Australian rapper Illy defied the "haters" to make resolutely commercial, pop-influenced hip-hop that eventually snagged him a major-label deal and a number one album.
Born Alasdair Murray on September 6, 1986 and brought up in the beachfront Melbourne suburb of Frankston, Illy was a teenage tearaway who barely scraped through school. He got his start in hip-hop at just 13 with the local Crooked Eye Crew, with whom he released his first "mixtape" CD. Illy held down a succession of low-paying jobs before deciding to finally knuckle down -- he applied to law school and emerged some years later with a degree. Eventually, the Crooked Eye Crew split up after each of its members became too busy with their own projects, and Illy decided to pursue a solo career. He signed to the Obese label and released his debut solo album, Long Story Short, in 2009. From the outset, his music was based on strong melodic hooks and his louche, laid-back, sing-speak flow. The album hit the urban chart but did not bother the pop chart. However, he built exposure by embarking on a nationwide tour, and his sophomore effort, The Chase, released the following year, did much better, going to number 25 on the main chart.
2012's Bring It Back was his breakthrough album, going to number 15 upon release and winning him an ARIA Award (the Australian Grammys) for best urban album. Following its release, he left Obese to set up his own label, OneTwo, and signed a licensing deal with Warner Music for the release of his fourth album, 2013's Cinematic. The album was largely produced by his former Crooked Eye crewmate M-Phazes, who had since become a big name in his own right, contributing beats to the likes of Eminem. It was more "pop" than ever before, as Illy broadened his songwriting palette, and featured collaborations with numerous guest vocalists including the Hilltop Hoods, Drapht, Daniel Merriweather, and Scarlett Stevens. The album hit number five on the chart and went gold. Illy's streak of success continued with his 2016 album Two Degrees. His most pop-oriented to date, it gave him his biggest hit yet, going to number one and producing the number two single "Papercuts," featuring Vera Blue. Produced once again by M-Phazes, it also featured Rudimental's Anne-Marie on the track "Catch 22" and was nominated for no fewer than six ARIA awards. ~ John D. Buchanan, Rovi