ILL CAMILLE: I JUST DO IT
photography by dana washington
Ill Camille: I think it’s a mix of elements, right? So just being here in the west coast, you can go thirty minutes to an hour in each direction, north south east west, and end up in a different climate, literally.
As I put my jacket on—
Ill Camille: As you put your jacket on! It can be cold, you can go to the beach, the desert, and the mountains in one day. I believe that has a lot to do with our temperament, and like the tempo of our music too. We’re a little bit off-kilter and we like our beats like not always quantized, know what I’m saying? And I like that. We like swing. We like our shit to head nod, and shit we can ride to. That kind of slump—we like that! West coast people are very much musicians, so there are a lot of musical elements, even in the stuff that we think is basic head nod stuff—there’s a lot of musical elements there. So when you combine temperature, our attitudes, our relaxed natures but a little aggressive, our soulful … our like old and new soul type of … You’re going to get our type of music, if you understand that there’s always like a dual nature to how we are, and that’s the best way to describe it. Listen to Tiffany: she’s feminine and very like heavy too, in terms of subject matter and content. She’s aggressive but in a chill way, and there’s little elements of surprise, I feel like that’s a west coast thing too. You can’t just run our shit—it’s not going to sound like a loop. There’s going to be some synth that you’re going to cut out if you try to loop our shit, and and I feel like that’s how we are. We’ll surprise you. That’s the best way I can define our music: it has a dual nature to it.
Earlier I was talking about how I caught you a couple years ago with at a Forty Ounce Gold show and that was around 2013—
Ill Camille: —end of 12? Or 13? Yeah, you right.
So from then to now—what has changed in terms of you as an artist?
Ill Camille: I believe I’m an artist now.
You believe you’re an artist now? What’s the difference from back then?
Ill Camille: I just knew I was good. I believe I’m an artist—I’m owning it. I’m stepping into … I feel like what I’ve been called to do, which is creative arts, and hip-hop is a creative art. I feel like I was like running away from it or not all the way confident? So that gap of time was dedicated to me believing in myself that I could do this. Heirloom now, you know.
Why do you recognize as it as a skill set as opposed to than something you feel you were destined to do?
Ill Camille: I believe it’s a God-given skill set. Those things are now apparent to me—they’re one and the same for me. For some people, they acquire the skill along the way. I felt like maybe I was just good cuz I like hip-hop so much? Versus maybe I’m good because God made me good? So now that I’m completely in acknowledgment of that, it’s different. My albums are gonna come out different with that sense of awareness.
Also from then to now—you took I don’t wanna call it a break, but an adjustment? A re-shift in your lane? You opened to up—it went from two-lane freeway to three-lane freeway because you started working with a lot of other artists, started collaborating with a lot of them. What was your reasoning?
Ill Camille: I’ve always been very collaborative, but I think I just needed to focus on my squad more. Like Vibe Music Collective with like Iman [Omari] and [rapper] Marouf And Kev… there was always a sound and a family vibe there. I wasn’t making use of it as much as I could. You know you have all those resources and people around you so you think … sometimes when you have an abundance of something, you don’t take advantage of it. You think it’s normal. And I’m looking at it like, ‘Alright, who’s kinda built like us like right now?’
Ill Camille: Not many. And I wanted to re-tap into that. And then me doing that was like, ‘Oh, OK, let me tap into my friends that have always been down from the jump—from the first project and the second one—lemme just bring them back on this third one as like a thank you,’ and as ‘you guys are dope, I’m a fan!’ and … we sound good together! So why not?’ So that was my purpose for making this album very much like a compilation of gifts from everybody.
In hindsight, do you feel a working relationship with certain artists? People who are in the know—they know you’ve worked with some big artists, whether we’re talking about Terrace [Martin] or Kendrick or any of these artists. Do you feel those relationships have affected the speed of your own career—like moved it beyond your control or your pace? Or put you in places and situations you at the time weren’t ready for—but that you are ready for now?
Ill Camille: Good-ass question! That’s the first time anybody’s ever asked me that question. Yes! I felt like at some times, it put me in the forefront of situations and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a year in, bro—I’m still trying to figure this out, but thank you!’ I didn’t wanna come off like not appreciative of being the center of focus in some respects. But then once you get in there, you gotta prove, too. There’s a show-and-prove part, and I felt like me not being as confident as I told you, I was like, ‘Yeah, I can only show you this much.’ Because mentally I don’t think I can do what these people do can do, or what they’re saying I can do! So yeah—I definitely feel that sometimes the attention was unwarranted but I was grateful for it cuz now I’m in the perfect condition for it.
And now it’s at your own pace.
Ill Camille: That’s the beauty of being an independent artist. You set your own pace. You set the tone for how fast you wanna move or when you wanna slow down. I only drop a project like once a year—but that’s how I move! And that’s OK with me and the people that know that’s how I operate now. Before I didn’t know what the hell to do! And looking at Kendrick and Terrace like … it’s hard to follow their blueprint and their pace. Look at how they move! They doing like three or four things at a time, and won’t put ‘em out for a year or two later. But that’s them. I learned from them in that period—I just couldn’t figure it out.
I’m from Long Beach and I remember seeing Terrace in Snoop’s band. Way way long ago. And I remember seeing Kendrick like opening for people! I can’t imagine … I can’t speak on the east coast, I’m from where I’m from, but I feel like here in the west, a lot of people are so connected to one another, it’s family! And so when one part of your family gets in a position of power or the spotlight’s on them, of course the natural thing is, ‘Oh, put me on!’ Or, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna put my people on!’ But sometimes it’s not right. For you?
Ill Camille: Sometimes your own vision will get lost in the sauce.
Ill Camille: And your own sense of self will get lost in there, too. Sometimes you don’t need to get put on by nobody. You just need to chill and get your own shit straight. But I’m thankful for everything they helped me do.
How do you feel about sequencing in the times of Spotify and iTunes where how you start a project as a listener is not necessarily how it’s supposed to sound?
Ill Camille: Cuz I’m one of them free Spotify people so it’s out of order! No disrespect!
As a creative, do you worry about how they’re gonna consume it? I know it says ‘number one: “Black Gold,”’ but ‘Black Gold’ could be number ten or number five to them, and it can mess up the story. You have a story here!
Ill Camille: That’s why I think at least three-fourths of your project should congeal cuz it’s gonna be played out of order. People should get a certain vibe if they hear that out of order—they should hear the vibe based on the three or four that they heard. Even if it’s all out of sorts. I want people to be like, ‘OK, it makes sense that these songs would be on the same project.’ Maybe not in this order, but they make sense together, and that’s all I’m focused on. I honestly think from the perspective of a person that will get a project, open it up, look at the notes, look at like … I’m not saying I take into consideration that that’s the way it is, but I don’t even think about that shit. I wanna have an album that flows top to bottom if you play number ten first! I care about that.
And there’s a video coming?
Ill Camille: ‘Black Gold’ video—shout out to Ray Carter. He directed the video. I let him choose what he wanted to do visually to let him represent the song because the song is more like an MC song, but a lot of messages in there. I’m wearing an heirloom in the video. My uncle Sammy’s coat from Cal State L.A., I think they called it State College back then. It’s his old track jacket. It’s black and gold—my auntie Saundra let me use it.
You first started out on The Pre-Write in 2011? Or was you working on somebody else’s before that?
Ill Camille: Pre-Write was my first album.
But before then?
Ill Camille: Oh, I was an intern, me and [DJ Shanx] were doing this West Coast Wonders compilation-like-segment—it wasn’t just a mixtape. I was interviewing not just artists but tastemakers and radio folks and any influences on the west coast. I was just involved in the culture in some kinda way. I was a marketing and promotions intern for Cornerstone/FADER for like three years and it helped a lot.
How? And why?
Ill Camille: Just seeing what I think about my own music and how I want it to be presented through. It’s easy to help somebody with they shit, but sometimes it’s hard to put your own thing together because you’re very particular about it, even down on like color schemes on the artwork, even down on fonts! All that stuff matters, you know? I learned a lot about sequencing the album in terms of like feel. Like I listen to albums and I realize the order is important cuz me and him used to sit—I had a grip of songs, and we’d go through all of ‘em and put ‘em in different orders to get different feels. That is very essential. I learned A&R stuff by doing that.
How do you feel about ways of branding yourself? You have bars, this is not to be debated—and you’re a woman. And you’re on the west coast. So how do you market yourself? How do you go from Team Backpack—and I think their branding is very lyrical, to working with Kendrick? How do you find yourself as an artist trying to connect on the spectrum of wide audiences?
Ill Camille: All those things feel natural for me to do. So I just do what comes naturally for me to do and I think people understand that I’m a layered person—so me only doing one thing wouldn’t make sense as to who I am. Over time, the more albums I put out, the more pictures, the more interviews, people will begin to be like, ‘OK, well she does this and she does that, and she likes soul funk jazz hip hop,’ you know? ‘And all those things are going to be in her music so her moves are going to be based on that too.’ I shop at Target, I shop at the thrift store. I go to Ralphs, I go to Whole Foods. Sometimes you gotta go in different places to get what you need but it’s all me. So I don’t really try—I just do it.
ILL CAMILLE WITH 5 CHUCKLES, DEANTONI PARKS AND GYPSY MAMBA PLUS RESIDENTS ON WED., JUNE 28, AT LOW END THEORY AT THE AIRLINER, 2419 N. BROADWAY, LINCOLN HEIGHTS. 9:30 PM / $10 / 18+. LOWENDTHEORYCLUB.COM. ILL CAMILLE’S HEIRLOOM IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM JAKARTA RECORDS. VISIT ILL CAMILLE AT SOUNDCLOUD.COM/ILLCAMILLE.