New Jersey‘s Ish Williams of the widely-known $outh$ide music label (Mir Fontane, Kev Rodgers, Kenif Muse), has released his debut project, $onia’s $on.

The album $onia’s $on is our first glimpse into just who Ish Williams (full name: Ishmael Williams) really is, both as a person and an artist. We’ve first gotten to know Ish through a series of features on songs headlined by other members of the $outh$ide collective, a moment in time that Ish says was time to let go of, and make his own name. The album is produced by KilConfirmed, Kev Rodgers, Trev, Kenif Muse, and Wigshop, and contains all in-house features.

Speaking with Ish Williams at Kenif Muse‘s Mindful Vision Sounds studio last week for the album listening party, he let us in on his battle with depression, growing up in a predominantly white community with a Muslim mother, and how he learned to boss up.

Everyone wants to let their mothers know that they didn’t fail as a parent, and Ish Williams is no different. Although he hasn’t gone through this life unscathed, the recurring theme that we’ve picked up on throughout this album is that Ish is an artist who will do everything and anything he can to succeed for family, from attempting a college degree to either standing on a street corner and working mundane food service jobs, to picking up a microphone. Equipped with the lessons of his mother Sonia heard throughout the tape, Ish Williams has inadvertently shared a wealth of knowledge through three vehicles: his mother, his own lyrics, and the combination of the project itself.

Listen to the official $onia’s $on mixtape below, along with Ish Williams‘ music video for “2 Weeks.” Purchase on iTunes here.


On the title $onia’s $on:
“Me and Sonia had some fights back in that apartment. Me and my mother would scream at each other at the top of our lungs…I felt like I was going to call my debut — when I was known nationally — I would call it $onia’s $on, but this felt like the perfect time to call it [that] since me and my mom are so attached to each other, and we were fighting. I wanted to talk about me because I was getting known for being featured on [Mir] Fontane records, or [Mir] Fontane featured on my records. We’d just be talking about ballin’, smokin’, and drinkin’. I wanted to give y’all some of who Sonia’s son really is: my wants, my needs, day in , day out.”

On Mom’s thoughts about the album:
“My mom knew the title, that I’d be calling it that. She was happy about it! I knew I just wanted to make music growing up. She would always tell me that I needed a Plan B; I’d be like ‘There is no Plan B.’ I tried college for her, but then she got sick, so I moved back to Germantown (Philadelphia section) to be with her. My mom never heard none of my full projects as an artist. The kids at the daycare she owns would show her my songs (laughs), and she would come home like ‘Yeah, I just heard your Mary Jane song talkin’ about weed!’ But then I made this album into a CD for her so she could have it in her car, and she’s really thankful for that.”

On finding a spiritual center:
“When I was growing up, I was really into the Muslim thing. The way I am with religion, I don’t believe in everything that Christians do; I don’t believe in everything that Muslims do. My mom always said you’ve gotta keep God in your life. So every day, every morning, I always keep God in my life no matter what. If my mom wants me to pray with her, I’ll pray with her. I’ll put on the Kufi for her, go to the Masjid for her. I got mad respect for the Islam culture.

On growing up with a Muslim mother:
“I grew up around a lot of Caucasian people, and [the kids] would ask ‘What does your mom have on?’ or ‘Why is she wearing a cape?’ or something like that. I’d just tell them it’s part of her religion. It never really offended me — I can’t say that, because I used to feel some type of way about it when I was like 5,6,7 years old. They would ask me those questions, and I’d think to myself, ‘This is my mom. I want her to be who she is.’ There would be times, like at talent shows, she would just come dressed [normally]; she wouldn’t even put on the hijab. She thought she was embarrassing me. Teachers never tried to intervene or explain to the other kids.

On battle with depression:
“I wanted this album to be, like, encouragement for other people. I was depressed for a long time over my situation. I went from selling drugs, to getting in trouble, to working at Primo Hoagies where I work now. I’m using my life as, like, caution so you won’t have to repeat my mistakes.”

On building himself up as an artist:
“I was a very cocky, arrogant person about my music. My manager Erv [Ray] said that we had to start performing, and I wasn’t performing at all. I was like ‘What we gonna do?’ He said ‘We’re gonna do this open mic.’ I thought I was better than an open mic and I knew my worth. I knew how I performed and Erv was like ‘Well I don’t, and I’m your new manager, so we’re doing open mics.’ So, we did open mics about every week we would go to Delaware, and deep in PA where people don’t even listen to rap music. It was just practice for me. I would link up with Mir Fontane. I write music, and I love writing love songs and r&b songs, but I can’t sing…we sat in his basement one time, and he put on “Ordinary People” by John Legend, and he was teaching me how to use my voice. After that, I just started using my voice all crazy and being different.”