Things We Did Ask For: A Conversation with Doc ILLingsworth


“I didn’t ask for this!” growls a hysterical Andrew Lincoln in a monologue sampled on the intro of Doc ILLingsworth’s latest release, which takes its name from the line in question. In the original context, Lincoln plays Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. The lines are from a pivotal scene where he outright takes control of the group of survivors. “Let’s get one thing straight,” he says, his tone now grim. “You’re staying? This isn’t a democracy anymore.”

It’s a scene about the difference between assuming responsibility and having responsibility forced upon you. It’s about power and duty, pressure and insanity. When Lincoln speaks for ILLingsworth, the “this” that wasn’t asked for becomes less overtly dramatic than fighting off bloodthirsty reanimated corpses, but over the course of the album, it turns out to be something infinitely more vital. Doc puts it like this in the album notes:

having a passion for creating is something i didn’t ask for. sometimes it feels like a curse. i didn’t ask for the life-hurdles. you didn’t ask for raps.

How do we stay true to those ineffable stirrings within us, the ones that come from a place we can’t explain, yet seem to contain the most immediate, unshakable truths? For his part, Doc ILLingsworth makes beats and raps, and sometimes he reviews terrible movies he got at the dollar store.

I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS plays like a pointed observational comedy bit, alternately hilarious and sobering, covering everything from rigatoni tainted by closeted racism, to gentrification in Detroit, to Rick Snyder’s abysmal handling of the ongoing Flint water crisis, to the unshakable humility conferred by pooping your pants. It’s scope is measured by the depth of its personality, by the nuance with which ILLingsworth approaches even his nerdy daydreams and goofy anecdotes, casting them in an unexpected light, so that they come to stand for something undeniably and universally human.

As usual, ILLingsworth’s production shines in its simplicity, smooth strings and keys chopped and looped over the kind of drums you might get if you built an mpc out of pile of old game consoles. Everything sits comfortably together, while leaving plenty of space to showcase the raps in all their lyrical complexity.

Whether or not we asked for them, they are the star of this show. I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS serves as a testament to the fact that sometimes we don’t know what it is we want until we have it. As it often turns out, the things we needed most were the things for which we’d never have thought to ask.

I did ask, however, if ILLingsworth would take the time for some questions I had about raps, beats, the comedy of everyday life, and more. He obliged with some answers below.


I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS marks your first rap release under your name since your 2014 EP, giant slide. What, if anything, prompted this return to your solo lyrical endeavors?

Firstly, I have to say, my first love is rhyming. I wrote my first rhyme at five, but most people that know of me, know me for the beats. One of the main reasons I started making beats was so I’d have beats to rap on. Between giant slide and now, I’ve rapped with Sean Uppercut, Rufio Jones, and Stryfe, in my group Detroit CYDI on a project called Rap-Masters, but I’m rapping solo again because although I enjoy being able to play beats at shows, I have a lot more fun rapping. I feel like I make a deeper connection with the audience when I’m doing vocal things. In general, the best way for me to make that happen is to make new raps, so that people have a reason to ask me to/let me perform raps. Plus, I like making and performing new material because doing the same thing can get boring for most people. Also, I believe that I am better-than-bad at rapping, and my ego probably wants that to be recognized more than it has been as of yet.

 

Your production has an immediately recognizable style, which I think comes in large part from your drums, both your feels and the actual noises you use. How do you go about making your drum patterns and sounds? Do you have a general philosophy behind your percussion, or behind your production in general?

I don’t know if I really have any kind of special philosophy. Because of my background as a rapper, I think that subconsciously, I’m just making beats that elicit raps. My favorite beats that I’ve made are typically very melodic, and elicit some emotion. When I sit down to produce, I like to quickly lay down as many ideas as possible, and flesh them out later.

I don’t really labor over what type of sounds I use for my drums. And I kinda feel like you can make drums sounds out of whatever, and I’m always willing to try to make a drum sound out of whatever. You can play around with different effects, like pitch, and eq filters, and change a sound drastically. And if you’ve built  a nice groove, it kinda just works. The brain of the listener will understand what’s going on. I have a big folder of samples I’ve collected over the years and I mix and match them and tweak them until I hear something that grabs me, and then I keep it moving.

 

Your lyrics have always had an element of dark comedy to them, but I hear a little bit of Open Mike Eagle on this tape. Both on “Anxiety Rap (Why I Don’t Attend Parties)” and “As An Adult,” which reminds me thematically of “Split Pants in Detroit (or Hyrule),” a track which you produced for his EP, A Special Presentation Of. Am I hearing things, or would you say that he’s had an influence on your rapping?

I first learned of Mike through my rap bud, SelfSays. Mike has been a big source of inspiration and encouragement for sure. I actually sent him and a few other people “As An Adult” right after I made it and he gave me some encouraging words that helped boost my confidence, which propelled me towards finishing the rest of the EP sooner rather than later. He definitely has inspired me to own and inject more of my personality into my solo music. Humor might be in the top three of important things in my life, and it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy Mike’s music.

We have some similar sensibilities as far as our mutual love for stand-up comedy, and comedy in general. (If I was a braver person, I’d probably BE a stand-up comedian.) I believe he and I are both fans of MF Doom, so that’s another powerful influence. But seeing Mike really be himself in his music and connect with people was a eureka moment that definitely gave me the courage to do that more in my own tunes. I do that in my group, but rapping by yourself is a different kind of beast because you only have yourself to rely on to keep things interesting. In a group you can play off each other and playfully compete.  

In my life I’m always laughing and trying to make others laugh, so I’ve been trying to fuse that with the structured and technical delivery. As I’ve been putting that into practice, I’ve felt more pride and love for the raps I’ve been creating, because the content more mirrors my natural state. Feels way better than just saying a bunch of crazy things to try to sound cool. These last few years, I’ve kinda been plagued by a lot of anxiety but I’ve definitely found some measure of catharsis in making this project by talking about things that have affected me.

Now, from a technical aspect, I’m mostly inspired by guys like Black Thought, Elzhi, Roc Marciano and the like, but I don’t have any grand ties to the street, so when I’m on my own, I try to rap about mundane things in interesting ways. It’s worth adding that I also take a lot of inspiration from Serengeti in that regard. He has an uncanny ability to make great songs out of things you’d never really expect.

 

Your raps and the vocal samples you choose often find you meandering through realms of sci-fi and fantasy. If Doc Illingsworth were a denizen of any fictional universe, where would he reside, or can he only exist here on earth?

It’s kind of necessary that the ILLingsworth character can’t really fulfill his fantasies, and he can’t really escape the mundane, the banal, and the adverse parts of existence. He can’t choose where he gets to reside. Like, if he chose to live in a universe that only had weather of 65 degrees with light rain, something messed up would happen, and he’d be spit out into a universe that was just all desert-planets. This is really a bummer of an answer lol. I really would like to live in some kind of super advanced technological world. Like a Star Trek-esque kind of joint.

 

I’m a big fan of your videos as well, particularly your series The Dollar Show, where you review godawful bargain-bin flicks along with Rufio Jones, Stryfe and Sean Uppercut, all of whom join you here on “Caskets.”  When can we expect the next episode to drop, and what POS will you be watching this time?

Thanks for watching. The next review will be of this movie called “Space Warriors”, which contains very little space, and no war. It was really a glorified commercial for space camp. I want to get that out before May 11th. I poorly edit the videos myself on six-year-old computers lol, so it takes me awhile. We just bought the next batch of movies, so we’re gonna start watching and recording episodes in the coming weeks.

I also want to do an episode for the next Sharknado movie because that series was the initial catalyst that led to The Dollar Show. Our episode 0 is us reacting to Sharknado 3. A little after that, Rufio Jones was the one to come up with our angle of leaning towards mainly using dollar store movies.

 

Pretty much all your work has been self-released online, although vinyl fans like myself were stoked to see your instrumental album, Worth The Wait, get pressed up by Fat Beats. Any more plans for physical releases in the future? Do you prefer one form of distribution over the other?

House Shoes and I are in the process of creating the track sequence for the next instrumental project and vinyl currently. Other than that, I’m putting together some ideas for physical products that I can make and distribute myself. As a listener I love vinyl, but as a creator, I think I like the digital route better, simply because things move way faster, production and distribution-wise. I’m kind of a scatterbrain, so if things are taking a long time, the brain scatters to the next thing.

 

Do you plan on performing these tracks live? Where would a person go to see you doing that?

I think some live performances are gonna happen, but for now they are gonna be dictated by interest. So, if somebody hears some of these songs and likes them enough to book me to perform, then there it is. One of my rap buds, Mister, from a group called Passalacqua just recently asked me to perform at an event called the Rap Round Robin, so I’ll be there and I’ll probably do some things with members of my group as well. If I get too antsy, I may holler at some of my other local buds and see who wants to try to ride around and do some shows elsewhere.

 

Is there anything you’d like us to know that might influence the way we experience these raps, or would you like the songs to speak for themselves?

I just want people to get some chuckles and bob their heads. And there’s more rapping on the way this year for sure. Thanks for talking to me.


Keep up with Doc ILLingsworth here, and check out his older music here.


Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Doc ILLingsworth