Next generation emcee, musician, producer and tireless self-made businessman Adam “ILLAJ” Lewis is a non-stop caroming pinball machine who moves in high definition, saturated flashes of turquoise kufi scarves, tri-color custom kicks and couture eyeglasses. Orally, his speech patterns, both in casual conversation and recorded rhyme require a constantly updated dictionary, resembling all the words you already know and just as many of those you don’t. Lewis’ kaleidoscopic personality is never more apparent however, then when he is in his natural element as rapper alias Illaj.
Born and raised in NE Portland, Illaj grew up to the sounds of his father’s immense funk, jazz and classical record collection; Quincy Jones, John Coltrane and Stevie Wonder later gave way to hip hop’s beginnings like the Ghetto Boys. In elementary school, alongside multi-musical sibling Malcolm Lewis, Illaj began playing a cornucopia of instruments such as French Horn, Tuba and Trombone. And he played them brilliantly, participating in State Competitions and receiving an offer at age 15 to attend the University of Oregon on a full-ride scholarship backed by the Oregon Symphony. Elementary school is also where Lewis has his first memories of writing poetry, “to girls to be clever and different”, he says. After composing written rhyme through middle school (of which he attended only two years - Illaj’s straight-A report cards won him an accelerated move from 7th grade to high school freshman), Illaj enrolled in the prestigious NW Academy of the Arts in downtown Portland and heard friends ciphering – orating freestyle rhymes – and immediately joined in.
At age 14, Lewis began organizing his own music events, “because nobody else was offering those opportunities” he explains. He met Hanif Collins, a peer in Portland’s fledgling hip hop scene and together, they created the 7th Science Crew, creating music that was conscious-driven. The formation of the Black Science Tribe followed shortly after, this was a jazz fused hip hop supercrew of talented locals including Esperanza Spalding, Lila D’Mone, Malcolm Lewis, Troy Campbell on drums and Bo Bryant on piano. The group recorded their music at the elite Rumblefish studio in Portland and performed several shows a month at various venues around town for one year, garnering glowing media attention. In 2003, Illaj began producing his own recordings, which culminated in Unconscious Thoughts, an EP described by Lewis as, “jazzy with lots of underground hip hop drums”. Upon graduation from the NW Academy, Lewis moved into an artist commune where other Portland music legends from groups like Secret Society and Sick Medics were living and again self-produced the Stars Die EP. “Music was everywhere in my life then” Lewis reminisces, “and I picked up producing. It came naturally to me.” As Illaj continued honing his preternatural skills and further branched out as a solo artist, the media buzz continued and Stars Die was given rave reviews even though for Lewis it was a more melodramatic project for him, riddled with darker beats and emotional lyrics. After meeting and clicking musically with Chi Waters, a 19-year old Midwestern singer, the duo released Ill Waters, a beautifully mastered full LP still whispered about today in elite music circles. The album was “reminiscent of Gil scott heron, with the combination of rapping and singing”, says Lewis.
In 2007, Illaj released the 80’s Baby Mixtape, the first in a series leading up to Fli Rock, a LP compiled with NW rapper Mikey Vegaz (Fli Boyz) and backed by Coast 2 Coast Records. With high quality production by Illaj, the album was awarded one of underground hip hop’s most notorious honors; an August 2007 Unsigned Hype mention by The Source Magazine.
Last year, Illaj made the decision to fly solo and in conjunction with business partner Annie Angell, founded Illababy Entertainment, a multi-media lifestyle production company that allows Illaj to dive into his many current passions, which include fashion shows and hosting club nights. In between co-managing Illababy on the streets and online (with a website and active blog), Illaj bounces from behind studio booths and off venue stages (where he’s opened for a slew of celebrities like the Black Eyed Peas, Das FX, Millionaire Mano, Busta Rhymes, Too Short and Wu-Tang’s The RZA) to hip hop goings-on around town to show community support, network and continuing building his brand and fan base.
Most recently, Illaj has paired up with Doctor Adam, Portland’s most arresting hip hop, pop and electro deejay who adds hand-made mixes, track edits and trademarked production credits to his Serato skills. Illaj’s snowballing catholicon and Doctor Adam’s wide-ranging demand are scheduled to collide this summer in a national club tour takeover produced in part by Illababy Entertainment. The tour will sweep the duo through all major cities including New York, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles. Flanked by local Richter scale response, the tour’s result promises to be the ultimate culmination of self-driven work ethic and honed skill by one of hip hop’s most anticipated emcees.
Part of the motivation behind the inception of Illababy Entertainent was the evolving climate of fickle music fans. “The music industry is changing but at the same time it’s converting back to an old school approach where the more creative you can be with your marketing, the better it will aid in your success as an artist,” Illaj elaborates. “In the 90’s, music and artist direction was dominated by corporate ideas. Now, anybody can upload a video to Youtube and become famous.” Even with the rush of immediate fame possible, Illaj keeps his head grounded and diversified. “Music is a personal endeavor. There are so many ways I can work in the music industry, by selling songs, producing, marketing, engineering” the emcee says. “But I have to continue playing music. It’s all I’ve ever done since I was 5 years old. Anything else is unfamiliar.” For Illaj, this party is just getting started.
Contact info : illababy.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | 503.804.0498
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