Pedigree provides a distinct advantage for athletes and artists alike. Timothy “Guilla” Russel’s musical lineage includes a mother on the verge of becoming a prima donna in the Italian opera scene. His father, likewise, is an accomplished DJ with one of the dopest record collections on the planet. Thus, when the prospect of a collaboration with a star of the Houston Opera company Alicia Gianni surfaced, he could not resist seizing the opportunity.
“My favorite movie since I was a kid has always been the Bruce Willis flick The Fifth Element,” Guilla remarks. “As a kid I had it on VHS and would watch the opera scene in the film over and over again. As corny it may sound, that was my inspiration behind the project. It's just something I always wanted to work with.”
Guilla is expanding his production chops by taking classes on sound engineering. He continues to make connections with some of hip-hop luminaries as GZA, Raekwon and most recently Brandon “Bizzy” Holloman, the guitarist who performed on The Weeknd’s hugely successful album, Beauty Beyond the Madness. In other words, Guilla desires to become not only the spectacularly charismatic performer that people have come to know and love, but a well-rounded artist who understands every nuance of what it takes to become successful in the music industry.
The Houston Press spoke with one of Houston’s hardest grinders in the game and discussed with him about the seemingly endless number of projects he currently has in the works, and his plans for continued success.
Houston Press: Since our last interview, using the term “busy” to describe your activity within Houston’s music scene is a huge understatement. Knowing that you have been working on a variety of projects, take me through the projects that you are currently working on and the projects that you are planning to accomplish in the future.
Guilla: Yeah, I have been very busy since my last EP drop! I am working on a new EP entitled Indie Films, which is a conceptual project based around the different facets of my imagination. There is also an album that I am working on that is being produced by iLL-Faded and myself that has not been titled yet. And finally I am working on an Opera project with Alicia Gianni as the lead vocalist and co-produced by Jonathan Lee Chan of Sugar Hill Studios.
You have shared the same stage with some notable hip-hop acts. What was it like sharing the bill with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah?
Sharing the stage with The Wu-Tang Clan members was a bucket list accomplishment. I grew up listening to their collaborative and solo work. I got a chance to connect with the young spitta Dillon Cooper that show. Real cool cat for real. By the way, I get to share a stage with GZA now of the Wu-Tang Clan this Saturday at Whatever Fest, which is cool.
You mentioned working with an opera singer. How do you plan on merging hip-hop and opera-based elements together?
I think it’s ironic I grew in a house where my father would DJ almost every day on his turntables and make mixtapes, and my mother has a blooming opera career currently in Italy, I am pretty much a mix between them at this point! Opera is also dope because you don’t particularly need to understand the words to understand the song. It’s all emotionally-driven music —a universal form of music that can be understood by anyone within any culture. Being able to play with that opens up a sense of freedom during production that is refreshing and feels unique. Also, working with Alicia Gianni and Jonathan Lee Chan has been amazing.
How will your new album differ both stylistically and lyrically from your debut, Rap, Trap, and Drums?
Rap, Trap, and Drums was an album that was done when I was surrounded by rappers, so naturally I was rapping my ass off the entire project. I have surrounded myself now with talented musicians and song writers which is reflected in my new body of work. It’s pretty awesome that I have the ability to call in production help from some of the best musicians in the city. Not to mention I am working with Brandon Bizzy Holloman who is probably the most notable guitarist in the city right now. He was a member of Purple Popcorn and did the guitar work for the pop/r&b artist The Weeknd and dozens of your other favorite artist.
Lyrically speaking Rap, Trap, and Drum's track themes were fun but that lacked substance for the most part, which isn’t a bad thing. Substance is not everything. Occasionally, people just want to hear cleverness. But I want to show a different piece of myself. Guilla is deeper than "Groupie Love." I’m not just a bowl of punch lines and dirty innuendos; that is only about 80 percent of me, I think the other 20 percent needs to be given some light. Everybody is complex; we all have happy moments, [and] we also carry scars. Some people are scared to show that. I enjoy exploiting it.
Talk a little bit about your approach when working with DJs and producers. What is your selection process like? What is your criteria when deciding on who to allow, let’s say someone like iLL fADED or android genius, to work with you when you perform?
I work pretty much exclusively with two DJs. When I want a more electronic vibe to the show I hit up the talented producer/DJ android genius. When I want a set where we are just going to "turn up" and party, I call the party lord, AKA iLL-Faded. I have to start by saying both DJs are close friends of mine. I have always been a fan of their solo work and they are both great performers. My shows with iLL Faded are always crazy, he is on a couple of my songs so he adds great value. He is a DJ/hypeman/performer on my sets, so he will go from DJing to Jumping in crowd while singing hooks.
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Blake and the Cloudopolis crew has had a huge hand in your success. How did you and Blake decided to take your talents as a musician/rapper/producer and turn it into what it has become today?
Blake and I have always had vision towards a very large collective goal. Blake has been a blessing for me. He has added order to my chaos, which is something most musicians struggle with. We are big dreamers but we execute. We plan, calculate, then achieve. That's the overall idea of our thought process. 2016 is going to be a big year for us. We have new notable artist signing to the label, and other companies we are doing collaborative work with throughout the city.
How do you plan on topping your success in 2015? I mean, you have had incredible success this year.
I’ve had a great year, and it’s not even over! Still more surprises to come! But honestly, the music world is bigger than Texas. Jawwaad Taylor mentioned a friend who performed for the emperor of Japan, and I thought, "Damn! I want to do that one day!" So in 2016, I want to explore the world more. The bodies of work I am gearing up to release I think are a step above what I have done in the past, plus I have a team which I have faith in. With that being said, almost any goal I can imagine I truly do believe is achievable. But at the end of the day, you can get to your destination faster when you don't fight the currents. It's all around us, we are all meant for something, and you sometimes just have to go with the flow and see where it takes you.
Guilla appears during two sets at Houston Whatever Fest this weekend — solo 3:30 p.m. Saturday and as special guest with GZA, 7:30 p.m. Sunday. See houstonwhateverfest.com for details.