Katherine Coplen: so you're not joking. this is very much serious for you.
LiL iFFy: I'm absolutely not joking
When I sat down to Gchat with the greatest wizard rapper of our time, Lil iFFy
, I'm more than prepared. In fact, I've been training for this my whole life -- well, my life since 1997, anyway. That's when I first picked up Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
as a book-obsessed 9-year-old. The rest, like they say in the YA literature, is history. I devoured each novel the day they came out; I waited in lines that curled around Barnes and Noble at midnight with the rest of my classmates. I -- now this, as an adult, this is shameful to look back upon -- dressed up for movie premieres
(as Hermione, of course).
So when I had the chance to talk to Wil Wright, known to his legion of Potterheads as LiL iFFy, about all things magical, I was ready. And so was he: after all, he's almost three full-length albums into his bizarro side project as a wizard rapper.
Katherine Coplen: let's talk about your background with harry potter -- when did you first come to the books? what was your first time reading them like?
LiL iFFy: Well, I worked at a chain bookstore. I was late to the game, jumping in at 'Chamber of Secrets.'
but it was like a drug, honestly. I think those books are impossible to be casual about.
They are built for obsession. I've read through 3 times. Still pretty narcotic, haha
When Wright started reading Harry Potter,
he was doing more than working at a bookstore, handing out thick magical tomes to pimply teens like me. He was playing with his indie pop project Senryu, making albums that are a twisted ode to the dark and light sides of pop music. But after ten years of making pop music, he was hit with a crippling bout of writer's block. To clear his head, he wrote a track called "Patron Us," an ode to tequila and wizards.
Katherine Coplen: can you pick a favorite scene or a favorite portion from the books?
LiL iFFy: I was so happy with the animation of the tale of the 3 brothers
I love the scene at the end of the Yule Ball where everybody is being super dramatic on the steps
Katherine Coplen: Ron just should have asked her. Poor Ron.
LiL iFFy: honestly, though, I think like so many fans, I was pretty wrapped up in the short-lived relationship between Sirius and Harry
Katherine Coplen: that felt like such a cruel trick by JK
pulling away the father figure
although i understand why she did it
LiL iFFy: brutal. Sirius would've never let Harry go take one for the team. No way.
Before he knew it, he had an album's worth of tracks based in the magical world he loved as a reader. It took off immediately. After a rare Daytrotter hip-hop session,
local performances and a CMJ opening party, iFFy was starting to take over the bulk of Wright's musical output.
LiL iFFy: god, it's just so real
the thing is, EVERYTHING that happens to us is a surprise
Katherine Coplen: one of my favorite quotes of yours: "Every time I pay my car insurance, I'm like, this is 100 percent money I made rapping about magic."
you're living a bit of a bizarre existence right now, i imagine
LiL iFFy: we just played at Bonnaroo. We played a major festival, with Paul McCartney and Wu Tang Clan and Bjork.....but I was rapping about Harry Potter. What is going on?
Wright isn't the first Harry Potter-based musician. There's a whole batch of them, launched by the success of Harry and the Potters, formed in Massachusetts in 2002 and quickly followed by groups like Draco and the Malfoys, The Hungarian Horntails and The Whomping Willows. It's a whole scene -- albiet one more at home on the Internet instead of any physical location. Wizard rock (wrock, as some say) has grown enough that documentaries, charitable foundations
and extensive online networks,
run by fan-of-the-fans, have popped up. This source claims there's more than 200 Harry Potter tribute groups in the world -- and that was in 2007.
It's, as they say on the Internet, a thing.
But is it where Wright and his musical associates, including producer Tom Ato and Manbaby, feel comfortable?
Katherine Coplen: do you consider yourself part of the nerdcore/geeksta rap scene? you're coming at it from a different angle, after years with Senryu
LiL iFFy: y'know, I don't really consider myself necessarily a part of that scene. And we love them, but have felt like tourists when we've been on those bills.
Perhaps it's because, for all of iFFy's thematic commonalities with other wrockers and nerdcore rappers, he really has more in common with mainstream rap than one would expect at first listen. And his flow, along with wisely chosen samples by producer Tom Ato, shows serious chops for a man who's spent the majority of his musical career singing, not rapping.
LiL iFFy: the disconnect [between nerdcore and mainstream rap bills] is hard to identify. I mean, despite all the language from Harry Potter, we're really trying to make the most legitimate rap music we can. We don't want it to sound like a joke, really. I think most of it is the same funny as regular rap music, it's just spiked with all this unlikely reference material.
LiL iFFy: when you break it down, my music is EXACTLY [like mainstream] music, plus Harry Potter. Same drugs. Same Sex. Same brags.
And there's real stories too, especially on this third album, Wright says he's always written from an autobiographical place, and writing for iFFy is no exception. Case in point: When I mention my favorite line from a new track (From "2 Doe," it's "But when your name comes up they ask me, "Still?" and I say, "Always." -- what a gut punch, am I right Severus/Lily fans?), he says it's all real, just wrapped up in weird Potter allusions.
The success of LiL iFFy has been a surprise to Wright, who laughs when I mention his Best of Knoxville win in the hip-hop category. He was invited to perform at Bonnaroo this year, and is in the midst of a tour that will take over the rest of the summer. Of course, there's a bit of bittersweetness, too.
Katherine Coplen: do you ever have any angst about the success of this venture versus your other musical projects? or is it all a happy, crazy thing?
LiL iFFy: It's frustrating, in a lot of ways. There was a pain in my heart, during our set at Bonnaroo, while we were doing the song "The Magic is Alive" when we sample Senryu.
But Senryu isn't over; in fact, Wright is writing another album with that group this summer. The weird world of iFFy has helped Wright relax more during the writing process with this band. Instead of a "manic and crazy" pace, he feels more comfortable. And soon, he'll be back full-time with Senryu, and his other new band, Weird Miracle (perhaps named in tribute of the his new magical career?). Wright plans to wrap up the LiL iFFy project after the release of his third LP this fall, completing his wizard triology.
LiL iFFy: But with this third album, there's a really compelling synthesis between 'Wandcore'
[iFFy's first album] and now
[new album 'Wand Out'], and I'd like to remember it as a complete thing with the defined start/stop.
Katherine Coplen: the three deathly rap hallows
LiL iFFy: Precisely.
Tonight, iFFy and Manbaby (the only member of his magical entourage Dude Source currently touring with Wright) will perform with Indy's own magically inclined music maker, Andy D. The show, which starts at 9 at the White Rabbit Cabaret, will begin with sets from locals Grey Granite
and John Stamps.
In a 2008 interview with Knox News
after the release of Senryu's fourth LP, Wright was quoted as saying this: "I have respect for all things that seem impossible, respect for all the supernatural and it always comes back to reward me. It's everywhere and if you open yourself up to this crazy world it shows itself."
Is this - these electric Harry Potter rap years - the result of opening himself up to the crazy world? It has to be. Has to be.