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Ill Mondo L'ombelico del Mondo The story of Jeff and Johnny from Oakland began at a record store. This couldn't have taken place at a more symbolic place. Both share a profound interest in collecting music, especially prog rock, and decided to make music together as the production duo Ill Mondo. Their music is therefore packed with funky live instruments and prog rock references. For their debut album, they collaborated with promising rapper Neal Rames, who, alongside Percee P, Prince Po and Sean P, easily tackled the particular production.

You guys have a slightly different sound compared other production teams, focusing more on integrating funk and prog rock influences. How do you differentiate your music from the tons and tons of other producers?

IM: We both get along because of our similar musical taste; in fact we hit it off discussing ELP - 'Tarkus', a prog-rock classic. The biggest thing that sets us apart from other production teams is our dedication to quality, vintage sound. We were both heavily influenced by early 90's hip-hop, but we are not trying to re-create that sound. We also employ a lot of live musicians for our records, mixing rare vinyl samples with live organs, guitars, horns and more. While many production teams and labels are going the lo-fi route, Ill Mondo is dead set on capturing a timeless sound, relying on quality players and high-end audio.

'Sound Sharp' sounds like some Big Daddy Kane single anno 1988, has that era influenced you also?

Johnny: In the 80's, EPMD was a big influence for me. 'Rampage' is classic as well as the upbeat tracks from Jungle Brothers and Gang Starr.

Jeff: I'm influenced by a lot of late 80's stuff, but more so by the early and mid-90's sound.

Do you consider yourself hip-hop producers?

IM: We consider ourselves producers, plain and simple. The record with Neal Rames was a hip-hop record, but we're moving into producing bands in other genres.

Ill Mondo is both the name of the group and the name of a label right?

IM: Right now, they are one and the same. We started the label to release this debut record, but we do plan to release other people's projects in the future. For now, the production team and label is just the two of us, Jeff and Johnny.

So how do you divide the work?

IM: There is no real separation: we both do everything!

You had the chance to work with Percee P, Prince Po and Sean P, would that have been possible without internet?

IM: The internet definitely made this easier, since Neal got to connect with these artists through Myspace. But the bulk of the work was still personal contact over the phone, the internet just made it a little easier to get to that point.

Wouldn't you prefer working with them in person?

IM: We would love to work with them in person, but since a lot of our choices for guest MCs on this record were across the country, it just made more sense to work remotely. Hopefully soon we can afford to fly anywhere to record a verse, but we're not quite there yet.

In what way has your love for 70s prog rock influenced your style?

IM: In a lot of ways! We love the structure and build of 70's prog, and the tone of the instruments, down to the recording and mix of the records. The 60's and 70's saw more timeless records than any other era, and we take a lot of influence from those bands and producers.

Jeff, working in a record store must've made it easier to select your records, has that influenced/elevated/changed your style of producing do you think?

Jeff: Absolutely. Not only do I get turned on to a ton of great records from the owner of 101 Music, there are also some great regular customers that just want to hang out and 'talk records' in the shop. Being around records and collectors all the time has definitely turned me on to records I would never have heard otherwise.

Are you heavy diggers?

Johnny: We both have a lot of records, but Jeff is the more sensible of the two. Jeff has only good records at home, and he'll rotate old ones out for new stuff that he gets in.

Jeff: Johnny has more of a collector bug, and he won't get rid of records, no matter how shitty or how many duplicate copies he has. But yeah, we're both always on the lookout for records.

The press release states you are equally influenced by Mobb Deep and David Axelrod. Knowing that Mobb Deep used a lot of Axelrod samples; that's not really a coincidence?

IM: Our influences are too broad to list them all, but we thought about who the biggest rap influence was and who the biggest 70's producer influence was; Mobb Deep and David Axelrod. We both grew up listening to old records, and when Infamous came out it was major for both of us. When you listen to those guys, you can TELL that it's them!

When you make a track, do you usually start from a sample, or do you come up with live instrument accords first?

IM: This really depends on the track. For the Neal Rames record, we generally started with a basic loop, added live elements on top and then added more samples and arranged the song to completion. For the new material, we're going the other way around, with live instruments forming the foundation for the songs.

What instruments do you play?

Johnny: Jeff is a top-notch drummer and also plays most of the percussion you hear on the Neal Rames album. The next record will feature his drums a lot more prominently.

Jeff: Johnny grew up playing saxophone, and you can hear a little bit of bari sax on the album, but these days he is more focused on production work.

Neal Rhymes was befriended with JRK right? So after ten years you found each other again, although living far away from each other, how did that go down?

Johnny: Jeff and Neal remained in touch all those years, just working on separate projects. They started recording a few songs around the time. I started working with Jeff, and the whole project just came together. It was just the right time to do a new album together.

In 2007 Jeff and Neal made an EP together. Are there a lot of differences between that record and the one you made now as for preparing, making the songs, mixing, the whole working process?

Jeff: This album was similar in process, but we obviously both grown as artists a lot in the past few years. Neal has upped his lyricism and I've upped my production. This time around there was a much heavier emphasis on live instruments and our increased knowledge of recording let us get a more refined sound. Another big difference was working with Johnny as a producer too. With 3 people in the room we were able to bounce ideas off each other and come up with some great ideas right in the studio

Can we expect some more collabos with Neal in the near future?

IM: For now, Ill Mondo and Neal Rames are going to be working on their own projects. Neal Rames is putting together a solo album, and Ill Mondo is starting to work with some live bands.

What contemporary producers are you fan of?

Johnny: I really like what Dap-Tone is doing as a label, and I think they have a great cohesive label sound. In the soul realm, Bosco Mann and Mark Ronson are both really capturing a great sound to me. In hip-hop, I really like Q-Tip - 'Renaissance', Edan - 'Beauty and the Beat', and Black Milk - 'Tronic'. Most recently, I was blown away by the production on Marco Polo & Torae - 'Double Barrel'.

Jeff: I gained 6 pounds in 2 weeks! I do 50 sit ups every day!

What was the first rap record you bought?

Johnny: I can't remember what the first rap record I bought was, but my first record was Led Zeppelin - 2. I grew up mainly buying rock and soul records, so probably the first rap record I bought was Rapper's Delight, but I really can't remember.

What are some of the latest records you uploaded unto your iPod?

IM: The new Raekwon mixtape - 'Cuban Revolution'. Can't wait for Cuban Linx 2!

What's next for Ill Mondo?

IM: We are already working on a few different projects. We can't get too detailed since it's just getting started, but we're working on a single that is going to be mainly sample-based, and then a follow-up full length that will be mostly live instruments. As mentioned earlier, we're moving into producing live bands, and we want to focus on getting a great, timeless sound out of all live instruments for the next full length. We're gonna keep things moving!

Thanks for the interview!


POSTED 09|01|2009
conducted by cpf

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