It's not just a record, it's a movement.
That's the philosophy behind Free Ill, Niagara's “unified collective” of hip-hop artists, who are set to release their second EP “LIVE: Out Of Page” on April 20.
The roller-coaster record combines a boom-bap hip-hop style with slick lyrical delivery by frontman Joel Perusse (Ase Mor the Corner Store Rapper).
Backed by core group members Luke Archibald (L. Write, producer) and scratch master John Kirby (DJ K-FLiP), the five songs take listeners into a concept album journey of a live show which plays prelude to the group's upcoming LP, Wet Window Sill Songs.
“There's a good breadth of emotion that happens over the record because you kind of have an introduction to a few kinds of situations that happens in somebody’s life, and for me this record has been really personalized,” said Perusse.
“It's more so about me looking through my own experiences, rather than showcasing a kind of social view or political view, or something like that.”
Archibald said the theme of the EP centres around the band's time living in St. Catharines, with emphasis on living on Page St.
The project has been in the works since 2017, he said, though when it all came together it took just a night for Perusse to record his vocals.
“I had produced some stuff for (Ase) that I had on the back burner, in between stuff we were doing, and he just came over one weekend, it was like a Friday night, and we recorded the entire thing.”
He said him and Perusse went through around 20 beats before selecting the final five.
The opening track features Perusse showing up to a live venue to check-in with Archibald and Kirby before taking the stage. He begins with a spoken word introduction, which he said “adds an extra layer to the music itself” and brings you a little deeper into the feel of being at a live show.
“We kind of envisioned some sort of bar venue or whatever, like St. Paul Street, St. Catharines, type thing, and I kind of just did some audio and figured out how to make it sound like it would be that way, and that's how we kind of came about the whole live concept,” said Archibald.
“It’s a fun track, and in perspective of the record itself, it’s a great way to open a show,” said Perusse.
Perusse said the intro speaks to what Free Ill is, and the persistence behind the movement, “kind of like a rose growing out of concrete.”
“It's kind of like the definition of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish with our music, which is representative of the 90s golden era sound, that boom-bap hip-hop mentality.”
To that same tune, Archibald said sampling is a major part of their music, something he believes is important in hip hop.
“Sampling was what built hip hop in the first place,” Archibald said.
As Kirby puts it, it gives “shine to the original artists.”
The tracks feature heavy-hitting drum beats, mixed with an old school sampling and scratching style to throw back to early 90s boom-bap.
“I like how heavy it is with the drums, that's probably one of my favourite things about the sound of the record,” said Perusse.
“It's heavy, not in the sense that it’s like darker, like hardcore or anything like that, but more so, just how – I don’t know how best to say this – it just bangs.”
He said the theme of the EP centres around struggle.
“It's the idea of persistence and the mental battle between fate and will, whether or not you're going to let things go as they are or be active in it,” said Perusse.
“So you can see a little bit of that leak through.”
The title LIVE: Out Of Page not only represents the live performance concept of the record, but also the band's experiences when Archibald was living on Page St.
It was during that time Free Ill was formed and put out the song Poster Child as part of the first EP The Dealer.
Now Free Ill has two full albums ready to go after LOOP.
“We have them stacked up pretty nicely in a vault … to have a nice sequential one, two, three already done and ready to go,” said Perusse.
All three albums work together, with a common theme of battling negativity and cynicism, and overcoming that with positivity, he said.
Perusse said having moved 12 times in 10 years, having frequently been broke and having to take three buses to get to work at two jobs, messages of perserverance shine through in his lyrics.
“Music is like a remedy,” Perusse said.
“That's how I remedy my situation.”
“Music helps me to cope … to be able to actually produce something meaningful and substantial from that struggle I have.”
The most rewarding thing for Perusse? Outside of performing on stage, it's the rush he gets when recording.
“Recording for me has always been like a high … It's kind of like being able to finally see your vision come to life,” he said.
LOOP finishes with Perusse in the car leaving the show as the intro sample to Wet Window Sill Songs plays.
Perusse said the WWSS will be a bit more sombre and cynical.
“Like I'm not trying to sit around and hang out with people and what not, so that kind of leads into the idea of the low-mood blues hip-hop record that Wet Window Sill Songs is,” he said.
“Yeah, mood music,” added Archibald.
“Like rainy day type stuff — stuff to nod your head to and kick back, you know what I'm saying.”
Hence the wet window sill.
Turning the tables of time as well, WWSS was started in 2013, so it's actually sort-of a pre-cursor to LOOP, not the other way around.
LIVE: Out Of Page drops April 20 and will be available on Spotify, iTunes Music and Google Play Music.