Underground Rapper of the Week: Madd Illz

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Orlando’s Madd Illz is the definition of a beast – an insanely ferocious emcee who spits intricate but accessible, rapid-fire, multisyllabic rhymes that absolutely demand you press rewind over and over again. He could undoubtedly hold his own up against cats like Twista and Tech N9ne for the title of fastest rapper alive, and he boasts an extremely versatile flow with an impeccably crisp, clean cadence and perfect rhythmic timing. He’s also one of the kindest, most supportive rappers the global Hip-Hop community has to offer.

Illz was born to do this; in fact, his birth name, Matt Hills, practically is his stage name. He’s also the living embodiment of the idea that battle rapping, however mean-spirited, is really about building community, not just tearing another emcee down. For evidence of this, look no further than GrindTimeNow, the world’s largest Hip-Hop battle league, which he created and owns. With divisions ranging from Orlando to Chicago, Atlanta, New York, California and more, GrindTime challenges emcees to bring their best, most intricate and cleverly constructed punchlines to the table. Written verses are openly accepted and expected, but the best GrindTime rappers stay on their toes with sharp freestyles as well, flipping their opponents’ punchlines back at them. Though few of them are nationally famous, one of GrindTime’s best battlers, Dizaster, recently beat the legendary Canibus in an instantly infamous battle, and battle rap phenom Jin has also participated in the league.

Speaking of freestyle rap, Madd Illz is one of the sharpest you’ll ever see at it, and he’s often at his best when allowed free reign to riff on any topic that comes to mind, rather than being tied down to the focus of a battle. The speed of his delivery isn’t weakened by the lack of pre-written material, either, as he displays a remarkably extensive rhyming vocabulary and enviable endurance for long-form flows. I’ve seen him go off for several minutes straight multiple times in any given show without repeating concepts or rhymes, and always ending his extemporaneous verses strongly, rather than just trailing off when he runs out of ideas, as so many freestyles end.

In addition to freestyle and battle rap, however, Madd Illz is also an excellent songwriter, with diverse topics ranging from the personal (“If I Get Famous”) to the political (“Be A Patriot,” “Sick of the Lies,” “Katrina”) to his love of the art form itself (“Music”), as well as songs simply showcasing how sick he is as a rapper (“His Name’s ILLZ,” “Put on By the Spit”). His sharp, autobiographical anthem, “Underground Hip-Hop” could also serve as a statement of purpose not only for this column, but for any up-and-coming emcee, as well as veterans who may have lost their way. Fierce, uncompromising and wise, Madd Illz is at least as deserving of mainstream success as any underground rapper out there, but he would never sell out his vision to get it.


4 Mobile Apps for Exploring New Musical Artists

There are two types of music lover – diehard fans and the casual listener. Both types of music fans love to stay up-to-date on their favorite recording artists and bands. In the past, staying up-to-date on the latest news and information in the industry required expensive subscriptions to music industry magazines, or long hours searching the Internet for updates. Luckily with the help of smartphones staying up to date on the latest news, updates, and song releases has gotten easier.

Image Courtesy of Flickr

There are dozens of available mobile apps that can help music lovers get the latest and most up-to-date information on their favorite artists and bands. The following is a look at some of the top mobile apps every music lover should have downloaded on their best cell phones, Android phones, or other handheld devices.

Amazon Cloud Player

Music lovers have the ability to instantly play files that have been downloaded to Amazon Cloud storage. Amazon Cloud storage allows music lovers to save numerous files on a remote computer server that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time. When the Amazon Cloud Player is downloaded, you’ll be able to instantly pull-up favorite songs and files, and play them right on your smartphone.


Imagine the music world and social media world combining, and that is what you get with the Rdio app. The Rdio mobile app allows music lovers to follow what friends and family members are listening to or reading. This is a great app for people who like to explore new and hidden talents in the musical world, as you never know who your friends might be following.

The Rdio mobile app gives listeners the ability to pull-up and listen to several song tracks and playlists. In addition to the pre-loaded song lists and tracks, Rdio works with artist-created stations, iTunes, and other music storage apps, allowing you to have instant access to thousands of songs and artists.

Slacker Radio

If you have ever wanted to explore the uncharted territory of the musical world, Slacker Radio is the app for you. Slacker Radio allows you to input favorite musical genres and artists that you like. That information will then be used to create a customized station that plays music from numerous artists – some of which you’ve probably never heard. Each musical station has been customized by music experts who know and live the music industry, which means that you won’t find random songs that don’t belong on this mobile app. This is a great way to allow yourself to find new artists in musical genres that you like to listen too.


What if you could get custom music recommendations sent right to your own phone? That is exactly what the Last.fm mobile app does. It tracks what you listen to both on your mobile device and on Internet radio stations, and then creates a customized list of artists and songs it believes you would like to listen too. It’s a great way to explore new artists without having to do the legwork to find them.

The music industry is vast and filled with hundreds of artists and bands. Use these mobile apps to listen and explore the world of music.


Mikey’s Playlist Mashup

It’s funny how we learn about new music today in the digital world. I haven’t quite turned in my music journalism card yet, so I receive many pitches for new and established artists. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a music publicist–so I won’t pimp my own artists in this spot. So besides those press releases, I hear about new artists through my clients, through other taste makers like Val’s List and Bob Lefsetz and Kings of A&R. I hear about great music from trusted friends. I hear stuff from colleagues repping cool new acts. I hear songs on TV shows or in movies, or on the radio through bumper music (but almost never from the actual radio anymore). And occasionally from online radio stations. That’s it. It’s amazing how music will find its way into our ears and onto our hard drives now. And speaking of that, I had better purge my iTunes a bit before my PC explodes. Meanwhile, here are some things I’m listening to that you should check out if you feel so inclined.

“Skeleton” by The Good Natured–If you’re a fan of synth-driven ’80’s pop, this title track to the British group’s 2011 EP will take you back to those days a bit, while sounding like it could work on today’s Top 40 radio–whatever that may be. I found this group through a pitch from their publicist, who is pimping their new single, “Video Voyeur.” Now, that video will surely take you back to the early MTV days.

“Celebrate Tonight” by Allen Stone–One of my clients opened for this kid, who really came out of nowhere. He’s a scrawny Seattle-bred white kid with an old school R&B soul. Kind of like Daryl Hall, who took Stone in for a “Live from Daryl’s House” session that literally gives me goosebumps when I see and hear it. The best part is seeing the unbridled joy on Stone’s face as Daryl plays along and sings with him.

“Show and Tell” by Sugar & The Hi-Lows–Nashville singer/songwriters Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup collaborate here for some pure magic–beautiful melody, arrangement, and a soaring yet lo-fi harmony drenched chorus. It also has a mild ’70’s vibe ala Josh Rouse’s 1972 album (sorry, I have a penchant for music from past decades!).

“Almost Blue” by Joseph Arthur–This guy’s music follows me around, and it’s sheer brilliance. And this past week he released a new double album on his website, available for free download (though there is no way I’m not hitting the “donate” button–I want Joseph Arthur to make music until he’s 80).

“Sweetheart Like You” by World Party–Their new Arkeology set (releasing next Tuesday April 10) is 70 tracks deep and features old songs, new songs, covers, live recordings and more. The World Party fan in your life just has to have this. This song is a Bob Dylan cover that singer Karl Wallinger spins his own way, and it winds up sounding like it jumped off of The New Radicals’ only (and genius) album from 1998.

“Drumming Song” by Florence + The Machine–There is something purely intoxicating about Florence + the Machine, and this song embodies that desire to get drunk with her voice and music, as well as the booming percussion. That said, you just have to check out this acoustic video from KEXP–there is no auto-tune, no slick production–mostly Florence’s positively sick vocals out front.

“Please Stay Strong” by Stolen Silver–I guess it’s okay for me to talk about a band put together with members from a former client band of mine? Well, I just did. These guys have an incredible acoustically driven, harmony-rich sound with some killer songs.

“Forget the Diamonds” by Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer–Just like Sugar & The Hi-Lows above, this duo makes magic together. It’s Americana, yet really it’s just haunting and melodic music that you will find really hard to stop listening to.

“Wine Dark Sea” by Daniel Tashian–Tashian is one of those under-the-radar Nashville cats who I’m certain writes insanely sweet melodies in his sleep. The front man for The Silver Seas steps aside with a solo project here, but it’s really an extension of his band, and something that will tide this big fan over until the next Seas release.

Okay, so I just realized that I could do this all day. But maybe I should save it and do this more often. What do you think? Hit me up here, or on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks for hanging out in my music room for a bit.