ILL CAMILLE: I JUST DO IT
photography by dana washington
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” —Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
Time is a common denominator in the struggles of most artists. It’s unavoidable presence hangs over many of us as the shadow that it is. Camille Davis—better known to us as Ill Camille—is no exception to the rule. 2012’s Illustrated along with her appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and work with Crenshaw jazz producer Terrace Martin made her the talk of the town in the L.A. scene. And then time passed. The unexpected spotlight on the young artist dimmed. Life was lived. We as consumers forget the motions sometimes. Now five years later—five years spent working with a who’s who in the tight-knit L.A. community, mind you—she blesses us with her new record Heirloom. Those tasked with building legacies are those who respect the energy—and more importantly the time—that goes into being remembered. And this is her time. She performs on Wed., June 28, at Low End Theory. This interview by Senay Kenfe.
Why did you call this album Heirloom?
Ill Camille: Because that’s what I wanted it to be. Before it was called Illustrated B-Sides and B-sides in my mind was always those dope records that didn’t make the A-side. And—
For the young people listening, there was a time when you’d have to like change it over, you know? And there was other music on the other side!
Ill Camille: And it was cool too! That I’d normally like more! But that’s what I was thinking it was going to be. Three weeks before Heirloom was done mixing and mastering, [producer] Battlecat was like, ‘Sis, I have to call you this morning. After you’re like really sitting with this, after hearing like ‘Spider’s Jam,’ “Black Gold,’ and ‘South Apollo’ — those are completely different records — he was like, ‘This is too personal, you got too many personal people in your life on this album and this is not for the faint at heart or the people with the short attention span. This is going to live. You should really think about a better name. This ain’t no mixtape shit. This ain’t for today, it’s forever.’ I was like, alright. He said ‘Sleep on it and think about it some.’ And I thought about it because I had this freestyle where I said ‘I be wearing niggas out like an heirloom’ and I was like ‘Heirloom is a good word!’ I looked it up and I said ‘Ooh! Tradition, family, legacy—that’s it.’ And I hit [collaborator] DJ Shanx and Kev and Shana [Jenson Muldrow] and I was like ‘I think I’m changing it to Heirloom.’ And they were like cool! And I was like, ‘I think we were going with the wrong name this whole time because you guys is too excited’. They was too like ‘Yes!’
DJ Shanx: Those latest records you were doing it was just—
Ill Camille: Too personal?
DJ Shanx: It’s just something changed that vibe. It was like … she came up with that hard name.
So now you’ve got a body of work. And you’ve worked with other people who also have bodies of work. How important is something like legacy to you? I’m not saying it’s in the front of your mind. But does that come up now? Like, ‘Alright, I’m three in. Now I gotta be like on my Prince shit, I gotta build something. This is no longer for the now—this is an heirloom. Someone twenty, thirty years from now is going to pop this in. Let me not just speak to who is going to hear this in 2017, let me try to make this so it’s in a space where it’s understandable X amount of years from now.’
Ill Camille: Yes, that is very important—you know why? Because I was like … dang, you know when people ask me like ‘What’s your favorite album? Name your top three!’ I’m still naming people from like twenty years ago. Right? I don’t feel like these people are on my brain or in my psyche for no reason. I think they intentionally set out to do music that was going to outlive them. Because who knows? God forbid, something could happen to me tomorrow—or to anybody on my album—but I feel like the type of music that I’m attempting to do and that people are saying I’m doing is going to live past that. I literally now be like … I have homies that never seen 21, I have family members that didn’t live to 50 years old. What legacy did they leave? How can I remember them? If people know me to be an artist, that’s the first thing they gonna do: pull up my albums. I want them to get a sense if they never met me, never talked to me, never did nothing, before that time that they found out something happened to Ill Camille, I want them to pop in my album and be able to tell who I was by what I said on those songs. That’s important to me. And those people who say stuff like, ‘Well, what about the consumer right now? Like right now, albums are shorter, people got shorter attention spans’ … but those kids are going to grow older. They’re gonna be 33 like me! It’s gonna slow down. And then they gonna do like I did and revisit some of the albums that they weren’t equipped to like like then. You change as you get older. It’s some young people now that ain’t hip to me gonna be like ‘Oh shit she’s dope’ in about ten years. That’s cool!
That’s a very acute point. I feel that we just happen to stumble into being in niches as artists, but for whatever reason—corporations, business, whatever—there’s always this urging, pressing feeling of ‘Just try to grab as many fans as you can!’ Which is not realistic. We as consumers forget that you can only showcase this part of your life—show off this part of your sound,—and it doesn’t necessarily have to connect with me right away in order for it to be good.
Ill Camille: Yeah—regardless if I’m your cup of tea or not, you gonna know it’s quality tea still. You gonna know it’s a trustable and reliable brand. Like ‘Man, that ain’t my way— I’m more so on the other end, I like trap music or whatever,’ whoever that consumer is, I still want them to understand what I’m about and give them the opportunity to revisit it.
Why did it take so long for Heirloom to come out? Your last album Illustrated was in 2012.
Ill Camille: I wasn’t confident enough. Normally people would be like, ‘Oh—it’s a lack of support!’ I had support—that wasn’t the case. I’m blood-related to my support. It was just me! I had to get out on my own way. Any little thing that didn’t seem promising, I’d be like … ‘OK, should I switch up my style? Am I too lyrical? Am I too Black? Am I too like in the background of people?’ I just had to get on my own way mentally, and that’s what took a long time. And everything that’ll happen in somebody’s life in a three-year period will seem extra difficult to deal with when trying to focus on music. Like, OK, death is hard, break-ups are hard, loss of friends is hard … but then trying to focus on the album? Yeah, I couldn’t do it. I had to give my attention to those things and work through those and then get back to the music. Now I know how to do both.
And that involved … moving? Changing location?
Ill Camille: Moving away from people. Not physical location but ‘let me take myself out of this space.’ Lemme chill with just a couple people this time, or be alone a lot. So not physical, no.
That made me think of ‘Home’—let’s talk about ‘Home,’ produced by Georgia Muldrow, featuring Damani Nkosi.
Ill Camille: So Georgia gave me a batch of beats years ago. 83 beats. That was one of the ones we always kept in the stash like … I didn’t know when I was gonna use it but I was gonna use that beat. And if you listen to what she’s saying, she says something about going on and it being a struggle but she just gotta press on. And in the end, she’s like, ‘I wanna go.’ So I’m like, ‘Home is wherever you feel comfortable in your spirit.’ Damani is a traveler—he just got back from Africa, and he about to leave again. He feels like that’s his home, and he’s from Inglewood. I feel like so many places I’m welcome I ain’t even been yet! I ain’t been to Brazil. I ain’t been to London! I’ve never been. But I feel like when I go, that’s gonna be home for me too because of the love that’s already in place. So I wanted to do a song that kinda shouted out those places that be showing me love, regardless of the language barrier or regardless of the fact I’ve never been, all that … I think these people are gonna hear me and treat me like I’m a part of their world. So I just wanted to do that record. Plus the bassline and everything else … it just felt like home. The beat felt like home, and I needed to reference those places.
Looking at the Heirloom tracklisting, productionwise … it’s all over the place but it’s not. It’s very much west coast but the energy is very soulful, which kinda fits. Like talking again about collaboration, it fits the family you built around you. For those people who don’t understand the vibe of you or Iman or Tiffany [Gouche], what is this energy that for whatever reason has been abled to be centered here in L.A. more than other places? Best described as best you can … cuz you embody that. You’re one of the people who embodies it.