Regal Radio’s man in NYC, Scoop B, dispatches the latest that we should know in sports and pop culture from the East Coast and beyond
Kanye West, as it turns out, wasn’t the only aspiring Chicago MC turned college dropout with a contingency plan.
Meet Gilbert Gaston, 25, who left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue his music dream full-time. On stage he goes by the stage name The Boy Illinois and he has been trending on the internet since 2008, when he released his first solo project Inhale Part 1: State Representative.
This fall featured The Boy Illinois’ (who allows you to break it down to the much less syllabic “Illi”) biggest breakthroughs yet. Off of releasing his most high profile project yet, Jean Baptiste, which you can check out by visiting Illi’s Tumblr account, he also opened up for fellow Chicagoan Lupe Fiasco during his Tetsuo and Youth Preview Tour which wrapped up in December. Maybach Music’s Stalley and Dee-1 also served as openers on the tour.
Speaking recently during the tour’s stop in New York City, Illi credited lyricists from his hometown for paving the way for him.
“I’m influenced by all the spitters from the Chi,” said the alum of Mount Carmel High School.
“Common and Kanye… Lupe — that was like my number one. And for me to be opening up for him, it’s crazy right now— but it’s a blessing!
“We don’t have too many,” Illi continued. ” It’s not like New York, where you get a bunch of rappers doing their thing. It’s a select few but they’ve all been an influence on me.”
At first glance, Illi doesn’t look much like any one in the game has influenced him particularly, another way of saying he doesn’t look like a cliché rapper. A native of Chicago’s southeast side, he’s friendly, well-mannered, articulate, observant and dresses in Polo and Izod, blazers and loafers. Illi looks more like he should be turning in mid-terms at Harvard than saying mic checks on stage.
Looks are deceiving.
Recently featured in XXL and The Source among other outlets, according to his camp Illi is starting to get interest from major labels, including Def Jam. Eventually it looks like someone is going to jump on a chance to push out Illi’s unique mix of style with substance in his music — something most evident in the track “Merci, Merci.”
A single from his Inhale Pt. 3: After School Program mixtape, Illi pays tribute to his Haitian grandfather in the song. “He was only 12/a refugee/and whatever is in him is instilled in me…,” Illinois spits on the track. The song borrows the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” instrumental, fitting as the Fugees famously feature the Haitian-born Wyclef Jean.
Illi began rapping at around 11 years old, but says he didn’t take his craft seriously until age 15. He did have some precedent in his life in regards to performing as his father was also a singer.
When not in the studio booth, Illi enjoys watching sports, calling himself a “big basketball fan.” He stays true to the Chicago Bulls as his favorite, but Illi likes the Indiana Pacers and how they’ve positioned themselves as perennial NBA championship contenders.
“Paul George — behind D-Rose, P.G. is my favorite player,” he says.
Beyond his Midwest biases, Illi’s a huge NBA fan at large and enjoys watching other players outside of the region like the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving. He wasn’t shy in sharing his top five floor generals either.
“Chris Paul, of course,” said Illi of his favorite point guards. “The rookie from the Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams, the boy Williams is nasty. Kyrie of course. TP (Tony Parker) is still up there and D-Rose.”
Jean Baptiste, a 10-track project, pays tribute to his Haitian roots and Jean Baptiste du Sable, a Haitian who was noted as the first permanent resident of Chicago. Illi is enjoying the buzz of the project and is currently working on videos for the tracks “She Like Cool” and “Jean Baptiste.”
“We’re still pushing that to the streets,” he said. “Especially coming off tour, people are getting acquainted with me.”
Illi says he’ll also be touring in late March in the southwest and will begin working on a new EP in the summer.
Brandon Robinson is a contributor to Regal Radio. He’s a digital journalist who covers sports and pop culture. You can find his work in VIBE, SLAM, TD DAILY, Ebony, CBS Interactive and Da Laughing Barrel.com. He is also a lecturer at NJIT in Newark, NJ. You can follow him on Twitter @Scoop B and see more of his work here.