California emcee Illsamar dropped her debut project “Foreign” at the end of last month. Eight tracks of covering everything from mental health and the “Voices” that come with it, to a beautiful acoustic remix at the end. On the day of the EP release, Illsamar hosted a listening party for the project. While I wasn’t able to attend the album release party I was able to ask her some questions about the album, creating video content of her journey and more.
Dead End Hip Hop: For those who still don’t know. Who is Illsamar?
Illsamar: I am Iliana Isamar Pardo by birth. Born in Michoacan, Mexico but raised in La Puente, California. I was brought to the states at 2 so I don’t have any relocation of Mexico. I am a proud Mexican but the country I know is America. I am based out of Covina, CA. Just 20 min outside of Los Angeles.
DEHH: Now I’ve only been to California once, but through storytellers like Jurny, Prop, Earl and more you quickly learn California while a beautiful place isn’t one to be completely romanticized. Can you talk about growing up in Cali for a bit?
Illsamar: California is such a long state that every region is very different. I am from the Los Angeles county. A small city east of the city called La Puente. I am currently living in Covina. What I love most about southern california is the diversity. You get to learn and experiences many cultures through art, music and food. La Puente is majorly a town with Latino folks so growing up that’s really all I knew. As I grew older I started to travel out and see new places. It’s also really awesome knowing that Southern California birthed so many great artists. It’s like you feel that you are a part of the musical history. What locals know about California is not what you see on a broadcast. It’s not all Hollywood and bright lights. As a matter of fact, Hollywood might be one of my least favorite towns. You don’t run into celebrities, those great “LA Parties” that you hear are secluded and the city continues to grow in tourists and people who move out here to hopefully break through. It’s more than that. It’s visiting the smaller towns that show you culture. It’s taco stands on every corner, street vendors and BBQ’s every weekend. It’s not perfect but the weather is great!
DEHH: When did you make that turn from a fan of hip-hop to “I need to be creating hip-hop”?
Illsamar: It all happened indirectly. I was hanging out with a few friends who were talking about starting up a band and they were still looking for a co-front man. One of the guys asked if I would join. I joked and told him that I don’t sing. He said, “But you can rap!” I mean I dabbled with freestyles but I never wrote a song. I agreed to it. We dismantled within 6 months, too many creative differences. From then on I knew i wanted to continue making music. The love I use to have for writing re-kindled and I really loved being on stage. I started making Hip-Hop music and haven’t stopped since.
DEHH: Who are some of your influences in music?
Illsamar: They vary. And when you say influences I don’t know how to answer that because I feel like I need to directly be influenced by them or sound like them. But I do have artists that inspire me and I got back to for a quick lift. Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Logic, J Cole, Atmosphere, Common, Kings of Convenience, Jack Johnson and Asaiah Ziv.
DEHH: Ok, let’s talk about “Foreign” where did the idea come from? You had been releasing music before that, why a project at this point in your career?
Illsamar: I knew that I was long overdue to release a project. I had a couple mixtapes and some singles but nothing that was cohesive. I wanted to give my fans and supporters a project. Aside from that I felt like I was ready to create something cohesive. A short project that can prepare me to create a nice full length. Originally the project was going to have a different concept and a different name. But in the time of writing and recording a couple unexpected events occurred with the people in my life. A very close friend attempted suicide and over dosed a couple times. Three times we thought we lost him. Then another friend was admitted into a mental institution and doctors till this day could not figure out what was wrong with him. I myself battle with depression, used to have had suicidal thoughts and I am a recovered substance abuser.. Mental health has ALWAYS been around. It’s not made up like some twitter posts like to mention. It’s just now we have the internet and people are using their socials as diaries. With Foreign I wanted to bring awareness to mental health and those who battle with it daily. I called it Foreign because I feel that someone who is going through it feels foreign to society. We don’t feel like we belong. Foreign is also how I feel as a Christian in society and as a person in the Church. I’m not your typical Sunday Christian so I always feel alienated.
DEHH: “Voices” hit me like a bag of bricks. I feel some are just now becoming comfortable talking about their mental health. Can you talk a bit about the importance of discussing your struggles on the record?
Illsamar: If you are going through it and you can voice your thoughts. Just do It. Is what I say. I know some cannot talk about it and I don’t blame them. Its really hard, feelings of being rejected or not understood. I make sure to be a voice for those who are silent. So people don’t feel like they are in this alone. That there are many people like them and that there are people who truly want to help.
DEHH: Nowadays I feel like it’s rare for emcees to take musical risks in their music. If you aren’t ripping every verse you’re doing it according to the majority. But I absolutely love what you did with “Gold In The Sky” how did that joint come about?
Illsamar: Gold In the Sky is actually an acoustic remake of a song produced by Germmanii called Sunrays. I released it a few years a go on a mixtape. We use to always perform the acoustic version and I thought it would be a great idea to include it. If i’m not listening to Hip-Hop I am usually listening to folk, acoustic and singer/songwriters. It’s my first love. I don’t want to be limited to one genre and I love that Germmanii is an artist with many tastes. We came together and recorded out live acoustic version of Sunrays.
DEHH: When people are done listening to “Foreign” what do you want them to walk away with?
Illsamar: Truth and clarity. I want people to be completely honest with themselves and not be afraid to be vulnerable. I want those who are battling with mental health to know that they are not alone and that there are people out there who can help or at least be a friend that is just willing to listen. I also hope that it stumbled the ears of those who don’t quite understand what it is to battle with mental health. And I hope that they listened with open ears and be more receptive and understanding to others.
DEHH: Now you had an album release party last month for “Foreign” can you tell me about the work that goes into planning an event like that and how did it go?
Illsamar: The turn out was great. A nice crowd with people chanting and rapping along. It was a bit surreal to know that people sincerely came to see you perform. The planning was stressful. A lot of investing into a show with no cover charge. I didn’t want to have it at a bar/venue where the age limit would be restricted so with a help of a couple friends, we came together and leased a private loft for the night. It was not cheap but well worth knowing you didn’t have age restrictions. I also didn’t want to charge at the door because I didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to not come. I know I wasnt going to make a profit from attendees but what really matters is people coming and see what I can do. I budgeted and created a sheet on how to save for a couple months and I made it happen. I was super broke for the month of September but it all came together. One thing I also learned is to not be afraid to ask for help. God put someone in my path that made the event happen. This dude I connected with provided sound, a DJ and even brought a stage to the event. You just never know how many people are willing to help until you start asking around.
DEHH: You’ve been doing a vlog series tracking the progress of the project and just your life journey in general. What is the importance of creating content like that and what has it been like recording your journey thus far?
Illsamar: As an indie artist it’s super important to have consistent content. Fans become invested in the music and want to learn about the artist personally. I love to show people what goes on in the back scenes and allow them to be a part of the journey with me. People tell me that they feel like they know us for a really long time just off the vlogs. I love that the director Amalia Sepulveda can really grab the eyes and ears of those watching make them feel like they are there with us. It’s important to make it as personal as possible. It also helps when there isn’t any new music coming soon. Keeps the fans around while you work on something new. Recording behind the scenes is not always fun. Some times I am having days where I don’t want the camera in front of me specially when I am feeling depressed. But I always push through it or do my best to show what I am currently feeling.
DEHH: 2018 is almost over but what can we expect from you in 2019?
Illsamar: More new music. I expect to release a couple more music videos for foreign and then after I have some collabs I am already in the works on. I also have some singles that I want to release I am also going to be putting on this bi monthly pop show around Southern California called Back Around. Going to hit as many cities as possible. Hopefully gear up and start writing for my first full length.