Illoheem: From the Cypher to Barrio Rhymer

[Locals Only] Using hip-hop as a medium for the undocumented and unheard

Hip-hop culture has always intersected with youth activism for Santa Ana-based rapper Illoheem. His interest in rhyming grew as he started taking part in organizing the historic 2006 pro-immigrant high-school walkouts in OC. Now in his early 20s, Illoheem is a published author, speaker and performer. His lyrics remain as pensive, passionate and political as ever, giving hip-hop a new dimension as the language of the undocumented and unheard.

OC Weekly: When did you first get into hip-hop culture?

Illoheem: I was about 11 years old. I had a cousin, and he would hang out with some friends who would just sit down at night and bust cyphers. Everybody would take turns around the circle and rhyme. They would ask me, "Okay, what do you have to say; what do you feel?" I did like hip-hop music, but that was my first experience of trying to rhyme myself.

We can't show Illoheem's face, for obvious reasons
Oceloyotl X
We can't show Illoheem's face, for obvious reasons

Location Info


Arte De La Tierra Gallery

1415 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Santa Ana


Illoheem performs with HecVortex, Guerrilla Queenz and more as part of Our Stories: Hip Hop In the 21st Century at Arte de la Tierra Gallery, Sun., 1-5 p.m. Suggested donation, $3-$5. All ages.

Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to:

You became a published author under the first Barrio Writers program in Santa Ana. How did that experience shape how you approach writing rhymes?

Around that time, I had left UC Irvine because I couldn't pay for it anymore. I found myself back at Santa Ana College; [people at the school] reached out to me to be part of the program. I was able to interact with local youth and hear their inspirational stories. It shaped the way I wrote because I was able to express myself to a whole different audience. I was talking about being undocumented and the civil-rights movement that we're still fighting for. As an undocumented person, to put myself out there, that was a really powerful experience.

Speaking of which, DREAM activism has shaped a lot of your work. Tell us more about a newer song of yours, "Joaquin Luna: (Death of a Dream)," about an undocumented Texas teen who committed suicide last year.

Man, that week in November, when I saw the article in the LA Times, it hit me hard. I stayed in my room all weekend, contemplating what this youth went through. It resonated a lot with me because when I left school, to me, it was dropping out of school. I didn't know I was going to go back to school. I myself have been in a situation in which I became depressed to the point [that] I thought about suicide. It's an issue that no one likes to talk about. "Joaquin Luna" was an expression of that—and not the only one, as there have been many who have taken that step because of circumstances and social pressures. Feeling like I had been in that situation, I began to write as if I were him. It was a real emotional experience to write that piece. Now that I've shared it a couple of times, a lot of undocumented students have begun to talk about creating support circles and talking about those issues.

You give workshops on hip-hop as a culture of resistance. How does hip-hop function for you in that manner?

In the workshops, we have been going to high schools in the summer, talking about what oppressions we're facing and how our words are powerful enough to convey our stories. I've talked to youth in junior high school, and within two hours, they were sharing and creating poems about the oppression and obstacles they face. To have that type of engagement in a classroom setting is very powerful. That's how I've been able to [teach them] that hip-hop is not only a tool that is used to convey a message of struggling all over the world, but also a way to convey our message, organize and relate to one another at the local level.

What does 2012 hold for you? Are you looking to put out an EP or formalize some of the tracks you've been working on this year?

I've been recording a set of pieces under the title "Ill Eagle." I have another set that talks about different things, such as war and recruitment in high schools. I'm going to be working on different music, sometimes anonymously and sometimes under my rap name "Illoheem." I'm looking to collaborate with local groups to put out music. Definitely this year, I've been recording more music than any other year. Hopefully, all these projects get off the ground.

This column appeared in print as "Illoheem’s DREAM."

My Voice Nation Help
Sarah Rafael García
Sarah Rafael García

I can vouch for his published work, since he is Chapter 10 in the 1st Edition of the Barrio Writers book, reprint recently completed & available to public again soon! If you want proof, than feel free to contact me to purchase a book (

Additionally, he is an amazing mentor for many youth & adults like myself! We will be releasing a 2nd-3rd edition this spring as well, in which Illoheem will be acknowledged as a Writing Assistant.

Most recently, I was also asked by a White House representative to provide them with a copy of his work in the book (after they read it they praised his ambition & writing) & this is how I describe Illoheem in the email sent to the White House & to many others,

"I do hope Illoheem's words make a statement at the White House...But I have to say, neither the book or youtube pieces do him justice, his words should be heard in person and prefaced with his life story. He is a young man I consider a hero and only person I have met that I hope one day will be nationally recognized to lead our country."


I want to correct myself from my previous post when I said Illoheem doesn't have any concerts coming up.. I am sorry .. it seems he does .. Also I want to re-inquire about Illoheem's published writings information like book title- which is still missing.. My niceties are well meant.. I mean no harm just voicing my opinion and with all this aside I truly believe Illoheem means well, I just respectfully disagree with most of his views and the need for his spotlight in general.

gabriel san roman
gabriel san roman

I'm fully aware of Illoheem's accomplishments in the past and those still to come in the near future and they fully warrant the attention given in this article. In the past I've profiled bands who just have garage recordings to their name and no demos to speak of. The same is true of other writers as well. I never see any objection then. Your struggle to come to terms with this one -- "niceties" and all -- is glaringly apparent.


I don't want to knock Illoheem too much for he sounds like a good person trying to make a difference and he has a cause. However I feel my standards might to high for such an artist to make a spotlight in the OC Weekly. I searched Illoheem on you-tube where there is just two songs posted. It's mentioned Illoheem is a published writer of a book with no title nor where to buy it. Also do not see an impeding concert of any kind just the mentioning of 'projects' he hopes to get off the ground. Illoheem seems more of an activist for the hispanic undocumented. Maybe Illoheem is too afraid to come out of the shadows since his photo is so unrevealing? Yet he openly talks to kids in Santa Ana schools about their 'oppression' which seems ironic since those kids and him really are not in the shadows are they? I think the word oppression is not appropriate in describing kids openly in free US school K thu 12 along with free lunch programs along with free health care and various other free US goverment programs. Maybe Illoheem is feeling oppressed not being able to pay for college like he mentions? Did the DREAM act not pass? Maybe Illoheem can get in and get free college now? I have no annomosity towards Illoheem I am just struggling with this story at how such a lack of accomplishments (Two you-tube postings) is a worthy artist spotlight.


Sarah thanks for the info on Illoheem's publication. One chapter in the Barrio Writers book is not worth seeking out. And you completely and totally lost me on your email to the white house. I fell out of my chair reading that you "hope one day Illoheem will be nationally recognized to lead our country." REALLY? Are you serious? Well I hope that email was unread and deleted because Illoheem leading any country is absurb. The fact Illoheem is recognized in the OC Weekly is suspect much less anything beyond that. Sarah GET REAL!

gabriel san roman
gabriel san roman

Well the piece has already been published, so you're just going to have to find yourself a way to get over it!

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