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Salvation

Unapologetic amid his demons, Houston rapper iLL LiaD preps his newest album.

This is a conversation that had to happen, even if it wasn't supposed to.

iLL LiaD, aka Brandon Rodriguez, is sitting in the lobby of McDonald's in St. Luke's in the Medical Center. He is 23 years old, and looks exactly like a 23-year-old.

Rodriguez is married, but does not live with his wife. He lives at home with his parents, which sort of has something to do with his kicking a cop car, but really has to do with addiction. Everything tends to spiral back to addiction for him.

iLL LiaD struggled through addiction and his brother's death to make Dope 6ic.
Katya Tanklevskaya / Art Duo
iLL LiaD struggled through addiction and his brother's death to make Dope 6ic.

Location Info

Map

Mango's

403 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Music Venues

Region: Montrose

Details

iLL LiaD

With Twenty Eleven, Testify, Bryce2Fly, Bobby Earth, JpD, Loxx, Harts of Oak, 606 Ent. and P.O.M., 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at Mango's, 403 Westheimer, 713-522-8903 or www.mangoscafehouston.com.

Rodriguez recorded a rap album last year and released it on December 31. He called it Salvation, but many who listened found it sacrilegious. In "Feel My Pain," for example, he shouts, "So witness my pain, it's for all of the brainwashed kids that get told to join a religion 'cause we have nothing else to offer."

He doesn't, or isn't, denouncing God — on the contrary, Rodriguez is especially spiritual in thought — he is disassembling Man's preternaturally secular role in a religious context. God is always good, but men can be evil.

iLL LiaD spends a good portion of the album arguing towards his thesis statement. You can pick it out easily if you pay attention. Even if you don't, though, it's hard to miss — the very first song is a Screwed church hymn, and the cover features a picture of a big cross.

"I wasn't saying that I was Jesus or that I am a savior," says Rodriguez, "I was saying that I'm a savior for Houston rap."

This is how iLL LiaD talks. Sometimes the pieces fit together, sometimes they don't. He says he's not a savior, but when we asked him for press pictures for this story, he sent three. One of them was a close-up of him, shirtless, bloodied and wearing a crown of thorns.

At the moment, Rodriguez is eating an ice cream cone, the only thing he ordered from the cashier. That humming noise fluorescent lights make sounds extra loud right now. A bulb might be loose or about to go out or whatever. People flow in and out of the place. A Latino man is standing in the corner with three tiny kids that are likely his children. One of them, a tiny boy in a stroller built to look like a big plastic car, is flipping the fuck out.

Rodriguez has two sons. He never gets to see the one who lives in The Woodlands. He lost those rights because he was, in his own words, an unfit father at the time of the birth. He was addicted to Xanax then.

"I'm a horrible person when I'm on drugs," Rodriguez states.

He gets pictures, but that's it. He hasn't smelled his firstborn son's hair in two years. His other son, his current wife's child, he sees him regularly. He's hopeful that their budding family will come back together soon, but he wouldn't be terribly surprised if it didn't. Bad things happen.

In 2004, Rodriguez overdosed on a tranquilizer that doctors prescribe to insomniacs. In 2006, he overdosed on crack cocaine. In 2008, he overdosed on Ecstasy.

Rodriguez has a history of drug abuse.

He started taking drugs in middle school. He went to Pershing Middle and Bellaire High. In high school, he smiled a lot. He played baseball and was a dancer — jazz, contemporary and hip-hop.

His mother was a psychiatrist and his father owned a commercial contracting company. They had money. And his friends (mostly white) did too, enough that there was a disconnect between what a parent/child relationship should have been and what, regarding Rodriguez and his friends, they actually had.

"It was really weird," recalls Rodriguez. "We'd all get together and do drugs. All of the parents knew. But most of the kids came from homes where they were divorced or just didn't care. They'd give 'em money and let 'em do what they wanted to."

When Rodriguez's father became ill in 2003, he had to stop working. They didn't have money anymore, at least not as much as Rodriguez needed, so he started dealing drugs. He'd go to Third Ward or Fifth Ward, buy what he needed, then sell it to high-school kids.

He sold them everything. He sold them crack cocaine and told them it was freebase cocaine. Later, he started using his own drugs and things quickly unraveled.

Rodriguez is not chunky, but he's not thin, either. His shoulders push forward, his neck following, lowering his chin. He wears glasses, two (fake) diamond earrings and a wedding ring. He does not immediately look like a recovering drug addict, but that's the point. Rodriguez has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers enough to understand that he will never be Recovered, only Always Recovering.

Sometimes, Rodriguez can feel the pressure of being a responsible adult mounting, be it working a job or reconciling his love life or generating a musical career out of nothing. It mashes down on him. He feels it figuratively, and right now, he almost feels it literally, too.

Seven floors above him, Rodriguez's father has just been moved from the ICU into a traditional hospital room. His liver no longer works. Rodriguez explains that his dad contracted hepatitis C, which is basically shutting down his innards and getting progressively worse.

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12 comments
Gregbryan21288
Gregbryan21288

Brandon...man. I was with you then i will be with you onward.

Skailight
Skailight

iLL LiaD, you have lost many battles, man... but you will win the war. I wish you the best of luck with your new album. There are many people out there who need some hope. Maybe you are the man to bring it. Mad Propz.

wayword
wayword

After reading this I think there is much purpose behind each breath Brandon takes. Day in and day out people romance the thought of giving up when confronted by hardships and "demons"; but the truth is that there is always someone out there who has overcome or are currently fighting worse odds. Whether it be loss of loved ones, addiction, not being able to hug your kids, or whatever circumstance that may trouble us; I truely believe that without humility, understanding, and love, people like Brandon, myself, or anyone out there who hurts would not have another beat in our hearts to keep pushing.

Khama
Khama

You have to respect the courage this man shows by going through it an not giving up. iLL Liad isn't just one of the realest in Houston, he's one of the realest period!

Ruass_21
Ruass_21

Great story, go far kid!

Eatmorechicken
Eatmorechicken

Just picked this up today at Lucky Burger and this story is great. It's good to know that the Houston Press is actually following good music with great story's behind them! To ill laid your going places very soon in your future i know it!

Christopher KrisKrunk Folmer
Christopher KrisKrunk Folmer

props to Ill Liad for fighting the demons and doing his thing... reverse props to Houston Press for a bad read.

10X
10X

WOW talk about someone who has been through hell and back. Your story is a strong one brother. One must go through the wilderness to reach the mountains

Flash123
Flash123

this guys a fucking soldier.see you on top homie

Bennetterica12
Bennetterica12

My sister quell told us on fb to read your story well I wish u the best and keep your head!

QUELL5686
QUELL5686

GREAT STORY ILL AND HATS OFF TO YOU FOR BEING REAL ABOUT YOURSELF AND LIFE I KNOW YOU PERSONALLY AND NONE OF THESE HHARDSHIPS YOU BENN THRU HAS CHANGE THE GREAT PERSON I NO YOU TO BE MUCH LUV ILL!!! LOVE QUELL

 
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