While the duo no longer needs any introduction in the Grand Rapids hip-hop scene, ConvoTronics wants its new album, IllKillSchematics, to serve as something of a reintroduction.
Now consisting of MCs Cory Harris (aka 4NZIX) and Julius Hayes (aka Jous82) — along with DJ Dean Martian — the group has reduced in size from when Harris started the crew nearly a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean its retro-futuristic sound has stopped expanding.
“People actually started gravitating to us more when there was only two of us,” Harris said of ConvoTronics’ recent rise. “So go figure that.”
Harris, 35, has been rapping nearly his whole life. He started out memorizing D.M.C.’s lines from the seminal 1986 Run-D.M.C. LP, Raising Hell, when he was only four years old. Performing the songs for friends and family, Harris got hooked on crafting his own rhymes and hasn’t looked back since.
He and Hayes first met as foes on the middle-school gridiron, but then became fast friends. Hayes didn’t dig into hip-hop until later, however, when he and Harris reconnected after they had graduated high school.
Harris established himself in the Grand Rapids scene, performing with influential Grand Rapids hip-hop ensemble La Famiglia. He then started ConvoTronics alongside Hayes, former DJ Tony O, AGYLYTY and others.
“I feel like I single-handedly helped evolve the rhyme of Grand Rapids, period,” Harris said. “I’ve been around since there were no hip-hop groups doing shows anywhere. I was one of the first people to do shows at The Intersection, (where we) opened for (Talib) Kweli. … To see where it’s at now, it’s beautiful, because now we’ve got a whole bunch of different rap crews coming out of the woodworks.”
ConvoTronics has even closer ties with The Pyramid Scheme now as both Harris and Hayes work at the venue. Back in February, they had the honor of opening for legendary Wu-Tang Clan member GZA at The Pyramid Scheme and on April 8 the group will return to the stage for the release of IllKillSchematics.
“In life you have to build and destroy,” Harris said. “That’s the ultimate goal of the album, to express that in clever ways. Basically, it represents a new beginning for us.”
ConvoTronics recorded IllKillSchematics with GR hip-hop veteran Nixon at his studio. The set features production by Harris, Nixon, Moziac and Sir Manley, as well as a rare singing appearance from MC Lady Ace Boogie.
Inspired by Harris’ favorite album, Nas’ Illmatic, IllKillSchematics is also a nod to the landmark record’s game-changing impact.
ConvoTronics has been working on the album for the last two and a half years and will release it through Grand Rapids’ Hot Capicola Records.
“Those guys are just good, positive people who want to put out good music,” Harris said of Hot Capicola. “I wouldn’t want to put this album out under any other label.”
Together with Hot Capicola, ConvoTronics hopes to build an international buzz like the one they have here in West Michigan.
“That’s the whole goal, to take it to places like Japan or Europe,” Harris said. “I’m not saying America has completely lost its love for the real hip-hop or the good hip-hop, but it’s more appreciated in other regions of the world at this point. But we’ll go anywhere in the U.S. that’ll have us. We’re ready.”
ConvoTronics’ IllKillSchematics Release Show wsg. AOK, DJ Dean Martian, Bevlove, Heavy Color
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
April 8, 8 p.m., $8-10
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758