The Longfellow music scene has expanded with the opening of The Legacy Building at 46th and Minnehaha, a block away from the Minnehaha Recording Company.
It’s the kind of space that Sarah (aka Fancy) and Emmanuel (aka Envy) Duncan wish they would have had when they were young.
“Growing up I wish I would have had a space like this to come to,” said Fancy. “It would have been such a great avenue to me to have with the things I was struggling with and dealing with in my younger years.
“We pride ourselves on having an open space like this where we can welcome anyone who wants to be here.”
The Duncans are the hip-hop duo iLLism, a team known for its cross-genre production, catchy songs, tight harmonies, and inspiring lyricism. The couple resides in Longfellow. In 2020, their touring came to a halt due to COVID-19 and they had time to reflect.
They realized “the time is now to offer and share what we know with our community but also to continue to put emphasis on our own art, as well,” remarked Fancy.
The Legacy Building was born from their mutual desire to nurture creativity and cultivate excellence.
CONNECTING OVER MUSIC
Sarah Lanier and Emmanuel Duncan met during an ice breaker at an AT&T call center where they were both working. When Envy mentioned that he did music, Fancy knew she wanted to learn more about his work. At the time, she wasn’t doing any artistically and thought she could live vicariously through his efforts. She had become a mom at 17, and was focused on her job.
They became “lunchtime buddies,” connecting over music. Fancy introduced him to music she had heard, and he’d sample what he was working on.
“Getting into the car and listening to music is still a big part of our relationship,” remarked Fancy.
Envy was part of a hip-hop duo at the time, and he headed off to Atlanta, one of the meccas for hip hop. But before he went, Fancy wrote him a love letter and gave him a mix CD.
“I had established some deeper feelings and they kind of erupted,” said Fancy.
He read the letter and called her – and they stayed on the phone for most of his 18-hour drive to Atlanta. Their conversation changed from its friendly focus on music and fun into deep dives about each other’s inner lives.
He traveled back and forth between Atlanta and Minneapolis for a few months, and then was about to start a new job. It was supposed to be his final trip back to Minnesota. Fancy asked him, “When are you going to be my man?”
He was back in Minnesota within a month. This time to stay.
“From there the relationship grew and blossomed,” said Fancy. Plus, she was inspired to get back into making music herself.
They wed two years later on Aug. 29, 2009.
“We just got lucky,” stated Envy.
“We’re very blessed,” agreed Fancy.
FORMING THEIR OWN DUO: iLLISM
While Envy and Fancy were pursuing their own solo careers, they decided to collaborate on the 11-song album “He Say She Say” in 2010.
In 2015, they formed their duo iLLism – “ILL” as in cool or dope, and “ism” which turns it into a movement, like feminism. Together it is a “dope musical movement.”
“People always loved our music separately but when we did music together it seems like people connected with us differently, in a way that was a bit more meaningful,”observed Fancy.
Working together is something that fits for this couple.
“It doesn’t feel weird or extra,” said Envy.
“It feels like that’s just something we’re supposed to be doing,” observed Fancy. “I think it helps us understand each other a little better.”
With both of them in the same industry, they understand the demands of the work the other is doing. Some days, Envy stays home while Fancy is out working. Other days, it is reversed. “It’s not like your job is more important than my mine. It’s the same. It’s beautiful that way,” said Fancy.
The couple parent three children. Her son, Santino, is 19; his daughter, Amari, is also 19. And two years ago, Syre was born.
Before having a child together, the two addressed trauma from their other parenting relationships. “There was a lot of healing to be done,” said Fancy.
“We wanted to take the next step in our relationship,” stated Envy. “We didn’t want the trauma to herd us back in. We wanted to experience more with each other.”
The toddler is “full of fire and he’s full of curiosity and energy.”
Their family influences their music and lyrics. Their latest album, “Family Over Everything” was recorded while Fancy was pregnant.
Forming iLLism has been “life-changing” for them, according to Envy. “When we were solo acts we were chasing commercial success,” explained Fancy. “We were conforming to what we thought the industry wanted. When we are together as ILLism, that just goes away.”
Fancy pushes Envy to go deeper, and he does the same for her.
Their music comes from their heart and souls and isn’t trying to fit into a certain mold.
It is “our story, our experiences,” said Fancy.
Their music takes them places, from performing at Paisley Park to Superbowl Live to the NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif.
They’ve also added a band which has expanded their sound.
Fancy finally quit her 9-5 job in 2018, and both focus entirely on their music now.
They have a number of songs that have appeared on television shows, including The Hill, Jersey Shore, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and more. They collect royalties on over 200 placements.
Fancy is a southsider who graduated from South High School. Envy grew up in Rondo and graduated from Highland Park High School across the river in St. Paul. The Minneapolis music scene in the 1990s heavily influenced both of them, so it was an incredible honor to bring back the Battle of the Bands at Paisley Park’s ‘Musicology’ in 2017. The event was modeled off the Battle of the Bands at The Way on the northside that Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis participated in. The Paisley Park event brought together 150 bands from around the nation a year after Prince’s death.
ILLism landed in the top three.
“That was a really special moment,” said Envy. “We were the first to get on that stage and bring live music back to Paisley,” pointed out Fancy. “That was a really high honor.”
DOWNLOAD OF IDEAS
Until a few years ago, both worked 9-5 jobs and faced the challenges of finding resources for photographs, music videos and websites.
With little to no budget, they taught themselves what they needed to advance their creative careers. Envy learned photography and videography, and Fancy figured out how to do graphic design and websites. Envy also does all of their sound mixing, and is trusted by many others for their sound needs, too.
They were asking themselves what they could do that was deeper and bigger yet when they drove down 46th and saw the sign in the window at the former SolSta music store/My Sister’s Closet clothing store.
Envy called the number to talk to building owner Eric Fox.
The building had been sitting empty while Fox considered the best use for it. Various coffee shops had wanted to move in, the developers of the multi-use building next door expressed interest in using it, and he’d even been approached by Chipotle.
When Fox, who makes synthesizers, heard Envy and Fancy’s proposal he told them that he loved their idea. They moved in the next month on Jan. 15, 2022.
The couple began to make changes to the building as they considered what it could be.
“It was a download of ideas,” said Fancy.
They wanted to create a place where an artist could walk in and achieve everything they needed to. At The Legacy Building (4024 E. 46th St.), they can sell merchandise in the front room, rehearse, record, shoot videos with the 4K green screen, hold events, and use it as a co-working space. The space is modular to accommodate a range of uses.
They officially opened with a grand weekend celebration on June 19, 2022, the second observation of Juneteenth as a holiday in Minneapolis. “Every inch of our space came to be because of our hard work, our vision, and bank account,” said Fancy. No loans, no grants, no team of employees or contractors.
Since then, they’ve held parties, Purpose Driven Coffee events, album launches, art pop-ups, spoken word events, live musical performances, natural light studio bookings, a Haunted Legacy House, a celebration of life on the first anniversary of Jellybean Johnson’s son’s death, a youth healing event, and more. The space is available for private event rentals, as well.
“It became this creative haven that I wish we had,” said Fancy.
Folks who walk through the door tell them: “I have been looking for a place like this.”
For some people, The Legacy Building becomes the first place that they perform. Envy and Fancy know how memorable that is, and how it becomes a core memory for that individual.
“That’s really special to us. It makes a difference,” said Fancy. Their goal is to amplify the work of other artists and support them in their creative pursuits, especially Black artists. They also help make connections for other artists, including linking them to their two labels, Black Label and In the Groove.
It was a dream for them to become their own bosses.
“It’s about community,” said Fancy. “It’s about cultivating creativity. Excellence derives from that.”
Learn more at thelegacybuilding.org.
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