Caught In Conversation With: iLL BLU
The production duo talks recent single “Magic”, upcoming talent, UK funky & more.
iLL BLU emerged from the depths of our late noughties, UK Funky era. Gifting underground raves and radio stations with a string of hit tracks that include, ‘Frontline’ by Princess Nyah and their legendary remix of Shystie’s ‘Pull It’.
James and Darius have withstood the test of time, amassing a successful career through a plethora of smash hits and remixes for over 10 years, while redefining the UK’s urban soundscape and reinventing themselves.
In more recent times, the pair have embarked on collaborations with some of our most promising MC’s to create radio friendly music comprised of catchy hooks, contagious melodies and samples from their musical background to broaden the scenes identity. Through popular tracks like, “Go Time”, “Chop My Money” and their latest release “Magic”.
So to jump straight in - could you both introduce yourselves?
We are James & Darius and we make up the Production Duo iLL BLU.
I’m sure this is a question that has been asked one hundred times already - But could you tell our readers, how you came up with alias iLL BLU and what it means?
Originally it was just a cool name we came up with but as the years have gone by and we work together we realise that it actually represents our personalities an our approach to making music. iLL represents Darius his approach to music and personality is quite raw rugged, unfiltered. BLU represents James who’s more reserved, measured and cool.
As a duo, talk us through the creative dynamic and process- are there certain skills or influences that each of bring to the table individually, to be able to create as a collective?
When we started out there was a more clear structure of how we created tracks, Darius would takes the rhythmic side of things drums and James would do more of the melodic keys and bass line sides of things. Now we do whatever it’s not so structured one of us may start an idea be at rhythmical melodic and send it to the other to work on. We take influences from each other and our ideas are always always bouncing ideas off each other.
So recently you dropped a track that can only be described as a major UK anthem: “Magic” - the single samples the well-known garage track “Triplets” by Sticky. Could you talk to us about where the initial inspiration stemmed from for that track in particular?
As we came up listening to UK garage we always wanted to flip something from that era in a modern way. Back in 2018 we started making drill we were really excited about it thought it had a lot more musical potential than what was currently being done at the time. As UK garage and drill aren’t far from each other tempo wise we thought there could be synergy between the genres. Triplets was an instrumental that we both enjoyed growing up the bell melody line is so memorable so we just tried it and it worked, that’s how we started to make ‘Magic’ lol.
We hear you use samples a lot, how important is it for you to draw inspiration from your musical background?
We love a good sample doesn’t everybody, essentially all of our favourite hip-hop classics are all samples. It’s very important that we draw from our musical background, we want our records to travel as far as as possible so using something that it is familiar to some people really helps us in doing that. It’s always fun to flip something you’ve grown up listening too in a new way.
There are a lot of super talented artists coming out of the UK - Is their anyone on your radar right now?
You got a lot of talent from all over and we are definitely looking at artist such as M1llionz, Frosty, obviously the guys Bandokay & Double lz, Fizzler, S1mba, Deala to name a few. We are looking to see who will be a household name in a few years to come. As you can see the tide is turning in regards to the new crop of household names.
The OFB boys are also rapidly rising talents at the moment, how did that collaboration come about?
We reached out via a mutual friend, after watching their development last year. Our key thing is working with the new acts on the cusp as we are about development and honing our skills to push them into a different space. So, yeah thats how that record happened and they smashed it.
Speaking of super talented artists - you work with a lot of them yourselves?
How do those collaborations come about?
We see ourselves as A&R’s, so we are always looking for new talented artists that can add some depth to what we are doing. Whether they are new or spent many years in the game we pride ourselves on finding ways to push the musical landscape we are in. Each record we try to fuse from worlds you wouldn’t obviously marry.
Over the past decade, you’ve both established yourselves as major forces in terms of production within the scene. Do you feel a sense of responsibility in terms of playing such an integral role in navigating the sound of the culture?
The producer is responsible for the sonic, if a production style becomes stale and overused then the audience will eventually lose interest. So, it is down to us to be creative enough to keep pushing boundaries and doing innovative and creative things. We are always striving to do something a bit different from what we did last, ‘Magic’ essentially is an example of that. Bringing garage and drill together with a female vocal hook, I don’t think it has ever been done.
You’re known for creating some pretty iconic remixes. Can we expect another one to add to your catalogue any time soon?
Most likely yes, we enjoy remixing, it was a huge part of our career in the beginning. It was where we got our foot in the door. We haven’t done it as much as of late because we’ve been focusing on our own project, singles and producing for others. Definitely up for remixing something big in the near future.
Do you think we will ever see the revival of UK Funky?
It is possible for a revival of some sort with UK funky, I think we’ve already seen it happen with Drake sampling Kyla’s 'Do You Mind' with 'One Dance'. We flipped 'Fish Go Deep' curing the curse for our single ‘Chop my money’ . We feel there is a lot of synergy between afro swing and UK funky with the addition of rap.
As well as producing, you both are DJ’s - can we be expecting any live sets to keep us entertained during lockdown?
Of course, we will be doing live DJ sets over the lockdown period. We also have our show on KISS Fresh every Friday 10-11pm that people can lock into, if they wanna hear us doing our thing in the mix.
Can we expect an Album soon?
We are currently in the process of working on our album together, we should be releasing it in the near future.