In Search of Hip Hop Fatherhood: A Conversation With Rapper Illus


Words by Tony Grands

I like to watch things happen. & not in a bad way per se, but similar to how security guards do their job. I was a security guard for about a year, & they sent me to various locations, but the one thing that remained constant was my job description: “observe & report.”

That’s literally the only responsibility a security guard has.

His job isn’t to stop an assailant (unless he’s weapon-trained & fiscally compensated to attempt such stupidity) or chase the alleged suspect. His job is to watch, & eventually, tell someone what he saw. That’s how I like to think of myself; the observer who eventually reports.

I’ve witnessed – firsthand – Hip Hop’s growth from infancy, through it’s toddler stages to it’s proverbial teen years, & now the generations that were raised on the culture are the parents of the next wave of Hip Hop babies. Needless to say, the journey during my 30+ years of active participation has been an interesting one, to say the least. The question now becomes, “How do you successfully mix parenthood with Hip Hop?” Is it even possible?

In a search for the answer(s) to those questions, I put a call out for any Hip Hop dads to help me come to a conclusion on the matter. I spoke with Illus, a family-oriented MC from Connecticut, in an attempt to bring the issues of Hip Hop parenthood – or more specifically, Hip Hop fatherhood – to light.

Tony Grands: How long has hip hop been a part of your life?

Illus: I was born in 1974, so all my life. As far back as I can remember Hip Hop was always there. My neighborhood was filled with talented graf writers, b-boys, deejays and emcees. It was just part of the environment I grew up in.

What’s your definition of a hip hop dad?

To me, a Hip Hop Dad is a person that was born and raised Hip Hop and has grown up and evolved with an open mind, into an adult who balances the independent, rebellious foundation of his youth-culture with being a responsible father/parent. A Hip Hop Dad is a man who provides a protective, nurturing environment while carrying on the positive traditions of the culture/artform and preserves the history of Hip Hop, passing it down to his children. All good parents want to provide for their children and want to give them a better future than they had and that is no different with Hip Hop Dads.

What’s the biggest challenge you have in combining hip hop & parenthood?

Growing up Hip Hop, we were very rebellious, and looking back, at times negative and self-destructive. I still believe the positive elements of that rebellious Hip Hop attitude outweigh the negative, but there is still a fine line, and as a parent I want to give my child the best of that culture while protecting him from the negative. I’m currently struggling with the ideas of protecting his child innocence while wanting to make sure he is educated and aware of the realities of the world around him. It’s tough when you look in a child’s eyes and see such purity and you know there is so much evil out there.

On a professional level, finding time to be creative and work while raising my son is also difficult (that goes for any profession though). In order to successfully promote an album you have to tour hard on the road and I haven’t been willing to do that because I don’t want to be away from my son for long periods of time, so the albums and career suffer. But that is a sacrifice I’m fine with.

Have you had any moments you regret when exposing your kid(s) to the culture?

Not yet, because he’s still so young. He’s really only been exposed to the beats and vibes and is only starting to understand words and language. Now is the time I have to start thinking about what I want to expose him to lyrically. Right now he associates music with smiling and dancing around the house and lots of laughter. I’d like to keep it that way for a while longer.

Fondest Hip Hop Fatherhood moment?

I actually have a lot. I’ve recorded several music videos with my son already that I am very proud of and his birth is even sampled in one of my tracks that I dedicated to him (The Gift). I also had him model for the new Public Enemy album cover I illustrated (The Evil Empire of Everything). That’s him on the cover! What I really love is when my wife plays my music or videos at home for him, seeing his reaction as he bops to the beat, smiling and dancing…that’s love.

Do you think there is a market for positive role model rap?

Yes. I definitely believe there is a huge market for it, and it’s global and could be extremely successful. Why it hasn’t been tapped, exploited or promoted is a very long political conversation, which is probably a whole other article.

Has your dad ever heard any of your music?

Oh yes. He’s probably heard almost all of it and has all of my recent albums. He’s a huge music fan, and while Hip Hop is not his thing he’s always been pretty open to it. Growing up he had the largest record collection I had ever seen. He could have been a deejay. He’s a collector of Jazz, Soul, Rock, the Blues…everything Hip Hop was built on. So his record collection has been a huge inspiration on me.•

Stay tuned for more interviews & continue to join us on the search for Hip Hop fatherhood.

For more on Illus & his familial perspective, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or check out his blog at You can find Illus’ music on iTunes.

Words by Tony Grands


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