Columbus expat finally releases his decade-in-the-making full length
When Tim Gmeiner was a child growing up in Dayton, Ohio, his mother injured her back on the job, leading to myriad physical complications that have spanned decades. On regular intervals, she would slip or fall, causing a painful flare-up that could undo months of self-guided therapy.
“She would have this cycle where she would fall and be hurt really bad, and she would cry and be depressed and angry, and then she would get back up and she would start walking,” said Gmeiner, best known by his rap name, Ill Poetic. “We lived in an apartment complex across from a park, and at first she would just walk to the entrance. … Then, the next week, she might walk to the top of the first hill. The park was maybe a mile long in total, and every week, week after week, she would walk maybe another 500 feet farther than the last week, until we got to the very end. It took weeks and weeks and months to get to this point, and it was such an amazing feeling of victory.
“I think the biggest thing is, though, she would make it to the end and then she would fall again, and then the same cycle would start all over again. … It could have felt pointless, but she kept doing it. And maybe you don't know why you keep doing it, but maybe you keep doing it because the other option is way worse. … You have to start somewhere and keep going.”
A similar drive has propelled the rapper/producer's music career, which he traces in unflinching detail on his most recent full-length, An Idiot's Guide to Anarchy, detailing early years marked by crises of confidence (“Yesterday”) and financial hardship. “Sleeping in cars, it ain't shit to me, man,” he spits on the muscular, indefatigable “Ill Communication (Get Busy).” “I sacrificed for this/Who give a fuck if they feeling me?”
Conceived, written and recorded over the course of a decade, An Idiot's Guide serves as more than a travelogue marking these various external signposts. Rather, much of the album's back half traces a shift within the rapper, who, at age 35, now approaches music with a different purpose than he did in his mid-20s. “I used to want to be the coldest rapper,” he rhymes early on the lush, languid “Adapting (Stripped)” — the deeper implication being that content and connection now trump cleverness for the one-time battle MC.
“By the end [of ‘Adapting'], I'm like, ‘I'd rather make the music conversational,'” said the Columbus expat and current San Diego resident, who will celebrate the album's release with a concert at Notes on Friday, Dec. 8. “With that, you realize you're not really going to be considered the coldest MC on a technical level. … I realized I might never be looked at as a top-tier technical MC because I let go of focusing on those things. They're still ingrained in my style, sure, but I'm not as interested in them anymore if it takes away from the connection and the honesty and the emotion.”
Gmeiner marries this newfound simplicity to a host of complex beats, a handful of which draw heavy inspiration from the Dayton funk scene, such as the riotous, horn-stoked “8:44.”
“With a record like this, I would hope that a 50-year-old who came up with Ohio Players and Zapp & Roger would not just hear a younger artist who sampled their shit and put 808s on it and said, ‘I made a beat out of funk,'” he said. “I'd want them to say, ‘Whoa, you got inside of the funk.'”
This deeper dive required intense study and musical submersion, which accounted, in part, for the album's lengthy creative timeline. In addition, the rich, layered sounds Gmeiner envisioned in his head were just beyond his technical grasp when he started, and the various projects he tackled in the interim, including solo EPs (Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement, from 2012) and outside production work (he helmed Instinctive Drowning, the 2016 album by Michigan rapper Red Pill), were essential to developing the needed skillset.
“I wanted to make a record I didn't know how to make,” he said. “This is the monument I've been building over the past 10 years, using these other projects as practice.”
As a result, Gmeiner said one of the most difficult parts of the process was coming to terms with the idea that it was finally time to let go of something that had become so fused with his being.
“I'd mulled over kick snare and hi-hat, the frequency of every instrument. I had painstakingly been over every sheer millisecond of this record to a ridiculous degree,'” he said. Gradually, however, the difficulty involved with making virtually imperceptible changes to the music led to the revelation he might be finished. One such moment occurred as he contemplated tweaking a single snare sound on “Bleach,” the mix of which had ballooned to 160 individual tracks due to its layered vocal harmonies and sheer musical density. “I'm like, ‘Opening the file [on the computer] alone is going to take an hour, and is this one small thing worth an hour of my life? I think I might be done.'”
While much has changed in the 10 years since Gmeiner started in on An Idiot's Guide, some things haven't, and he said in the last 12 months he's seen a rise in the economic and social concerns that fueled early tracks, as well as his mom's still-lingering health issues. “This year has been whipping my ass,” he said. “It feels the absolute closest to 2007 in recent memory, and I'm not sure if that's coincidence or if I willed that into existence with this record.”
Regardless, the MC has no intention of slowing down, owing to an internal drive entwined in his bloodlines.
“For better or worse, I've been big on no Plan Bs,” he said. “If I'm going to go for it, it's total immersion. … I think that's how I get through it. I don't see any other choice.”