Ill Camille

Ill Camille

Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist

Ill Camille was born and raised and still resides in Los Angeles, for the moment, and in March she released an album called Heirloom that we really love. We spoke to her about all her various jobs in the music industry, a path that eventually led her to stepping out in front and telling her own story.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: First question: what is your first musical memory, and how did it shape you?

FRANNIE KELLEY: Damn.

ILL CAMILLE: Dang. My first musical memory? I had to be like six. Yeah. Kindergarten. Five. Because that's when my auntie got me and her two daughters this Fisher-Price — this 45 player, record player, and I thought I was a DJ. I thought I was popping. You know what I mean? I thought I had a music group. I thought I was a producer. Like, you can't tell me nothing, just cause I had that record player. And she bought me records like Lisa Stansfield and Al B Sure and, like, Shalamar. And I'm like going to school with my 45 record player playing those records. I thought I was the coolest. And I realized that my homies in the class didn't know the records, and I was like, "Oh, OK."

ALI: When you first mentioned Fisher-Price, I was thinking the plastic, not-real records.

FRANNIE: Right. Me too.

ILL CAMILLE: Oh. I had the real ones. We still got 'em.

ALI: That's crazy.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Was it portable?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. Portable.

ALI: So did you take it to school?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah I did.

ALI: On some show-and-tell —

ILL CAMILLE: Show-and-tell. On some show-and-tell.

FRANNIE: Wow. Wow.

ILL CAMILLE: That's what I was saying. I was like, "Y'all don't know this record?" They was like, "No. We know Barney." You know what I'm saying? But that's my first memory.

ALI: So how did that shape who you are now?

ILL CAMILLE: I realized that I'm very much a product of my family's musical taste. Like, no matter how much of an individual I think I am and how much taste I think I have, personal taste that I think I have. I'm like, "My momma played me that record back then." You know, I'm recognizing the samples from sitting down with my grandfather and all that. I really realized that my sound is because of the music I grew up around, from the jump, early.

ALI: That makes a lot of sense when you mention some of the people that you were toting around at the age of five. I don't think a lot of people can say that.

ILL CAMILLE: Bumping Loose Ends at five, like, why was I doing that? I just realized they shaped me.

ALI: So you still collect records?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, sometimes I do. Just — and I don't have a record player anymore. Well, the one I have is broken. But I just do. Nostalgia purposes, you know.

ALI: OK.

ILL CAMILLE: I just like vinyl. I like the crackle. I like the covers. Yeah.

ALI: When did you first discover your artistic voice? Like, I mean, set the scene when you first realized. What was the style of fashion? What was on the radio? The whole nine.

ILL CAMILLE: I realized that I was somewhat artistic when — OK. So now we're going to go to like seventh grade. Seventh grade, the two cousins that I kicked it with the most, we were like sisters. And the same auntie bought us this little Casio keyboard with pre-programmed drum sounds and stuff. And I was married to that keyboard, because I thought I was Quincy Jones.

I was like, "Yo, we're going to make a song. And it's gon' hit the charts. And I need you to sing this part." And it was called "I Wish I Was A Bird," and I wanted it sound like — I wanted us to be like the female version of Immature or like Another Bad Creation. So I was on that, heavy. And then Aaliyah's album came out around that time, and —

ALI: Was this like '91? No, when was this?

ILL CAMILLE: This was ninety —

FRANNIE: Like, six, right?

ILL CAMILLE: Six.

ALI: Daggone. Where's my head? Sorry.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, like '96. Cause I was definitely in junior high. Yeah.

And I looked on the back cover, and I recognized one of the names. And I asked my mom, I'm like, "Hey, who is this Barry Hankerson dude. He has to be related to us." And she was like, "That's your cousin. He got a record label. Aaliyah's his niece." And she telling me all this, right? So I thought I was going to be an intern. I wrote Barry a nice letter, and I thought I was going to be Aaliyah's manager.

And I recorded a beat with a tape player, and I just put the tape player next to the Casio. I made a beat, and I just thought I was gon' be popping. Like, I thought I had a group. I thought I was going to be A&R, thought I was going to be an intern, thought I was going to be Quincy Jones Jr. And that's when I realized I got the music bug and there's no way I can escape it. But it didn't really formulate into me being an artist until 2010/11.

FRANNIE: Wait. Did Barry write you back?

ILL CAMILLE: Huh?

FRANNIE: Did Barry write you back?

ILL CAMILLE: Nah. He didn't write me back. Why you didn't write me back, Barry? I'm your cousin. You should've wrote me back. Nah, he didn't write me back, but —

ALI: So you're like 12, seventh grade.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: What was the motivation to keep you going, to keep pushing, to keep making music? I mean, were your cousins into —

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Or were you the — were you more the coach, cheerleader?

ILL CAMILLE: They were into it, but I think I just — that was all I cared about. I was the girl that was secretly writing raps or songs. When Fruity Loops had first came out, I got Fruity Loops. I just thought I was, like, a musical genius or something.

And what kept me loving it still was just seeing how everybody — like, in my family, my older cousins would burn me tapes. Cause I couldn't buy the CDs. You know, I had no money. But they would just burn me tapes of mixes that they had. So that kept me loving the music. I got a lot of hand-me-down music.

I was street teaming. I signed up for the Roots Street Team when I was in high school. So I was doing that. Then I was signing for any and every music internship you could even think of. Even if I was underage, I was lying, just trying to stay connected and know the business.

But I didn't really get into rapping as an artist myself, like I said, till 2011. I didn't think I could be fruitful or make a difference.

ALI: Did you take any of the experiences working for the Roots Street Team — this is in Los Angeles right?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Do you carry any of that, those memories, in your business sense now?

ILL CAMILLE: I do. Because I realized that I'm a very personable person, one-on-one. I prefer to, like, give you my CD. I prefer to make an impression in person. I realized passing out all those flyers and running the streets late at night, you know, having to build with people and tell them that this music or this album is coming out, I do good at that. I'm better like that than behind the computer. So I took those street teaming principles and applied it to how I do music. I'm trying to be direct, have a conversation, in my songs. I think it just kind of blended together.

ALI: Yeah. You grew up in L.A.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm. I grew up in L.A. in different parts.

ALI: What was some of the cultural aspects of specifically L.A.-only, that's like a L.A. thing, that make you who you are, that's a part of your artistry?

ILL CAMILLE: OK. When I think about my childhood in L.A., it was a lot of backyard functions. My auntie Suda and my uncle Junior were, like, heavy entertainers, home entertainers. So I remember dancing for like a dollar to Shabba Ranks in the backyard functions. I don't know why we were having so many parties, but it just seemed like we were celebrating a lot in the backyard. Like, everybody knew Auntie Suda's house was popping. So backyard functions to me are synonymous with L.A.

Car clubs.

ALI: What's a car club?

ILL CAMILLE: A car club. It's like — there are so many different car clubs in L.A., but there was a period where people with the same style of car, like maybe Chevy — like the Bowtie club or whatever. Like people who roll Chevys or Camaros or whatever, they'd form a little group. It'd be like a car gang. You know what I'm saying? And they'd hang out on Crenshaw or off of Broadway or whatever. And I realized that's kind of like our thing too. Hanging out on the streets in the cars.

Skating. Did a lot of skating at World On Wheels. And then when my family moved to Cerritos — my Grannie did — I was at Skate Depot. So seven to seven, I probably got my first boyfriend from being at the skating rink. And in the skating rink, you would hear all the records Battlecat produced. So I realized I grew up to his music because of the skating rink. I feel like that's like a L.A. thing for real for real.

And for me, the section my dad's family was in the most was View Park/Leimert Park. So it was a lot of African culture there. My aunties and my cousins and stuff were introducing me to mud cloth early. I just thought it was what we wore. I didn't realize it was something that people had to learn about. But in the area that we grew up in, African culture was celebrated heavily. Black arts in general. So, jazz, hip-hop, and African culture in the Leimert Park/View Park area, that's hella L.A. to me. You know, that's what I think of.

ALI: I ask that just because your music seems very L.A. heavy, which I know that's like, duh, you're from L.A. so obviously it will, but not in a sort of a stereotypical, cliché sort of sense, you know?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: So I just wanted you to describe where you come from a little bit. No, no, no. Matter of fact, I'll come back to this other question. How'd you meet Battlecat?

ILL CAMILLE: I met Battlecat through his brother Mykestro. Mykestro is one of my favorite MCs period, like West Coast, East Coast, period. And they're related. And I was in my music writing phase of my life, so I felt like I was gonna do a piece about all the West Coast people that were making an impact, artist or not. So I reached out to Mykestro. Then me and Mykestro got cool. And he was like, "You know my brother's Battlecat?" And I was like, "I knew that, but I thought it was like music brothers." He was like, "Nah. We got the same parents." And I was like, "OK. Fasho."

And this was around the time that I discovered that I could rap for real for real. So I asked Mykestro to record my first rap. He did. He thought I was dope. He shared it with his brother.

And I didn't know he did that. And then one day when I came to kick it with Mykestro — he stayed around the corner from my dad — he was playing me some beats. And I was like, "Damn. Them beats is dope." But just off of first, like, press play, like off the first sound, I didn't know that they were Battlecat beats. I couldn't tell. They weren't his standard sound. He was like, "This my brother. And these are old. These are like four years old. These are beats that I just don't — I don't know. I can't do anything with 'em."

And I was like, "You think he'll let me have one?" And he was like, "You gotta do something dope to it." He said, "Man, pick something." And I picked something, and the song ended up turning into "All I Know." And he played it for Battlecat and then Battlecat called me himself and was like, "You dope lil' sis. You got style." And I was like, "Is this really you? First of all, is this really you?" He was like, "Yeah." He was like, "My brother's gon' — let's link up." And then from there, that's how it happened. He was in my video. Like, he felt like my family from day one. But he's Battlecat. Like, that's still Battlecat to me.

ALI: When you say that, and I know what you mean, why is he important to L.A.? And why is Battlecat important to hip-hop in general?

ILL CAMILLE: He helped shape the sound just as much as any other producer to me. Like, think about Snoop's records. Think about Eastsidaz. I mean, you can even think about Faith Evans and other people. But think about our icons out here — he has something to do with them. And the sound. He has a distinctive sound. And I just think me growing up to it, all those records that he produced, Kurupt — like, Kurupt is my favorite MC. So Battlecat and Kurupt was like the pair to me, my ideal pair.

And me getting to work with him, like, I still trip out about it. Cause I never thought. I mean, I didn't think I was going to be a rapper, but to work with somebody you grew up listening to is like — that's crazy. He's a legend, period.

ALI: One that doesn't — I don't think you hear his name enough at all.

ILL CAMILLE: Nah.

ALI: I wanted to know when was the first time you were in a cypher.

ILL CAMILLE: First time?

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: High school. Tenth grade.

ALI: Describe it.

ILL CAMILLE: It was this dope dude named Tyson, and Tyson was in the cypher and this other dude named Van. And to me, those two were like Nas and Jay. And they were good off the top. I mean, everybody else kind of came with a little notepad or whatever, but those two were like, "We off the top. Throw us a word, and we can rap to it." And they would just — and it would end up just being them two.

And I remember being like, "I need to hang with them." And it was dope because they were very much West Coast, but they were listening to, like, Cocoa Brothaz and Wu-Tang and Black Star. And I was like, "Dang! I love y'all. Y'all my homies." Like, "Oo wee, we family." So I got in the cypher. I got the courage one day to just get in the cypher and just see what I could do.

ALI: What did that moment feel like? Was there hesitation?

ILL CAMILLE: Hell yeah. It was scary. Cause it's them. You know, it was how I was looking at them, and then also, to me, don't come to no cypher with no notebook. And I'm the only girl. It was another girl that was there, Meesha, my homegirl, and I didn't know she could rap until I rapped. And then it seemed like we was playing off of each other, so then they start looking at us the same way. Like, we both became really good off the top. And it was nerve-wracking at first, but every day we was having cyphers from that point forward. It was like, "Lunch time. Meet us." You know what I'm saying? "Meet us at lunch time. Don't bring your lil' notebook."

ALI: When was the last time you were in a cypher?

ILL CAMILLE: Shoot. TeamBackpack cypher at YouTube. It was me, Daylyt, Armin. Like, spitters. You know? They like battle-rapper spitters. And we had a cypher, and it was dope. It was dope. But they could rap forever. But yeah, we was in the cypher. We had two of them that day.

FRANNIE: There's something so pure about it, especially if you don't let people memorize anything or read off anything. It's like, as a writer, to watch it is always, like — it's like a miracle kind of.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, yeah.

FRANNIE: And I — yeah, the best freestyle I ever heard was this guy I went to high school with, and I still venerate him. I still think of him as that, above all else. He's a chef now.

ILL CAMILLE: Oh really?

FRANNIE: I don't think he does it anymore. But there isn't anything more impressive to me.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Than crushing that. And then to be a girl doing it. That's like —

ILL CAMILLE: Cause they don't expect you to do it. I hate to say it, but they don't expect you to really hang. And then when you do, it's good. And then if you can come off the top, it's even better.

It's harder now to come off the top sometime, just because my mind is filled with raps that I've probably just written. And I write all the time. So I'm like, "Dang. Is that something I just came up with? Or is that one of the ones from yesterday?" Sometimes it's just whatever. But I always take time to cypher with myself, too.

ALI: Most important.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Yeah. Your new album's called Heirloom. Is there a specific personal incident that occurred during the making of this album that gave it its meaning?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: What was that?

ILL CAMILLE: The one significant turn of events for me was when my dad passed, and whereas I felt like I probably wasn't gonna care about music like that anymore, doing music anymore, I had a new sense of energy. That's why the bulk of those songs — I at least say like the second half of the album — was recorded like three years ago. They were all roughs from back when that time happened, cause it seemed like I was just ready again. I felt recharged.

And I feel like that was like my dad's way of getting me back motivated, to know your time here is short, and you want to make use of your gifts while you have 'em. And my dad was very much a hip-hop guy. He introduced me to Tribe Called Quest and Slum Village. My dad did. So I'm like, "Dang. I owe it to him and to myself to see it through and finish it out."

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: So.

ALI: Was that torturous to your soul or was it more invigorating?

ILL CAMILLE: In the middle of doing it, it wasn't torturous. It's more torturous now to listen cause I know — I know what happened. I know, like, when I wrote a certain line or where I was at or what frame of mind I was in. I think doing it I kind of blocked everything out and just focused on the completion part of it. But now listening to it, I'm like, "Ooh, I was so sad." You know? Like, dang. Or, "My heart was broken on that one," or, "I remember when I met him!" Now it's hard for me to listen to, but doing it, nah.

ALI: How was Heirloom different from your other albums and mixtapes?

ILL CAMILLE: I took more time and I definitely know who I am doing this record. I'm not saying I didn't know who I was before, but I wasn't sure that it was OK to be myself. Now that I know, there's a certain assurance that I have that I believe makes my music sound better and more personal and more honest and way more transparent. So I think those things just naturally came about and that's why there's like a difference between what I've done now and what I used to do. Cause I wasn't sure. You do anything unsure it ain't gon' come out all the way right. It might sound good, but it ain't gon' come out all the way right.

FRANNIE: You mentioned — everybody has these moments in their life where they doubt themselves, right, and you said earlier that you weren't sure that you could be fruitful, I guess, you were saying, as a performer rather than somebody behind the scenes. How did you overcome that?

ILL CAMILLE: I had to isolate myself a little bit. I was very impressionable during that time so anything anybody would say to me was the truth.

FRANNIE: So wait, you're talking about like high school time?

ILL CAMILLE: High school and beginning of my music time.

FRANNIE: OK.

ILL CAMILLE: I say from like 2011 to 2013, I was hella impressionable. I was new. I mean, I'm still new, but I was very new. So any time I got around somebody who had more experience than me, whatever they would say was the law.

So if people were like, "You know, Missy was writing and doing all of this stuff a long time before she became an artist. Maybe that's the route you should go." Or, "Since you don't have your image figured out just yet, are you a Lauryn? Are you a Yo-Yo? Like, what is your deal?" I was like, "I don't know what my image is." And they were like, "Well, you gotta figure that out or nobody's going to buy your music." You know, stuff like that. Or, "You don't have the numbers." All those sort of things can weigh you down mentally, especially when you're trying to figure it out.

So, yeah, I didn't think that I was gonna be able to be successful if I wasn't adhering the way people wanted me to move and look and be. So I had to isolate myself and figure out what I wanted to say, how I wanted to present myself on these records. And I just — I took time to do it.

ALI: What would you say to the artist that's in the same position that you were in: impressionable, trying to figure themselves out, and having all those voices maybe blocking or just being something that needs to be considered. What would you say, knowing where you are now, how you got to this point?

ILL CAMILLE: I asked myself two things. What do I love about music? And I figured out I love everything about it. From the brainstorming part of it to getting in the studio and actually doing it, I love everything about it.

And then I was like, "Well, what do I love about myself that I could magnify and talk about and celebrate?" And those two things have to work together. Cause if you don't like who you are or you not comfortable with that, then your music is always gonna be half-assed. Not to cuss, but yeah, it is.

So that's what I would say to anybody that is still in the process of figuring it out. It ain't no rules. Just love yourself and love the music. I think it'll come out alright. And be consistent with both.

ALI: That's good life advice.

FRANNIE: Yeah. That's exactly what I was just thinking about. Is how people who aren't artists for their job, you know, they kind of just go to work and whatever — and they certainly work on themselves outside of that, but when your creativity is the source of your income, you have to do that work, and it's so tied together. You rise or you fall based off of it, which means that musicians are — it's a gift and terrifying.

ILL CAMILLE: Terrifying. Terrifying.

ALI: Yeah. Life can be terrifying though.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ALI: Not just — I mean, obviously as a musician you're really putting yourself out there, where most people in life are just like, "Nah, head down, going to work, going to school, come back home." But I think that what you said is really good life advice. I find that I tell people often who call me about things — like, I know I don't have the answers — but I find that I say often, "Love yourself."

ILL CAMILLE: That's so real.

ALI: And it's fascinating that you would think you would have to think about that or tell someone that, you know? Through whatever adversity's in life and people's environments, there's so many people that don't love themselves. And so —

FRANNIE: Well, the whole system is set up so you don't love yourself.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

FRANNIE: Like, that's how it works. It's all set up so that you deny yourself the full expression of you, and you go to your nine-to-five and you make somebody else money. And you leave your kids at daycare or at grandma's or whatever, and you don't bring them into your work life, and everything is separated out for production purposes, basically.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

FRANNIE: So people — it's hard on people. They can be forgiven for taking a long time to get to it, and for being angry about having it be so difficult, I think.

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Can you tell us about your village? Cause you mention on the record, I guess, the way you were raised. You describe it as a village. Can you talk about the village of — your village, people who helped you with this record, and mention who they are and what of their persona that helped shape this record?

ILL CAMILLE: OK. My village is a combination of my blood relatives and then people that I've become a family with in music and then just people who have been supporting me along the way, in and out. I feel they're a part of my village because they've nurtured something in me to bring me to this point.

So a couple key people: One, my dad.

My cousin who doubles as my manager. He's an MC himself. He used to be an MC himself, and he just never went the distance with it. So he has dedicated a lot of his life in the last six years to making sure that I go the distance with it. So anybody believes in you that much, you know, you got what you need.

And then my mom, my mom is a heavy, heavy jazz lady. And she's so much about the music it's good that she understood why I just couldn't work a regular job and why I kind of move around late at night. It's like, it's cool to have people that understand that, because to the average person, I probably appear to be weird and off-kilter. But to have those people understand, it made me — it made doing music a little easier, to have those people there.

Homies. My cousin CeeCee, my best friend Nicole.

Musically, it's Iman Omari. He's been rocking with me since my first project. He didn't care about who I wasn't signed to and all of this, budgets, lack thereof — he didn't care. He's been rocking with me from the go.

Georgia Anne, she's like a sister. And we share similar experiences in music. And I didn't know that I was going to have a women that I could talk to about certain things. And she's always there; she always understands. Her and Dudley collectively helped me. And they let me know, like, you can be married and have a family and do music. They're my living, breathing representation of that. So they're a part of my village.

Everybody that helped me complete this record. Damani Nkosi. He's on two records, but he was telling me he's seen me a certain way from the beginning. Just like, "Embrace your blackness. Embrace your femininity. Embrace every part of you. Embrace your L.A. Embrace your West Coast. Embrace everything about you." And it's cool to have a fellow MC instill that in me too. That's dope. And he's a man, so sometimes you don't get that. And that's cool that he put that in me like that.

Yeah, everybody. Everybody on the record. SiR. For real. SiR came at a time when I needed somebody to help me accomplish what I wanted to sonically. He's an engineer. He's an engineer, he's a songwriter, he's an MC, he's a singer. It was like having a one-stop shop right there in a person. I would be like, "Can you do the thing where you do —" he'd be like, "A verify?" I'd be like, "Exactly!" So I sharpened — I got sharper. Like, iron sharpens iron, and to me he's incredible, so I got better in working with him. He's a part of my village, too.

ALI: And speaking on your mom, I notice that you say that she's the jazz.

ILL CAMILLE: Oh, man. What?

ALI: So you have a lot of jazziness to the music, and also instrumental break-outs.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Is that kind of like your homage to your mom?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. And just the producers and the musicians themselves. I can't play anything, so the best thing I can do is be dope over the soundscape and represent it in breakdowns in my music or beat switch-ups and stuff. I'm like, I'm just paying tribute to the people that did it, and my mama.

ALI: So can you describe your process, your production process? Since you have this — you can't play but you have an understanding of music.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. So I'll just say like, "I need some beats." You know what I'm saying? Or I'll reach out to certain people, cause I know what their sound is. Jairus Mozee. His sound is so full and bass-heavy, and his drums are good. I know I'm going to get something that fits my style if I talk to him. And Willie B and Tae Beast. Like, there's just certain people that they already have the sound, like the bare minimum. Like, the drums be right. I start off with the drums. The drums gotta hit a certain way, you know? And then everything else can be built around. And that's normally how I select the beats.

And then I'll ask the producer like, "Can we take that one instrument out and replace it with a synth or something?" And it's cool that they allow me to invite my ideas onto the beats too.

ALI: You're a very illustrated writer — illustrative writer. With songs like "Black Gold," it's easy to be transported to a place where you see the paradoxical aspect of life. What inspired that song?

ILL CAMILLE: Life. Just like the state of the times. I had wrote that a while back too. And what I wanted to do was like highlight things that are happening in the world, touch on 'em, but then show the flip-side, like the beauty too. The duality of everything. And that's why — I mean, I even named it what it's called, you know? Most people attribute black to being something negative, dark, heavy, you know? And I just wanted it to be like, black is gold. Black gold. You know what I mean? Priceless. And I wanted everything I said in there to be worth its weight too.

ALI: How did that come together?

ILL CAMILLE: Shoot. I had a session with DDot Omen, and — it was me, DDot Omen, and SiR. And we were just going through beats. And I had already a lot of the rap constructed already — probably about 24 bars of it constructed already.

And then we were just going through beats, just at the studio going through beats, and I heard one. And he was like, "Oh, my homeboy produced this, Paperboy Fabe." And I had never heard of Fabe, but he said he had did some stuff for ScHoolboy. And I was like, "Well, the beat is dope, so is there a way we can get in contact with him?" And then he walks in, and I was like, "See, God? You want me to have this beat right now." And then SiR was like, "OK, I'ma do something on it." I was like, "Alright, do what you want to." So what sounds like a sample is just SiR. And we put a little — a vinyl filter on him to give it that effect.

And then I wrote, shoot, probably like 48 more bars right then. They were just coming at that point, you know what I mean? Once all the elements was there, and the producer right there. I wanted him to give me the record right then. So I was like, "I'ma make this dope, and we gon' do it this one time." And we did.

ALI: Alright. It's pretty dope. It's a strong intro to an album too.

ILL CAMILLE: Well, thank you.

ALI: Which leads me to my next one. You kind of answered it almost. But how often do you hear an instrumental track and you know from the jump like, "I'ma finish this song right now?"

ILL CAMILLE: Often.

ALI: Yeah?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. I'm fortunate to have people who bless me with great production. So it's like, I know when a beat is good when I instantly start mumbling words. It doesn't take long for me to be like, "Oh, I'm feeling it." You know? If I start mumbling words or coming up with a hook idea pretty quickly, I know I'm gonna do it, whether now or later. That's why I said the bulk of this album is old, old in terms of recording it. It's pre-2013/2014 time. But some things you just know. Like, it felt good to me then, feels good now. And that's the kind of music I want to do, to where you don't know when I recorded it. Beat is good. Now let me just do my part.

ALI: Is "Trust Me" your version of "Ms Fat Booty?"

ILL CAMILLE: Yes. Yeah, it is. It is. That's — it is. That's — it's — yup. It is. That's a good one.

ALI: It's like a nice upgrade. Told from a woman's perspective of course.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. You know, we got something to say too. And it was a real situation, so I was just like, "How can I story-tell but also make this something you could two-step to?" You know how you was asking me earlier like, "What's L.A.?" Hella two-step. So I wanted something that we could groove to, two-step.

ALI: Did you have a moment while recording Heirloom that you felt like it was the highest spiritual concept? Like everything just aligned so perfectly.

ILL CAMILLE: "Spider's Jam."

MUHAMMAD: "Spider's Jam."

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

ALI: Describe making that.

ILL CAMILLE: I had started writing something, what was called "Spider's Jam" then, 2013. And I knew I wanted to make my story make sense in one record. Like, if there was one record I could play that would describe who I am, what my upbringing is, what my outlook is, and why I like the music that I like, one record, it'd be that one. So I wrote the lyrics first, probably about — yeah — probably about eight to 12 bars of it.

And then two years later, my homeboy Rick Hughes came by the studio I was recording "Lighters" at and had some vinyl. And he was just like, "Well, while you doing that, I'ma play these records and try to chop samples." And I heard them and I was like, "That one." And he was like, "You want this one?" I was like, "Yes. I do actually." And I was like, "Just make it loop from here to here." And he was like, "OK. Fasho." And there was nothing else added to it. It was just the repetitious loop. Then I put those 12 bars to the loop, and I sent it to him, and I was like, "This has to be a full thing." And he was like, "Alright." So then he got a bassist to come add something to it, and that kind of helped. He had the drums.

So I had like a good foundation, but in my mind I wanted it to sound bigger. So I start asking like JaVonté. I asked SiR. I asked Tay Walker. I was like, "Can you put some background vocals on it, because I want it to gradually build. I want it to sound like — sort of like an Earth, Wind & Fire type of arrangement." Like, where it got bigger and more instruments were introduced.

And when I explained that idea to Battlecat, he was like, "Alright." And then he played on it live. So then we took the sample out, and everything became played live. My homeboy Tre played the piano part of it, which was the loop. He played that over, and Georgia added vocals at the end. There was even trumpets. There was a horn section. But I was just like, "Let's just leave it kind of minimal."

But that's how it became that. And it was cool because I didn't have to explain too much. Like, "Oh, this record is about my family and all this and the love." When people heard it, they was like, "Oh, we get it. Let us just do our own thing." And I just sat and I helped arrange the record and that was it. And that was — it felt good because it came out exactly how I envisioned it, and I felt like I captured the spirit of my family and what I was trying to say, and what Heirloom is in its entirety. Like if Heirloom was a one-track album, I would just have to play "Spider's Jam."

ALI: Yeah. It's a beautiful song.

ILL CAMILLE: Thank you.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: I have a question.

ALI: Yup.

FRANNIE: So I helped produce an interview with Kyle Hall a little while ago, and he was talking about Georgia. And she had said this thing to him when he — they were just sort of talking about staying totally independent, you know, her leaving and him having his own label. She said, "Culture is a operating system." Has she ever said anything like that to you?

ILL CAMILLE: Something similar. She always says it's about the culture.

FRANNIE: OK.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: What does that mean? To her or to you?

ILL CAMILLE: To me, that's taking all of the things that we typically focus on — like the numbers, the hype, the press, the esteem, the awards, the whatever, the ego — out of it. It's about the culture, which means it's like a collective. It's a community thing.

So when she says that to me, it puts me right back into perspective. Like, this is bigger than me. If I'm not doing something that's gonna influence somebody else that's gonna influence somebody else, then I really shouldn't be doing it. You can't play with it. It's for the culture. It's for a great amount of people, you know? Yeah. So that's what I think about when she says stuff like that.

FRANNIE: So you were a music writer at one point.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Did you ever think about that when you were reviewing or putting people on or —

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. Mm-hmm. That was the focal point. When I wasn't an artist, all I wanted to do was celebrate the artist and the people behind the artist. Cause I felt like that's what it was about. It was about all the intricate pieces of, like, an album and a label. There's more than just the artist. There's people behind those artists that keep 'em motivated, that help them with ideas, that — I just wanted to celebrate that. And I realized they're all a part of the culture. From the intern to the runner in the studio to the graphic artist that does the artwork, everything is equally important. And that's what I wanted to write about. Yeah.

FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean, it's such a different — it's obvious that it's a different perspective. It's sort of major vs. independent. But I think when you sort of accept the inevitability of the majors and them being so powerful and having all this money and having the reach, you can kind of get — you can forget that they have — they're very weak.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: It's pretty easy to undermine them on an individual level.

ILL CAMILLE: Right. Yeah.

FRANNIE: So — I don't know. It's just when you talk to people who have been resolute about their independence, it's a very different — it's just a different conversation. The potential feels very different.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

ALI: In the time period when many artists of the hip-hop genre choose to make — putting in quotes here, people — "dumbed down" music — and I say it's a choice; they choose to, in my opinion — why have you chosen to manifest an art piece of consciousness, higher consciousness?

Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist

Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist

ILL CAMILLE: For personal reasons and again for the culture. I feel like I'm growing up, and I feel like I'm growing, too. And who am I withhold any of that experience or information from people? I feel like the best way to get information across, to me, is music. So while I'm doing music, I have a responsibility to tell the truth, and as I'm learning, share what I'm learning with whoever is listening. So we can grow and get better together.

There's always gonna be people that don't want to take that route, like it's just for entertainment purposes, and I dig that too, right? But my job, I feel like my responsibility, is to talk to you and talk to your heart and your mind while you nodding your head. And if we can grow together and get better like that, then cool. Then my job is done. That's why I chose my specific sound.

ALI: It comes through. I mean, I think — what I love about your music is it's not preachy, but it just sounds like an experience that I can identify with, you know, and I relate to it even though I'm not from L.A. There's — I hear it in sort of a L.A. sense, but I hear it broader than that. And I hear the backyard when you talk about it. You know what I mean?

I hear the angst in what's happening in the community and having to dodge and overcome or even get sucked up into it, and realizing that you got caught up. Cause some people don't acknowledge that. They'll just keep riding the wave, and not just say, "I got caught up. It's all good." You acknowledge that, and it's very honest. And it's pretty dope.

And I mean, and just from — I mean, I talked about it before, but your MC skills are so superior high.

ILL CAMILLE: Thank you.

ALI: So it just comes out in a good way. And when you think of other music of this time period, specifically from the hip-hop genre, and it's supposed to be a representation of the culture, but it's nothing that I can identify with, and knowing how important music is to me, it's just so upsetting. So it's great that you're making what you're making. Anyway.

FRANNIE: I got a little one.

ALI: Yup.

FRANNIE: So last time we spoke I asked you how it feels to have figured out who you are and what you want to do, and Ali asked what is freedom to you. I think that those are kind of the same question. Could you give it to us again?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. Freedom to me is being able to show you who I am and show you who I'm trying to be and not worry about judgment or the pressure to change that. And freedom to me is being able to drop a record when I want to, how I want to, with who I want to do it with, and that be OK. Because I want to please the village first, and myself, first. And that's freedom.

I don't have the same worries as I did in 2013 when I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to make the audience happy or like a label be interested in me or other artists be interested in me and give me props. Like, I'm not tripping off of that. I am concerned with am I who I am on and off these songs that I'm doing? And now that I'm completely 100% OK with that, yeah, that's freedom, to me. That's freedom to me.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ALI: Often we turn to music to be a source of comfort or to help us get through a difficult time. Aside from music what do you turn to, what's your comfort? What gives you strength?

ILL CAMILLE: I am starting to get more into like — I guess it's meditation, I guess. Sitting in solitude, right? I guess, yeah. So, I like the beach. That's when I really realized too I am a California girl for real. Because I'll just go to the beach alone and be there for a long time. And you know your signal's not good so people gon' call I'ma miss the call. And I'm OK with that. So between going to the beach —

FRANNIE: Which beach?

ILL CAMILLE: I'm still like — I still like Venice. I guess just cause I know it's like a little burnt.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: Might get robbed. I've been mugged at Venice twice.

ALI: Really?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. But I just still like it. Cause it's tourist-y but it's still city-ish, you know?

ALI: Was that old Venice or new Venice?

ILL CAMILLE: Both.

ALI: Seriously?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Just asking cause, you know.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, they a little rugged down there. It's a little gangster in Venice. But I like it.

I take naps more.

ALI: If you make this move to New York, you know that's gonna be a huge chunk out of your life, right?

ILL CAMILLE: I know.

FRANNIE: What? Naps or the beach?

ALI: The beach.

ILL CAMILLE: The beach.

ALI: There are beaches —

FRANNIE: In the summer you can go to the beach.

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: What beach though? Where?

ALI: You get a good three months. And I'm glad you mentioned Venice cause I was trying to figure out, alright, what's the New York version of Venice? I'm like maybe —

FRANNIE: It's Coney.

ALI: — Coney Island, right?

FRANNIE: But she should go to Rockaways.

ALI: Rockaway or —

ILL CAMILLE: Oh, I've been to Rockaway.

FRANNIE: Yeah, there's like actual waves.

ALI: Yeah, but I'm thinking after living in L.A. and just seeing the ease of getting to the beach — and if you want to go to a quality beach —

FRANNIE: Well, the water's warmer.

ALI: Yeah, the water is warmer in New York, so put that in the gold star column.

ILL CAMILLE: OK. OK.

ALI: Long Island probably would be that.

FRANNIE: Yeah, Jones maybe.

ALI: Where you get that meditative sort of environment.

ILL CAMILLE: OK.

ALI: Less intrusive, let-me-clutch-my-belongings type of environment.

ILL CAMILLE: OK.

ALI: But you can only really — I say — what? Four months out of the year?

FRANNIE: Well, yeah.

ALI: And it takes forever to get out there.

FRANNIE: Yeah, it's — you should just ride your bike.

ALI: So just something to think about if the beach is that important to you and your meditation.

ILL CAMILLE: OK.

ALI: But it's funny. You said, you know, you don't have reception so a lot of missed calls and whatever.

FRANNIE: You should just ride the subway.

ALI: You have a song, and I don't remember the title — forgive me — where you kind of address your escapism.

ILL CAMILLE: "Few Days."

ALI: "Few Days." Is that part of your meditative process? Just kind of getting away.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. At the time, I was depressed, so, you know — for lack of a better word. So I don't really know what to call it. Like, I wasn't tripping off the phone. I wasn't tripping off of people. Human beings, I don't really rock with them like that. So I think that was just like a natural response.

But now it's like, I'm not mad or anything. I just don't want to entertain everything that's coming in my way. Like, sometime you gotta put the phone down. It's overstimulation. I don't watch TV like that. If I do — yeah, when do I watch — anyways, I'm just saying I have to put this down. I realize how much of an influence that it's had on my life and how I move. So I'm just starting to —

ALI: You mentioned author Elaine Brown.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: How has her writing impacted you?

ILL CAMILLE: That one — and me and my cousin Amaya — shout out to her, happy birthday — we read A Taste Of Power when we were like seventh grade. And I think it just changed our outlook on who we are as women. I was like, "Dang. You can be assertive, powerful, organized, stand with and behind men, and still be equally effective." You know, women are warriors, too. So I got that whole vibe from her telling her stories about being a part of the Black Panther movement and just things that she cultivated on her own. That book kind of changed how I feel.

And then recently she was at USC. She spoke at USC, and just even hearing her talk in person — cause that was the first time I ever seen her — but just how she talks in person about being planted and rooted and firm and still very much a woman, I was like, "Dang. So you can be all those things." You know what I'm saying? And make a huge impact in the culture. I'm like, "Dang. There's women out there like that, so." Yeah.

ALI: This is some silly stuff, so if you have anything more serious, you might want to —

FRANNIE: No.

ALI: No? Alright, will you share with us a few songs that when you hear them alone or in a social setting make you completely lose your cool?

ILL CAMILLE: "It Ain't No Fun."

FRANNIE: Always.

 ILL CAMILLE: OK. I'm gon' do all the parts. "Jamaica Funk." "Iesha." "At the playground, you know, playground." Like, I'm going to do my dance. I have a dance for that. Oh, and "Buddy."

FRANNIE: Cute. They play "Buddy" on the radio a lot out here.

ALI: Really?

FRANNIE: Yeah, it's really funny to me.

ALI: What radio?

FRANNIE: KDAY. Obviously.

ILL CAMILLE: KDAY.

ALI: Oh. I mean, we got to celebrate KDAY cause they do stuff like that.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ALI: But when you said that I was thinking, I was like, "Really?"

FRANNIE: You were trying to track down a payment?

ALI: Not even! I was just like, "Hm. Some of the other guys are doing that too." Like, KDAY, you kind of expect that from them.

FRANNIE: Right. Well, KDAY is like Quik, Pac, "Buddy." And I just don't — I was going to ask earlier about radio in, like, '96 and 2011 and just — you talked about lots of ways you experienced and heard music for the first time, but did radio affect you at all?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, because there was a point where, I mean, besides getting the hand-me-down tapes from my cousins and stuff, I was turning on 92.3, The Beat.

FRANNIE: I used to tape off the radio.

ILL CAMILLE: Me too. Me too. Wake up shows, all them little freestyle late night — yeah. I feel like radio raised me a little bit too. But it was different.

FRANNIE: So different.

ILL CAMILLE: The formatting was different. I would hear records that were current right then but then I would hear Frankie Beverly, too, in the next minute, and they blended well. And I don't know. It was just a little less programmed.

FRANNIE: Yeah, they weren't like obviously trying to create a hit.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

FRANNIE: I can't imagine a radio station that would play a record off Heirloom, though they should.

ILL CAMILLE: Man. Man. Sirius. Like, Sirius XM Radio.

FRANNIE: Right. Maybe a Beats show or something.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: But, yeah, it's separate. It's like it's its own thing now, commercial radio. It's, like, left.

ILL CAMILLE: It's its own thing. I forget about it now sometime.

FRANNIE: Right.

ILL CAMILLE: No disrespect too, cause I got homies on the radio, but I just — let me turn on something else. Turn on something else.

ALI: Well, just, I know this as an artist: I don't think about the radio when I'm making my music. But from working for an artist that's thinking about it, actually I hate — not hate. That's a strong word. I usually don't do well in those environments.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: But I do understand the value of commercial radio for pushing units.

ILL CAMILLE: Mm-hmm.

ALI: But then when you have such a beautiful art piece like Heirloom, it's just frustrating, as a fan, not understanding why someone up there at those stations just won't be courageous enough to crack it. So, I don't know.

ALI: I only have a couple more questions.

ILL CAMILLE: Sure.

FRANNIE: Cool.

ALI: And this last one is kind of like a two-part question. If there was something past or present that you could do over, what would it be?

FRANNIE: Oh my god.

ILL CAMILLE: Dang. Past or present. I wish I never had run hurdles in high school because I still got the scar on my thigh and I wasn't good at hurdles and I don't know why I did that. Like, that was dumb. It didn't teach me anything except I'm clumsy, you know? OK. So.

FRANNIE: I feel like track-and-field is usually a mistake. Like, c'mon.

ILL CAMILLE: That was a huge mistake.

FRANNIE: Just fucking —

ILL CAMILLE: Hurdles? Who told me I could do that?

FRANNIE: So how did you get the scar? Was there a catastrophe?

ILL CAMILLE: Cause I slid underneath the hurdle because I clipped the girl next to me.

FRANNIE: Oh damn.

ILL CAMILLE: Clipped her, tripped over one hurdle, slid under like four of 'em. I came in third. But the fact of the matter is this scar is still on my thigh to this day, and it just — it's like, you know what? You shouldn't've ran hurdles. So that's one.

Two, in music, something that — say “No” more. It's just some things I know I shouldn't've did. Cause it wasn't me, you know? It's OK to say, “No” now.

ALI: It is very OK to say no. I identify with that. Cause I'm like — I don't like to disappoint people, so I'm like, "OK. OK. Yeah." And yes, I've recently found the power of no.

ILL CAMILLE: Of the no.

ALI: "I'm sorry, but no."

ILL CAMILLE: It's all good.

ALI: Yeah. Alright.

Singer Jordan Rakei has a song titled "Alright," and in it he says, "I don't want to see no more." What do you not want to see anymore?

ILL CAMILLE: I don't want to see any more people bleaching their skin. I think — I was watching something last night, and then it just went into this marathon of YouTube research. But it was like, skin-bleaching creams are on the rise, especially in countries like Haiti and Jamaica. And Africa. And I was like, "Damn. Man. Perms and relaxers, the sales for those are decreasing." Right, we getting into the natural state of being now.

But in the countries where the African presence is the heaviest, now they want to bleach their skin. Like, not now, but I mean it's, like, a fashion trend, you know, to the point where it's causing medical problems and of course identity issues. And I'm just like, "Damn. I don't want to see that no more." It like broke my heart, cause I didn't know. I didn't know.

ALI: Me either. And I wonder what's the cause of that.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: Alright. On the flip-side, what do you want to see more?

ILL CAMILLE: What I've been really loving lately is the love. Just people, even on social media — and I'm not just saying how they treating me, but I'm just saying like, compliments, little compliments. I love emojis. Like, the cool, happy emojis, I see those more. Use more emojis. High-five somebody. Hug somebody. Tell somebody they dope. It's not about you all the time. Share the love.

So I've been seeing that a lot more lately. I think people are just needing it more, so we're giving it more. So I like that. It's dope. Every place I've been, like, people just hugging and I'm hugging. It's dope. Like, we all cool. It just feel — it feels like — I know there's always going to be beef in the world, so it is what it is. I'm not tripping, but it just feels like the love is on the rise, you know. And I like that. It just makes for a better environment all around.

ALI: True.

ILL CAMILLE: Just smiling. People speaking to each other. That ain't normally like a L.A. way. But now it's like, "Hey, how you doing?" I'm like, "How you doing? Well, damn!" I take Lyft a lot, and I think now I'm taking it cause I'm addicted to talking to people. And just being like, "What's up?" "You good?" "You good?" "OK, cool!" You never know. That changes things to me.

ALI: Do you see that in all parts of L.A.?

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah.

ALI: That's beautiful.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah, I'm seeing it everywhere.

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: Yeah. Seeing it everywhere. It's dope.

ALI: That is dope.

ILL CAMILLE: I think.

FRANNIE: I thought it was just cause I got a dog, and people were talking to me more.

ILL CAMILLE: Boo Boo is cute though. Boo Boo is bomb. It's that too.

But we need each other I think. People are starting to realize that.

ALI: Alright.

FRANNIE: Our interviews have been different, a little bit.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Right?

ALI: Mm-hmm. My closing statement to you — I had to write this out. I had to really think about it. But after 2016 presidential election, many people feel bewildered. Many lovers and followers of hip-hop culture feel bewildered by a lot of the music being represented as hip-hop today. So I hope that the people listening to Heirloom will feel oriented. So thank you.

ILL CAMILLE: Thank you.

ALI: Yeah.

ILL CAMILLE: That was dope. Thank you.

FRANNIE: That was great, thank you so much.

 



 



 



Z-Ro

Z-Ro