By Rob van Alstyne
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By Emily Weiss
Four years ago, I.B.E told the tale of a Nigerian-born immigrant struggling to find stability and cultural acceptance. Released as part of his The Feel mixtape, "Make the Road By Walking" showed the long-time protégé and backing vocalist for I Self Devine stepping out as a solo artist, and sharing his family legacy in the process. By the way, the immigrant was I.B.E's father.
I.B.E is a quietly serious person when he meets with City Pages for an interview at the Midtown Global Market. Hints of his booming stage presence hide just underneath the surface. His father's story mirrors his own — one of Intelligent Black Enterprise. The dedicated son born Ibrahim Oduniyi maintains the integrity, power, and drive he portrays his father as having: "I wasn't even a twinkle in my papa's eye yet/But when I heard the story I knew where I got my grind at."
Now on his official debut, This, That and the Third, I.B.E revisits rapping by proxy, relating his experiences through those of others — friends, family, romantic partners. Lead single "Bottomless Bottom" depicts true events from his time as a youth worker, albeit not his own. It's a difficult, violent listen, as children take retribution for bullying and sexual assault, and the weight of I.B.E.'s powerful chorus makes it simultaneously jarring and soulful.
i.b.e. and benzilla play an album-release show on Sunday, July 14, at Pourhouse; 612.843.2555
Detailing life's pressures is a recurring theme, and though there are plenty of lighter tracks that showcase positive releases from stress ("High Life" with M.anifest is particularly joyful), this song hangs heavy. I.B.E hopes telling these stories is beneficial. "Nothing can move you but you," he says.
Co-helmed by veteran local producer Benzilla, the record grew from a shorter project into something bigger as their chemistry strengthened. Best known for working with BK-One on the Rhymesayers release Rádio do Canibal, Benzilla provides the funk- and soul-driven beats throughout, and the two are a natural fit.
"The way the beat moves, the melodies and breakdowns, he just came in and spit it correctly," says Benzilla, who brought in Mike Swoop to engineer the project and add extra flourishes. "People are A.D.D. nowadays — you can't have just a basic beat going on. [There's] a lot of change-ups, drops, and switches."
Associated with I Self Devine since 2008, I.B.E learned a lot about the craft from "the OG of the whole city" — especially the penchant for building scenes and characters in his songs. "He put me in that zone of [being] a perfectionist, to help better refine what I've been working on," says I.B.E. Screenwriting classes at MCTC also helped him approach songs more visually.
Taking the scene outside himself makes it a more organic piece, says I.B.E. "I don't want it to be a narrative, I want it to be more like a mosaic. Different pieces all clumped in together that create one picture, but when you take them away they stand by themselves. I think that's kind of Minneapolis in a sense," he says. In presenting other's experiences as his own, I.B.E. makes This, That and the Third a statement of the universal struggle.
"To be able to display that within a project makes perfect sense to me with how I was raised," he adds. "It's not so much me looking inside of myself, it's me looking out and seeing what's happening, being that person inside the situation thinking critically about it."