The diverse trio of MCs known collectively as Illuminous 3 have been staples of the Minneapolis rap scene since they began doing shows together through Yo! The Movement a decade ago, but their history as friends extends back even farther to their time at Seward Montessori Elementary school in South Minneapolis. Their latest album, appropriately titled Montessori and offered as a free download, is dedicated to that school and how it shaped their lives as artists and human beings.
Gimme Noise caught up with Freez, Mavin MC and Franz Diego for an interview about the album's release show, tonight at the Hex.
Gimme Noise: What made you want to do an entire album devoted to going to school together at Seward Montessori Elementary?
Freez: [Mavin MC] started the first couple songs, which were "Impressionable" and "Montessori", and we were like, alright, it'll be perfect if we just do a whole themed out project where it's just reminiscing about Seward, because we always had this strong bond from Seward. It's such a small school and they did things so differently that we want to talk about that in a project. We got so many people that are fans of our music that went to Seward that'll feel that, and even if they didn't feel it, it'd just be super personal to us and we'll love it forever.
Mavin MC: Me and [Freez] also went to high school [together] all the way up until we graduated, so we've been super close friends. But we just stood out, we had an entirely different upbringing. It's not like your traditional thing. You step into the [Montessori] classrooms and it almost looked like a fucking funhouse or some shit. We did our multiplication on a checkerboard, it was super colorful... We did division with these test tubes...
Freez: It was like toys. It just made you want to learn shit.
Franz Diego: It has a strong connection to us too, because I don't think any three of us would be the way that we are or approach shit as detailed or complex if we didn't go to that school. That school really pushed you to be an individual with a conscience, not just an individual that just gets shit efficiently done and can do what everybody else does. It's more like a value-based system. What do you excel at? How can we nurture that? What are you failing at? How can we help you with that? We're all three very different type of dudes, but we know how to communicate with each other because of that shit.
Mavin MC: It worked really well because the classes were so integrated.
Freez: This is why you see such a diverse group in front of you. This is what made us have the confidence that we could do shit like this.
Gimme Noise: Illuminous 3 make sure to keep putting out solo projects to reaffirm that you are individual artists, but as a group, it's still as together as it would be if it were a solo project because you guys have such good communication in the songs. There's a verse from each of you on every song. Times that by five, and have all of those stories come together and work not only individually but as a larger piece, that's a hard thing to do.
Franz: It is! Already the response we got from this Mike Swoop project has been better than most of the shit we get from the other projects, mainly just cuz it sounds solid and it sounds coherent. It makes sense, it has a theme, it has a path; the other shit is just like, "We made these songs, let's put 'em together and put 'em out,". It's how you frame it.
Mavin MC: I'm excited to keep doing more and getting better at doing a whole themed-out project, doing something that cohesive that works. It's also a real experimental project. I think ["Impressionable"] is one of the first songs where I really sang on a hook. Franz too [on "Change"]. We're taking chances, thats another thing that's really important.
Franz: I did not feel comfortable doing that shit [laughs] But I came up with it, so it's like, "Alright, fuck it". You have to keep trying shit to see what works. You don't know if it works until you put it out.
Mavin MC: I feel like it's a rather chill album, it's not super way-in-your-face hype, and that's one thing I like about it. A lot of our projects have been just way the fuck in your face, like "WE'RE ILL 3, BAM!", like super aggressive. This one, it's a little laid back with it.
Gimme Noise: The opening acts for the release show really span the generations of the rap scene, with veterans like Big Zach but also up-and-comers like Big Dylan and Yakub.
Freez: Big Zach, that's our big brother right there. One of the illest freestylist out here; when he gets to freestylin', he's dope as hell. His songs are nice, they're positive, they're dope as fuck so you can groove with 'em. I'm excited for that shit.
Mavin MC: We're from the Southside and Seward being part of the Southside, we had to make the lineup super-Southside.
Freez: If there's anybody that's Southside, it's Big Zach [laughs]. Greg Grease, another Southside kid, always dope as fuck. Everybody knows The Giving Tree was that shit! Yakub and Big Dylan, they're some youngin's, but they're cold, they stand out; everybody know about Audio Perm and them, they're holding it down, man.
Mavin MC: Mike Mictlan hosts, he's been the homie for a while. He's one of the creators of the Wag movement, along with Grease and Ill 3... We on that wag shit super-hard, we had to have Mike Mictlan come and rep for the squad. The wag movement is there. Something of this calibur deserves a release party. A big celebration. Any big piece of art deserves to be celebrated, and this is how we celebrate. We wag, man.
ILLUMINOUS 3 play the Hexagon Bar with openers Big Zach, Greg Grease, and Big Dylan and Yakub, with DJ Just 9 and host Mike Mictlan. Thursday, November 3, at the Hexagon Bar. 21+, free cover, 9PM doors.