Milestones & Motivation: An Uplifting Chat With Producer Illmind

Milestones & Motivation: An Uplifting Chat With Producer Illmind
Photo: Wendy Wei
When it comes to the world of music production, few are as commercially varied — and as forthcoming with inspiration —as Ramon Ibanga Jr., better known as Illmind. With a catalogue of songs that traverses artists like Grand Agent, Supastition and El Da Sensei, to JAY-Z, Drake and even the Moana soundtrack (he produced "You're Welcome"), not many producers can lay claim to his steady ascent into the upper echelon of the producer world.
 
"I had multiple turning points and milestones," he tells Exclaim!, speaking from a couch in the media room during the 2018 "Battle of the Beatmakers" conference. "The first beat I sold was to an artist who I still hold that high regard today, this rapper from Boston named Akrobatik. He was one of the first guys to not only like my beats, but like them enough to want to do a song to it. And at that time I was super stoked about that."
 
He describes that first sale as the one that let him know he was on the right path. "If it wasn't for that, I don't know if I would be still doing this, you know, because it was like that was what solidified what I thought would be my career for the rest of my life," he says.
 
Illmind also counts his work with the seminal group Little Brother, and later G-Unit (at the height of their careers) as milestones.
 
Shortly before sitting with Exclaim!, he was giving a talk to a room of up-and-coming producers, something he does often. "I'll be honest with you, it's fucking fun," he says bluntly about his desire to help lift up others. "Like that's honestly my fuel, my fuel is the idea that I get to be in a room with a bunch of like-minded people.
 
"I wouldn't even really call them aspiring musicians, you know, up and coming. I mean they are, but to me, we're all the same, you know — I just so happen to have a couple of years more experience than they have," he adds with a smile. This sharing of knowledge has been a cornerstone of his day-to-day for the better part of the past eight years. From pioneering the monetization of his drum and sample kits, to his highly motivational podcast, he's not shy about giving producers (and indirectly, creatives at large) the information they need to succeed.
 
"It's just really, really fun to me," he says as he lays out his various outlets. "I'm having a blast. So there's no reason for me to not do it. I'm enjoying every minute of it."
 
One of the more interesting topics that Illmind shared with the conference audience was the idea that the ever-hyped "signature sound" that producers were once told to strive for no longer applies. "People have this fantasy of having a signature sound," he says pointing to names like the Neptunes and Timbaland as examples of producers who dominated the scene in pre-internet hip-hop. "Because of the internet now, and because people are just so connected to each other — and have much easier access — more producers are producing music. There's more content. Everything is just kind of blending into each other.

"So to me, a signature sound is what you love to produce and that's really what it comes down to," he concludes.
 
As the interview wraps, Illmind shares one his most powerful pieces of wisdom for producers looking to turn their passion into a career. "You have to assess your situation and try to be as responsible as possible, but also realize that there is no perfect time to take that leap of faith. If you keep waiting for that 'perfect time,' it never happens.
 
"Regardless of what situation you're in, the best time to jump is now," he says. "I — knock on wood — have been fortunate enough to have taken that leap a long time ago and just bet on myself. I just bet all chips in on myself with no regard for repercussions. There's this and that, obviously, of course, I've suffered repercussions; however, what I lacked, I gained in becoming better at my passion and putting myself one step closer to reaching my dream."