked rap music or even rapped and I began rapping with them for fun. Slowly but surely I began getting good at free-styling and then began writing. I knew rapping was for me ‘coz I understood the whole package of what it meant to be a rapper from the clothes, to the slang, all the way to the lifestyle and it suited me because I was a black kid from the hood, surrounded by white kids who dressed like skaters. So rap was a perfect balance between the two worlds for me, and besides I was always good at most things I tried. I could have been anything I wanted really but I like talking s**t and so I decided it was something I can see myself doing. Besides back then if you could rap you instantly got girls to like you, and your dress code made you stand out from everybody else who played it safe and wore Italian brands or stuck to the conventional South African dress code at the time.
LR: Who are your Top 5 emcees, dead or alive?
Tommy: Definitely Nas, BigL, CopywriteMC, SlickRick the Ruler, Guru of Gangstarr but I hate this question, because it’s so hard to pick just five. (Ha ha! Sorry Tommy Ilniger, for putting you on the spot.)
LR: It is considered that rap is largely egocentric at an individual level. What in your opinion has been the secret to the teamwork and commitment within the Revivolution camp?
Tommy: I think for us it was more organic because we were friends before all the hype and I never even pictured myself as a professional rapper hence I went to study Film. So we were just friends who happen to know how to rap and we learn from each other. Like yes, there are egos involved but the long-term friendships help us to overlook that. Also a lot of us think alike and are artistic individuals and because we doing everything ourselves, it makes us a stronger team. We never have to outsource for a lot of things we need so who in their right mind would want to forfeit that kind of support system.
LR: Can you talk us through your most memorable Battle Rap moments?
Tommy: Well considering I began rapping when I was 16 I’ve been in so many freestyle battles which are the most memorable ones, because they are more spontanious and exciting than written battles in my opinion. But I guess one of the more outstanding battles of my career was with “TUMI from the Volume” at Scrambles4money, which in my opinion was a pretty close battle at the time. I was a bit nervous because I knew all the people that came already expected Tumi to win. So my whole thing was not to get deep but rather exhibit rapping skills and crack jokes to even the odds of going against a crowd favourite. There were times I had mad hurtful and embarassing material but because he was someone I grew up listening to I decided not to use it out of respect. Yeah but it’s practically one of the battles that will go down in SA history as a classic in it own right.
LR: Will we ever see you strap up and step into the battle rap ring again, or you strictly about music now?
Tommy: If the money is right then I would. The only thing that made me lose my excitement for battle rap was that it was time consuming to write rhymes and then you perform to a crowd of rappers who have their own personal agendas, and to top it all off you don’t even make cash off it. So yeah if battle rappers got paid like performing artists at a gig I would write my heart out and keep it one hundred every battle I’m in.
LR: You worked with producer Vez Full Stop on your forthcoming EP entitled Tommy’s Pizza and Pu**y Parlour. What is that project about and how did it come together for you?
Tommy: Well basically I wanted my project to be a full-on GRIMETOWN production, including the artwork. The idea came about when a tape I was working on with Vez Fullstop had to be pushed back because of unforeseen circumstances, and one of my all-time favourite movies is DO THE RIGHT THING by Spike Lee for a number of reasons. Long story short, I needed a way to release the singles from the tape I was putting together under a new project title and I thought; what better name than what young bachelors love the most – Pizza and Pu**y Parlour? Vez and I are influenced by pretty much the exact same things such as 80’ and 90’s fashion, music and lifestyle.
Using the “DO THE RIGHT THING” theme made so much sense to us and having shot a music video “PACMAN BASS” which referenced sounds from the game PACMAN, the movie by Spike Lee felt like the right concepts for it. Vez and I are house mates so we mostly drink, eat pizza and try chill with some fly fun-loving girls and friends. So again it all fits into the lifestyle. However Tommy’s Pizza and Pu**y Parlour is not a tape, but rather the intro to one of many volumes of songs that will be released around the “Do the right thing” theme. This is the beginning of my Solo career and I would like to brand it in a way that represents me and my close friend Vez. If you think of off cuts in context of pizza each slice is sold separately yet it belong to one large pizza before it is cut up and sold and the tracks are like off cuts of a larger project all put together again to form a large pizza that is made of slices from different flavoured pizza’s I want it to be original and synonymous to the 80’s and 90’s era. So basically if I drop any boom-bap sounding tracks they will most probably be released under the Tommy’s Pizza and Pu**y Parlour series of volumes. After some time of course, the album art will change and hopefully on the 5th volume. GrimeTown will throw an event to celebrate the artworks we’ve created and the all-time classic film that inspired millions to “DO THE RIGHT THING” (ha ha). But more than anything it’s about the art. Fashion is art, film is art, music is art and life itself is artistic. So for me it’s all about art more than just putting out a tape with a simple cover and loose tracks. I believe it must be a full package that has a theme. Even the track list must match your theme or even the content must match the theme. I don’t just look at rap as just rap. There’s a whole lifestyle behind it and if it doesn’t come through on your music, then it clearly means its not authentic art and if it’s fake – people won’t relate.
LR: Apart from that EP, do you have any other projects or gigs you want people to look out for?
Tommy: Yeah man like I’ve got a lot of things I want to do but I’m currently working on a project with Vez and other producers called (E.N.D energy never dies), where I’m experimenting with new sounds like trap, soul trap and uk grime beats. I’m also trying to produce a short story at the moment, however it’s more challenging than it seems. But musical project for now, it’s just my press kit EP (E.N.D) to kinda launch my solo career (ha ha) or rather my sell out s**t, because for long I’ve been content just being a nonchalant overall creative, but for the first time ever I wanna step out my comfort zone and do something that will have more reach.
LR: Any special mentions you wanna shout out?
Tommy: Yeah man, shout outs to NDD NEW DODGEY DIALECT who play a big role in the production of my music videos. Shout outs to STEEZFX my big brother from Cape Town who’s shot my best video to date. Shout out GUGX GANG for holding me down when I’m in the hood.
Shout out to YOUNGSTACPT, ILLA NJO. CAMO, BFAKE, LUCHO, Veg SAUAD. 20SK8. SPOEKMATHAMBO, EDK CREW, STILO MAGOLIDE, ILLY AMIN, FRATPACK. ALLISON SWANK, BLACKNATION MAGAZINE, My fam REVIVO and GRIMETOWN. S/O KING KONGA and VEZ FULLSTOP for being my closest and biggest inspirations when it comes to Art.the list goes on “niggers know me” so my bad if I forgot you. A S/O to my MOM and my POPS for making such a talented handsome looking ilniger like myself.
OH and S/O all the haters too because people change and they are only hating because they a bit lost at the moment. I know they will one day put away the haterade and spread love.
We would like to thank Tommy Ills for taking time out to speak to us. To catch up with his moves, follow him on Facebook as Tommy ilniger , Twitter @Tommy_ilnigerSA and SoundCloud at tommy ilniger Don’t forget to follow Revivolution too on Facebook and Twitter.