I love it when God orchestrates new friendships. I don’t specifically remember how we were officially introduced other than it was the magic of Twitter. Since then, I’ve been listening to Illijam and following his hip-hop career. Only God knows where He’s going to take Illijam in his music career, so I thought I would get in early with an interview before Reach Records signs him.
Never heard of him? Then give “The Crew” a listen…and read on!
Erik (Lighten Up Gear): Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed on the Lighten Up Gear blog. I appreciate your time today. Let’s start at the beginning. I’m guessing your folks didn’t name you Illijam…so who are you to your friends and family when you’re home for the holidays?
Illijam (Ben Walters): You are correct; that is not my birth name–more on that in a moment! My friends and family know me as Ben Walters: a 21 year-old Christian man from suburbia studying marketing at Liberty University. Growing up, no one in my family really listened to Hip-Hop nor did any one in my church; I suppose this apple fell pretty far from the tree in that respect. Nevertheless, my friends & family still accept me and my God-given affinity for a culture very different than my upbringing! I think they would tell you I am light-hearted & jocose, and yet determined, passionate, & in love with Jesus.
Erik: Confession: I actually always thought you were from Illinois so I naturally thought your moniker came from your home state. But after doing some prying, I realized you’re from Allentown, PA. How did you get your name?
Illijam: Great question–And not a bad etymology assumption! My stage name came about this way: I was seeking to enter Viktory’s R4 Challenge, in which each artist would write and record 16 bars over the beat he provided. Already very passionate about pointing folks to Jesus through Hip-Hop music, I knew I would need a unique moniker if I was to do music long term. Sitting in my friend’s apartment (Producer LoKey), I thought about how many of my favorite artists selected their stage name by playing off their actual names. With that in mind, I wrote out my full name: Benjamin William Walters. After many attempts, I finally took the ‘illi’ from ‘William’ & the ‘jam’ from ‘Benjamin’ and put them together! I wasn’t sold on it at first, but in retrospect I’m glad I went with it!
Erik: How did you get started in writing and performing hip-hop?
Illijam: I would have never started writing & performing hip-hop if I hadn’t begun playing the snare drum in 4th grade. Long hours of practice helped me to learn rhythm, and various concerts and half time shows over the years gave me a taste of performing, which I relished!
During my senior year of high school (2010-2011), my good friend Ben Phelps was playing with a beat-making app; I was entranced. I too downloaded it and began making very simple beats, which I then would write lyrics over! I had barely dabbled in Hip-Hop before winter 2011, but once I began producing on my phone and writing rhymes, I was hooked.
Erik: How did you get connected with Magoh and Jungle Hype?
Illijam: Magoh and I met through Viktory’s R4 Contest, oddly enough! We were the only 2 LU students to enter in the contest, and he found me and emailed me about working together. Later that semester (Spring 2012), we recorded 2 songs together for his first mixtape. Now we are good friends and roommates.
Jungle Hype and I met in the Fall of 2012 on Dorm 4 at Liberty University. He was unconvinced that I could rap, and I was unconvinced that he could produce. It took a little while for us to warm up to each other! The first song we ever did was a remix of Lecrae’s “I Know” for a contest Lecrae was hosting. From then on, we realized that both of us had a gift and a passion for Jesus, and we decided to do music together! Since Winter 2013, we’ve grown to be friends and musical co-laborers for the Gospel. He is also roommates with Magoh and I.
Erik: Can you explain what the Count It Loss Movement is?
Illijam: “Count It Loss” is the crew (Jungle Hype, Magoh, & I), message, and movement dedicated to encouraging everyone to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord” (Philippians 3:8). It is how the 3 of us independent artists affiliate, and it is the unifying battle cry we proclaim any time we have a stage and a mic. It is our dream and prayer that many would rally under this banner, seeing Jesus as so precious, beautiful, famous, worthy, and enjoyable that they relinquish all else to have Him.
Should the Lord continue to open doors and raise us in influence, we pray He’d also give us the grace to faithfully preach this message–one that we believe is the very heart of the Gospel.
Erik: Do you guys make your own beats and if so, what’s the process for doing that?
Illijam: Yes; Jungle Hype produces for Magoh and I. He has very generously and selflessly offered to do a lot of services for no monetary pay so that in these early days we can all build our brands and kickstart this movement. Us serving each other in various ways does bring the intangible benefits of greater awareness of all of our music. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I look forward to the day, however, when I’ll be able to pay him for all his services. He’s an incredibly talented guy, and his work would be worth every penny!
No matter what the future brings, I’ll always be profoundly thankful for his sacrifices and belief in my gifting.
Erik: What the writing process for you look like?
Illijam: It varies; at times I will write lyrics and then Jungle Hype and I will tailor the music to them. Other times, I will take a beat he has produced and listen to it until I can articulate how it makes me feel with lyrics. I have a lot to learn when it comes to writing; not coming up in a hip-hop heavy culture perhaps puts me at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, I am hungry to grow, and Jungle Hype & Magoh push me in that respect. I’m grateful for that!
Erik: As you know, my 9 year-old son, Jonah and I are big fans of your music. One of the things that impresses Jonah the most is that you can spit lyrics lightning fast. How did you master that craft?
Illijam: I’m so glad you guys like it! Spitting fast is a joy for me. Eric Liddell once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” In struggling to understand his purpose, I think Mr. Liddell implied that God’s purpose for him and the fact that He made him fast were at odds. Not true! God’s gifting is always intertwined with his purpose for us. And like Eric Liddell, God has gifted me with this ability and I feel his pleasure when I use it for Him!
All that said, the rapid-fire rapping is very much influenced by my drum line days. I was a snare drummer my last 2 years of high school, becoming section leader and center snare by my senior year. My great passion for excelling at the marching snare back then undoubtedly undergirds my quick-spitting now. The rhythms I played with my hands back then I recreate with my mouth now!
Erik: You’ve been able to play some great shows including the Liberty University Christmas Coffeehouse. What was that experience like?
Illijam: It was incredible!! Ultimately, I endeavor by the Holy Spirit’s power to perform for an audience of 1: Jesus. From a performance-energy stand point however, there is an unmistakable exchange in which the performer and audience feed off of one another. With 8200 folks in attendance, the Vines Center was buzzing with energy, and we eagerly fed off of that in hopes of giving them a great show!
Nevertheless, whether the audience is large or small, I am eager to perform and communicate the Gospel. Jesus is so good, and I want to convey that every time I perform.
Erik: Do you have any pre-concert rituals you go through and do you have a favorite snapback, t-shirt or kicks you normally wear for shows?
Illijam: I typically stretch, do jumping-jacks, run in place, etc. I do whatever I need to in order to get my heart rate going. Performing really is a cardio exercise, so it’s important to warm-up! Recently, I’ve enjoyed wearing my black Count It Loss t-shirt, long slim-fit khaki pants, black Vans or maroon Nike SB’s, and a wooden necklace. From time to time I’ll wear my vintage Philadelphia Eagles SnapBack, but it has fallen into disrepair as of late.
Erik: Ready for the lightning round? Don’t think too much…just answer what pops into your mind.
What artists have influenced you the most?
Illijam: I wish I could say more exactly who has influenced me most, but I did listen to Grits, The Cross Movement, Eminem, & 50 Cent when I was younger, and then Trip-Lee, Lecrae, KB, Flame, and others during high-school. That was after I felt the Lord convicting me about what I was listening to haha.
I’m crying out, cuz I’m weak and unworthy/
Lord Jesus it hurts me, I’m in need of your mercy/
Would you please come and restore me to the servant I used to be/
When I was just seeking your glory and was content with you and me/
I’m crying out/
Illijam: I’m a little embarrassed to admit this…but from a groove standpoint, “Teach Me How to Dougie” always gets my hype–especially for free-styling haha. More recently (and more respectably haha), I really like the production on KB’s EP “100”, especially the song “Crazy”.
Erik: If you could tour with any 2 national artists, who would it be? Why?
Illijam: Hmm. Tough one! I think I would enjoy touring with This’l & Christon Gray. They each bring something to the table that I do not, both through their life experiences and musical styles. I think that would be a fun show!
Erik: What’s next for Illijam?
Illijam: To be honest, I am not completely sure! I would love to continue doing music, and perhaps do it full time should the Lord make that a possibility. After this year, it appears that I will not have as much time to dedicate to music, as I will be graduating college and likely moving back to PA away from my team and musical connections. I think I’d like to stay in Lynchburg for a time, but I will need to find a job to pay back school bills. Additionally, there is a key relationship back home that I think the Lord might have a lot planned for.
To make a long musing short, I suppose I really do not know! There are a lot of question marks on the horizon. Wherever I go, I will endeavor to continue making music to make much of Jesus. If the Lord wills, I would love to do that full time. I’ve also kicked around the idea of touring city-to-city with a Christian youth conference if that opportunity arose. Let me know if you know anybody who wants to add good, Gospel-centered hip-hop to their conference! Haha.
For the time being, I am working hard with Jungle Hype & Magoh, and am trusting God to Providentially guide each of us to exactly where He wants us. I’m not sure where the Lord is taking Illijam or Count It Loss, but I know too much of His power, wisdom, and love to fear or doubt!