World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 19
“Sometimes we can cheat the universe a little bit.”
About this Episode
Many articles, films, and interviews have been made about Illmind’s extraordinary career producing many albums for several of the top names in hip-hop today. This isn’t one of those interviews. In this week’s episode, John digs deep into the early experiences and upbringing that shaped Ramon Ibanga Jr – AKA !llmind – as a musician and planted the seeds of what has become a life’s quest towards community building. After years of social innovation within the Producer Community, we catch up with this 2x GRAMMY Award winning artist just days before he speaks at Gary Vaynerchuck’s VeeCon and just a couple months after the launch of his landmark NFT project: Squad of Knights.
(Intro Music Plays)
John Gardner: Hello hello and welcome again to the World Music Foundation Podcast. I am your host, John Gardner and today we have the insane pleasure to speak with two time GRAMMY award winning, multi-platinum music producer, community organizer and innovator !llmind (aka Illmind).
John Gardner: Do not adjust your dial! If you tuned in to last week’s episode, you heard an enticing clip of what was supposed to be this week’s episode featuring my interview with singer-songwriter and activist Si Kahn. We’ll bring you that interview, I promise. But, when opportunity knocks, you know we gotta open that door. So this week’s guest, Ramon Ibanga, Jr., known professionally in the music world as !llmind, will be speaking at VeeCon at the end of the week. VeeCon is a first-of-its-kind, multi-day super-conference the brainchild of business tycoon, NFT artist, and professional very good human Gary Vaynerchuk. And I’ve been so blown away by the tangible good that !llmind has been manifesting in this NFT project Squad of Knights that I wanted to make sure that we released an episode before !llmind’s Friday talk at VeeCon in order to give as many people the opportunity to mark it down as a “must attend” on their VeeCon to-do list because you don’t wanna miss that, I promise. Now, in today’s conversation, we speak on a wide range of topics, as we normally do, including his upbringing to that freshly-minted Squad of Knights project, but we only skim the surface of !llmind’s illustrious career. We still don’t have time for it all, so what I’m gonna do is just give you a further skim for you. Here it is.
John Gardner: Wait, hold up. Our intro music just ended, so why not bring in a little !llmind? Here’s a beat for you. !llmind, put the loop on!
John Gardner: Okay, full transparency: I am definitely not cool enough to say “!llmind put the loop on” and he actually puts the loop on. That’s just me pressing play on the BLAP Kit Volume 13. If you want royalty free music like this, go to illmindproducer.com and get some for yourself. Anyway, as I was saying, in addition to producing music that has been sold to literally millions of people, from top artists such as Jay Z, Beyoncé, Drake, Eminem, and the list goes on, you may have heard !llmind on the many tracks he produced for the Hamilton Mixtape, Black Panther: The Album soundtrack, and he’s even the producer behind the musical earworm that my daughter and I have spontaneously break out into singing to each other at the least appropriate moments most of the time, You’re Welcome, a track from Disney’s Moana soundtrack. He worked on that. He brought that to us. There’s too much to even mention about !llmind’s career, so let me just set this off. Please enjoy my interview with the one and only !llmind.
John Gardner: Man, how are you doing?
!llmind: How are you John, good to connect with you. Thank you for the very very nice intro. It sounds really cool when you say it out loud but definitely humbled to be here and yeah thanks for having me.
John Gardner: It is such a pleasure to have you thanks for taking the time. So we’re going to talk about all sorts of things. I mean you have so much that’s going on with your career, you have so much that your doing not just in the music business but for the music business for creatives, and we’re super excited to share that with the audience just showing even at the base level what, in this case, in your case, some of the NFT and blockchain technology can do for others. But you’ve been doing this way before technology. You’ve been community building, that’s why I had to include that in the intro. So we’ll talk about all of that that’s going on now and in your recent history but we like to take it way back so we’re actually gonna start from the very beginning but before we even get too deep into your origin story just, I’d like to start with a very broad question. How would you answer the question “Who is !llmind?”
!llmind: Who is !llmind? Man it’s so crazy because I feel like who I am sort of shifts, you know, as time goes by you know. I think I’m growing and learning so much everyday, every week, every year and my passions and curiosity evolve in many different ways over time creatively and you know from every aspect of what I love. But I think from the core of it, I’m really just a kid from New Jersey who’s curious about stuff and loves building things and gets a kick out if having an idea, you know, at 2 in the morning and trying to execute it and hopefully creating some type of thing for the work that can help people. And I love doing it based on joy. I’m a real, real big fan in partaking in things that are fun and if what I’m doing is fun and also able to help a few people, I’m probably gonna try to do it. So that’s kind of my approach.
John Gardner: Dig that. That comes through in the theme of all the work that you’ve done so it makes a whole lot of sense. What was your growing up like? Where did you grow up and what are your earliest memories of music?
!llmind: So I grew up in New Jersey. My father was a musician. He played guitar so he was in a band. They were sort of like a wedding band. He used to do weddings and you know parties, private parties, stuff like that, holidays. He played guitar, the name of his band or the band he was in was called fame. F.A.M.E. and that stood for Filipino American Music Entertainment and it was a mixture of Filipinos but also Americans and just people of different cultures and they were in a band.I just remember growing up going to his gigs with him and you know they would pay me you know ten dollars to help carry a bunch of wires and crate and stuff like that. And you know this was back in grammar school and even middle school. I just remember going to the parities and being at home and just instruments all over the house like. My dad used to just like play guitar and compose his own music and he played drums too so I remember we had a drum set and it was just always about music. All of my uncles, they used to all get together at the house and like jam out and just like play music together. And so it was a big part of my childhood being around instruments and being around music and so the curiosity sort of started early and you know my parents were really into, you know the usual stuff, when you’re like an 80s kid, 90s kid. Like it’s a lot of, you know, soul, it’s a lot of 70s soul, a lot of funk, a lot of jazz. My dad loved jazz. So I was exposed to alot of different types of music and then when I got older, started getting into Hip-Hop and you know the stuff that you listen to when you’re like a cool kid. And you know, got into it, and you know that sort of molded my passion and curiosity for music.
John Gardner: And the music that was around the house, was it on LP’s? Was it on vinyl, at the time?
!llmind: Yes, some of it was vinyl. I just remember the old stereo systems so its a lot of vinyls, a lot of cassettes. I just remember a lot of cassettes. My parents were just like cassettes everywhere. CD’s, cassettes, all that stuff.
John Gardner: That’s great. So your parents, the music that was being played at the weddings. The wedding gig, it’s whatever the people want played. So I’m sure that right there keeps an open palette for your family or for your dad, right?
!llmind: Yeah! Oh man, I was exposed to so much crazy music like disco. I just remember like really really distinctly a lot of disco. A Lot of, like, what is that song called like, Mambo number 5. Like Electric Slide and all that stuff. Like now that I think about it, I really picked up a lot of different types of flavors and experiences, you know. Those type of live entertainment experiences where, you know, they were playing covers essentially of just like really popular music back then, exposed me to, you know, what people like and how to, you know, make people move and know kind of what rhythms and chords and types of vibrations make people move on a dance floor and so you know that, I kinda picked that up too.
John Gardner: Makes a lot of sense, wow. So, the first letter in FAME, Filipino. They’re doing a wedding cover band but that identity was important enough that they said “let’s make this part of our name”. So how did the Filipino culture, your parents, they’re both from Philippines, they’re both born in the Philippines, correct?
!llmind: Hmm, Yep.
John Gardner: So how did that identity, how did you see it or did you at all see it reflect in your dad’s band as he was making music? Or in your exposure to music growing up at all?
!llmind: Yeah, you know, I think being, so my parents are from the Philippines. They came to America, I was born here, I was born in New Jersey, and you know growing up I realized music is a very big part of filipino culture you know. We love karaoke, we love playing instruments. We love singing. We love covering songs and you know, you have one tito and like a tito over here singing and a tito over there on the bass and another uncle on the guitar and another uncle that’s like on the drums. And you know, we were just a bunch of kids running around, right. And so it’s just like music was always a thing. Any type of, like, get together, or party or function, involved some type of music. Whether it was live music or karaoke or whatever it was and so. I realized as a kid, especially as I got older, I look back and I realize like, yeah, this is not only my family. It’s really a big part of just being a filipino. We, you know, Filipino people love to partake in creative things, you know. We love music. We love singing. We love playing instruments. We love sports, we love all these type of things,art, creative stuff and yeah that played a big role in my life growing up. Also I had such a big family. So many cousins, uncles & aunts from like both sides of my family getting together. All of our family get-togethers were always so big and it was just always so many people and they were so fun to go to. So, yeah that type of exposure definitely played a big influence in me.
John Gardner: What a blessing. There is a, not everybody gets to have those wonderful memories of, “It was wonderful when our family got together”. It’s such a great thing to take note of and count the blessings that you looked forward to it. All that many people, all those different personalities, and it was, sounded like a party. Wonderful.
!llmind: Yeah it was, it was, I feel very very very blessed to have had the upbringing that I did and you know it’s definitely, it wasn’t always super rosy right. You definitely had your fair share of like family drama and you know all the normal stuff that families go through. But, you know, when I look back at those times and I think about like, my parents and being filipino and what they had to go through and what they did go through, I just give them some much credit and I’m inspired by them so deeply because, you know, you think like my mom, both my parents essentially moved to America in their twenties, right in their early twenties. And talking about coming from the other side of the world, going to school and saving enough money to say “Hey, I’m going to go over here to America and pursue the American dream and I’m going to basically spend the next few decades here in America. I’m going to work to get my citizenship. I’m going to get a job and any money that I make I’m going to send, you know, a big portion of that back to the Philippines to then help them not only rise, but also help their siblings come to America one by one.” And I remember, man, my mom was, I think she was the first of her siblings to come to America, and sort of plant her position here and for many years as a child I remember there was always a relative that stayed with us at our house. And it was, first it was like, okay let;s bring one of my brothers, you know, one of my uncles, her brother from the Philippines to America and they get him a job right, and then help fund that and then he would stay rent free with us and live with us. Then it was another uncle that would come and they would plant their flag and do their thing and that was what we did and the same thing happened on my fathers side. I have like five or six uncles and aunts on my mom’s side and like five or six on my dad’s side so we had a really really big family. And when I think about those times I’m like “Man, that was like, those were some boss moves by my parents”. To come to America and try to pursue this and get there, the rest of their family from the Philippines to come to America was really no easy feat and I know that my parents generation, that was, that was the move. That was the thing to do, right. That was the pursuit of happiness and they really were able to do it so I, I feel extremely blessed and very very always just like inspired by them you know for doing that because that is not easy.
John Gardner: Yeah, wow. Absolutely not easy. And as you’re speaking it hit me so clearly from the outside of me just guessing but it just seems so obvious to me now, the roots of your community building. You’re, you put so much effort into rising up everybody with you. All of these different projects that you’ve been getting into for decades now, you kept reaching out, you kept trying to include other producers. You kept trying to say “Hey let’s do it” and you’re looking back, you’re looking at people that are starting their journey and you’re the one bringing them into this space and you’re saying “Let’s rise up together” you know it’s not the, you know, scarcity mindset of okay well I gotta get mine I’m not gonna bring more people to be my competition. You said “Bring it one, we’re going to grow together” That’s huge, that’s very enlightening, thank you for sharing all of that.
!llmind: No thank you. And I’m really, yeah I’m super stoked that you noticed that. I’m just now noticing that about myself. I’m kinda just like living it day by day but now that we’re sort of talking about it, I definitely see I potentially picked up that6 from my mom’s side, just like partaking in this new land and like finding joy in it and abundance and saying “Hey like, come over here. Like let me do what I’m able to to kind of help you come over here on this side and partake as well” and you know yeah I guess that’s something I’ve always been into doing.
John Gardner: That’s great. You’ve made a big impact by keeping that mentality too. Wonderful so at some point, you’re listening to this, its ranging from disco, classic rock, whatever people are requesting, and then of course you’re saying you’re at school, you’re getting your own influences, some music and guessing your parents arent at home listening to some of the HIp-Hop that you’re getting into, but you start to get into Hip-Hop which, I think were very similar in age and were listening to the same music growing up. It never jumped out to me, I never caught on to the producer aspect of it. It was always the artist, it was the lyrics, it was the beat, it was this. What jumped out to you about producer as a musician and when did that catch your attention, when did it hit your radar?
!llmind: Man, sonics, right? Just like figuring out like hearing the music and telling myself like How did they do this? I know that there’s bands and I know that there’s people that play instruments but how did J Dilla make those beats on Fantastic Volume 2? Or like how did DJ Premier make those beats on Gangstarr? Or how did Mannie Fresh put those crazy TR808 bounce beats on like, who did that? And like who’s Mannie Fresh and like who are these people and how did they do this? And so being, becoming extremely curious about the sonics and the process and the how did they do that part of it really just was the beginning stage of my passion for being a producer and wanting to be one and so it started super early with, okay so they’re using beat machines. What’s an MPC? How much does it cost? Oh wow it’s like five thousand dollars, I definitely can’t afford that. But we need to find other ways and so, yeah it was just a lot of digging in and researching and curiosity and eventually I think I was around 13 years old. I started to just like compose my own music. I used one of my dad’s keyboards and started messing around and that was kind of my first taste of it. And when I got into high school, I started collecting records and started saving up for, you know, a beat machine. I remember I bought this really really old school beat machine, that was like the poor man’s MPC and it was a beat machine where you could make beats and I bought it for like two hundred dollars on ebay, which was really cheap. And so that was my first kind of like equipment to be able to make beats and yeah just kind of grew from there and just kept growing growing growing. I just kind of haven’t stopped since soI’m like, part of me just like still that same kid who’s like tinkering around and making music but I get to do it for a living now so.
John Gardner: Yeah, and the equipment’s gotten a little bigger and shinier. No doubt.
!llmind: Just a little bit.
John Gardner: Great, can you remember the first thing that you worked on?
!llmind: Yeah, I remember the first beat that I made, okay so I’ve never ever told this story. The first beat that I made on that keyboard, well the first few beats, which were like my first beats ever, on my dad’s keyboard, it was a Roland keyboard, were directly influenced by Swizz Beats and DMX. (18:18) I remember listening to, I think it might have been DMX’s like second album, the one where he’s like covered in blood, and I literally never told this story, and I remember that is the album that I chose to like be like cool. Let me try to make beats like this. So I was like mimicking a lot of like Swizz Beats, like early like Swizz Beats stuff. Like late nineties early two thousands Swizz Beats and that was my thing and then you know it all kind of happened at the same time like it was like; Swizz, J Dilla, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Mannie Fresh, DJ Quik, Dre, all your usual guys and it started from there. But yeah, that was my first, that was what my early early early beats sounded like. They sounded like Swizz Beats.
John Garnder: Wow, amazing. That’s awesome. Again, come a long way.
!llmind: Yeah, for sure.
John Gardner: So you’re at this point you’re learning the craft and at first almost copying those beats, using that as your template. But then, it’s like learning to type. Well now you can start writing your novel or now you can start writing short stories or you can go any direction so you’re learning the technical side, the musicianship side. When do you start, when do people first hear this? Nobody heard those beats, they’re just now hearing that they even existed this many years later. When did the public start to hear it, how did that happen? How do you transition out from your dad’s keyboard in the house?
!llmind: I started posting my beats on this website called undergroundhiphop.com And there was a forum back then, a community forum. And there was specifically a music producer community forum and I remember um there was just a bunch of producers on there from all across the globe and they would post up you know snippets of beats that they made and that was technically like our first soundcloud right? It was like the first place where you just like, upload a beat on a, and like I forget what platform it was like z share or like one of those file sharing things and you just like bounce an MP3 and post and upload it just like you do today and people listen to it and they would comment on it like, “oh that’s a cool beat” or like “that beat sucks” or like, you know whatever it was and uh it felt great cause it was like man you know I can just hop on a computer and share my music And and and you know maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad but at least people hear it and so that was like my very very very very first taste of how I was able to share my music. And I guess that was sort of like the very beginning stage of where we are like now with like social media. Yeah I kinda liked entered at the very beginning of that and so um that was extremely helpful for me because uh I got feedback and I was able to compare my stuff to other people, get inspired by other people that were around, you know, the same time I was around the same stage in their young BEAT MAKING career. Um and uh that was it then eventually I got to know some people through those forums one thing led to another and I I got my first SINGLE like my first SONG PLACEMENT which was with an artist named AKROBATIC Back then he was signed to an independent label um and I remember producing a single for him called Remind my soul and um it ended up being a 12 inch like vinyl single and uh I remember the day I got that placement and the song came out I remember it was being sold at Phat Beats New York,um rest in peace Phat Beats, and uh I remember taking the train up to New York City and going to Phat Beats Record Store and like seeing like 20 copies of the the single of Remind My Soul and on the back it said “produced by Illmind” and that moment for me was the moment where I was like, yeah I feel like I can do this like this is my calling” and so that was, I think that was around 2002 or 2003 and then from there I was like, ok this is my calling let me try to do this.
John Garnder: yeah, yeah I can’t even imagine that feeling that. That must have been great.
!llmind:I got paid like 150 dollars.
John Gardner: There you go
!llmind: Yes I’m rich
John Gardner: You got paid 150 dollars and a life long memory.
!llmind: There you go exactly.
John Gardner: Great, so then you obviously I mean we don’t have enough time to you know begin on your credentials and all the amazing things that happened after that first placement so many things you’ve been involved with the really the Mount Rushmore of hip hop I mean from anybody Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye, J Cole just listing the name we don’t have time for. Not to obviously it’s impossible to diminish it because that’s a huge lifetime achievement. But you have plenty of interviews about that. So I recommend that everybody, if you don’t mind, go find more interviews and then look for those. I’ll leave you where you want to jump into that progresion. So what stands out to you, of course that first one is life changing. What happens next? What’s the milestone for you next in your career?
!llmind: Man um, there were so many different milestones that all impacted it in different ways and and now that I’m kind of like going on almost 20 years later there were so many different phases of what I was doing that like after that Acrobatic song I remember clearly king of like my milestones were posting more beats on the internet and then getting like alot of love from that and um and response from it and uh at the next milestone for me around that time was working with a group called. Little Brother back then um they were sort of uh a really really like the next big thing back then and they eventually got signed to Atlantic and they were really a legendary group and um I was able to create a relationship with them and produce some of their records and my association with Little Brother definitely catapulted me to my next milestone which was um starting to work with G Unit um and back then that was when G Unit was like kind of on top of the world so that was sort of another life changing you know part in time, moment in time and from there it went from like G Unit Records to like then more underground stuff, more independent stuff gaining alot of respect from people that really planting my flag and and and starting to make my mark as Illmind the producer um and from there i’ll fast forward to 2012 was when I first worked with Kanye West and it was like for a song on Cruel Summer which was the good music compilation and it was like the who’s who of rappers who were like on that.
John Gardner: Yeah, and I’ll jump in on that one cause I believe a past guest of the show Rhymefest had a part in that and I love that man so much. So any time I get a chance, just to say the name Rhymefest in a microphone and talk about him I am happy about it.
!llmind: Yes he was absolutely instrumental in that even becoming a thing uh or even existing and yah Rhymefest is one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever met.
John Gardner: I can see you all getting along really well. We all have that in common. So at this point now you’re, we’re getting that elite level in the music world what you’re talking about now. Now you’re getting into, to this point where you could put your head down and say let’s I’m gonna keep on this trajectory you’re working every day at it it’s a craft you’re doing so much behind the scenes but consistently you’re getting placements, you’re getting phone calls now and things are changing for you. At what point do you start to look around or even look back at people earlier in their careers who are coming up with ideas like Pass The Aux? What was the first step when you started reaching out to the producer community?
!llmind: So the first um sort of uh I guess the first step for me when I when it sparked in my mind that I was like, man I wanna do more with creators and bring people together and all that good stuff was probably around 2009 maybe 2010. So it was a couple years before the kanye thing. And that was when I started to realize, man, bringing creative people together is cool and we should do more, and I wanna think of more cool things we can do together. So, I remember it was 2009-ish. I started these live Producer events called BLAP ,B-L-A-P. And back then that event stood for beats love alcohol party. And that’s literally what it was, we would rent out a venue and we would say hey instead of a DJ,let’s bring in 5 or 6 producers, music producers to come in. Everyone would plug in their laptops and we would just play beats right, so it was like a beat cypher. So instead of a DJ playing a bunch of songs, it was us playing unreleased beats. And people were at the bar, they were networking and having a good time, some people were dancing, people were networking, and it was a great thing. We did it once a month in New York City and we got to connect with a lot of different people and people were able to come together so that was my very, very first taste of curating something where we’re bringing people together for a particular cause. And from there, I was inspired to start my own podcast in 2012. I started a podcast called BLAP on the Radio and it might haven even been 2011. So that was like before people even knew what a podcast was, but I knew that speaking for 30 minutes to an hour about a specific topic was interesting to me, and I felt like having a one hour conversation about music production was interesting enough potentially for other people to want to listen to it. And so i started a producer podcast and then like you said Pass The Aux, which was a monthly kind of like musician get together were I’ll go to different cities, rent out or book a studio, secret studio location and then we would invite 20 or so musicians you know, rappers,singers, music producers, engineers to come in an hang out, get to know each other, play music, give each other constructive criticism and all that stuff. I would travel to a different city every month to do that and we started doing that in 2015. We ran it all the way up to 2020 when the pandemic hit, obviously we had to stop and we started doing virtually. And 2020 was the year that we really started to dig into where we are now, which is Web 3. So yeah, again looking back it’s definitely been a journey of about 10 years of you know doing a lot of community stuff outside of just being a music producer. And now that we’re in Web 3 it kind of you know a no brainer to kind of just go all the way you know.
John Gardner: Yeah, it seems like a perfect fit, the innovation came along right at the right time for your progression as an innovator. So you’re talking about a podcast back in 2011-12. You’re also someone who was accepting bitcoin for beats back in 2013.
John Gardner: You’re always with your finger on the pulse. And then for this to come along and for it to have this community aspect, but see you saw the technology you saw Web 3. First of you took the time to even understated it whereas a lot of people are scared of it or dismissing it. But you instantly, you describe it as community building technology. There’s so many people even producing in the Web 3 space who don’t even have that mentality yet. They still have it as a product mentality. So I’m super excited to see where you take this and from the example that you’re laying down where this could go. I wanna talk about Squad of Knights your NFT project and the amazing things your doing there, but there’s one super important part about your musicianship and your musical journey that I can’t skip over, because one more way of innovating, one more way of democratizing music. When I was saying you were accepting bitcoin back in 2013 it was for beats, now for the current listener we say he was selling beats pretty common. It wasn’t at that time. When you first started, how did you get into that? Could you help the listener understand and how different the approach selling samples was and beats and drum kits, what was the atmosphere when you came up with that idea?
!llmind: Yeah, so you know when you think about the process of music making you think about instruments, pianos, guitars, drum sets, beat machines, and as producers our job is to help an artist put a song together. So we’re programming drums, we’re playing guitar, we’re bringing different people in to play instruments, and ultimately the goal is to create a song. And in order for us to do this, we need tools right. Just like a movie director needs a camera and special effects teams and lighting and props. Musicians need tools as well, we need instruments, we need sounds, we need software, we need hardware, we need cables. And so one of the points of friction for a long time as a music producer is, where do we get our sounds? Where do we get our drum sounds, drumkits, where do we find melody ideas and back in 2011 I had this idea and said hey I wonder if there are other music producers that would want to use some of my sounds that I make as tools for them to use and create their own songs and there own beats right. And back then it was kind of an unheard of thing, not too many musicians and music producers were sharing their sounds. It was very much a you know a secret, this is my sound and no one can have it and if you download it I’ll sue you and stuff like that. And so one day I was like man, why are we HODLing essentially our own sounds and not sharing what we have? I think the act of sharing our music and sharing our tools is empowering and could ultimately help the music community. So I thought of this idea to create a marketplace to sell my original sound to other music producers, and I didn’t really think anything of it but I ended up selling one. It was called BLAP kit Volume 1, B-L-A-P K-I-T, BLAP Kit Volume 1. It was pretty much a zip file of 120 of my drum sounds that I created from scratch. And I was like would I buy this for, what’s a reasonable price? It has 127 sounds. I said 20 bucks. So I said 20 dollars, go for it. So I posted it up on the internet and woke up the next day and it made like 2 thousand dollars in my Paypal. So I was like this is insane, I was expecting like 2 people to buy this and 100 people bought it. So, that definitely sparked something in me and we built our business and we built our platform on shopify and a decade later we’re almost 100 sound packs in and tens of thousands sold and help to sort of change the landscape of how music sounds sonically. Whether it’s producers all across the globe that use these sounds and now its its own marketplace now. We have all these different types of marketplaces and platforms that sell soundpacks. And so I was part of the very early wave of it and man that was a really, really life changing thing for me. Not only financially but just the idea of flipping the script instead of saying hey instead of being so secretive with our stuff, why don’t we share our stuff and become a community and help each other through these sound packs. And that became part of the ethos of what I like to represent today as you said community and trying to help each other out.
John Gardner: Beautiful. Help me understand when you say original sound, original drums. I can even picture what I want to hear and what’s a good drum sound on a track, but are you literally hitting a snare?
!llmind: Yeah, so it’s a combination of like having a snare, having different types of microphones, doing EQ techniques and taking those sounds and layering those with different sounds, other sounds. I might take you know a snare from a TR-88 machine and then pitch it up like Foley. Foley is basically a term for like a different sound effect, like rocks hitting together or like sandpaper whatever it might be, Foley sound. And you just get experimental and you get creative, and I guess that kind of falls under the category of sound design right. So yeah, a big part of a lot of these are intense sound designing, putting different things together and getting creative.
John Gardner: Now you’re giving the tools where as somebody else would have been using whatever they can find or try to pull off a record or make on their own, they never would have the equipment, the experience, the ear. Now you’re giving them the tools and saying here draw with it, your saying here make your art using these good foundational sounds they could choose from. Yeah that’s putting power into the hands of creatives and giving them a huge head start.
!llmind: Yes, 100%. And you know I don’t wanna veer off the conversation too much but, when we’re talking about Web 3, you know you think of these buzzwords and community is one of the biggest buzzwords. You know it’s a shame because in certain circles and certain contexts it gets a negative connotation to it, another buzzword community. And this is just my opinion. When you really think about it, everything that we do is about bringing people together. I don’t think there’s anything out there that remotely makes sense that’s remotely good for the world that is designed to push other people away. I think the act of people coming together for something and that’s essentially what community building is that essentially what we’re doing is the end goal of probably all things that we do as human beings. When we strip all the stuff down, you strip down the fancy stuff, you strip down the technology, strip down the money, the money, the purpose, the color of our skin, the nationalites. It’s really just a bunch of human beings that are going together for stuff. And so yeah I think that’s kind of a reflection of what were all trying to do out here right and again I could be completely off and wrong in this but I do feel as though were all community builders and were all trying to just bring people together for a particular thing to help fix something or to help experience and create some type of memory out of it and that to me is what all this stuff comes down to ultimately.
John Gardner: Absolutely beautiful. Yea that’s very interesting to think about i guess when living is done right everything your saying clicks, falls into place. I’m clearly more pessimistic than you are. I believe there may be some people who aren’t so active in the community building but that should be the goal and I think that is a natural instinct and I Think there’s something that vears people off that patl.
!llmind: Yeah I think so.I think so. When you think about Obviously there’s millions of people that do the opposite and when you try to peel the layers of the onion and you try to discover why they’re pushing people away or why what they’re doing is designed to push people away i mean when you dig in the layers it’s like, man, there’s some stuff that needs to be worked out.
John Gardner: 100%
!llmind: Right, Unless Im tripping right now
John Gardner: And that’s what it is. Remembering that and hard as in can be in these circumstances that’s where empathy comes in and understanding that, it can changes the way you deal and understand people by just understanding exactly what you just said if someone is pushing people away there’s something going on underneath that’s causing thats causing that
!llmind: Yeah 100%, and again going back to what we were saying it seems as though an effective healer for that is some type of participation with other other people with other people bringing that person into that community or some kind of helping hand. I mean you need another human being to really help climb out of the hole right and there’s lots of people that go through that and it’s an issue and it’s been an issue and as human beings it’s been an issue. And so you know and if we play our part in society and say hey i know i might not be for everyone and my tribe might not fit with your tribe but i mean i am going to try my best to be there for who i can be there for right. And you just have to try to get in where you fit in and i don’t think humans were meant to be alone and stuff. I think we’re meant to have at least one other human there right like at least two. I don’t know how we got there but thats really interesting that we veered off to this. I mean when you strip it down thats kinda what it all comes down to right?
John Gardner: That’s at the base of all of it right,100% And i would love to sit and talk with you more with it. In respect of time, I’ve been anxious to talk about this anyway. I want to talk about the culmination of bacialy the real world application of everying you just described. Squad of Knights, thats what it lead up to. Your bring together an group of people that just would no be rubbing shoulders against each other with out what you’re doing. And Im thankful to be a holder and part of the community myself,but tell me a little bit about the project, let us know its inception and where it’s going.
!llmind: Yeah. First of all John, thank you for being part of the squad, let’s go. You pretty much said it, you hit it right on the nose. It’s this idea of without a squad of knights these people would have never met. And I’m so so so fascinated by the idea that we can cheat the universe a little bit. We can do a thing that can just alter the trajectory of what was supposed to happen. And when I think about earlier in our conversation when you asked me what were some of those life changing moments in my career. Pretty much every one of those life changing moments in my career wasn’t supposed to happen if it wasn’t for some weird thing outside universal energy or vibration that entered my life and helped nudge me in that direction. Even going back to Rhymefest right.I won’t tell the whole story because we’re short of time but if i never did a particular album for this particular underground hip hop artist, his name is Skyzoo, he is one of my very good friends. And Rhymefest ended up being there, this was 2010, I Never would have gotten the song with Kanye right and that was a two year thing. And so squad of knights is my version of saying you know what, let’s cheat the system and let’s say what would happen if we used Web Three which is this amazing technology that brings people together, it creates a community. What if I was Able to bring people together for this one cause, and what are the types of music and types of relationships that could come out of these relationships and these curated experiences? And so the idea of squad of knights is to bring together creative people to create music and collaborate, and get to know each other, and hopefully create lifelong relationships. And it’s sort of like a mirror image of what I’m doing in my life and what I was able to do in the last twenty years of my life. And I’m creating that scenario of the people in the squad of knights to hopefully help maximize their potential and to help hopefully maximize their potential and create greatness for themselves as well. And the real short of it is, you have rappers, you have singers, you have songwriters, you have audio engineers, music producers, people that play guitar, and going back to what we were just talking about. All these people and all of us that create music, we need other people. We need collaboration, you know. Guitar players need singers, rappers need beats, producers need vocalists to create full songs. We need each other. And so Squad of Knights is a community NFT PFP project where if you’re part of a squad of knights you’re in this community and we do everything we can to encourage our Squad of Knight members to collaborate with each other and we use technology to accomplish that. So I partnered with a company called moonwalk that helped us create what we call a members wallet where members of the squad of knights are able to earn knight tokens which are reward tokens for collaborating with each other. So the more you work, the more you get to know each other, the more you collaborate, the more tokens you earn And then we have curated events in our metaverse, curated events in real life, we have two coming up. One during NFT NYC and one in detroit that’s in two months. And were essentially creating scenarios for creative people to come together, get to know each other, work, and create this amazing IP. This amazing music. And what we do with that music is up to us, it’s up to the Knights. And what were always gonna try to do is create as much opportunity to say. Hey, all this music that you’re making, maybe you want to create an NFT with it. Maybe you want to go the web two route, or maybe you want to do both. We’re gonna do everything we can to try and help the Knights to create the music, put the music out, and most importantly, this is my favorite part, Maintain ownership of there music and and really just usher in this new movement of Web Three music and partack in all the cool thing that happening in Web Three Technology. I’m super stoked about it, John im super stoked that you’re a part of it. And i just wanna continue to serve my comity and serve my knights and we’re throwing around this word community left and right, but I feel like this squad of knights as given me an opportunity to say ok, i can actually participate in this an use the amazing technology to continue what i always wanted to do, which is if you want to partake you wanna be here and you wanna create music you wanna meet people. I want to be that person tho help at least this group of people to come together and break some ground. I love doing it. It’s something I have always been proud of doing and something i learn from, and i get to partake as well which makes it a lot more fun for me too. And we’re gonna continue to do it and its gonna be really, really amazing to watch.
John Gardner: Yeah, there’s no telling where this is gonna end up. It’s one of those things were its already so fired from the beginning. I mean the create to earn concept even hit me was becasue of this project that you’re doing. You’re incentivising people to do what they want to do, you’re pushing them out of your comfort zone and saying, stop talking about it do it. And I Know you have a connection with Gary Vee, you’re gonna be speaking soon at V-Con. You hear him and people like him and we all know the feeling of talking and sharing, and were all doing our best to get someone to do the action, move, actually do it. And so much thought went into it clearly that you have an infrastructure in place that can incentivise people to finally take that action. It can be life changing on the individual level and i mean just speaking on broader thought of it the industries got to be affected by this. It’s going to change things Whether with Squads to other people taking a look at it because it’s a beautiful thing your putting together. Im loving it.
!llmind: Yeah thank you so John. And yea I kind of look at is as a Web Three creative hub, but a Web Three version of artist development, producer development, engineer development. And not in a way were its like, hey you need to do this, it’s hey you’re good at this thing. Here’s 5 other people who are good at doing what they do and if you guys get together you can really get together and create magic. Its less of hey run on the treadmill and more of a hey lets play a cool fun game of basketball and get the exercise we need, but also create a bond together. And thats extremely important in music or any creative art. And so Squad of knights vision is to set that up as best as possible for all the people part of it. And is gonna take time, its gonna take trial and error. Its gonna take, another buzz word utility to unfold and some Web Three tech. But we have the stuff in place and we have some of the resources in place and now we have time were just gonna sort of you know check these things off the boxes and se what happens. I’m super excited, im really inspired and i can’t stop thinking about it. Thats why Im always in discord talking to everyone like man what’s next guys lets go.
John Gardner: I’m telling you I was just gonna say your hands on, you’re in the trenches. It’s just amazing, its mindbogeling. I mean just speaking with you, you can just imagine the feeling. But for a lot of people in your position that would be hard to imagine, Illmind just respond to my comment. Illmind just asked the community and actually listened to the answers that people are giving to him, and is taking action on that. The fact that you’re in there and really just chopping it up with people is huge. It’s very impactful.
!llmind: I love it, I care.
John Gardner: That’s clear, that’s so clear.
!llmind: That’s the difference between me and a lot of people I guess. This is something that brings joy. It’s not just a one way street where this is something I feel obligated to do. It’s a thing where it’s like, yeah this is fun and cool and I get to be selfish in this too and I’m allowed to enjoy this too you know. I love getting in there and hearing music and being like, oh try this or hey guys i have this exciting new thing im rolling out. I get a kick out of that. I love that. It makes me feel good to know that I’m able to do something for someone. And to do it in this organized Web Three way is super addicting and super awesome and man the skys the limit from here dude.
John Gardner: Absolutely. We’re gonna coming out with this episode so for the listeners that are actually listening to this in real time that there is a project going on right now. July 15th I think is the deadline for the album thats coming out, the first of who knows. But its actually a chance for Squad of Knight holders to collaborate with their squads or meet up with others within the community. They produce tracks on the discord, there’s a list of the kinds of tracks that they are hoping to assemble. At some point there’ll be finalists I’m sure and then there’ll be a final line up. So they will be on an album produced by illmind?
!llmind: Yeah. So the album is essentially executively produced by me. What we’re doing is we’re creating a squad of knights album. We’re gonna take the best of the best song and put them together in one album. The album is called Chronicles of S.O.K(Squad of Knights). And the whole album is gonna be full of songs that are produced, performed, and written by all the Squad of Knights. And my job as the executive producer is to oversee the process, make sure it’s amazing, go in there and really fine tune some of the songs. I might add some co-production, I might do some arrangements, mixing stuff. I might add certain people and add certain elements, move verses around, but for the most part, this is conceptualized by the Knights. And I’m here to Quincy Jones it, or try to Quincy Jones it, and try to make it sonically thes best it can be for the general public. And this is one of many, many, many projects we.re gonna be doing with the Squad of Knights. This is like, hey you’re part of the squad, you’re on the court, where’s the starting 5? How much playing time do you want? How are we going to perform when we put that jersey on and step on that court? We’re all there to empower each other, it’s not a popularity contest, or hey I’m better than you. It’s a, hey this is quality stuff and let’s all be inspired by this. It’s gonna be a really, really, really amazing journey for the knights. I think it’s gonna be a lot of lessons that are gonna be learned from this and a lot of great, great, great music ideas that are gonna be made from here. And Again this is sort of a mirror image, taste of what it is like to just create music and turn it into a career. You’re gonna win some, you’re gonna lose some, but the act of creating and the act of collaborating will always take you one step closer to where you wanna be. This is not the end all be all, this is one part of many parts that will happen in the future for the squad and I’m hoping that my knights also understand that aspect of the process. It’s not just about trying to get on this album, it’s really about all those hours, and hours, and hours of work you put into making yourself a better artist, rapper, singer, producer, whatever it is that you’re doing. Ultimately we’re all gonna come out of this better at our craft.
John Gardner: 100%. I can not imagine an up-and-coming artist that would not want to be a part of this, especially primarily Hip-Hop R&B. So for those who are listening who do wanna be a part of it, I’m a holder of S.O.K and also the world music foundation themselves own two Squad of Knight NFT’s. So our intent is to do a give away to people who are interested. We do want to onboard someone who has a passion to participate, it’s not about collecting the artwork. Although I love the artwork, it’s awesome. But it’s much more, this is not just a collect and show in your wallet. It to be a part of it.It’s who wants to be part of this community they just heard about. Who wants to have access to illmind like you?
!llmind: First of all, thank you for that. I love that. I think that’s super incredible. So there’s two ways, and this is breaking news right now on your podcast john, so I was going to announce this this week or next week. I think I just might sneak it in this weekend, so I was having a conversation with one of our Knights and they brought up a really really good point. So there’s two easy ways to get into the Squad of Knights. The First way is to purchase a Squad of Knight NFT on Secondary Market, OpenSea, or Looks Rare it might even be on looks rare. Go to a marketplace and Purchase yourself a Squad of Knight NFT. I think the floor price right now is .23 Ethereum so that would be the first way and most obvious way. Get on secondary and get yourself a Knight. Now the second way to partake in this is what i’m about to announce. I’m probably going to announce this in the discord either today or this weekend. So, i wanna start and ambassador sponsorship program, so if you own a Knight you can essentially sponsor artist, or a producer, or someone you want to come it, and as long as you’re holding one you can assign that particular Knight to that person and that person will be able to participate in what we do in Squad of Knights, minus having the actual Knight in their wallet. So, the reason why I think this is pretty cool is because we have a bunch of people in Squad of Knights that don’t do music, we have a lot of ambassadors, some of them have 3 knights, 5 knights, even 20knights. And so if they know people, like you John if you know an artist or a producer that cant really afford to buy their own but you believe in them and your part of the knights and you really want them to be part of this community, you can essentially assign that Knight to that person, sponsor them bring them ina and then they can take part in all the stuff we’re doing and you can essentially be an ambassador and represent them of this. We’re gonna start to do that, we have to create a few things on the back end with this developer to make sure that’s a clean transition with our developer to make sure that’s a clean registration process and to make sure all this stuff is on record. But yeah that’s the vision, those would be the two ways to be part of it.
John Gardner: Dig that. Dropping to Alpha here on the World Music Foundation Podcast. Well then get ready you’re gonna start seeing some subitions about tabla and sitar and some other instruments that you haven’t seen in the discord yet. I’ll be bringing that into the mix.
!llmind: Amazing, we need that!
John Gardner: Let’s get those international sounds from all over the world.
!llmind: We need them yes!
John Gardner: You want rhythms ill bring you rhythms. So dig it, right on man. You usually end with a lightning round but we don’t even have time for a lightning round and we don’t even have time for a lightning round. I don’t want you to kick me out of here. I’m taking up too much for your valuable time. So we’re just gonna wrap it up and dude I hope we get to talk again, it’s been too enjoyable. I’ll be at V-con, I would love to cross paths with you out there. But any chance we get we that you for all your time and everything your doing in the music space and they say you’re building the community it’s really been a pleasure talking with you
!llmind: Man, John thank you so much. Thank you guys for your time and the invite and obviously being part of the Knights. I appreciate you knowing aping in and appreciate you being a part of the community. And dube we gotta hang out and v-con. I tweeted the other day that ill be at the flea market for most of the time buying trinkets and stuff like that. Yeah we should definitely grab a coffee dude and I’d love to do this again at some point.
John Gardner: Absolutely: Appreciate that, looking forward to it.
!llmind: Alright my dude.
John Gardner: Take care, Bye.
John Gardner: And if you don’t know, now you know! Haha! Woo! Love it. Thank you so much to our guest !llmind. To find out more, as always, there’s video links, there’s episode descriptions, there’s a bio, there’s links to !llmind’s awesome podcast, you can see videos of !llmind making beats—all sorts of information can be found at wmfpodcast.org/19 is the episode page for this episode. And still, as promised, it’s coming up: our interview with Si Kahn, singer-songwriter and activist. I want to share this clip with you yet again, you’re gonna love it:
Si Khan: So yes you did, you don’t know it I said “think of the liturgical music, the religious music, that we sang at home. We sang unaccompanied. We did highly embellished music, meaning we would bend a note, as in the blues. We would slide from one note to another. That’s some of the essence of the music, and that’s the high lonesome sound of Bill Monroe, and of bluegrass.
John Gardner: Oh, I cannot wait to share that with you! It’s actually a two-part episode. There was so much gold being dropped by the wise and hilarious Si Kahn that we had to make it a two-part episode. But until then, remember to listen widely, open ears equals open minds, and I’ll catch you next time.
For the Extra Curious
MORE ABOUT !llmind
0:00:10 World Music Foundation Podcast
0:00:12 John Gardner
0:00:26 !llmind (aka Illmind)
0:00:38 Last Week’s Episode
0:00:48 Si Kahn
0:01:21 Gary Vaynerchuk
0:01:29 Squad of Knights
0:02:22 BLAP Kit Volume 13
0:02:50 Jay Z
0:03:00 Hamilton Mixtape
0:03:02 Black Panther: The Album
0:03:17 “You’re Welcome” (from Disney’s Moana)
0:04:12 Music Business
0:04:25 Blockchain Technology
0:05:29 New Jersey
0:06:44 Wedding Band
0:08:07 70s Soul
0:09:06 Stereo Systems
0:09:43 Mambo Number 5
0:09:47 Electric Slide
0:10:20 Dance Floor
0:10:40 Filipino Culture
0:14:00 American Dream
0:17:32 Classic Rock
0:18.29 J Dilla
0:18:32 Fantastic Volume 2
0:18:36 DJ Premier
0:18:42 Mannie Fresh
0:18:47 Bounce Beats
0:19:17 Beat Machines
0:21:12 Swizz Beatz
0:21:19 DMX’s Second Album
0:22:05 Pete Rock
0:22:07 DJ Quik
0:22:07 Dr. Dre
0:23:35 Bounce an MP3
0:24:55 Remind My Soul
0:25:00 12-Inch Vinyl Single
0:25:18 Fat Beats NYC
0:26:26 Mount Rushmore of Hip-Hop
0:26:30 Jay Z
0:26:33 Kanye West
0:26:34 J Cole
0:27:50 Little Brother
0:28:08 Atlantic Records
0:28:18 G Unit
0:28:33 G Unit Records
0:28:57 Cruel Summer
0:30:13 Pass the Aux
0:31:31 New York City
0:31:56 BLAP on the Radio
0:32:37 Recording Studio
0:33:14 Web 3
0:34:38 Squad of Knights
0:35:34 Drum Set
0:35:35 Beat Machines
0:36:07 Music Software
0:36:08 Music Hardware
0:37:44 BLAP Kit
0:37:51 ZIP File
0:40:06 TR-88 Machine
0:40:31 Sound Design
0:46:12 Squad of Knights
0:47:50 Live from the Tape Deck by Skyzoo and Illmind
0:48:01 Kanye West
0:49:18 Audio Engineers
0:49:19 Music Producers
0:52:41 Gary Vaynerchuk
0:57:04 Chronicles of S.O.K. (Squad of Knights)
0:57:14 Executive Producer
0:57:40 Quincy Jones
1:05:23 Liturgical Music
1:05:34 Bending Notes
1:05:37 Sliding Notes
1:05:42 “High Lonesome Sound”
1:05:45 Bill Monroe