“What does your shirt say?” she asked after taking my order. I wasn’t sure if she was truly curious or just making small talk while fixing my lemonade. You can never tell with Chick-Fil-A employees, they are trained to treat customers better than their distant relatives. I looked down and let out a sigh. “iLLmont. They were rap group,” I told her.
Strange, having to talk about them in the past-tense. I started wondering how many shirts and merch hang in closets of fans from rappers. Memorabilia from ghosts that almost were. Just a few years ago I was watching them open for Oddisee in an intimate venue, opening for Ab-Soul in a larger one - they seemed to be going places, doing things. Artists seemingly blow up and become huge stars overnight, making it very easy to believe everyone that works hard achieves some level of stardom. An industry full of major success stories. Until you think about all of those that didn’t.
A 10 member collective of rappers and producers bringing a different sound out of East Atlanta. That’s how I will remember Felix Von Soco, EyeBeiLLin, Nihilus, Olde English, Plex Major, L7one, Khalil Who, Allen Thomas, Ollie JukeBox, and Powl Abraham, better known as iLLmont. It feels like yesterday I was at Apache Cafe watching their first ever performance. Five years to be exact, December of 2011. That night the bill was full of Atlanta independents wanting to showcase their talent. If memory serves, iLLmont was the only group to stand on stage five guys deep. This was before everyone started to move in squads. They didn’t look much like a group, no kind of coordination, but what they lacked in performance prowess was made up in enthusiasm. There was an energy, they exuded fun and the crowd reacted. A bit rough around the edges but you could hear a uniqueness and see a glimmer of their magnetism. You can’t have a group with that many members and personalities and follow some overplayed formula.
You feel connected to an artist or artists when you watch them from the beginning of their careers. It’s like being the only spectator in a fairly empty room and watching as that room gradually fills up. I remember watching them perform in houses and then have shows on Edgewood. From playing their first mixtape on a blank disc to seeing The Source premiere 20 East Vol 2: Waffle House Diaries. There was this feeling that each step meant they were getting closer to being the next big group out of Atlanta.
Before the big break could come, one day I got word that the group disbanded. You can’t have a group with that many members and personalities without the possibility of everything falling apart. It felt like a good thing ended before it truly begun. It's strange going to their SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Tumblr, and Twitter knowing that there will never be another update. An end to an incomplete story; no record deal, no Drake remix, no unsung episode, no big success story.
When I think of iLLmont, I can’t help but think of all that has changed in this industry. All the blogs like Potholes In My Blog and Kevin Nottingham that are no longer around, all the bloggers that have settled into different occupations, all the rappers who decided to hang up the microphone - leaving nothing behind but a trail of songs, broken links, and the potential of what could’ve been. It’s a never ending cycle of promising beginnings and untimely endings. In such an unstable industry, the future isn’t promised for anyone. One good year can have you buzzing and the next you are just a memory known by the few who believed.
Some artists aren’t able to stop despite the hardships and shortcomings. There are members of iLLmont who have continued creating music together and as solo artists. Allen Thomas comes to mind, his Belvedere Plaza was one of my favorite albums of 2014. He hasn’t lost the fire, maybe he will someday. Or maybe he'll reach the heights it seemed like iLLmont would for a moment.
Artists come and artists go, and whether their time in the game lasts a few months of a few decades, the music eventually moves on without them all the same.