Hailing from the south and west side of Chicago, legendary hip hop group, Abstract Mindstate consists of MCs Ice-Gre and Ebony Poetess the Hellcat. They have been credited with helping to lay down the foundation of Chicago rap. Some of their early production was at the hands of Chicago’s Kanye West.
Members E.P. Da Hellcat and Olskool Ice-Gre return as part of the YZY SND Imprint created by Kanye West. In July of this year, the documentary ‘We Paid Let Us In! The Legend of Abstract Mindstate” was released and detailed the journey of the Chicago emcees. The documentary features the rapper Common, comedian Deon Cole and fashion impresario Don C. They all speak to the impact of Abstract Mindstate on the culture of hip hop specific to Chicago.
Their lyrical dexterity and substance place them high among their peers and the fact that this is a duo consisting of a man and a woman makes them unique. On December 9, 2021, Abstract Mindstate along with Slum Village will perform at The Promontory in Hyde Park and is sure to reintroduce the world to a group that has helped shape the sound of a generation.
While it has been almost 20 years since their last album, their latest release, “Dreams Still Inspire” is the first release from Kanye West’s new label. The Chicago Defender spoke with the super talented duo about the state of Hip Hop, working with Kanye West, and why they feel the time is now to receive their kudos on the contributions they’ve made to Hip Hop Music and Culture.
Chicago Defender: As you both return to the music scene, what are your thoughts about the Chicago Rap Scene and the Hip Hop Scene in general?
Olskool Ice-Gre: I have two sides. I have the side with the artists like “Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and some of those legacy artists that are still around and doing big things. I absolutely love them. They embrace traditional hip hop and that sound. I call it “ACH”, Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop. ACH leans heavily on the aesthetics that made us love the art form. There’s a focus on the lyrics. It’s not just about making a beat or a track but it’s about making a song and creating projects. So, there are artists in Chicago and nationwide who do that and I love those young guys and young women that are out here getting it in. Then there’s that other side. Hip Hop has always been multifaceted however in Chicago, everything is real. It’s not fabricated so it’s so much death and darkness associated with some of the music, particularly “Drill Music” so it’s hard to say the music is cool because it’s darker. My tastes lean more to the light. you know what I’m saying? So, in that regard, I would say, I have an affinity for what’s going on, we have some amazing young new artists, male and female in the hip hop scene, but when it comes to certain hip hop music, like drill, I’m going to be honest, I’m not really too happy with it, because it’s just too much death. We are losing too many young lives because it’s happening through the music. They are literally fighting in their songs, and it creates real-life death.
Chicago Defender: So much has happened since you were last out. What made you decide to come back out and make music again?
E.P. Da Hellcat: It definitely wasn’t us. We were satisfied with the lives that we were living at that time and still are. We were both successful in our lives and our professions. It was ‘Ye. He thought it would be an excellent idea for us to come back out because he felt that the world needed our brand of Hip-Hop. The world needed this type of movement and this type of music. It was time for some healing. Healing for our people, healing for the arts, and to remind the world of what real hip hop is. It’s about the power of music and the power of your words. They can produce or they can tear down.
Chicago Defender: I have to say having you return to the music is a good look for Chicago and the culture.
Olskool Ice-Gre: We’ve been put in a position where we are blessed to be ourselves. We are repping our age group and proudly saying we are 49 and 50 years old and we are still Hip-Hop. The cool thing is that the kids are loving it. They have accepted and welcomed us more than we thought. We like to call it a uniquely blessed opportunity.
Chicago Defender: What lessons have you learned about yourselves as artists or about the industry in the last 20 years?
E.P. Da Hellcat: I think those lessons are reflected in our latest album. There are different nuggets in each song. Lessons about being aware of the company you keep, building your credit, and knowing how to step into the world as an adult-it’s like a book that I wish I read when I was 17 or 18.
Chicago Defender: Let’s talk about the new project, “Dreams Still Inspire”.
Olskool Ice-Gre: It’s just like EP said, the project is like a pamphlet of 11 songs. At this age, we are still able to deliver a solid project and resource while keeping that flavor from the 90s and 2000s. I’m proud of that. We still have that swag. The lyrics, metaphors, and everything. I think it is critical to be able to do both and I think that’s what people see and hear when they listen to the album. It’s real hip hop with real-life lessons but it’s not preachy. If it was the young people wouldn’t get into it.
Kanye told us he was going to put us in a position where we would never play a “rapper” but be one.
Chicago Defender: What do you think he meant by that?
Olskool Ice-Gre: Playing a rapper means doing all the unnecessary things that one associates with rap music. Things like being materialistic, etc. 90% of this is not real. I learned that a long time ago. So many artists are characters they created and are nothing like their personas in real life.
Chicago Defender: Talk to me about your documentary, “We Paid, Let Us In”
E.P. Da Hellcat: The title was from our first album and the film chronicles our journey from the beginning till now. It’s about all of the ups and downs we have faced and the in-between moments. We show why things happened the way they did, our relationship with Kanye, and just shows where we are now.
Chicago Defender: It’s your first show in 20 years, are you nervous, excited, or both?
Olskool Ice-Gre: I’m just excited. I’m just ready to get up there and entertain. We always give an energetic performance that the people seem to like, embrace. There’s some nervousness but mostly excitement.
Chicago Defender: What are you both looking forward to the most as you think about the future of Abstract Mindstate?
Olskool Ice-Gre: I’m excited about building the audience we’ve always dreamed of having. Finally, in 2022 we will be going on tour with Slum Village. They are one of our favorite groups so it’s cool to be on tour with a group we love so much. It’s great that Slum Village thinks we are a worthy group and our sounds mesh. I can’t wait to build our audience on an international level.
E.P. Da Hellcat: I think I’m most looking forward to the recognition. We have been deserving and steadfast in the craft. It’s about the recognition of what we have done for all of these years. For me, it’s people realizing the depth of what we do and how long we’ve done it and expressing their appreciation for it.
Abstract Mindstate performs at the Promontory in Hyde Park Thursday, December 9, 2021, at 9 pm. Tickets are available here.