Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ – a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon; Photo: N/A


Ill Bill is a Brooklyn-born lyricist who treats rap like a form of therapy. It’s an outlet that allows him to simultaneously vent his frustrations and celebrate what he often cites as a blessed life.

His style is rooted in tradition, and he holds his storytelling to the highest of standards. Unfiltered and brash, his raps delve into his life with no shame. For better or worse, he takes his experiences and lays it down for all the world to see. Understanding the history of hip-hop and being in the den of some of rap’s most esteemed lyricists, Ill Bill knows that picking up the mic is an earned privilege not a right.

Ill Bill’s 2003 debut Howie Made Me Do It is an exploding grenade. Underground rap was getting plenty of shine, and while he had the chops to be a superstar the album went largely unnoticed; MF Doom dropped two albums, Brother Ali‘s Shadows On the Sun was blowing minds, and Outkast was seizing the spotlight with what would be their last album (not counting Idlewild) Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Howie Made Me Do It is dark and menacing. Ill Bill is the grim reaper and he’s wielding the mic like a sickle. The title cut is a song tailor made for Halloween; the leaky organ and the sound of a shotgun being cocked is all the backdrop he needs to spit what amounts to a gallon of battery acid. In macabre fashion he lunges for the jugular, introducing himself by showing how sharp his fangs are: [LISTEN]

Ill Bill has released a majority of his albums under his own imprint Uncle Howie Records. By embracing the independent route, he’s been able to grow on his terms and nurture a distinct and palatable sound. He’s an original and incorporates multiple elements into his rap; everything from cult cinema and obscure pop culture to crass humor. Being yourself seems like an obvious move, but it’s a rarity in rap. Ill Bill has stood on a foundation of his making from the very beginning, and his integrity is what’s made him a staple in the underground.

In addition to being a committed craftsman, Ill Bill is also a loyal family man. His allegiance to his kinfolk can be heard all throughout his raps, and it’s no surprise that he named his label after his favorite uncle. When family is an artist’s greatest source of inspiration, it has a tendency to push them in a particular direction. Honesty, love and a well-rounded perspective are all characteristic of an MC who lives for their blood. And Ill Bill represents all those elements.

In “Acceptance Speech” Ill Bill pens an open ‘thank you’ letter. He’s pretending that he won an award and is honoring all those who have helped him along the way, including his wife and kids. The beat is frenetic and breakneck, a sonic bumblebee in flight; the sum total of all his influences: [LISTEN]

Ill Bill is an important part of hip-hop culture. He’s proof that you don’t have to sell out or hump trends to make it in the rap game. He’s stayed true to himself and never waned on lyrical integrity. He penned raps that paid homage to all the great storytellers who didn’t have a niche and thus carved out their own.

Ill Bill’s latest album Septagram is an ode to cult cinema. “I’m a huge exploitation and grindhouse cinema fan,” Ill Bill told Fat Beats Records. “I made Septagram in the same spirit as those obscure and cultish movies me and my brothers used to watch when we were kids. That mid-’70s – mid ’80s times square double feature scumbag shit.”

It’s a grimy project that is classic Ill Bill. He goes to work on meaty boom-baps, and delivers rhymes that show he is still a force in rap. He may not get the worldwide love he deserves but as heard in “Feed in the Morning” it’s never been about recognition, it’s about the written word and laying down the illest rhyme possible: [LISTEN]