[Interview] Fred “Toxic” Taylor and Cayex Illah Bring Mentorship and Accomplishment to Chicago
Many artists in Chicago think leaving for places like Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta is a necessary step in building their careers, and it’s an understandable notion. While the Windy City may not be known for its music industry infrastructure, Fred “Toxic” Taylor and Cayex Illah are changing the idea that the city needs to be left in order to find big time success. Both artists have made their careers with Chicago in mind, first working with Chitown legend Twista on his album Kamikaze which dropped in 2004. Since then they have worked with some of the biggest stars in the game including Keyshia Cole, Diddy, Syleena Johnson and Cardi B. This work has resulted in Grammy nominations and BET Awards but Taylor and Illah have also found sustained success in running prosperous businesses and are looking to give their experience back to Chicago in order to show young artists how to create a lasting impact. Through Audio One Music Group (record label), Toxic Productions (production company), and CMPLX 2010 (recording studios), a triad of interconnected endeavors, Taylor and Illah have created vibrant spaces for up and coming artists to discover their talents and dive into their creative spirit while also learning about the business side of the industry. This mentorship approach has lead to a symbiotic relationship with the city’s young artists and both Taylor and Illah feel they learn from the kids as much as they teach them, creating a kinship that brings the hip hop community together in an authentic, beneficial way.
“Taylor and Illah have created vibrant spaces for up and coming artists to discover their talents and dive into their creative spirit while also learning about the business side of the industry.”
Employing an open door policy has helped Taylor and Illah make connections with artists such as Laquan Green who recently signed to Toxic Productions and has achieved world renowned success thanks to his co-production of Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow, which he recently won a BET Award for. Connections like this are clearly an important aspect of Taylor and Illah’s work, not just for business reasons but also because it helps foster hope in the community. When discussing Green’s time at the BET Awards, Taylor could hardly contain his excitement, saying that the best part of the experience for him was seeing Green enjoy the moment so much. With Green being proof that Taylor and Illah both have an ear for talent and the connections to uplift that talent into a realm of success rarely seen, people should be paying attention to the other artists on their roster such as Dre Lanski and Peter Jericho (who has an Afrobeat inspired sound), both of which could see their careers explode in a similar fashion.
While they are keeping their ears in tune with the new happenings in Chicago, this formidable duo is still working with some of the industry’s most established talents. One big undertaking they’re currently working on is an exclusive collaboration with Syleena Johnson, teasing the project by saying “although she’s a polished artist we’re doing something very new with her and we’re very excited about where we’re about to take her in the next upcoming months.” Part of the crew’s home town team along with Twista, Johnson has been a regular collaborator and has trusted her talents with Taylor and Illah for years. She isn’t the only Chicago artist to place trust in the duo’s skills and with artists like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Katy Got Bandz, and Sasha Go Hard all being connected to them in one way or another, they have become some of the most respected industry men in the city. This ongoing work with established, highly regarded artists will continue helping Taylor and Illah achieve their goal of impacting and inspiring the city’s youth in a positive manner.
“[Syleena Johnson] isn’t the only Chicago artist to place trust in the duo’s skills and with artists like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Katy Got Bandz, and Sasha Go Hard all being connected to them in one way or another, they have become some of the most respected industry men in the city.”
Having positive, successful role models is important for young musicians who might have the creative mind for music but not the necessary direction and Taylor and Illah are proving to be strong mentors for the city’s youth. It’s hard to ignore the allure of the multi platinum plaques and Grammy nominations under the duo’s belt and they turn that initial fascination into an opportunity for artists to grow under their guidance, showing them the ropes as they hone their skill. With their own musical journeys being so full of accomplishments, it’s great seeing a pair like Taylor and Illah give back to the community and their tree of influence has the roots to support an abundance of branches, making their impact powerful and lasting.
You can read the whole transcribed Q+A below
Can you talk a little about Toxic Productions?
Toxic: Yeah Toxic Productions got started about 15 maybe 16 years ago when we started working on Twista’s project. We were working with a company called Legit Ballin’ and we did an album, it was actually, we did a few albums with Twista, we had a company and so that’s where we formed the company at and we started to work on Twista’s project which led us to Kamikaze which was the first album we put out in 2004.
That’s awesome, that’s dope. So with Toxic Productions I know that you’ve worked with some really big names such as Cardi B, Syleena Johnson, and then you’ve also worked with Keyshia Cole and Diddy among others. What’s it been like working with those kind of artists?
Toxic: Yeah I’ll jump in here and I’ll let Cayex kinda chime in but you know, it was amazing experiences particularly with Twista and Syleena Johnson, kinda like our home team that we have worked with numerous years. Working with those types of artists will kind of teach you and give you the ability to learn from an artist’s perspective, it made us better as producers being able to work with them and actually, and it kind of prepared us for other artists that we would be working with. Keyshia Cole too, she’s a great friend of ours and she’s a really talented artist and working with that kind of talent really makes you better as a producer overall.
Cool, so along those lines you recently worked with Cardi B on the track Bodack Yellow and actually got a BET award from it, can you tell me a little what it was like working on that song and how that came together.
Toxic: Well that song was very simple, we signed a producer named Laquan Green, just to clarify Toxic Productions is a production team of producers and writers, so we signed, one of the producers we signed, Laquan Green, he actually co-produced the record with Jay White and we was just out in L.A., he had an amazing time at the BET Awards and we were happy to come home with the award man.
That’s awesome, what was that experience like at the BET Awards? Was that the first time Laquan had been out to something like that or was he in tune with that scene already?
Fred: Yeah! that was his first time, man and for me it was an amazing experience for him to experience that for the first time because, you know, that was something that was fresh and new for him and he just had an amazing time. You can see from some of his pictures he was smiling so big on the pictures, you know what I’m saying. He’s a very humble guy too so you know, it was just a great time for me to mentor him and kind of lead him the right way towards getting to that point to have a have an opportunity to be out there and win an award.
How did you and Laquan meet for the first time? And how did you go about signing him?
Toxic: Well, funny thing I was, Cayex and I, we keep our ears to what’s going on in the street and also ears to what’s going on online and I had started hearing about a lot of producers that were actually you know, not getting their proper chops or proper money from what they were doing online. So I had started going after producers to kinda guide them back into understanding that it’s about a business too and about getting your proper royalties on all your songs and stuff like that and Laquan happened to be one of the producers that, I really liked his material and I kinda wanted to help so I signed him 2 years ago and the journey started you know. It started then we ran into the Bodack Yellow situation and the rest is history.
So what are some other things Toxic Production artists are working on now and when can we expect to hear that work?
Toxic: Yeah well we’re working right now on…
Cayex: Actually this is Cayex speaking, right now we’re working with Syleena Johnson we’re producing and recording her next album actually. We’re also working with an artist named Peter Jericho and also working with an artist, Dre Lanski, he’s also with Audio One and Toxic Productions. We’re looking to release some of these records very soon, this fall possibly next summer. Or spring…
Toxic: By the way we’re actually producing, along with Syleena Johnson a Syleena project, so it’s gonna be solely our project.
Wow that’s awesome, that’s very cool. Syleena is a dope artist. So you mentioned that Toxic Productions is also a part of the Audio One Music Group. Can you talk a little about that and what that is?
Audio One is basically a conglomerate of recording studios that we also have called CMPLX 2010, Toxic Productions and Audio One is all under one umbrella. So it’s basically a record label, production company and recording studio.
After doing some research i saw that you’re really trying to foster the hip hop community in Chicago. Can you talk a little about some things that you’ve done to help grow that community and other things you have planned?
Toxic: Okay, I mean things that we’ve done, we’re actually pretty much, here at Audio One and CMPLX 2010, we have an open door policy pretty much to young artists to you know, come in with us, they’re all welcome at any time and we have multiple recording studios and we give them the opportunity to kind of hone their skills so to speak and be around positive people and a positive environment where they can just make their music and be creative. And we focus on producers as well, signing talented producers in the city and kind of mentoring them and helping them learn the business but also giving them our experience creatively to be better producers as well.
Yeah, that’s great because you do have a lot of awesome experience that other people definitely don’t have. So along those lines, with that experience, you’ve both been a part of some big things including getting nominated for Grammys and working with some of these really big artists. What do you consider your most important accomplishment so far?
Cayex: This is Cayex I’m gonna just chime in really quickly and let Toxic take over. I think you know, having those accolades of Grammy, multi platinum plaques throughout our facility is important because when young kids come inside of here you know, from the streets, from rough conditions in their homes, tough social environments, for them to see and to kick it and talk and hang around us, for them to see that we have Grammy nominations and multi platinum plaques throughout but they see that they can talk to us and be just regular and around us, I think that’s important because it gives them something to strive for, it becomes real to them because they can see it and touch it and they can see and touch us as well, you feel me. From that aspect i think its important just to give them inspiration and motivation.
Toxic: Yeah cuz for us it was a tougher road I would think. We began so, today it’s not as traditional, so for them to kind of see both aspects is something that we strive to give them, you know. And we learn from them as well, you know the kids are doing things a lot different too, so having that comradery and being able to associate with them and learn from each other is important for us as well.
Cool so who are some artists who have come in and you’ve worked with that you feel like deserve some more love, deserve some more attention?
Toxic: Definitely an artist we got, we got some crazy new artists. Like I said, Dre Lanski, Peter Jericho. Syleena, although she’s a polished artist we’re doing something very new with her and we’re very excited about where we’re about to take her in the next upcoming months. But it’s just so many artists here in Chicago that have not gotten their just do and that’s why its important for us to kind of bring some of this stuff home, that’s why we started Audio One because you don’t have to go to L.A., New York, Atlanta to do what you can actually do here with the right resources and the proper funding, we can make these things happen.
Cayex: And that’s what we’re trying to do we’re trying to create a situation where we can get the funding so everything can be done here, which we already do. We just want to step it up a bit because we want it to be able to you know, cut the checks so to speak and create an industry in our home because the artists are here but we need the business aspect as far as the city. You know cuz if you go to L.A. you can be right downtown and see the Capitol Records building or if you go to New York you can go to their downtown area and walk into Sony or Warner and things like that which artists in Chicago can’t do and that’s what our goal at audio one and CMPLX 2010 and so forth is.
Yeah the talent is definitely there, I feel like I find a new artist everyday who’s wildly talented. So you guys have your hands in a lot of different aspects in the business, from musician, producer all the way up to manager and CEO. Where do you both think you’ve had the most impact and what’s your favorite role to play?
Toxic: I just want to put an addition to what you said, we also do video, photo, videography, choreography, anything media. We’re a media company, but you said where do I feel we’ve had our most impact?
Toxic: I would say musically. Or socially.
Cayex: A lot of the artists that have had worldwide success such as a Chief Keef, artists like Katy Got Bandz, Lil Durk, Sasha Go Hard, all of these artists have come through CMPLX 2010, Audio One, Toxic Productions one way or another. So you know, because we are like a home for artists to get that first initial music start for the most part, you know what I mean? So I would say musically and socially.
Toxic: Yeah and this is what we started to realize, the impact we could have with all of the accolades and things that we’ve accomplished, the experiences that we had are definitely an inspiration to the younger youth for seeing that they can actually get to the next level so it’s important for us to actually, with this music, to put a social part in there now because there’s so many people that walk through our doors who a lot of times don’t want to walk out the door with, we want them to walk out of the door with a good experience and knowing that they can actually accomplish what we’ve accomplished. Not just musically, socially and in the business as well
Cayex: Because also, we let them know, we came from the same place as you.
Yeah that’s super important too because yeah, showing that that success is possible is dope. That’s all I have for questions, I really appreciate you taking the time out to do this today!