Shaz Illyork’s residence is the Art. Originally from Astoria, Queens, New York, the Puerto Rican/Cuban brother learned of Hip Hop culture in his travels. Out of the Desert, over Mecca and through Medina and canvassing Pelan, all the boroughs Shaz Illyork is the first widely known Illyorker. Illyork, a movement that intends to unify the pure Hip Hop Arts mentality, Shaz continues to honor his teenage friend that overdosed on drugs.
And so Shaz reps Illyork as an Artist, an MC and a graffiti artist, clothing designer and whatever form he sees fit to express himself. Because there’s too much to express. An MC with many affiliations that are still around, resigned due to personal or creative differences or just moved forward or backward in some way. A brother with many hells and heavens from prison time to the birth of his son, Shaz rarely lacks experience he seeks to make Art.
On June 4th, he will release his debut LP, Deadstock Revival, that follows one of the strongest catalogs of original material mixtapes an MC could attain. We had a chance to build with Shaz at Grand Staff Studios as Nems and Poison Pen came through to lay down verses for the “Chopper G-mix” that will be part of the debut album. As producer/engineer Goldenchild puts it all together through the night, here are some of the jewels…
SUNEZ: Tell us the Shaz Illyork origins.
SHAZ ILLYORK: It was just Hip Hop [music] before even graffiti. Just listening to it. Hip Hop. Whatever you want to fucking call it. Some people call it rap. You’re rapping it’s Rap. To me. There’s that, listening to it then going from that to graffiti. Then everybody wants to rap when you’re a little kid then it gets to something where it could be real. It all goes hand in hand.
SUNEZ: Repping Queens.
SHAZ ILLYORK: Of course. Astoria but all over. That’s where my roots are, where my family came from. My mother came from Cuba. My great grand uncle fought with Che and them in the Revolution. Then my grandfather was against the revolution and got locked up trying to sneak out of fuckin’ Cuba, the scumbag. Rest in peace. But he saw shit was getting crazy and thought, ‘I’m outta here.’ They gave the nigga nine years [in prison].
SUNEZ: What’s your thoughts on the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I can’t really say I’m 100% because I’m not in Cuba. I can’t say I hate fuckin’ Castro. I don’t even say I’m Cuban. I’m a New Yorker. I chill with all Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, whites, everybody. I’m just New York. But as a Cuban/Puerto Rican/New Yorker it’s pretty ill the whole story of Cuba. Just holding their fucking ground. 90 miles off the coast of this tyrant country that we call home and they still holding it down. Even with the shady shit that went down with Che I still give him his props cuz that nigga’s holding it down. He’s probably dead. Castro’s probably been dead for years. We don’t even know. That’s how ill he is. He may be dead already! They fucking stood their ground!
SUNEZ: There is no other story of fighting against modern imperialism as potent as Fidel’s Cuba. There’s also a lot more to Che’s demise that shows it wasn’t Fidel returning him but seeking to save him. There’s Fidel helping to liberate Angola and aided so many other countries of our people.
SHAZ ILLYORK: There’s lots of crazy stories. It’s mad deep.
SUNEZ: We’re here at Grand Staff Studio in Brooklyn and you work like a veteran now. When was your first moment in the studio?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I remember the first night I ever went to the studio because the night before we were at the Method Man—you know Method Man dropped the T2000 album. Remember at Tower Records they had the release there. You couldn’t go in unless you bought the cd. I was fourteen and didn’t have any money so I was outside chillin’. So I met everybody there. My cousin bought the cd so we was with him on the line. We saw Raekwon walking around the corner while we was on the side street. Raekwon is in the middle walking by himself. Everybody is yelling, ‘Yo, it’s Raekwon.’ I jumped right over the line and was like ‘Rae! Whattup!’ He said, ‘Peace, Peace.’ But I was the only one who jumped off the line.
When I met [BIG] PUN, he had an attitude so I didn’t really appreciate him until he died. Real talk. When I met him he was mad cocky. I understand now cuz back then I was just a little pipsqueak. At that age I was, about fourteen, he’s like a dickhead to you I was disgruntled. You don’t know until you grow.
SUNEZ: So that first time in the studio, what did you do?
SHAZ ILLYORK: It was me and my cousin I had this group. My cousin was the one that got me into rhyming. My little sister is half Cuban/half Guyanese so I grew up with Guyanese people all my life. One of my cousins rapped to a Beatnuts beat, that “Do You Believe in God” shit, you remember that shit?! We used to make it with the two tape decks. I used to go over there every weekend and play rap shit. We started getting a hold of smoking weed and he was like, ‘yo, I did a rap song.’ Ever since then I was like, ‘yo, I’m rappin’ now fam. Me and you gonna rap.’
I remember my first verse from 94. I won’t say it but I remember. I was talkin about smoking blunts. I was like eleven. I did it to the Grand Puba beat. The 360 shit [“360° (What Goes Around)”]. I always knew good beats. I remember I made my other cousin write a rhyme. He didn’t wanna write. I was like, ‘you’re gonna rap.’ We was mad young and we all rapped to that Grand Puba beat. Then I didn’t rap after that for like 2 years. I was doing graffiti.
Shaz will define himself in two ways every time: an Artist and a New Yorker. There is a respect to the blood he is from and genes he is of and a constant joy of realization in the land he learns of, from and through. As an Artist, it expresses itself in his Illy character walking throughout walls all over the city’s boroughs…
SUNEZ: I was just a toy writing on the wall just to stain them. How did you know when you were really an artist?
SHAZ ILLYORK: Back in the days it was different. I hate going back to the 90’s but that era! Seriously, niggas was mad young. All the well-known graffiti writers we were all young and all had our styles down like we have now. It was crazy, like a weird time and energy in that period. We were mad young and we all wrote good. I been writing since I was eleven so by the time I was fourteen I wrote mad good. Basically how you should write as a graffiti writer, got respected, did mad graf. I met mad people, went to alotta different neighborhoods. Shout out to all the Bronx niggas. They were the ones who really put me on to all the Polo shit, Northface—100 percent the Bronx. I met them in Manhattan, starting chillin’ with them uptown. Everybody was rockin’ Northfaces. I was like, ‘what the fuck.’ That was the Lo Life era. I didn’t know about none of that shit so they exposed me. We went from Brooklyn, the Bronx and hung out with them in Queens. It all went hand in hand and from sixteen and up I’m doing graffiti and rap. From thirteen to sixteen I only did graffiti and that was when I did the most graffiti anyway, destroyed everything. Goldenchild is too young to remember that. 97, that era. That was a good era.
SUNEZ: WORD BOND! A beautiful era.
SHAZ ILLYORK: 97 was a good year. That whole era. I have a song called “97 Era” on my album. But not necessarily 97 but ’96, ’95, ’98—just that whole fuckin’ time period for me growing up it was so influential to me. It changed my whole frame of thinking. If I didn’t grow up in that era I wouldn’t be who I am right now. You could go on the radio and then put on a tape and press record. You could actually record Hot 97. You had to record it cuz the only place you could get it was on the radio. All the shit, now it’s like whatever. And it was lots of different shit. You had Das Efx, Fu Schnickens, Lost Boyz, the Wu-Tang, G Funk, Diggin in the Crates—all these different types of Rap music. For someone that came in that era you’re mindstate is different because you had mad different influences if you listened to everything. I feel like this era right now is almost coming back to that. There’s just too many ill rap muthafuckas from New York that I know personally right now. It’s all like Wu-Tang 93—not comparing myself to the Wu—but from a beginning standpoint because everyone is not all out officially. I’ve only been out for two years. It’s really nothing to greater masses because there are still people catching on to what I did two years ago. It’s good that I built that catalog.
This time just seems perfect regardless to what’s happening behind the scenes. If we’re together as a unit, niggas can’t deny what we’re bringing to New York.
SHAZ ILLYORK: These brothers that was just robbing clothes in some eyes sparked a whole world on fire. They don’t get the proper shine that they should get. I’m just glad that I could be a part of that now. I remember I was with my Bronx niggas and I was just rappin. I caught an ill Polo jacket like ’97, one of my first pieces from this thrift shop downtown. I’m with my boy E, V.O. and a couple of others. I caught it and I was like, ‘this is ill!’ I’m like fourteen. I wish I still had it. They was like, ‘what you think?! You’sa Lo Life, son?!’ I’m all gassed up and come to find out all these years later I’d be on tour with Thirst [Thirstin Howl the 3rd], it’s a beautiful thing. Hip Hop needs to definitely give all praises due just for bringing that Polo stuff to the masses. Besides white people in mid America. I got family down in Pennsylvania and I be Lo down in the bar and it’s all preppy white people all Polo down too. They don’t know anything about Lo Lifes or Hip Hop. Besides those people, if it’s in Hip Hop it was Lo Lifes that brought it. They sparked it so I’m just glad to be a part of it.
When you go to the barbeque—Golden, you went to the barbeque right? It’s almost a hundred straight hood, most of these dudes done shot dudes, cut dudes, the grimiest, rawest out in Brooklyn and everywhere else to congregate–all fucking peace. And everybody is wearing the fanciest clothes. It’s almost like kind of crazy. How ill is that? Some real majestic hood shit! We’re wild and crazy people but we still civilized and meet in a park in the middle of nowhere where no cops come and nothing ever goes down. It’s always peace.
SUNEZ: Your lyrics are all over including mentally where I’m from—the knowledge of self. What’s your experience with the Gods and Earths and the knowledge of self?
SHAZ ILLYORK: Peace to my brother Princelito. He was like the first one to give me  lessons. He’s one of the illest people ever. Always. Taught me how to when I was on my mathematical dictionary..I never realized that reading the dictionary for this many years I’d remember so many words. I have a vast vocabulary from that because I wanted to be like the RZA. Rap is ill. RZA made me read the dictionary [laughs]. And read other shit that made me get knowledge.
“My force is like Delta/ better run for your shelter/ got you ducking down quick/ like I was reppin’ Heltah Skeltah…” – “Everybody Shinin’”
Lyrics layered with the embrace of tragedy. Shaz is so embracing of the 90’s era we expect his mastery of word coupling, scenic phrases and a sincerely conflicting duality merging the optimism of Art’s expression and the pending reality of doom. An Original man versing through these concrete walls and planting ideas in asphalt streets…
“Weaponry agile, plastic on the banger/ Landing plane hanger making deals with the dapper/ still in the rapper fresh/new mother, sealed lips/afterbirth sown up/no making moves kid/stay right there, life ain’t fair/where there’s a winner there’s a loser/ on the street you unprepared/ onslaught/ bomb talk/ I’m a calm hawk/spot the prey/ play the back/ and get ‘em when their mind’s off/ they call us Germans/cuz when the drama’s urgent storm..stomp em out everybody hurtin/ cloud bursting/ let us rain on a sunny day/ sunshower reptiles in the water like the Everglades/ if it was first degree obvious I had intentions/ 63 Daily Plaza with a smoking weapon/smoker’s voice from the green and white pack stuffing L’s pass/ a decade cuz the high will never last…I try to do good/the devil keeps calling me…the sound is definite like a desert to your eardrum front like you fear, son/you fear us you hear none/fuck the rest of them/Queens is the home/and paper is the only thing on me that’ll ever fold/headband to the dome/ears to the throne/frozen in my pose/the immaculate rose/ been plotting on my spot/my patience is Don/reaching like an assassin when they raising the gun/stand tall when adversity’s real/ give the devil the chill/Illyorker the real… ” – “Skeleton Key”
SUNEZ: You met the late Chris Lighty back then and remembered him positively at his passing? How’d you meet him?
SHAZ ILLYORK: 2003, I met him. He was coming out of the building. My boy Nel told me Chris Lighty is in the building. Come downstairs. Can you meet me here as fast as you can with a cd? I got there mad quick within a half hour. I walked 18th street in Park Avenue South and all the way to his offices. Gave him the cd and he showed me mad love. That’s why I respected him. I didn’t even follow up with it. I was just a kid wildin’ out. He gave me his number, took me to his office. I played everything on the cd and he was feeling all of it.
I also met Harve Pierre. He saw me in Liberty Avenue and took me to some studio in Hollis [Queens]. I thought it was mad shady because they were speaking Creole and I didn’t understand. Why are y’all speaking that and not English in front of me? They said you’re ill but your boys, we want you by yourself. I was a little kid so I said I wanted to be in a group like an asshole. Then nothing happened. Then I found out he was Harve Pierre of Bad Boy.
I even seen Wyclef in a top down Bentley around 2001 or 2002. I said, ‘yo, Wyclef, I rap.’ He said, ‘alright, here’s my number. Call me.’ I called him and said, ‘can I speak to Wyclef?’ They said, ‘hold on.’ I’m like ‘oh shit.’ Then he’s like, ‘Hello?’ I say, ‘this Wyclef?’ He’s like, ‘yeah, what up?’ ‘Oh shit. You remember me?’ I tell him where I met him and he remembers. He told me in this rap game I’m like big drug dealer. That was crazy. And I respect him because I was just a 15 year old Puerto Rican kid. Why would he want to give me his direct number.
SUNEZ: And he gave you his number and you never dropped a verse on him?
SHAZ ILLYORK: Weird shit’s like that always happened to me like that! I remember I was rapping on West 4th and Broadway. I’m with this other dude just rappin’ in like 2000. I went in and I see someone from the corner of my eye—a short Black dude—just listening, hearing what I’m saying, just bobbing his head. I’m done spitting. I look over and it’s Ras Kass. He just nodded his head like he was feeling it and then walked away.
SUNEZ: Tell me about your first work then.
SHAZ ILLYORK: In the Scheme of Things. I actually made all the beats to that too. Like 11 years ago.
SUNEZ: Was that what Chris Lighty heard?
SHAZ ILLYORK: Nah. That was some other shit. I made the shit in the studio the niggas recorded the shit so wack I was really upset. I decided to get my own equipment and started recording my own shit. That’s what I let Chris Lighty hear. That first one I did was some real dark shit. I was 19 and it was some real dark shit, Wu-inspired to the 100th power shit. So then in 2003 I started playing with shit. I don’t want to be dark and touching this all the time. I wanted to grow into my own sound. Then I got locked up. It was over after that.
SUNEZ: When you came back how did you do it?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I came back at a crazy time. That’s when my man Action [Bronson] and Meyhem [Lauren]—like Meyhem. I’m always gonna put it on the record. Meyhem’s the one that brought me into the Lo Lifes. He’s the one to really push my shit out there when nobody knew who the fuck Shaz One was. Before I was Shaz Illyork. Shaz One. Who the fuck am I? He pushed my shit. ‘This my boy Shaz. He just came home.’ Meyhem will always get my love regardless.
Shaz released the original material mixtapes Air Unlimited and the very strong Before It All Happened leading up to his upcoming debut album. If there is anything that must be admitted is his artistry is pure and everywhere he has been has been left with a dynamic art contribution. But now, Shaz is alone. I see an artist who has traveled every terrain of New York City. It has taken him everywhere his Art can go. It has made him alliances that remain and ones that do not, yet all he sincerely treasures just because. Though his debut will have features from Sean Price, Nems, Starker, Starvin B and others, Shaz Illyork is like every New Yorker at any moment. Alone among millions…
SUNEZ: What makes a verse right and exactly creative?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I’m the worst at English grammar but somehow the English language I know how to use it very well. It’s subconsciously a weird thing. It’s all mathematics. It’s what it comes down to period. You could just break it down to the simplest form. It fits perfectly. We manifest these shits in our head. We don’t even realize we’re making these crazy mathematical combinations. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. With the right wordplay and at the right, exact moment. When you do this you know how to edit shit out and make it perfect. That’s when you know. I know how to fix it. It’s subconscious.
SUNEZ: Do you write rhyme books?
SHAZ ILLYORK: Not really. I write on anything to write a verse out.
SUNEZ: Are you constructing verses then searching for beats or the other way?
SHAZ ILLYORK: It’s usually by the beats. That’s what sparks me to writing.
NEMS: Nah, I go with all different types of shit. If I hear a beat or sometimes I come with the concept first then look for the beat.
SUNEZ: A lot of people don’t do that Nems.
SHAZ ILLYORK: Not me. I’ll write shit down. I always get ideas from everything. I’ll rap about the most randomest shit because I saw something and had an idea.
SUNEZ: Tell me about Deadstock Revival. What’s the title mean?
SHAZ ILLYORK: It’s like a sneaker term. Like when you can’t get them no more they’re dead stock. It’s almost a double entendre. I’m not a sneaker head like that. I like sneakers but I don’t give a fuck if the shit came out in like ’91 or 2001. I like it I like it. Deadstock Revival of that shit’s that’s been dead stock. It hasn’t been around anymore. And my muthafuckin brother right here Nems-he’s on some tracks.
Not too many people are touching the subjects that I’m touching. Everybody wants to be super raw hardcore thug or party party party. I’m trying to find the in between. Somebody that’s been there, done that, still in there a little bit and still trying to find themselves in the new New York. It’s kind of odd being locked up for five years.
SUNEZ: What is the purpose for this album and onward?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I’m just being a historian, a preservationist of Hip Hop. As all. An overall thing. What’s on the radio—that’s pop music. This is Hip Hop culture. In the cipher. This right here. I’m on parole. I can’t even do mad graffiti right now. I do more subversive shit. I don’t want to break laws like rob or break shit. I always want to do subversive shit like put signs up. Real shit like that. I can’t until I’m off on parole.
Now, I’m happy right now as an independent artist. I can do what I want to do and touch on anything I want to touch on. On this album I touch on real, real shit. Alotta real shit and alotta people ain’t doin that. Alotta people wanna be super thug or caught up in the fashion. I’m caught up in all that but there’s a realization to it. I’m still in the struggle. A brand new parent. Dealing with drug abuse coming from prison. Dealing with the inner strife with your people you thought were your brothers. So much shit is fucked up. All that put together made this album. It’s a real personal look into Shaz, the artist individually and what made me up to this point. Regardless of anything I’m glad I’m part of alotta ill shit. And I’m still doing it. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. Just counting the blessings. Even as a Latin artist. That’s something I don’t think about cuz there’s not too many that are ill. I don’t really play off of it. I wanna represent my culture. I see it as all the same. Puerto Rican or Black. It’s all of us in this. Hip Hop didn’t start with just Blacks. You had us Puerto Ricans wildin’ too. Graffiti culture is what really brought Spanish, Blacks, whites all together. Even beyond. It’s part of the Hip Hop culture but I chill with graffiti writers who listen to no rap at all. But I fucks with them on a graffiti level as my boys. They don’t listen to any rap but they’re still part of the Hip Hop culture which is crazy.
SUNEZ: And there are some graf artists that say it isn’t really Hip Hop but just placed in there.
SHAZ ILLYORK: Cuz they might be on their artsy shit and maybe want to separate themselves from Hip Hop.
SUNEZ: You had the great Fundamental of Ill show so maybe Shaz gets on the artsy shit too?
SHAZ ILLYORK: I am on the artsy shit but it has to progress to that. I feel like I put in mad work on the streets with graffiti shit, had fights. All the fights I ever had were graffiti fights now that I think about it. I really put work into it. So for you to go into that and start doing canvases that’s just meaning you’re elevating. I want to write on walls all the time but you always gotta keep progressing and do something else. I probably want to do different Hip Hop five years from now. Maybe I just might not rap. You never know. Right now I’m just glad I’m even noticed. I appreciate everything. Being locked up for five years and not knowing what’s gonna happen. Your self-esteem is shot so you’re like you’ll come home and nothing will happen. Almost four years later to be where I’m at now is not the craziest but I’ve done something. Ex-convict coming out of prison I’ve done something with my life. I’ve followed the career path I’ve wanted to. I’ve put my destiny in my own hands. It’s fucking pretty ill.
SUNEZ: And it’s all in the music now.
SHAZ ILLYORK: I put a lot of shit in parables but I’m always gonna be truthful in my music with what I do. I’m not gonna hide shit about anything. I want to be that real truthful New York rap moment in time. I try to capture this moment in time. They might say it’s the sound of that era—of course, because we’re continuing that sound. But it’s 2013 and I’m still capturing it. It’s always gonna have that. I come from that era. I’m 30 years old. I’m from that cloth. I’d be a fool to try and do what the young niggas is doing right now. We made our own lane. We brought underground. It was kind of dying. I’m not bigging any of us up but the noise that we all made—Timeless Truth—everybody coming out of Corona [Queens]. Maffew Ragazino, everybody is coming out. There’s too much shit coming out. Starvin’s last shit, Carmen [Indhira], [Spit] Gemz—all fucking fire. That catalog is just the fuckin shit. I’m working on Starker’s shit. He’s coming out with some classic shit. That’s why I fuck with Nems for so long. Me and him used to be at the corner of EOW at like 2003. Over ten years ago just rapping and rapping. Hard work pays off. It’s 2013. That’s it.
“Take a walk with Illyork/ guarantee you won’t get lost with him/Take you through terrains of the brain…”