Ilajide’s New Album Inverts Hip-Hop Tradition, Reimagines the Hustle

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Image credit: Xavier Cuevas

The rapper, of Clear Soul Forces, draws on personal experience to critically rethink hip-hop and the criminal justice system.

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On his forthcoming third solo album, “Code 200,” local hip-hop artist Ilajide threads together stories that candidly confront the myriad nefarious ways of making money.

You hear about how rappers become financially successful,” Ilajide says, ticking off drugs, robberies and break-ins, before continuing, “rap music has a reputation for the actual lyricist having some type of slick, conniving, finessing way about them that got them where they are.”

Instead, Ilajide wants to reframe the possibilities for rappers. The ‘schemes’ in “Code 200” “are more discreet. For example, “Black Jesus” is the lead single off the album and it talks about using the role faith can play in self-fulfillment. 

Essentially, Ilajide wants to widen the perspective of the listener to see beyond the glamour of financial gain, while also weaving in commentary on political issues, income inequality, social justice reform, family and loss. 

My inspiration for this record really comes from what I’ve come from, and what I’ve dealt with. And I really tried to remain as grounded and as real as possible.” — Ilajide

Branching out 

The producer/rapper, born Kortez Marion, is a member of the hip-hop quartet Clear Soul Forces.

Along with emcees Noveliss, L.A.Z. and E-Fav, Clear Soul Forces attained international acclaim early in their career. Royce da 5’9’, an Eminem protege, advised that the group form in 2010, leading to shows in New York and at the Texas festival SXSW in 2011, and the viral hit music video for their song “Get No Better,” off their 2012 debut album “Detroit Revolutions.” It wasn’t long before they were touring Europe and were featured in a Red Bull produced music documentary. 

Over their nine years together, they’ve released a handful of albums, but each a healthy social career as well. As a group, Ilajide said, “we’re a little more traditional” when it comes to hip-hop arrangements, but “I like to push boundaries and experiment. I think I wanted to showcase how traditional hip-hop fits into what I’m doing.” 

I want to let people know who I am. I lived everything that’s written on these songs.” — Ilajide

Going legit

The subject matter of his latest effort may seem bold, but it comes from personal experience. 

I want to let people know who I am,” Ilajide says. ”I lived everything that’s written on these songs.”

The details may be obfuscated by design, but the more substantive conversation he’d like these songs to start is one that addresses systemic racism in the legal system. HIs previous album, “0414917,” is a reference to his cellmate number for a brief stint at a correctional facility.

The further Clear Soul Forces has come, Ilajide has grown out of his past, saying that he’s since quit the hustles and schemes and has resolved to “go legit.”

He also detailed how his production has evolved with this album, using less samples and composing the instrumentation in a more conventional sense. He’s been keen to keep these songs concise and, for lack of a better word, catchy, rather than leaning toward being heavy-handed, raw, or ominous.

Put simply, says Ilajide: “My inspiration for this record really comes from what I’ve come from, and what I’ve dealt with. And I really tried to remain as grounded and as real as possible.”

Code 200” is slated to come out later this year.

Jeff Milo , Reporter, CultureShift

Jeff Milo is a Reporter for CultureShift. He’s a longtime music journalist documenting the Michigan scene for 15 years.

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