Last updated: 01/19/2010 11:00:00 AM
Faced with an industry that regularly spits out Next Big Things, it's sometimes tough to figure out who the truly skilled are. It's hard to separate those who are being blown up because someone in the head office said to do so from those who are getting love because their talent simply cannot be denied.
From the moment the streets heard Amil it was clear that this young woman was the real thing. With her laid-back, but hard-hitting flow, Amil shined on the smash singles "Can I Get A..." "Jigga What?" and "Do It Again." Immediately the public recognized that this woman was someone to be taken seriously.
With the support of the Roc-A-Fella Records camp, the admiration of the fans and the press and a sound that was totally her own, it seemed only a matter of time before Amil went from being a featured artist to a star in her own right.
That time is now and the vehicle is All Money Is Legal. Working with hot producers like Rockwilder and Track Masters, featuring folks like Destiny's Child's Beyoncé (on "I Got That") and Roc-A-Fella labelmates Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, and Memphis Bleek (on "For Da Fam"), boasting sizzling tracks written 100% by Amil herself, All Money Is Legal announces the arrival of a bona fide star.
"For a female in this game to write her own stuff is a big statement," Amil says. "I hope that with All Money Is Legal, people will get the chance to hear what I have to say and the life that I've lived."
All Money Is Legal gives you many facets of that life. For example, "Quarrels," which Amil calls the deepest cut on the album. "Quarrels" features Carl Thomas and talks about temptations and the Devil. "Smile" is an honest and unflinching page out of Amil's biography. On "How U Wanna Get Down," Amil steps out of her role as outspoken rapster and offers proof of her prowess as a singer. According to Amil, "All of these songs were just in me and finally it was time to let them out."
Amil--the child of a black American father and European/Cherokee mother and--was raised in New York City. "I've lived in all five boroughs," Amil smiles. "I'm just a real New York girl."
Amil grew up in love with--and under--the influence of hip-hop. "When Fearless 4, Run DMC and all those groups came out I would go to the store and buy the albums and rap off of the instrumentals," Amil recalls. "It was just something that was in me and I would just sit in my room and work on all of these rhymes."
Eventually Amil left her room and, by the time she was 12, began to rock the mike at talent shows. By the time she'd entered high school, Amil had graduated to laying rhymes on homegrown mix tapes, and performing at neighborhood parties." I wasn't out to get a deal, or become famous," Amil says. "I just had this street love for it." And the streets had love for her as well, so much so that some of Amil's raw mix tapes found their way into label offices, brought there by friends who knew she had the goods to make it. Yet Amil never pursued a label deal and just kept refining her craft on the low.
By 1997 Amil had formed a group, Major Coins, and it was through one of its members that Amil met Jay-Z. Jay was recording Vol.2 Hard Knock Life and wanted one of the women in Major Coins to record "Can I Get A...." Amil accompanied her group mate to the recording session and Jay asked Amil to freestyle. Jay then asked if Amil would perform on the track but Amil was conflicted since the other woman was a friend and the song was supposed to be hers. Eventually both Amil and the other female rapper would both record their own versions of "Can I Get A..." and Jay selected Amil to be on what would be one of the biggest hip-hop singles of 1998. Soon thereafter, Major Coins broke up amicably and Amil embarked on her career as hip-hop's most in-demand featured female artist.
As a member of the Roc-A- Fella family, Amil was part of 1999's Hard Knock Life Tour, which remains the most successful hardcore hip-hop tour ever. "The tour was crazy," Amil offers. "There was a lot of love."
When she came off the road Amil went back into the studio, adding her unique vocal style to tracks by Tamar, Jermaine Dupri, Beanie Sigel and Mariah Carey. She also collaborated with Funkmaster Flex on his "Live From the Tunnel" project and worked once again with Jay-Z on his fourth CD. "I always just ended up in the studio, working with someone," Amil smiles. With a string of hits already on her résumé and growing interest in what she had to say, on her own, it was only natural for Amil to sign as a solo act in the spring of 1999. "I had always wanted to be a solo artist," Amil offers. "That was my goal from the beginning and it might have taken a little bit longer and it might have taken a different direction, at first, but I always knew that I would do my own project."
The first thing that Amil had to establish was that she was her own woman and no man's puppet. That nobody was putting words in Amil's mouth became clear as soon as Amil began work on her album. "We went in and we started knocking out joints like this," Amil snaps her fingers. "The whole thing was great. No drama, no big names, just me spitting and telling my stories."
Asked to describe her debut and Amil is thoughtful, "I just think that this album is a real album. I had to take it to every level on this album, have some sh*t for people who are into ice and all that and then have something for the folks out there hustling. I also did songs for kids, with no curses or bad words because that's part of me, as well. Basically All Money Is Legal is my story but it's also a story everyone can relate to, and it's real, because it's me and it's my truth and it's my life."