It’s been almost a year since Lake Forest rappers Irawnik and Insanity of I & I have performed their infectious lyrics on stage. In 2011 they proved they were one of OC's first legit hip-hop acts, dominating the stage and winning the Battle of the Bands Warp Tour at The House of Blues. “It was a packed house with everyone yelling ‘I &I’, it was the greatest feeling ever,” rapper Insanity remembers.
Despite having a bubbling cauldron full of underground talent and an audience big enough to fill arenas and festivals, Orange County has never been given its proper respect when it comes to hip-hop outside of those with a taste for the Kottonmouth Kings.
“They're good at what they do but it's not what we (most hip-hop heads) consider real hip-hop,” Insanity says. “We are relevant because we show the world that great hip-hop can come from anywhere, including two white dudes from OC.”
In their lyrics, they talk about issues and topics that “entitled” kids never think about, but should. Like the struggle for simple necessities, the cruel realities of our world, and their view on the government. Starting out at a time when not many others were on their level, I&I gave the hip-hop game in OC some light (and some credibility). They began making big moves and getting their name out there, doing what all up and coming acts wished they could and they did it well, becoming a staple for OC hip-hop.
What started out as a thing to get attention grew into them selling their CDs, opening up for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Nas, Method Man, Cypress Hill and Ice Cube, to name a few. They knew many promoters and were frequently approached by artists after shows. The grind to perform on stage required little effort on their part, people looked for them.
“When Eminem came out it was like, alright, now it’s not just Vanilla Ice,” says Insanity (born Shane Braly), who keeps a crazy long white beard to match his long hair that stands straight up like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Irawnik (born Aaron Stabile), with a similar look to Ice has tribal designs shaved on the sides of his head, with brown hair, blue eyes and tattoos. “Maybe white people can rap and people will be okay with it. Before him, you were Vanilla Ice automatically.”
From the outside looking in, it appeared as though, they weren't making any stops on the way to the top. They were selling out shows, winning awards and filling venues. People came to see them, they weren't looking at I & I as a bonus to the artists they opened up for, but rather the other way around. Fans wanted more of their energetic lyrics, but sadly their hype started to slow and not because of the lack of attention. However, the group's financial investors couldn’t see eye to eye on decisions involving the group's future, the rappers say it took the fun out of everything. On top of that, the need to care and provide for their families made their decision to step away from music that much more important. Then, taking care of family became more paramount, so their music making slowed and performing stopped.
During that period it was impossible for them to avoid the thought they might be done rapping. “At the same time I just kind of felt like we had to step back and entertain that possibility, to really understand why we’re doing this,” Irawnik says. Their time away from the public eye proved to be the right decision, it gave them time to not rely solely on each other for lyrics. Creating songs on their own, gave them the chance to have their voice as well as the one they share.
One of Insanity’s newest, titled “The Great James Braly,” a brilliant dedication to his late father, will make you stop what you’re doing to tell your dad how much you love him. “God are you listening, I'm having trouble living in a world without my dad, best friend I ever had,” he raps at the beginning of the song. He then goes on to say how he lost his father, how much he misses him and the memories he'll never forget. The vocal style is more melodic than his usual delivery, influenced by emcees like Zack de la Rocha.
We can't speak on Irawnik’s most recent because it's top secret to the public at the moment, but just know it’s incredible.
According to Irawnik “time doesn’t exist,” so it’s impressive they manage to put such perfection and creativity in each song. They’ve written lyrics years ago, but if it wasn’t on point they’d leave its completion to another time, if at all and moved onto the next flow. “A random artist will push out 20 songs in the same time we do one, but our one song will be way better than all their songs,” Insanity says.
Their mindset is back on track, no longer worrying about what anyone expects of them, only what they bring to the Orange County game. I&I aren't wasting time getting their name out there again, they haven't been forgotten, people just need to be reminded they are back on the scene to reclaim their throne as the kings of OC hip-hop.
“Shane and I have always felt our eventual goal is for everybody in this industry to look up to us,” Irawnik says. “Not on a level of arrogance it’s just that there’s a whole lot of bad music out there with bad people on top, making sure that is the popular music. I feel like Shane and I just naturally have an energy, ability and capacity to make this whole music industry better, at least in our lane.”
This Saturday (Aug. 20), they hope to reignite the fire underneath their diehard fan base when they perform at Boscoe’s in Lake Forest, with the recent release of four new songs, it seems likely. And most importantly, the rappers say their biggest accomplishment isn't just the production of new music, but their enjoyment of it.
“We don’t make music for the sake of becoming famous or making money, we don’t make it because all these people are expecting us to,” Irawnik says. “We make music because we want to make this, we want to create and get this out, express ourselves with our gifts and talents to hopefully better somebody’s life, mind, mood, or emotions and to connect with us by listening to our music.”
I & I perform this Saturday, Aug. 20, Boscoe's Sports Grill, 23364 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 859-9351; 8:30 p.m. Free.