MADD ILLZ built a rap battle empire from Central Florida

Hip-hop artist co-founded Grind Time Now, an online rap battle league

ORLANDO, Fla. – Coming from a family of musicians and artists, MADD ILLZ found a love for music at a very young age.

His grandfather taught him to play guitar by ear. His parents also made sure music was part of his childhood.

“My parents brought me to all different genre concerts since I was a kid,” MADD ILLZ said. “ I was very much involved with watching the live aspect of musical performance and that’s what made me fall in love with it when I was in the 6th grade”.

Fast forward to middle school, MADD ILLZ recalls seeing students battle rapping. Wanting to be like his bigger cousin who loved hip hop, MADD ILLZ decided to try out battle rapping.

“I got shut down right away and then I realized you had to have some type of skill to do this,” MADD ILLZ said.

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The rejection didn’t stop the young aspiring rapper. His talents eventually hit the airwaves right here in Orlando.

“I remember 102 JAMZ had the morning roll call when I was in 8th grade,” he said. “For an entire year, I was the roll call boy. This was back in 1999.”

The morning roll call consisted of people calling in rapping their name and what school they attended. For MADD ILLZ, the role was a bit different.

“They (102 JAMZ employees) would give me a back line, and then I would call in and it was my job to clown them,” MADD ILLZ said.

MADD ILLZ had other passions entering West Orange High School as a freshman that were not music related.

“I loved basketball, but I was vertically challenged — so when I didn’t make the team in 9th grade, I fell back on rapping and decided to go that direction.” MADD ILLZ said.

MADD ILLZ ended up in a rap group alongside Greg Davis Jr., who was featured on Gullah Gullah Island as Blitzen at the time but has continued to act as well as rap under the handle Klarity.

“All through high school, I had agency representation and we were booking and doing shows,” he said.

The young rapper soon found himself addicted to show business and wanted to do more.

After graduating high school MADD ILLZ joined the Marines in 2002 through 2008.

MADD ILLZ joined the Marines in 2002 after high school and served through 2008. (WKMG)

February 2008, everything changed.

“I was talking to my friend Dave Williams known as Drect who was a student at Full Sail at the time when he called me wanting to document rap battles,” MADD ILLZ said. “I was interested, but told him I wanted to create a battle rapper league and keep tabs of the scores along the way.”

YouTube was becoming a thing since launching in 2005, so the two set out to create the first ever online rap battle league which came to be known as Grind Time Now.

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“We reached out to all the battlers that we knew from meeting at major events like Scribble Jam and by the time we got off the phone we had a battle league chapter in every major city in the U.S. along with Sydney, Australia, Johannesburg, South Africa,” MADD ILLZ said.

Grind Time Now was even part of the United Nations’ “Music as a Natural Resource” program for building urban environments.

“Not one single dollar was spent in marketing Grind Time Now, that’s what made it so great,” MADD ILLZ said.

How did they manage to have a grassroots movement in the early 2000s?

“World Star was the number one ranked hip hop website in the world at the time and they happen to put one of our videos up on their YouTube channel, so we reached out to them and said we could keep providing videos and they would use the World Star watermark,” MADD IILLZ said.

They worked with no money exchanged for the videos, for a full year. all while gaining massive exposure through the explosive hip-hop YouTube channel.

MADD ILLZ pictured in Orlando, FL (WKMG)

Grind Time Now started attracting the attention of celebrities and artists in the hip-hop world leading to battle rap performances at events like Coachella, Rock the Bells and South by Southwest. Each major music festival they performed at came with their own stage, with full-on production and collabs with national acts.

“It was exactly what I envisioned when I was in the 9th grade. I just wanted there to be an abundance of rap battle shows going on and that’s exactly what happened which was my vision coming true,” MADD ILLZ said.

The duo ran Grind Time Now for 9 years before selling the company.

Since then, MADD ILLZ has expanded his talents to writing, producing, and even teaching others how to write rap lyrics. Hear more about how MADD ILLZ continues to curate events in music and art and how these events are designed to help struggling artists right here in central Florida on the latest episode of Riff On This.

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.