ILL BLISS needs no introduction but if you need a clue, here’s one… I re-visited a story I wrote for Hip Hop World Magazine on him and here it is…plus his new single “Otipo” featuring and produced by Suspect.
I may not be in the position to compare TV programming today to yester-years, but what the heck? I still remember how one of the local programmes, ‘WAZOBIA’ helped me in my language class in primary school. This was an educative and interesting programme that not only taught people how to use and apply other Nigerian dialect in their daily communication; it was also an indirect or probably a direct tool, used to promote unity and peace in the country. Talking about peace – is there really peace and unity in Nigeria today? Find my opinion at the end of this story.
Believe it or not – one of the illest rappers around this coast today is Tobechukwu Ejiofor a.k.a ILL BLISS. Even while we still maintain props for the vanguards like Junior and Pretty, Weird MC, The Remedies, Trybesmen, Defo Clan, Ruff, Rugged & Raw, SWAT ROOT, Rooftop MC’s, Ruggedman and all ‘em underground cats who started the indigenous struggle back in the days, we can’t help but keep celebrating the outstanding acts springing up in our strata on a daily.
Jacking a line from 2Shotz’…. “Incase you Neva know” – Illbliss is not one bit like your regular new kid on the block. This chubby, dark dude has been playing in Naija’s HipHop league for well over 10 years. “I started rapping over instrumentals and learning on other beats; from there, I learnt how to write bars and put the hook in. So when I met Obiwon, we got together and made a song called “Whatch’ u gon’ do?” in 1994 which we really liked”, he narrates.
For your info, Ill’ is a Political Science and International Relations graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nnsukka. From Imo State, Ill was born and raised in Enugu where he also acquired his Primary and Secondary education. He lost his dad while in Lagos serving his fatherland (NYSC) in 2000 but his mum still has his back till date.
Diagnosing the source of his music traits, Ill who lost his dad in 2002 when he was undergoing his mandatory NYSC scheme was musically nurtured from birth by his mother, Mrs. Stella Ejiofor who according to him had about 800 vinyl-records and tapes from different genre of music. His core orientation on rap came from his elder brother, Munachi Ejiofor who Ill’ refers to as ‘an epitome of HipHop’. “In the late eighties, he used to bring home a lot of old school tapes; he schooled me about break dancing, graffiti and the Hip Hop culture – funny enough, he doesn’t rap but he contributed to my musical background” Ill said.
His brother’s tutorials he thought, was all he needed to hit the big league until he met cats like Obiwon (A fellow student of UNN and a member of a rap group known as the Nigerian Rap Syndicates); Amaka (who introduced him to her brother – Elajoe) and Bright Igho a.k.a B–Elect – another product of UNN, who schooled him thoroughly on Hip-Hop and the essence of lyrical competence. “I was influenced so much by B-Elect. He was then a Christian rapper but he had a lot of skills. He got me stuffs from Heavy D, Master Ace, EPMD, Boogie down Production, KRS 1, so by the time I listened to all that stuff, it helped mould my lyricism.”
Bringing all these coefficients together, it won’t be difficult to decipher how Ill Bliss became one of the coalitions still known today as ‘Thoroughbreds’. Their award-winning rap single “Street-Hop” (2005) still draws accolades whenever they hit any stage to render it. The group also had songs like “Ewo”, “Datz Uz”, “Hard Times” and “Nyele Aka” all in 2001. The Thoroughbred era may be history but it certainly gets a chapter in any book on the evolution of Hip-Hop music in Nigeria.
If you gat your ears and eyes on the streets then you must have heard or seen the inscription “Ibo Boy”…. Ikechukwu or Ill’Bliss? It don’t matter who started the ‘Ibo Boy’ movement… one thing is for sure – Ill Bliss’ single “Dat Ibo Boy” drew a lot of love and airplay.
I was listening to Kemistry sometime ago on Rhythm 93.7and in her words – “One thing I like about Ill Bliss is the reflection of his Igbo accent when he’s rapping”. Regarding the accent, Ill said, “It comes out naturally; there is no phoneme or faking. Everything I say is English but metaphors and punch lines most times are local and Naija. I listen to a lot of underground music from Neo Soul to Jazz to Hip-Hop and I found out that if you listen to a guy in France, he has a French accent and he is moving units. So I figured: stay human and do what makes you ‘you’.”
Getting Ill Bliss for an interview was not as easy as catching his video “U go Wound” featuring KEL and Suspect on TV. The dude may not be practicing politics or lobbying for an ambassadorial appointment at Aso Rock as his educational CV suggests but he can tell you about the 9 to 5 art.
His white-collar career started with Citizens Bank (now Spring Bank), from there he moved on to Assurance Bank and would spend three years in banking before he decided to drop the suit and tie job. “Banking is a very jealous sector. It requires 100% undivided attention and concentration. Then, I was always looking forward to Fridays cos that was my opportunity to discard the tie and trousers so I can wear my timbs, sneakers and trainers” he confessed. After his banking experiences, he dropped by at Planet One, Maryland to do event management before he moved to ‘Ultima’, the production company behind popular game show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ and ‘Project Fame’.
Unlike some of his contemporaries who chose to drop their academic certificates and regular jobs for a full time course in music, Ill has programmed himself to keep a regular job, no matter how much money he’s making from his music. Today he manages activities within ‘Capital Hill’ owned by cinematographer, Clarence Peters. According to him, “I figured that with this platform, I can do anything I want. Tomorrow, you might see me presenting a Hip-Hop programme on a music channel or acting in a soap opera. It is all part of what I am doing but it is just a bigger part of it. Leave the job for music – Nah! I don’t think so!”
The American, British or Caribbean streets are different because of the level of exposure out there. If you come across an American who is suffering and living on welfare and give him a Nas, 50 Cents, 2Pac, Biggie, Jay Z or Game’s album, he understands everything they are saying because these rappers have also been there. They are able to cut across with their music.
For these countries, we understand that the level of literacy and enlightenment matters. But In Nigeria, your audiences are most times not literate but semi literate. People are looking for that daily speech in any form of language, in form of song that they can relate with. “It’s about the message, it’s rhyming and wordplay that has got a lot of sense; I’m talking lyrics that has a message. I gat a song titled “National Cake” – I am trying to let you know that there are people that sell gala for a living; I wonder how they pay their rents, I wonder how they go through crisis. On the same streets where you have people that sell gala, you have people in X5, Jaguars and some futuristic trucks and cars. Here, I am talking about politics and calling on the youths of Nigeria to let’s rally and stand in front of Aso Rock and let them see that there is really no future for us in this country”, the rapper explains.
A remarkable feat for Ill Bliss was when the ‘Illmatic’ Nasir Jones (Nas) chose him as the winner in the best rap single category at the maiden edition of Sound City Music Video Awards, 2008. They were sighted together at the after party pouring champagne from the same bottle. According to him, “Nas was like ‘you are on fire and I chose that video cos you reminded me of “Classic” that I did with Rakim and DJ Premiere. It was like KRS-1 and Kanye; it was like a ‘Nike Air Force1’ commercial. The concept is straight-up man: studio, the mic, the screen; I know that video didn’t cost you a lot but it showed rebellion’. Reacting to this Ill said, “I was like whoa! Coming from Nas that means I have not been wrong all this while. For me, it was a glorious moment. It was a big trophy: it is the first award I was getting besides the Hip Hop World Awards that Thoroughbred won in 2005 which was for the group”.
His debut album dropped in September 2008 and powered by his company ‘Goretti’ (inspired by his fiancée – Maria Goretti). On his debut were songs like “Lead the way” feat. C-meon, “Currency” feat. eLDee Tha Don, “Leader” feat. Durella and “Aiye po gan” feat. Terry G.
It is one thing for a new entrant to have the suave, the hits and an album but beyond that, our industry is yet to carve a proper strategy and formular to up-shoot market sales and attract corporate organizations. While the industry keeps working on that, it is advisable for everybody to keep doing good music.
For the aspiring and established names in the rap league, truth is if you don’t gat it, don’t bother to step up, cos a few no-smiling-MC’s like Ill Bliss are on ground to flush-off all soft sh*ts. And for those who really want my opinion about Peace or No peace in Nigeria today – My answer is boldly written on some bill boards situated at the Niger-Delta and Bakassi regions ……. Ya heard?!
Check out his new single…