025: Michael “iLL Se7en” Acuna - Inspiring transformation through thought-provoking conversations
ILL Se7en is a social activist, and Hip Hop Artist. ILL has been performing, and making music for more than 10 years. Traveling internationally and collaborating with some of the top independent artists in the world such as Hieroglyphics, Tanya Morgan, Dead Prez, J-Live, and The Flobots.
Within the last 7 years ILL’s energy has been focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, and the prison industrial complex. As a youth ILL had many negative encounters with law enforcement, at the age of 13 his cousin Corey McCowan and himself had an officer pull a gun on them because he assumed they had just robbed a convenience store. This battle of mistaken identity and racial profiling continued through adulthood, where at 19 he was locked in jail for 10 months with no charges, while hanging out with a friend whose house was raided by the police. ILL was taken in for questioning and held for an extended time with no charges. While struggling through this hard time he learned about the juvenile courts system and the adult criminal justice system.
Living in a system that incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world made him want to take some style of action against this mistreatment. Recognizing and breaking from this disproportionate number of youth being locked in jails… ILL became an advocate for young men and women of color educating them on their rights and developing a rights of passage workshops that educated youth on social justice, health and leadership skills, utilizing art as a way to engage and empower the minds of young adults. ILL is currently helping Youth On Record, and the My Brother’s Keeper Campaign, developing curriculum, teaching and speaking at colleges and universities about the marginalization of young people of color. He currently works with the Youth Outreach Project at the Office of Independent Monitor, educating on implicit bias. He also mentors young people through music production, poetry, and song writing.
In this episode we talk about:
his childhood and how growing up with music in his house influenced his own music
where he finds inspiration when working on creative projects as well as his newest project, The Brass and Gold Society
his battle of mistaken identity and racial profiling that continued through adulthood
the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex
his work developing curriculum, teaching and speaking at colleges and universities about the marginalization of young people of color while building bridges with police officers
Social media: @ILLSe7en
Youth Outreach Project: https://kidsandcops.org/
My Brother’s Keeper Campaign: https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/office-of-childrens-affairs/my-brothers-keeper.html
TEDx Talk: https://youtu.be/gKyyPQWRRrM
5280 Entertainment: https://www.facebook.com/52Eightyent/
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iLL Se7en: 00:00:00 I think creation is actually the healer. I think that's the thing that you know, when we think about society, that's the thing that's most people are missing in their lives. It's easy to hate another person when you don't see the beautiful colors of life and the beautiful creations that we're all around on a daily base, but we take it for granted because you know, we're so caught up in whatever's being played on the news or whatever's on social media.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:00:28 You're listening to The Artful Entrepreneur podcast, a show about living, an inspired life filled with vitality, creativity, and fulfillment. My name is Gabe Ratliff, and I'll be your host as I interview fellow creative entrepreneurs from around the globe to hear their stories and learn more about their work so that you can tap into your creative purpose and live a life that's drawn, not traced on the show. We talk about things like the creative process, personal development, community equity and contribution, as well as the lessons learned along the way. All right, let's get to it.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:01:08 Hey gang, thanks so much for being here. So excited for this episode. This is with Michael "Ill Se7en" Acuna, social activist and hip hop artist. Ill has been performing and making music for more than 10 years, traveling internationally and collaborating with some of the top independent artists in the world such as Hieroglyphics, Tanya Morgan, Dead, Prez, J-Live and The Flowbots. But then the last seven years, Ill's energy has been focused on the school to prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex. During our conversation, we discussed his childhood and how growing up with music in his house influenced his own music, where he finds inspiration when working on creative projects as well as his newest project, the brass and gold society. We talk about his battle of mistaken identity and racial profiling as he grew up. That continued through adulthood and his work developing curriculum, teaching and speaking at colleges and universities about the marginalization of young people of color while building bridges with police officers, which is actually how I was introduced to Il back in 2018 he spoke at Tedx mile high here in Denver about the work he's doing, building bridges with police officers and youth of color, so just fantastic human. He recently spoke at creative mornings in Denver and talked about justice and a lot of the conversation was around the same things we talk on this episode about. And so I'm really excited to introduce you to him. I'm going to keep this short and sweet and we're going to jump right in. So let's get to it.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:02:51 Ill what's up man, thank you so much for being on the show.
iLL Se7en: 00:02:55 Hey, what's going on brother? How you doing? Thank you for having me.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:02:58 Yes sir. So one of the things I love about fellow musicians being on the show is, I mean you have such an amazing story and I'm so excited for you to share that and the work that you're doing as well. But one of the things I love about having other musicians on the show is hearing where their journey with music began. And I was wondering if you could share that with us.
iLL Se7en: 00:03:23 Sure. I guess it came from my parents definitely. My parents were a big into music when I was young. My Dad was a really a big on jazz. So I came up listening to a lot of like Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. My mom was a really big into like pop music mainstream. And so you know, that was a lot of the music that I have planned in the house growing up. The combination of jazz and the combination of kind of popular music and funk and you know, a little bit of everything. And then he, my dad was in the military, so we moved around quite a bit.
iLL Se7en: 00:04:09 So when I was young, we lived in limestone, Maine for probably about five or six years. And during that time I was exposed to a lot of like, alternative music, rock and roll things like that. So I have a, a good, a mixture of things that influenced me. I'm young coming up and then right around fourth grade my parents put me in a band. And that was my first introduction into playing like an instrument. So I started playing like the piano for a little bit. And then I ended up playing the clarinet and the saxophone into high school into my freshman year of high school. And then from that got introduced into hip hop. I was headed around me and I guess my first introduction into hip hop was through dance. I was a dancer and then I did break dancing and pop lock in and all that fun stuff. Then eventually started playing around with writing music, writing rhymes and things like that. And I had been probably riding like wraps and things like that, probably around started like at 10,
iLL Se7en: 00:05:33 And then like actually shared what I was riding with people. Probably around high school, like my freshman year, I actually got the confidence to share with some of my peers and my classmates things that are, I was writing. And then from that I ended up connecting. I was big in a church when I was coming up. So one of the things really kind of pushed me into doing music was church. So I got into 'em doing like more of the Christian hip hop style of stuff into like my probably sophomore year or junior year. And then ended up getting serious about it during that timeframe as well. And I had a friend who was a, he was signed to a Christian record label and he really liked the music that I was doing there in that time and asked if I would be interested in releasing, write some songs off of this label.
iLL Se7en: 00:06:32 It was called great tree, a records. It was based out of Houston, Texas. And right around that time I had a group it was called isolated generation and we released our first our first album off of a great tree records, ah, as a Christian act. And then yeah, a little bit after that I eventually kind of ventured into doing more, I guess, secular music. My influences well, way more secular. During that time I was really influenced. I have older brothers in my older brothers were listening to a lot of like tribe called quest. They lost. So but those thousands of you know, hip hop, public enemy. So, and then I, and then me, myself, I got introduced into listening to like a goodie mob and outkast and things like that. Yeah. So we love that 30,000 of Man.
iLL Se7en: 00:07:36 It was great. It is, especially during that time. It was just a change of pace for me to like musically in the things they were talking about. I had little, my mom's from the south, she from Texas. So you know, I could relate to a little bit of what they were talking about from me visiting like Kentucky or going down to Louisiana or Texas. I could relate to it. I didn't live in an environment, but I could actually relate to some of what they were talking about. Just because, you know, I had my own experiences and moving around a lot as a kid, I was exposed to a lot of different, you know, styles of areas and people, things like that.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:08:13 Yeah. I, I had a similar childhood. I actually, so I was originally born in DC I moved all around and I actually predominantly grew up in the south. So I was in Dallas, Fort Worth in Texas. I was in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia. I was, I was all over. And I mean, Gosh, I remember when I was at the, so I was a promoter way back and are started promoting way back. And I remember when one of my co, one of the other promoters that was in our crew turned me on to Goodie Mob and I got to here the of Goodie Mob and just be like, what is, cause I don't, you know, Outkast was pretty popular but Goodie Mob was like a little more underground. They were definitely some deeper conscious hip hop that you had to be around people that were really into that too, you know, cause there was a lot of popular stuff there. I remember when he'd played that for me and I just flipped out. I was like, give me everything you have of them. And I was just like, and then, you know, Cielo took off. And I mean, I was just, it's just been, you know, history in the making ever since.
iLL Se7en: 00:09:27 Yeah. And my favorite groups of all time actually. Yeah.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:09:30 Yeah. Diggable oh man, that was life changing. I remember when I, when I heard them, they were just life changing. And I mean, that would a blessing. That decade of hip hop was so fucking good. I mean,
iLL Se7en: 00:09:50 Man, my favorite areas for sure.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:09:52 Well and I was, you know, I was going back and listening to some of your earlier work. Okay. And I, you can really hear it. You could hear it in the, in the beats and you could hear it in the lyrical representation in your songs. And I was curious about that as why I wanted to ask about where this all happened for you because I was like, oh, he's really into that. Love it. And, you know, and that's one of the things we'll, we'll get to that in a little bit, but that's one of the things I love about where you've been going with your, with your work too, is you can just hear that consciousness and the, and I, I can totally hear that influence of, of jazz and I mean obviously with your new project that we'll, we'll touch on soon.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:10:44 But you know, just, just hearing that influence of, of jazz and instrumentation that goes beyond just a good beat and baseline, you know, are good samples. And that's one of the things that I was really excited about your work with music is that it transcends, you know, it's, it's not just good hip hop. I mean, it's like good music and, you know, appreciate that. Yeah, for sure, man. Thank you. I mean it's, it's, it's really good stuff. So I'm curious, when you, you know, we're talking about a bunch of different bands in groups, artists, who would you say has been most influential on you? Cause I mean, you were growing up with some grades. I mean with your dad, with, you know, Thelonious monk, miles Davis, people like that, and you know, the funk and pop with your mom, and then what you got into with hip hop, like whoa and alternative, all that stuff. What would you say, who would you say like the top people are that really have influenced you, that you kind of look up to?
iLL Se7en: 00:11:43 Yeah. Well what am I early on man? So one of the first things that really caught my ear like lyrically was rock cam. And it was from the movie juice close to the edge, coastal edge. And that was one of the songs that just what he was doing lyrically in it was funny because as I was coming up I found like this this box of tapes that my brother had an I went to those tapes and like the tapes that he had, he had like, in there, a mix of like the message from like a the early eighties with a, was it a Grand Master Flash in the Furious Five? And you know, that that was like a little, little bit before my era. And then really like getting into like Nas and Tribe Called Quest.
iLL Se7en: 00:12:51 Hieroglyphics. yeah, yeah. Hieroglyphics was big for me. And that was mainly because at that time, my dad, he's originally from the bay area, so we used to go when I was a kid, we used to go out to Vallejo, Oakland, Richmond area pretty regularly to go see our grandparents. And when I was out there that's when I really got introduced into like the underground scene in the bay area and what was happening, right. Del, the Funky Homosapien and Hieroglyphics and even ie 40. And too, I was listening to too short when I shouldn't have been listening to it too. My mom was, you know, finding out because my cousins would leave tapes. We had it. Yeah. The, those are my younger years. I was probably like around like eight or nine around that time. And then as I got older around high school age I really I had a, like I was in a skateboarding and things like that.
iLL Se7en: 00:13:56 So I, I had friends who were in, so like a lot of alternative music, like they were listening to like Green Day and they were listening to like, I was, I started getting into like even like buy more in other black punk rock bands like fishbone. And there's a lot of different influences that I had around me as I was coming up. And I think one of the blessings that I had as I was a coming up as a military brat was the different styles of people I had around me on a regular base. So, you know, I was, I was constantly exposed to like different perspectives and people from different areas who listened to things that I wasn't necessarily into. But eventually, you know, it became a little bit more accustomed to, and I even listened to like a lot of Metallica at one point, just because of the heavy drums.
iLL Se7en: 00:14:49 I could relate to the heaviness of the sound, then even some of the messaging and what they were talking about in the music. So I think that that was definitely a blessing for me coming up in a, an environment that was eclectic like that. And then as I started kinda exploring like my own writing style and a really exploring production B production and that whole thing of all those sounds that I had been listening to eventually came into my music, whether it be me sampling it, like one of the first songs that I had a really, I can remember chopping up and sampling was like from a Nina Simone samples. So like I paid tribute to her regularly just because like a, her voice and her music and the things that she did was something that grabbed, grabbed me young. And as I was learning how to produce and learning how to sound bull a lot of her sounds words or things that I gravitated towards.
iLL Se7en: 00:15:52 So it was kind of an adventure, just Kinda growing up in a, a variety of different environments. And then landing here in Colorado. And then as I got here at Colorado you know, my dad, he, he moved us. I lived up north, so I lived up a grownup around like 14. I was in like Thorton, Northglenn, Westminster area. So like growing up in that area I seen things different, you know, just being one of the only black kids in that area. It was other black kids, but it was, you know, very few. And then by that time when I had moved out here, I was pretty well traveled. So I had seen a lot of things and had a lot of perspective. So being in that environment, it wasn't alienating necessarily, it was just another adjustment for me.
iLL Se7en: 00:16:42 So but Colorado itself, it exposed me to I think it exposed me to a variety of different things. When I first moved out of here it was actually during the late nineties, early two thousands. So it was like a lot of change is already starting to happen in Colorado. Like the rocky stadium had just started getting built. And there was like a new wave of like music and consciousness. A lot of the people are kicked it with listen to a lot of underground music. So that influenced me in a variety of different ways. So Colorado had an influence on me as well. I'm musically in the things that I listened to for sure.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:17:33 Yeah, I can totally connect with that because I moved here in oh one and super pivotable time for this state. I mean, you know, musically so much was happening and I was actually a music buyer with vinyl when I moved out. And I actually used to work at Barts in boulder before that transitioned and I was there for several years and, and I mean, I, I sold records to Africa Bambaataa I sold, I gave him a big ass bear hug. He rolled up and I was like, what the fuck? You know? And it was, it was like me and just a couple other people upstairs. And he had, you know, he's a hit his like his one dude, you know, his, his, his right hand man just keeping an eye out for him and he was just flipping through records and I had all these white label breakbeats from Florida, you know, and he loves breakbeats and then he bought every single one and I was trying to play it cool.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:18:36 You know, trying to not geek out and fanboy and everything cause I was just like, he deserves the respect. But like after he, I finished selling him records, I was like, man, can I, can I give you a big bear hug man? I'm like, here's your Zulu Nation Bro. I got to give you a hug cause you, you've just done so much for music. And as a DJ I just, he's just one of the greats, you know, and one of the originals. Uand so yeah, I gave him a big hug and he left. And it was so funny cause cause his, his, his,uthe guy in his entourage, you could just see, he was just kinda like, what are you doing man? I was like, I don't give a shit. It's Africa dude. Ubut yeah, I mean I just LTJ Bukem from England.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:19:22 I mean I, there was so many cats that would come there. They would play shows in this area and they would stop in cause it was this really great legendary place, kind of like Twist and Shout here in Denver. Yeah. And which I also worked at Twist and Shout and you know, you just would run into these amazing people and be like, what the hell? Like they just pop in. But I, I just remembered people like that coming in and just being so excited to be a part of this scene, you know, cause they just have been such an impact. And, and it was just such a great time for Colorado. I wonder when, when you're working on creative projects now that we're kind of getting into your, we've, we've talked about your influences, where, where do you find inspiration when you're working on projects and, and when you're starting something
iLL Se7en: 00:20:14 That's a, it's a great question. It comes from a variety of different, different places. Sometimes it'll be from a personal experiences dramatically. Sometimes it's from a things that are read. I know that I was when I was working, I had worked on a project called thoughts from a cinematic mind. And during that time I was really me and Mikey fresh, he, he's a a chat that work with soul city studios. We would geek out on movies big into anime and I'm big into a, into Manga. So, you know, and then like the stories that come with a, a lot of like for instance with anime, one of the things that I, I was really a into his dragon ball z and like, you know, like, you know, going super sane and like overcoming trials. And those were things that I try to kind of capture in there.
iLL Se7en: 00:21:14 Thoughts from a Cinematic Mind, specifically like I was I was actually kind of going back through a lot of blaxploitation movies and like there's a, there's, if you listened to that project, there's some blaxploitation themes within it and I come up with characters. So that character that I had for in my mind, it's not even that I put it on a project, but in my mind the character that I had was a character named black Friday and like, you know, really thinking about like a shaft or a dollar might style a character and like, you know, does it during that time I was going through a lot of life and life has been something that very much influences me artistically in a, you know, I was in transition raised, I have an older daughter now who is a 11, two years old now. During that time, just being the artist, hustling, going through struggle, and then like realizing that it's all momentary and it's like little clips of movies within it, you know, like the ways that I was kind of viewing these little moments and those moments became like themes for me artistically.
iLL Se7en: 00:22:26 So it's been a variety of different places that I, I've pulled from artists. It could be a painting sometimes, and sometimes the image within the painting can inspire me to creatively, right. Or Art, other artists, definitely different things that I'm listening to at the time. A lot of old music, louder, Curtis Mayfield music and the themes that he has within his own, my scores that he did for for like dynamite in different movies. Yeah. Like those are things they kind of still inspire me in a variety of different ways. So live between life and the things that I'm engaging around that time inspire me. And sometimes I like making up stories too. So sometimes it's a, a person that I'm around, somebody who inspires me or sometimes it's an idea that I just wanna kind of run with and see how I can build that out into like a song.
iLL Se7en: 00:23:22 So it's a variety of different places. My most recent project, a creative vent dreams. I did a a lineage project with Thomas Evans, a detour. He's a painter and a photographer and he had did a DNA lineage type of thing and I was already kind of going in this direction of like really finding who I am within my ancestry in that project. My last name being Acuna, my mom's background, her family being from Mexico. And then my dad's family being from Haiti I wanted to know kind of more of the roots of where we came from. So that was the theme that I went for within a creative industry. Acuna Black ah, presents, creates events. His dreams was kind of my own journey of looking of who I was within my own lineage and my own line of life.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:24:18 Yeah, that's man, that's awesome. I was, I was curious about that with having the Kenya is your last name. W I was gonna ask about around your heritage and know what that w would that look like. I have to ask, I'm going to step back just a little bit. Sure. I'm also a fan of automated and Monga which what's your favorite films which you'd like top three,
iLL Se7en: 00:24:39 Top three? It probably be like a even Julian
Gabe Ratliff: 00:24:44 Mhmm
iLL Se7en: 00:24:44 Personal favorite, like Robo Tech. I don't know if, yeah, cause it's amazing lot of robot teams and also like my own kind of personal favorite. I don't know if you ever heard of Beck.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:24:59 It sounds vaguely familiar.
iLL Se7en: 00:25:01 It's a, it's among that came it tri came out in the 90s, but I ran across a in in early two thousands and it's about like does a rock band in Japan, try to make it and the journey of them like going over overcoming struggles and going through all the trials and what it is to try to make it, they do a lot of like a references to like, you know, like Nirvana. And a lot of beetle, you know like Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix, you know, if that is also interesting to me, just the ways that a whole nother culture may like look at, you know, the ways American music is and experience in a whole different way. So that is definitely up the up there for me just because it kind of help me through some things. And then probably a dragon ball Z has got to be up there too. Cause it was something that caught me young. You know, I think it was my introduction, one of my introductions into enemy was Dragonballz the in a, just the, when I was young I remember me and my brother, we used to record over it back when it was VHS tapes. We used to record over our VHS tapes and he used to come on like tsunami, something like that. And we, we used to like record all the dragon ball z episodes and yeah, Dragon Ball Z was a big influence on me for sure.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:26:29 Yeah. Have you seen Afro Samurai? I love that. Full Samara. Yeah. Rizza does the music. I actually took the original Afro and recut it to focus on the story around his dad. Okay. When he fought the villain and lost and he gets his, he gets his a band. Oh He's like the top Samurai and he witnesses it, you know, and, and then he later fights him. So I cut all the rest of the story out, just focused on the, the whole like the core story about him and his dad and like the revenge part. And there's a producer who does like trap Dubstep, stuff like that, kind of like harder base music. And he did this really awesome song called hopefully I get it right. It's called a relation space. Ships. Okay. Relationships, not one word. And but it had this really awesome like oriental sounds to it, but it was still that kind of glitch hop based music.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:27:40 He kind of crunky beat, but it had this awesome oriental melody to it and it just, I was like, I got do this, it was just hit me and, and so I like re cut it, I put it on Youtube. And this was back when youtube was not as cool as they are now with like remixes and stuff, you know, mashups and things. And so I had to keep it unlisted but it's like, it was like such a fun project because I love Afro Samurai and you know, I love, I mean I felt a little sacrilegious right cause like Rizza is amazing, but I just heard this song and I was like, I gotta put these two together because it just makes sense and it really like the way the song progresses. It just makes sense and it just fits so well with the, the way that that story unfolds, you know, it was just so much fun.
iLL Se7en: 00:28:29 Debbie, real quick summarized Champloo then now that you mentioned that to afro summarize, similar to some of our champ Lou is another one that got me to the production and the art and the ways that kind of, that's definitely an afro summarize on that tube with some of my child flu as well.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:28:44 Yeah, the two, two, the other one's for me. Ninja scroll. Okay. And Vampire Hunter d okay. Yeah. That one was also, but I actually, the second one called bloodlust. Yeah, the artistry was amazing and they had killer characters. It had this, you know, it was Kinda this like ensemble team. It wasn't just him and so and like had these really great villains. God, it was so good. That one's like epic. Every time I watched that when I'm like, I can't believe how old this is and it still looks that good. You know, same old, same with Afro Samurai. They tons of those. They just look so good. I'm so glad to hear that you're a fan too. Cause my wife, I can't have these conversations with her. She's just so not into, she's not in like martial arts or you know, she's not into like anime. She's not into like Kung Fu films, none of that stuff. And I grew up watching Kung Fu man. I was like, see, you know like Shaolin Blue Tang, you name it. Yeah. Right.
iLL Se7en: 00:29:47 I was into that when I was a kid. So we used to, we have all of that.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:29:51 Yeah. I remember I used to come home from church and would watch Kung Fu theater. That's awesome. By bomb would be like, sweetie, he just, we just got back from church and I'm watching like these guys whip each other's ass, you know. And she's like, seriously, that's church. I'm like, I can't help help it. I love it. Oh, that's awesome. So I'm curious back to back to your music what is your yeah, we talked about your, where you get inspiration. I'm curious about your process. What's your process like when you're working on a song or an album and you, how do you go about that is, you know, and this could be around the, the writing process itself, the lyric process, whatever you feel like talking about. I'd love to hear that
iLL Se7en: 00:30:39 For sure. I feel like the last two projects that I have released I've done collaborations with other producers actually. So I did a mix tape called School Days. And then I Thoughs from a Cinematic Mind and Crates of Vintage Dreams. Both of those were really influenced by like the producers that I was collaborating with during that time. And then during that time I was just, a lot of the time me collaborating with other people has really kind of drawn out inspiration and a variety of different ways. So the collaboration process is sometimes needed. It just depends on my process usually is I think of overall themes. So you know, like my projects, I look at it as books in stories allowed at the time. So when I'm creating a project sometimes the theme is already there and then sometimes I just write until I find the theme of whatever I'm going for within that project.
iLL Se7en: 00:31:45 So I think that pause from the cinematic mind when I was in that creation mode, it was really movie influenced because I was probably geeking out on movies a lot during that time and other people that I was commuting around. We will have a great conversations around movies and really relating my life as a movie in a, to, to the my experiences and the things that I was going through. Little clips sometimes when I already have that inspiration, it's not hard for me to really kind of start building out. It's almost like story writing in a, in a way. I think that's one of the things that really inspires me to like create is like an overall theme and direction of where I want to go. So when I'm looking, when I'm thinking of like some of my favorite albums, 36 chambers, like Blue Tang clan, or it was written a nas or, you know, a of different projects that I can go back to and think about, which is rare nowadays because nowadays, like, I mean, I'm not gonna say that artists nowadays aren't putting together full bodies of projects, but when they do it, celebrate it like a Kendrick Lamar in what he does, you know.
iLL Se7en: 00:32:58 So, you know, I'm still pulling from that era of like, how do we make a body of work that is a really putting together a story and connecting this, this story. So the stories that I'm going through, a lot of my journals, a lot of the things that I'm writing down on a daily, I'm pulling from and some of those become either songs, I think. So as I'm going through that also thinking about sounds that go along with these things. So a lot of the the sounds that I pulled form on for creative Venter's dreams was very dusty, a very vintage and really embracing like things that happen before the past that was like my own personal narrative and lineage is connected to that, but also like the importance of acknowledging the past but not necessarily reliving it, like pushing forward that narrative.
iLL Se7en: 00:33:59 A lot of that inspiration that I did for my, my latest project prince events is dreams. And the process of what it was was really kind of unpacking my own, I say trauma, but my own experiences and how I became who I am now based off of past experiences in the things that I went through growing up in, it's almost like affirming email. Some of it is affirmation and then some of it is just process, you know, ideas and bangs or, or some of it is like directed tool, more of a uplifting theme that I want somebody else to get out of it. So there's a variety of different places that are pool within. Creating. Most of it I feel is like me telling somebody a story that I hope they can relate to in some, in some capacity. So that's pretty much the rule of like my creation process is, it's a little bit of pulling from my own personal experiences, journaling and finding sounds that kind of compliment those experiences.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:35:02 Nice. I'm curious about, you have a new project that I alluded to earlier that I'm really excited about the brass and gold society. How did that come to be?
iLL Se7en: 00:35:13 Man, I've been I've been in the music scene for a long time and I've ran across some brilliant musicians within that path. One of them be in a, a gentleman named Randy Runyon. And me and Randy have collaborated a, a variety of times on different projects. None of my projects, but I'm with other artists. I'm one of those artists being a gentleman Melina speaks and me and him, me and Molina have done a lot of collaborations. So within us doing a lot of those collaborations, a lot of jazz influence, I feel like me and him pull from similar places when we're creating some of our sounds and music, which is why we collaborate so much. We kind of inspire each other. And then Randy has always kinda been an inmate. Who else? They, I don't know if you know Zay, he's a percussionist in the music, a senile hearing.
iLL Se7en: 00:36:06 He does a lot with a variety of bands, but all these musicians that I had ran across I had put out a few times that I was interested in collaborating and putting out a, making a band and putting together some violet instrumentations to go along with my music. As I put that out, like six months later Randy was like, Yo, man, I got this cool idea. We're putting together like this jazz band and I think you would be a dope mc for it. I was like, yeah, I'm interested in checking out what you have going on. And from that I met a gentleman named Ben a leaf Frost, and he's a Tuba player. I was like, okay, let's see what we're gonna do here. And then as we were like, we're hurting and not even rehearsing, we were pretty much jamming and just kind of riffing off of one another.
iLL Se7en: 00:36:58 We saw that there was some chemistry there and there was some magic there and from that brass and gold society formed. So from that, we've been a, we've been playing some shows for like the last four or five months now. And we've been getting some great response from people and it's been natural. It hasn't been my, anything forced we're at, I feel like all the musicians that I played with in this band, they're all professional musicians that play with other bands. So the fact that they're still like, let's do this and they're excited about it makes me excited because, you know, musicians are hard to kind of keep in one place when depends on the project. So if they're not inspired from it, you know, we're not making a lot of money off of this. So if they're not inspired from it, there's no reason for them to really be around.
iLL Se7en: 00:37:46 So that inspiration has it been something that has been motivating all of us and just the last night we got together and we jammed and came up with some cool new concepts and some new songs, then I'm excited to share with people. But yeah, it's, it's been a great journey, really natural, you know, just like any relationship, right? You want it to be natural and flow easy and doesn't want to be forced. So with all of the musicians I've been on it to play with them be an emcee that kind of complements their musicianship. So it's been a, it's been a great journey.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:38:24 Nice. Yeah. I'm loving where it's going. What I was hearing, I was like, yes, yes. I mean you can, you can totally hear your influence. But I, it's, I love these like super group concepts, you know, where we just get really awesome people together and you just see what comes out of it and you know, to have that, that jazz influence and like yourself, but then to have these jazz musicians and to be able to kind of pull that all together and I'm a huge fan of that, that ability to bring jazz and hip hop together and have this really beautiful fusion. You know, where you can, you can keep the essence of both and you can really find something beautiful. I mean it's one of those things, it's, I think it's one of those beautiful styles where, where you can turn almost anybody onto that.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:39:11 You know, even even people that might be a little bit more snooty, like jazzy people, if you put the right group together, you can really turn some heads, you know? And that's one of the things I love about projects like that because it really, it puts a twist on it where it becomes more around, it doesn't get in this cause you know, after being a buyer for so long and seeing how music has gotten so sub genre fied and people have gotten so elitist about what they're into. Sure. Right. It can, it can get really annoying when you're just like I'm just a musician man. I'm just trying to play some music and I just, I have stuff I want to say. And that's one of the things I love about these styles is that they can really tap into an audience you might not otherwise get. You know, cause if you throw out hip hop it people, if you say that, even if you say that word, sometimes people are like Eh, you know, cause they, they have this misconception of what hip hop is. And
Gabe Ratliff: 00:40:09 Same thing with Jazz, right? Cause some people hate jazz and there's some jazz that I can understand why people, you know, they hear it and then it just like blows their mind cause they can't understand it. You know, I mean miles and felonious are perfect examples. Some people can't handle them cause they're just there to brilliant. So anyway, my point is just, I, I really, that's one of the things I was excited about that new project because it's, it's just continuing to show your breadth as well as an artist and I think one of the things that's great about that is it allows us room to grow because I'm just a big fan of collaborations like that. Right? Cause it just everybody elevates each other and it takes you all to a new place and then they go off to their bands. You go back to your PR like in neo, the stuff that you'll be working on solo is being influenced by this just like theirs has been. You know, and it's all this, that's the beauty of music and collaboration is that just keeps elevating each other and you start, you know, it's like the people you've talked about that you like Molina speaks that you like collaborating with. Right. Cause you just keep feeding each other and keep, you know, it's like you keep inspiring and, and being a catalyst, right. And just creating this place for, for creativity to bloom because you're not hindering it with ego.
iLL Se7en: 00:41:20 Right, right. You know, that's one of the biggest things that I've been blessed with is to have so many brilliant people around me regularly. And those people influenced me and inspiring me in, in a variety of different ways. But the, that I've been blessed to be around definitely influences my creativity. And, you know, and I'm spoiled in that, you know, not a lot, a lot of people get to have inspiration, inspirational people around them on a regular base. So the fact that I, that I'm blessed to be around like people who are brilliant in their own rights and like really trying to push the boundaries musically, but also culturally in what they're doing is something that I recognize it as a blessing. And I'm glad that I can just be a part of the community that embraces those ideas
Gabe Ratliff: 00:42:11 Here, here. That's one of the things I love about this community here. His music is really, really cherished. And whether it's, you know, supporting it or creating it, I mean it's a really supportive musical community. And that hasn't changed since I moved here.
iLL Se7en: 00:42:31 I think it's grown and a variety. I think there's been a, you know, people coming from other places has definitely been a challenge I think for some of the people, natives here for sure. But I think it's also a great thing for the community as well, just because there's new perspectives coming in and new people who are bringing new ideas to the table. So, you know, like change is always hard. But it's necessary. And I, I've ran across a variety of artists coming from other towns who are moving here and relocating and getting the tap into them and BMO being able to create with them is also been really refreshing and has been a blessing as well. So, yeah, just Colorado is got some of its own magic here and within a having its own magic here, I think people don't expect that coming here. But as you get into the community and you start kind of tapping into the talent, you really see the possibilities of what you can do. That's one thing that I, I'm happy to be out here around, around that energy.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:43:36 Yeah. Here, here. So I also wanted to ask you about your new commercial and the song that's been released by Cavita health drinks. And I was just curious like how did that come to be and you know, why did you choose to partner with them? I mean, I was like really intrigued to see that piece of work that you put out recently as well.
iLL Se7en: 00:43:55 Sure. and it goes back into the community that I'm around. So I'm of around a variety of diff different health conscious community members and people who are doing things in the community, whether it be through yoga, you know, gardening in 'em grown urban gardens and things like that. And one of the things that ended up happening from some of the collaborations and workshops that I do in the community, there was some people who started noticing the work that I was doing and Cavita one of the reps from Cavita actually lives here.
iLL Se7en: 00:44:31 They had seen me in some workshops. They see my ted talk that I had done. I thought that I would be a good fit for coal brand with Cavita in what they were doing. And I mean, I'm drinking of drink Cavita before. Never really looked into any of their promotional materials and things that they were doing. So as this person came to me, I was like, that's interesting, right? They had me interested to learn more about what you're doing and the more that are researched and looked into what they were doing and what their movement was about, I was interested in being a part of what they were building out, mainly just because they really, a embracing uniqueness and they're embracing community and people really coming together but embracing themselves within that uniqueness. So those are all things that are aligned with, and as they as they approached me, they asked if I'd be interested in having a song for the commercial.
iLL Se7en: 00:45:28 And I had had the accent, a song that actually brass and gold society and we had recorded. And even as I sent it, I was like, that's not the song though. I was like, I need to send them something different, but I sent it so they can see what we do together. I sent a, it feels good. It was one of the songs off of creates events, his dreams, and they loved it. They were like, yeah, that's exactly what we're looking for. And you know, that song, the reason that I created it, it was an affirmation, you know, it was one of those songs that like, we go through hard things, we go through trials and tribulations, but you know, that's also the life journey in the experience. And as we overcome it, that's where the gratitude comes from. Yeah. That, that song ended up being one of the pieces that they want.
iLL Se7en: 00:46:17 They wanted it brass and gold society and myself we had recorded a short video and they saw the video online and they were like, wow, what's going on with this project that you're doing? And the more that I explained to it explain the project and what we were building out, they were excited about it. So yeah, we all, I became included into this a awesome commercial experience with Cavita. Yeah, it was a, it was an experience, especially because at the point with the band, we had only been together for two months I think at that point. So it's really, really, really fresh. So it just, everything lined up and you know, I think the universe with that, just because I didn't ask for it, it just Kinda, it just lined up with time and everything that was going on there and that time. So yeah, it was a blessing.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:47:09 Oh, that's so cool. I love when that stuff happens, right? Like you're just doing your thing and it's, people are obeying attention, you know, the universe provides. I'm curious, why do you think creative is a creativity is so important in our lives?
iLL Se7en: 00:47:23 Me Personally I've always found it as an outlet. It was therapy for me when I was going through a lot of the things that I was going through growing up, whether it be, you know, my parents splitting or, you know, me going through my own, like personal experiences with depression, you know, whatever I was going through during that time. Art was always an outlet for me. The more that I understood that, like I could actually take ownership of my own narrative and kind of guide that narrative. The more that I looked as creative at, looked at creativity as a way to kind of guide that narrative and like tell the stories that I wanted to tell rather than people telling me what I had to say or, you know, really letting labels and things be put on me. So I used it as a, as a outlet, a way to like really take back who I was as a person, but also just to get a lot of the things that are all my chests off.
iLL Se7en: 00:48:19 And now that a, I'm an educator and I teach in schools and I give a the gift of creation. I can't even say I met young people explore their own use of creation a and let them find themselves and who they are within that creation. The more I see the power of it, I feel that as a creator, there's one thing that I, I've always said to young people is that we have the ability, the ability to create our own realities at any given time is just the choice that we have to do. So like the ability to be able to create a painting or create a writing or whatever, that creative outlet of B playing an instrument, you literally creating a new reality for yourself in that moment. And I think that's the thing that I find most powerful about being a creator is that like you're in the moment and within that moment you can create the reality that you want to exist in at that moment.
iLL Se7en: 00:49:18 So the power of creation in also thinking about as we get older, how we're taught to suppress that and not the creative and, you know, fall into line. And you know, those were things that I didn't consciously think about when I was young, but I was always fighting against that and really finding myself within making music or drawing or whatever that was at the time. It was freedom for me. And the more that I tapped into that freedom, the more I found myself and explored the different sides and identities and who I was. So you know, I wish that more adults, you know, thinking about my parents generation, but also thinking about this current generation and the young generation coming up. My parents, they, they weren't told those things. They weren't told that they could be whatever they wanted to be or they can create anything they wanted to create.
iLL Se7en: 00:50:11 They were told to get a job, go to college or go to college, get a job, take care of your family. And that was the reality. I've been blessed to be a creator be able to take care of myself in, in my, in my kids and within that, give them the encouragement to do whatever they want. And I think that's a, it's a powerful thing, but also giving them the direction and the tools and the resources so that they can see it as well. So I think creation is it's actually the healer. I think that's the thing that, you know, when we think about society, that's the thing that's most people are missing in their lives. It's easy to hate another person when you don't see the beautiful colors of life and the beautiful creations that were all around on a daily base. But we take it for granted because, you know, we're so caught up in whatever's being played on the news or whatever's on social media, you know?
Gabe Ratliff: 00:51:06 Yeah,
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Gabe Ratliff: 00:52:37 Speaking around how you empower kids with the ability to create, I loved how you put that even though I just, I just kind of destroyed it. Men ruined how you put it. But one of the things I also love about the work that you do as we, I w and I kind of transitioned from how you're serving, especially youth with music and your, the work that you're doing. You're also, you've been a partner, a artists with the nonprofit organization, youth on record for like six years. And I was curious, you know, what drew you to work with that particular organization? Cause I also, I actually support them as well. And I donate to them and I was curious, you know, what's that been like working with them and what, what drew you to working with them?
iLL Se7en: 00:53:21 So yeah, I've been with youth on record since they were flowbots.org and then, oh, he's friends with Jamie and Stephan who were part of The Flowbots. So when I was in the group isolated generation, and I'm still an isolate generation, but when we were starting out the flow box, one of the first bands to put us on two different shows. So as they were doing different events they would reach out to us on occasion and asked if we would, you'd be interested in opening up for them in. Then during that time I was already doing workshops in schools, but it wasn't under them and I was still trying to figure it out. And they had already been in the process of kind of developing out kind of a platform where they were talking to different artists that they had been collaborating with or had done events with in the past.
iLL Se7en: 00:54:18 So I was one of those artists. And then the community of people that we were associated loosely. We knew of each other by Bianca McConn or even like a Molina speaks, Baba fly a lot of the artists that were there to help kind of get it launched and going. We were already kind of all communally kind of doing things. And then as a flow boss.org was really getting launched when they were still over off of Larimer at that time. We were just dropping in and doing workshops on occasion. And then Jamie Duffy who is currently the Ed over at you phone record, she reached out to me and a few other artists and asked if we would help them launch the new studio, which is now 10th and onstage. And then from that it just became like kind of a, a movement.
iLL Se7en: 00:55:15 Oh, an organic movement of just creators who are already kind of doing the work in their own ways. But like, it became a collective where we all came together. We're able to riff ideas, come up with cool creative projects that we're engaging, like the community really like, you know, that's one of the groups of people that would definitely still to this day inspire me creatively. But the work that you found record was doing and connecting with the young people who, who really didn't have access to a lot of instruments, a lot of the music in a, they didn't have anywhere to go to actually express themselves a for. And I had that as a youth. I had that with the spot, which was on 21st and stout and that's where I kind of have mild live when I was learning. But in some of the ideas that happen from the spot, I ended up being things that were incorporated interview for record.
iLL Se7en: 00:56:10 I'm with the studio, the drop in studio, collaborating with musicians and learning how to engineer and all these cool things, all these cool resources that I think that once people see it and they see that they can do it, it's not something that they have to just listen to on the radio or wonder how these people are doing it. They can actually learn how to put their hands onto a, a beat production like an MPC or learn how to pick up a guitar and play the guitar and learn the drums. It's not a foreign idea to them. And it's something that actually boosts that, that they're a self-esteem. Like they're learning. It's like learning a language you like. They're, they're realizing that they can learn an instrument and it doesn't have to be in the traditional forms of what they thought it was going to be.
iLL Se7en: 00:57:00 But like within it, they're actually seeing like how brilliant they are within learning that instrument. And I've seen, I mean, I have numerous stories of young people who have excelled and passed me, you know, and a variety of the other artists that are there just far from them by finding their own brilliance within it. You know, you phone record is definitely been something that continually inspires me as an artist and being able to, I still do workshops there on occasion, but not as often, but like going back there and seeing some of the young people that have been through the program now teaching and like seeing them pass down that torch, you know, like that's, that's an inspiration for sure. I take my kids there now. My youngest daughter's, she's three right now, but she's in there, she can already hear notes in play keys. And then my 11 year old sia, she collaborated with some of the artists there and has learned a how to play instruments there. So it's something that has been a unnecessary thing, not just for me, but also my family and the community that I'm around. Like everybody is a, been able to grow from, from that a platform for sure.
Gabe Ratliff: 00:58:10 Yeah. Yeah, I, I'm a big fan of what they're doing. And when I saw that you, we're affiliated with them and have have been a part of that, I really wanted to find out more about how you've interacted with them and just also have this be a platform to be able to speak to what they're doing. Cause I just, I love them and what they stand for and you know, just the way that they support through the arts. With music and the youth. You also cofounded the Tribal, is it Zyphers am I saying that right? The Tribal Zephyr's program and, and 2015 and I was curious, you know, why did you create that program and, and what, what's its mission, you know, just so people can learn more about what that specifically is about.
iLL Se7en: 00:58:51 Sure. so that program was started from a gentleman named Francisco Garcia who lives in Phoenix, Arizona and David Lee, who was also a facilitator over at you phone record. And myself, we had like a speaking engagement in Kansas state talking about hip hop. We actually were sharing a room together. So like as we were in the room kind of riffing like a lot of the ideas that we had together. One of the main that we all kind of connected to was the idea of community and then like really thinking about hip hop and the ways that hip hop kind of naturally just brings together the community and a lot of the themes and ideas that we have put into tribals lifers has a, the influence from like Zulu nation has been a influence from a variety of different like nonprofits that we have collaborated with in the past and really kind of like bringing this together as almost a rites of passage.
iLL Se7en: 00:59:55 So the idea of it is to like for one connect to pop into his indigenous roots where it actually comes from. And then within that also giving young people an outlet to be able to express themselves, take back their narratives and kind of push for that narrative. We recently, within this year with a gentleman name Ben Chavez started a, another portion of their program is called pivot. What we're doing with pivot is we are working with a young men and women who are getting out of the correctional facilities within a, we're actually giving them tools and resources to, for one, take back their own narrative to give them direction to like gain resources. Some of them that have felonies were utilizing the program to get some of the charges that they have in sponged and then also like give them outlets to get into trades.
iLL Se7en: 01:00:56 So the idea of it is hip hop is the hook. That's how we get you. And then from there, like exploring all these narratives that we're constantly battling, giving an empowering narrative to who they are in kind of giving them tools and directions to kind of redirect that life choices that they've made. So, and then, you know, tribal cyphers itself, the name meaning that we're all one tribe Cyphers is actually something that comes from the Aztecs. And within that, talking about the circle and the continuous circle of life, which we all represent and earth coming together as community, there is no head, there is no bottom. We're all together. One. So really getting young people and adults to like really think about what is the community, how do we support our community and how do we push for these narratives that society has put on us, but also see the similarities of who we are within those narratives and who we are as people. Wow. I'm just constantly moved by all the work you're doing, man. I love it. It just comes so naturally to you. That's the, that's what they have been blessed with. Man is a, I've been blessed with being able to do something that comes natural to me and like being able to engage in that I'm
Gabe Ratliff: 01:02:20 Passionate about. Yeah. So the next one I want to talk about is one that's very potent for you personally and well with the work that you're doing. But I was curious if you could talk to us about the school to prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex. Cause I know that's really important to the work that you do and what you're trying to put out into the world and, and share with people so that they can learn more about it.
iLL Se7en: 01:02:47 Sure, sure. Thank you. Around 2015, I got involved with an organization called the office and the independent monitor you thought Reece project. A lot of that was inspired from a young lady. Her name was Jessie Hernandez. While I was doing workshops. She was one of the students that was in my workshops and me and her, we had a really organic connection. And during that connection, I think a few years after she had been apart a of a workshop that I was facilitating. She was a shot and killed. I'm in the car as she was leaving a party and the officers had you know, asked her to stop. She started driving, they shot at the car and kilter. And you know, knowing her and knowing her story a little bit, knowing that a lot of her decisions were made out of fear.
iLL Se7en: 01:03:48 And really the more that I, I started getting into that direction of work, the more I started reflecting back on my own stories and the things that I experienced in the past. And I think like right around winning 20 2004, 2006 I had like my last interaction with officers and going to jail. And while I was in jail, I started seeing, you know, young men who were going from being 17 to 18 becoming pretty much adults in jail. And most of them were in there for minor violations, for traffic. My own personal experience I had gotten put in jail because I took a plea bargain and didn't realize exactly what I was pleading to. And then because of that it gave me a extended, like three months in jail because of that, that last time that I was in jail.
iLL Se7en: 01:04:51 So I I started realizing how the system kind of was broken, not Kinda was broken. The system is broken, how most young people have no understanding of how law works, including myself. At that point, I was a young adult and I'm really thinking about the longterm impacts of what that is. A lot of these young men and women who go to jail have no idea what it is to be a criminal. And sometimes they learn how to be criminals in jail. So like that's the whole, the whole thing. It's like, okay, you're trying to reform this person and make this person better. But while they're in there, you have them around adults who may be engaging in some serious criminal actions and if they, if that wasn't that young person's direction at first, they're influenced because of circumstances by that. The more that I got into it, around like the, the shootings that were happening around 2014 into 2016 and really started doing my own research or what the school to prison pipeline was, how it affected a young people of color and what the longterm effects of what that was.
iLL Se7en: 01:06:00 The more that I wanted to get involved. And from that I just started volunteering to as many things that I could that were engaging that subject matter. There was a a woman, her name was Ms Churchill and she had lost her son who was at the time, 16 or 17. He was a part of a program that I helped facilitate project your head, which is head by the arch of MCON. And during that, he, he was killed just being on the corner back in gang violence. And she reached out to me and asked if I could, like, he wasn't gang affiliated or anything. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She asked if I could help put together like a, a march to bring awareness to who he was and what he did. And I felt like that was the beginnings of me really diving into this work and really trying to get more information on how I could help more than a, I started reaching out.
iLL Se7en: 01:06:58 I eventually went to a few community meetings. I got invited to a few tables to listen to. Some of the conversations that were happening in the community around the shootings that were happening around policing around the trainings that were happening around officers. Realize the more that I went to these meetings that our officers are really equipped with the right style of training when we're talking about young people and adolescent development and emotional intelligence, things that I hear regularly because of the community that I'm engaged in. But I take that for granted because it's around me all the time. So the more that I got into those rooms, the more that I realized that these officers weren't being trained. And then eventually I came across a, this young lady, her name is Janina Horton and she invited me to be a part of a, a communal conversation where they wanted to build out dialogues and conversations with officers.
iLL Se7en: 01:07:57 And at that point I had already been trained in facilitations and I have facilitated quite a few conversations, not necessarily on that level or that intense, but I had, I knew what it was to facilitate and to curate a conversation between groups of people. So I was like, I volunteer my time and I definitely would like to be a part of that because I feel like I have some skills that could help. I was very skeptical at first and the more that I got into the , we, we ended up collaborating with the bridge project, which is at Lorimer Park is right in that area. The first conversation that we had the young people busted it open. The young people were the ones that had the hard questions and had the great perspective and really challenged these officers in a very articulate way.
iLL Se7en: 01:08:49 They weren't angry, they weren't mad, they were just expressing the realities. The more that I saw, like the impact that these young people had on the officers the more that I knew that this was a conversation that needed to continually happen. So, and you know, when we first were starting it, it was a lot of pushback from the community, specifically for the black community because there was a lack of trust between officers and the community at that point because of everything that was going on. So within that push back, I took a little bit of pushback to like, but I believe so much in the work that I was willing to take those blows. And now it's, it's a totally different narrative is because of the consistency and they didn't, I think the community was scared that we were going to start these styles of conversations in this Dropbox and then you were never going to hear about it again because it happens a lot in activism, especially during that time.
iLL Se7en: 01:09:43 Like you hear somebody start something and you would never hear about it again. But because of the team that we had, who was a youngest team led by a Jia or Alondo who she had been an activism for a long time and she understood what was needed to happen to make, make this movement really push. And the team that we had it really has really been impactful. We've been traveling around doing more trainings and showing other communities the work that has started here in Denver, Colorado. And one thing I'll say is like Denver, because we don't have, I mean, not to say that we won't go in that direction, but like right now we don't have the extreme impoverished a narrative. So there's a, there's a sense of privilege that we have to be able to like develop out these different curriculums and ideas because a, we're not dealing with the same realities that is Chicago or Baltimore is dealing with. So because we don't have to do with those extremes, we're able to kind of develop out these really progressive ideas that we can give to other communities and they can take it in multitude of their community and help their own community within building out dialogue in the conversation. So it's been a journey, but it's been a blessing as well.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:10:57 Yeah, I mean, Gosh, of course. I originally became aware of you and your work with your music and your work with youth and the police officers from your TED Talk at Tedx Mile High. And I was just so moved. I literally came home and got your Info and emailed you. It was.
iLL Se7en: 01:11:18 Nah, I appreciate it.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:11:20 Right. And I was just like, I got to have him on the show. I mean, was just, I went with my wife and I went, I also had Mark Martin on the show who did the beatboxing, the bpos champion. I had him and you were like the two guys. I was like, I have to have them on the show, have to run the show. I was wondering, you know, I don't obviously don't want you to take us back through like the whole TED talk, but one of the things I loved, it helps define how you got here. And you touched on it a little bit, but I was wondering if you could share a little bit around those, the early part of your story around when you were first introduced into, you know situations with the police and, and getting into that whole fiasco with even being in that kind of environment that taught you these elements from that side. Because I thought those were just so relevant obviously to your message and your mission and what you're now doing to help bridge those gaps.
iLL Se7en: 01:12:26 Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. Like I was talking about it in the, previously we moved around a lot as a kid, so, and really different experiences with officers based off the communities that I lived in when I lived in North Las Vegas North Las Vegas. I don't know if a lot of your listeners know about more of Las Vegas, but North Las Vegas at that point, therefore his base is there. But it's very impoverished in that area. So there was a lot of gang violence and things that I experienced, a lot of Harvey interactions with officers, you know, in that environment. So that was one perspective of policing that ad scene growing up and then growing up in Colorado and being in Westminster, in Thorton in Aurora in a lot of the time being the only black person in the room or being the only black person in the in the area that I was at.
iLL Se7en: 01:13:27 And then, you know, being younger and that time and the people that I hung out with, I was instantly profiled and put onto gang lists and things like that. So you know, some of it may have been because of the people that are hung around with, but a lot of that was influenced by me being black in those environments during that time. So my cousin he grew up out here and when I had moved out here, me and him would hang out regularly, go to Westminster Mas. Sometimes we'll go to the Aurora mall wherever we were going. But you know, we would have encounters with officers and my parents would always tell us the proper ways to engage with an officer in, for us to get home safe. So it was, you know, make sure you, yes sir, no sir. All those things to make sure that you, you get home safe.
iLL Se7en: 01:14:21 But you also have to remember that you're dealing with a teenager, you know, so like we're gonna push back and I really didn't understand what they were talking about until that encounter that I talked about on my ted talk when the officer pulled a gun out on me and my cousin, he ran and got my mom and brought her back. That was one of the first encounters that I had actually realize what racial profiling was and the impacts of what it was. And for a long time after that it was trauma from that experience only because I had a begrudging feeling towards offices, you know, like it was confrontational, like almost was like in some instances wanting to instigate a situation because of that experience. And because of that, I would get pulled over. And for the most part I try to be respectful.
iLL Se7en: 01:15:15 But if I had an excuse to be able to like go off a little bit, I would, when I was living in Westminster, in Thor in the confrontation is that I was having, because at that point the officers were becoming familiar with me. So at that point it was, it became a harassing type of thing. So like we had like already like a tension there and then I already know certain officers. And from there it just became one of those, you know, situations where we were constantly battling one another in a few of those times. I ended up not going to jail for long periods of time, but at least overnight, eventually what I ended up doing was moving. I designed it as soon as I was old enough to move out of the environment. I ended up moving out in the environment. When I moved out of the environment, I had a totally different experience with offices.
iLL Se7en: 01:16:03 I don't know because I changed my own way of thinking or if it was the environment that I was in. But from that I had regular crazy encounters with officers that I didn't know exactly how I was. I knew I wasn't going back to jail. I knew I wasn't going to go jail for a long period of time. I knew I wasn't planning on going to prison. So just like I said, like when around 2006, that last experience that I had going to jail, it actually made me an activist because being in jail during that time I was able to actually articulate the experience and be able to like kind of explain it, not just to myself but to others of how the system kind of worked. From that after I got Outta jail. It is crazy too because during that time I was working as a banker at a bank.
iLL Se7en: 01:16:55 So like I was looking at this situation like, okay, I have a good job. I pay my bills, I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to do, but I still end up in jail. So there has to be something systemically that I'm dealing with right now. So that got me diving in to researching this whole idea of the prison industrial complex and I feel like the, the school to prison pipeline term wasn't even really out yet when I was doing a lot of the research that I was, it was probably 2013, 14 that the, the term really started like being familiar with people in the public. So I had already started doing kind of research on like this ideas and prison industrial complex started looking at like young men and women, but young men, specifically young black and Brown men specifically that we're getting caught up in the system for minor, minor cases.
iLL Se7en: 01:17:50 And one thing that our real realize was the plea bargain. Most most young people, they waive their rights and they take these plea bargains and not realizing that these plea bargains are something that extend out their time and mark the records and impact the ways that they navigate moving society later. So they, most young people aren't even able to think on that level because they don't have to, you know, it's not that style of laws, not something that your average young person is even thinking about unless there been in, in the system. So from that I'm doing the workshops, working with the young, working with the nonprofits like our from ashes and working with peace jam and all these different nonprofits that I had the the privilege of actually collaborating with. I started running across young people who are going through similar situations that I had went through.
iLL Se7en: 01:18:46 And the more that I seen that I started realizing that this wasn't just me, it was a regular thing that was happening, a systemically with a lot of impoverished young people. So it really inspired me to like really kind of get more into the work. And at that point I was in even systemically helping young people. I was just trying to get them to change their mindset and to give them some direction to navigate. But once I started working with the office of the independent Monitor, working with g Amina, I got educated on how the system works and the, the things that impact us all really, regardless of your ethnicity, if you're not aware of your rights, you're, you're going to be impacted by these ideas. If you, if you're not able to afford an attorney, you're going to be able to, you're going to be impacted by these ideas.
iLL Se7en: 01:19:36 So the more that I got that information, the more that I started using, utilizing those resources to take back to young people, to educate them on the system in the ways that it works. And the forms that we started developing out, we were doing constitutional rights trainings, we were doing adolescent development trainings. We're doing implicit bias trainings with officers and young people so that everybody understood. And the other thing that I learned working with officers is that most officers don't even realize impact that they have on the communities that they believe. I mean, yes, there are officers that are jerks and there are people who are jerks. But most of the officers don't realize that they're a gateway into this whole legacy of of a system that black and brown people have been marginalized for for a long time. So like educating them on the realities of how a young mind works and the things that young people are going through with something that I saw as eye opening for them. Do I trust all offices? No, but I also, I'm from this work have had a chance to see EMS people and less of a generalization. So it's been, it's been something that is a educated me as well in the process and actually helped me get past my own biases around the system in, in, in the law, in the offices.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:21:03 Yeah. I was going to ask, you know, where, where are you working now with that relationship with officers because you've now been doing this work for so many years and being able to interact with them directly and get that sense of them as people as well as that systemic foundation that's been there for a years, decades, right. Like, it's, I mean, this is, this is a, it's, it's longer than that, but, you know, specifically with the police, I mean, that is a, now it's a generational foundation that they've had to, they're the way that they interact in the community, like you said, like they don't even know. A lot of them don't even know how they represent to the community. And, and how that they're, how they're, they're being recognized by people in the community and how they're, they're treating people and vice versa. And so I was curious, you know, how, like, how, how has that relationship evolved and, and like, how do you interact with them now? When you were talking about, you know, that you used to be an instigator with them and like what, how does that, how's that affected relative to this program?
iLL Se7en: 01:22:13 It's been a process. I have developed, not friendships, but relationships with many of the officers that have been through the trainings and have a, been through the forums that we, that we facilitate. I think that it's been a, it's been a, it's been a variety of different interests and things that have happened from it. I think one of the main things that I really have gotten from like the the relationships that I've built with some of these officers, I've realized that many of them are from the community now. All of them, many of them are. So
iLL Se7en: 01:22:52 The conversations that I've had have been like realizing that some of these officers became officers because of their own experiences and wanting to change the system. I'm wanting to be one of the the positive impacts on the system and you know, and it becomes one of those, it's a very layer cake when you're talking about specifically the black and brown communities when we're, when we're talking about law enforcement and the legacy of law enforcement in black and brown communities, just because when we're talking about gangs, many times in black and brown communities, gangs aren't necessarily a negative thing. They're a protective thing because the community understands and knows these young people that are involved in these gangs. And sometimes it's a legacy thing because the parent was a gaming Bangor and sometimes the grandparents was a gang member.
iLL Se7en: 01:23:51 You know, so like the, the long legacy of this trust that happens in a black and brown community is something that many most people can't understand unless you're a part of those communities. So there's officers that do understand this and that are from these communities. And I think that's one of the things that I never really thought about before. I really engaged in the style of work is that some of these officers are arresting their cousins. Some of these officers are arresting friends that they went to school with. What that does to a person, you know, like there has to be some style of pool on your heart knowing that you're arresting people that you grew up with or that you grew up in your environment. And then the other thing that I think most people take for granted is that these officers on a regular base are seeing trauma.
iLL Se7en: 01:24:45 And like they have no outlets or trainings to deal with the trauma that they're experiencing on a regular base. They're seeing babies die, they're seeing adults beat each other. They're seeing people kill each other. And then they have, and this is one thing that I really realize we're doing this work. Many of these officers aren't getting therapy. They're not getting anything to like actually cope and deal with the trauma that they're experiencing on a regular base. You know, if you've been to war and if you've been in war environments it becomes a very us against them style and mentality within the ways that you engage, especially if you've seen killings or if you've been shot at in an environment. And I think that it becomes a layer cake in that conversation just because like the community a itself understands what's happening and why it's happening in, in the, in the depth of what, what's going on.
iLL Se7en: 01:25:43 But even offices that are from that community because they're not engaged with this a regular interaction, they start having their own progressing feelings around the environment. And like the more you talk to officers that have been in that environment, the more you realize that they're dealing with trauma and they're, they're not processing their trauma. So I think that that's one thing that systemically when we're talking about officers to civically, we have to acknowledge that these officers are people regardless of the mistakes they made. And then within them being people, they're dealing with trauma that's not being impacted. Now the thing I will say within that is that there has to be, and I think that's where the community comes in. There has to be some sort of accountability that happens that the community can all agree on that. Yes, we acknowledge he made a mistake, but he still needs to be accountable.
iLL Se7en: 01:26:37 That's where the pushback comes from. The black and brown community is the lack of accountability that comes from the police department. If it comes from the actual, the actual union of police, you know, that's the thing that I think more so than the officers when we're talking about the union of police in the ways that they conduct their investigations, which by office of the independent monitor is an important thing because it's a civilian oversight. That's the thing that I feel like most community members get frustrated around with the police department in general, regardless if it's Denver or anywhere else when somebody is killed and there's no accountability for that action.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:27:15 Yeah. You know, th the other thing that I've found that I learned actually on an earlier episode, and I actually want to link you guys up. His name's Rial Castano and he's on an earlier episode and he's part of a group called authentic relating training. Hmm. And Art Art International. And they do work with the nonprofit side actually does work with inmates around authentically relating to each other. And in order to help usher them back into society because of how the system has been set up is this pipeline and to keep them in the system. Right. And to not actually let them reintegrate into society. So I, I really was, I was as, as we've been talking, I was thinking, man, I got to link these guys up and see if there's something that you guys could maybe do together cause it's very similar. But one of the things I learned from him that I just have found, you know, it's like one of those things that you're like, of course it is, but you don't really think about it when you hear about gangs.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:28:20 And that's why I wanted to bring it up is that, and I know I'm stepping back just a little bit, but when, when you were talking about that, I was thinking about this is the gangs are family. It's, it's, it's its own community, right? And it's the same thing as when people are in prison, they develop their cliques and that's how you stay safe, especially to be in the black and brown community. And that's why they were started in the first place. Right? It was just to have safety and community and to have a, you know, and there's a lot of, there's a lot of violence and you know, when you get into to lower income, there's violence, there's, you know, theft, there's, you know, rape and all kinds of really dark things and people just want to feel safe. And so of course they get into that environment or they just want to not get beaten up or killed.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:29:15 So they join that community, Aka a gang so that they're in something that they can, you know, or they feel like they have to man up or whatever. Right. And they have to prove themselves, so they have to do these terrible things in the, in the, in the midst of, it's actually just, they want to be a part of something and it's like super primal. But then people turn it and twist it and they say all gangs are bad and all black and brown people or you know, whatever. Most black or brown people are bad or whatever. They have fear because they see this person across the street. And I'm fortunate to live in a neighborhood that's very mixed and I grew up that way. You know, growing up in DC, my best friend Turquoise it was, is but was, was my friend as a kid was an African American girl.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:30:03 My nanny and her husband that watched me when I was little African American couple, you know, and she was at my wedding and I love her dearly. Her name's Omagh and we lost pop pop when I was young. But like I was fortunate to have that kind of a childhood where I didn't grow up with seeing color. I grew up seeing humans, you know, and interacting with humans and friends and not everybody had that. So I feel extremely blessed that I had that. But I also appreciate having that because I'm able to speak from that and interact with people in a way, just like having this conversation to try and continue to share your story, but also to help bridge that gap being of white male privilege. I understand that I have had a privileged life. I can't understand all of what people of black and Brown or whatever color or even transgender, LGBTQ, whatever it is, people that are marginalized.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:31:04 But that's part of why I'm doing this show is because I want to share these stories and I want people, you know, one of these stories is going to get somebody and they're going to understand, you know, this conversation. And that was part of why, why I wanted to start talking about you as a musician in the conversation, right? Because that's something people can get and it doesn't matter who you, what you look like, where you're from, any of that, right? It's part of your story, but you're, it's talking about music. That's a universal thing that people can understand and appreciate. It's an art. But the work you're doing is also something that's universally important. And it's, if we don't stand up together, white, black, Brown, whatever, color, men, women, all of it. If we don't stand up together and lift each other up, it's going to be this thing that we're, I mean, it's 20 fucking 19 man.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:31:55 And I'm just like, can we please, seriously, can we, it can we finally stand together as one race, the human race. And you know, I just had another show recently that it just released with a Latino woman who's working with companies around having diversity in the tech industry. And I was so excited to have you on because you're doing similar work but in a different space. And this is hard work, man, especially with your past. Right? And like that's why I asked you about that. Cause you're, you know, you're, you're having to s to be vulnerable and interact with not only youth that you connect with because you went through it as a youth, but then also these police officers that you went through it growing up from the other side and like how you are treated and you know, being mistreated with a plea bargain that left you in jail for three extra months and all that extra crap, right.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:32:49 That you're now using that information to educate people so that they don't make those same mistakes. And also bridging that gap, right? Where there's a conversation that can be had and where people are reminded of being people and that we're imperfect and that we, we have to work at it. Like this isn't going to just get better, but it's this kind of work that is so vital because it's getting into some really hard work. And that's why I wanted to bring up rile because that's extremely hard for them because they, they're not used to relating to each other in a place where you have to, you can't show vulnerability to anyone, right. You'll be shanked. And so like there's this wall this put up as soon as you get behind those walls that you can't let people in. And so they're really working to help people be able to assimilate back.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:33:46 And it's similar to PTSD. It's, you know, it's similar to like so many other things, but it's, people paint this darker picture like, oh, well if you're in the military and you have PTSD, that's better than if you're a gang member. Right? Or, or if you're a person of color that was taken in for you. You know, like your story around, you went to the convenience store and we're walking back home and you're with your cousin and a cop's pulling a gun on you and they think that you robbed some convenience store and you're like, no, that's no but you don't have that voice. They just immediately assume, you know, and it's like those kinds of stories where people can be like, oh well he deserves it. Cause I'm sure he did something else right, is what I could totally hear some old white lady saying and as so bullshit. And so anyway, I, I know I'm rambling but it's this, this is really important to me. And so that's, I just wanted to share kind of where I come from with this and, and why I'm so honored to have you on the show and the work that you're doing. I wanted to ask real quick as we're gonna start to wrap it up here. I was curious about
iLL Se7en: 01:34:58 Where the youth are with this work cause you were talking about the police and where they've come and how that's going. But I'm curious about the youth that are coming up today really seem like they're in a different place. Yeah.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:35:10 Potentially with how they're looking at the world, at least with the youth I interact with. And I'm curious, is that true or are there any kind of a different place or is it that the programs further along and there you're able to kind of, you know, resolve things in a different way from when you first started?
iLL Se7en: 01:35:27 Most of the young people that we've ran across within the program, they definitely come with their guards up initially. When we're talking about officers, they have a very begrudging feeling when they hear that, you know, we're gonna have to talk to cops. But that's actually one of the most powerful things, just because by the time we're done with the form or by the time we're done with the conversations that have built out between the offices and the young people both of them gravitate towards each other and see each other differently. They actually see each other as people. And I think that that is the key. So most of the problems that we're dealing with within society is that, you know, whether it's a an adolescent or an adult we have ideas that we hold as truth about other groups of people without actually having experiences, conversation and dialogues.
iLL Se7en: 01:36:23 I mean, even if you went to a prison and you had a conversation with a heart and killer, you would find a human in there if you talk to them about their life in their past and the things they've gone through to make them the style, a person that they are. And I think that, well, a majority of the time, these young people, after they hear a, an officer talk about their own experiences as being a kid with officers, or they, they hear this officer talk about some of the trauma they've been through showing up to a house and seen an abused child or seen a baby that's in the garbage, you know and how they carry that onto their next thing and makes the young person realize that, oh, this is a person. This is a human like me. And I think that empathy is, is something that can only come through conversation and dialogue.
iLL Se7en: 01:37:16 I think that's the, you know, I think about that even with the musicians, there's racist doesn't really play in art when we're talking about creating and making things together. When you think about hip hop and where it comes from, you know, like hip hop, stop gang violence. I know like oftentimes we look at it as something that perpetuates it. But when you really think about African men Bata like you brought up earlier, he was a, he was a community organizer. He, he, he was an activist. He, he stopped a lot of the violence that happened between gangs and in your, from conversation, good music and having fun. You know, so like when we, when we think about the complexities of what we're dealing with in society, it's really simple is just we have to let our guards down in order to be open to the possibilities of what could happen.
iLL Se7en: 01:38:08 But so often we get a misdirected buys, stigmas, stereotypes, things that the news say all this misguided information that's thrown to us on a regular base. And I think young people are smarter than we realize. They see a lot of it before. I think as adults we get used to the program and young people are always challenging it because that's their job as young people as the challenge, everything. And I think we look at it as rebellion. But we really should be looking at it as evolutionary work that they're doing because that rebellion, it gets us to a point of looking at the world a little bit different if we pay attention to what they're actually trying to say, rather than pointing our finger and say, do it better. Do it right where young people are at right now, especially the ones that I've run across.
iLL Se7en: 01:38:57 Yeah, they, they've got their guards up, but they only have their guards up because they want to hear the truth. And once they hear the truth that, and they've had an organic experience with a person. And I feel like that with adults as well. But I feel like young people are more open because they haven't closed themselves off quite yet. So I feel that more times than not the young generation is open to kind of push forward narratives and have hard dialogue and be truthful and honest. Even though sometimes it hurts be truthful and honest. And I think that that's something that adults can learn from, from these young people is that that truth, sometimes it hurts and sometimes escaping, but it's needed.
iLL Se7en: 01:39:38 So I think that's one of the things a young people have taught me and continually teach me whether I'm teaching them in a hip hop production and songwriting or I'm having them in the forum and having them talk about their truth in the realities of what they went through. There's so much to learn from the young generation just because they haven't been tainted quite yet. Most of the adults we see on the news and most of the people that are sitting there yelling at each other on the Internet, they're all shut down and they're all program. Then they can't see outside themselves because they're so attached to their ideas and belief systems. So I think if we paid more attention to some of these young people's voices we would learn a lot more about who we are as individuals but how society moves as well
Gabe Ratliff: 01:40:28 Here. Here. Well man, I I could keep talking to you about this forever. But I, I feel like that's such a great place to kind of circle this all back around to who you are and what you do and where you are today. And I like always like to do just to kind of like few quick wrap up questions at the end to sort of end on like a lighter note and you know, have a little fun before we wrap. But I also just want to say real quick that I just, you know, I really appreciate you sharing your story and being so open and vulnerable with what you've been through and the, the hard work that you're doing. And, you know, like I said, I, you know, I can't understand what I, you know, I don't know what, I don't know as as many people like myself with the type of privilege that I have. But what I can do is, you know, share stories and help support people like yourself out there doing this work. So thank you for what you're doing and thank you for your time now for some fun questions. Yeah. What is your favorite movie?
iLL Se7en: 01:41:33 My favorite movie? That's a great question. I think right now one of my favorite movies it would have to be, would probably be a matrix. I think matrix is like up there as one of my all time favorites just because of what it represents. And it Kinda is a theme of a lot of what I talk about as well.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:41:57 Nice. That's, I mean, it's still so good. Such a classic that shook some people, some people up literally, if you could have, oh, you know what, I actually want to ask you something real quick. Have you seen beats the new film on Netflix
iLL Se7en: 01:42:16 That has, whew. Yeah. It's a great flavor.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:42:18 So yes. Well, and it's so relevant, right? I was thinking, I wrote it down earlier cause I was like, I got to ask him if you seen it. It was so, so, so good. If you guys haven't seen it, it's called beats on Netflix and it's fantastic. That's it. I won't tell anything about it. For others. Very relevant to this conversation. If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?
iLL Se7en: 01:42:44 Love, messy,
Gabe Ratliff: 01:42:47 Preach. What advice would you give to your younger self?
iLL Se7en: 01:42:52 Everything is going to be all right. Just believe in yourself.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:42:56 Nice. Any final words that you'd like to say?
iLL Se7en: 01:43:00 Man, it's been an honor man who's been a great conversation. I felt naturally connected in, in engaged in this conversation. So I appreciate the work that you're doing and the platform that you're building in holding these discussions. I feel dialogue is honestly the, the change we're all looking for. I really do believe that. I feel that the more conversations and the more heartfelt realities that we share the less prejudice we will be around one another. You know, so thank you. I appreciate it brother.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:43:35 Thank you so much. Where can people find you on the interwebs?
iLL Se7en: 01:43:38 Yeah, man. You can find me on Instagram on under ill seven I L. L. S. E. 7. E. N. You can also find me on Twitter under the same a handle and Facebook. And you can also look on 52 Eighty Entertainment. That is my business partners webpage, but we put together and facilitate events in concerts and shows so you can check that out. 52 Eighty spelled out, Entertainment.
Gabe Ratliff: 01:44:17 Well that's it for this episode. If this is your first time listening. Thank you so much for being here. I really hope you enjoyed the show. The Artful Entrepreneur podcast comes out by weekly and is available every other Thursday for your enjoyment and all links and show notes for this episode can be found at theartful.co. If you haven't yet, please subscribe to the show and leave a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you'd like to be a guest or know someone that would be a great fit, please go to theartful.co/guest and thanks again for listening. Until next time.