Los Angeles, CA – When Candice Pillay walks into a room, carrying her South African exotic aura with her everywhere she goes, you can’t help but notice her presence in the room.
Her 40-minute conversation with HipHopDX, spurned from a chance encounter at Musicology’s songwriting panel, started off addressing the chaos of Christmas shopping in Los Angeles, specifically Topanga Canyon mall. I asked about Kylie Jenner’s pop-up shop, and she revealed seeing “thousands and thousands of people in line waiting for that store. It was like Biggie or Tupac came back.” At that point, her Hip Hop roots show behind the gorgeous looks. You know how singers totally lose their accent when they sing? (Perfect example: Rihanna.) Hearing them speak is a friendly reminder of the diversity they bring to the music.
During the interview, Candice addresses songwriting, the hardships and life experiences she has been through, and how the best songs come after heartbreak. She is also a huge believer in fate and “working your ass off to see results.” This is her second year in a row getting a Grammy nomination for best Hip Hop album. She is someone you can talk to for hours and gain so much wisdom and insight. When she says “Hip Hop saved my life,” she means it.
By the way, you probably won’t find her out in L.A. with a drink in her hand. She’s probably tucked away in the studio working.
HipHopDX: You recently released a track called “Lady Fox.”
Candice Pillay: Yeah, honestly, it has a little bit of a reggae, dancehall feel to it. The producer is very talented guy named Yogi. He’s actually from the UK, and does a lot of cool. . . [Pauses]. Man, he’s talented. He’s signed under Skrillex, so he’s got some of that vibe in there. He also does really cool UK garage music and trap and stuff like that. We got together through that song.
It’s just a really cool vibey record that everyone really likes, so I decided to throw that out there. But actually, you know what, you’re right. I’m speaking in Zulu on “Lady Fox”, an African language, kind of underneath it. I’m using Indian melodies and some African lyrics and words. So yes, it’s definitely a mixture of all that: my American influences and South African and Indian. You definitely got that right.
DX: You’ve been singing since five and your resume says a lot. Do you feel like you’ve achieved your dream essentially?
Candice Pillay: Oh my gosh, totally, not at all. It’s crazy. It’s amazing to add these things to your resume and to have these accomplishments, but to me, I’ve always wanted so much. I’m appreciative and I’m grateful for everything I have, but until I get up on that stage and I’m looking at my Grammy for my own work. . . I mean, I just got a Grammy nominated this year, for a project I was working on. I’ve been working with a lot of peers and it’s great, but I need to get that best new artist nomination. There’s so much more to do. It never ends. You really just have to keep working and working and working, until you get to your pinnacle.
I don’t think anyone really reaches their pinnacle, because when you get to certain place, there is more and more to do. I’m grateful for everything, all these blessings, but I definitely have so much more work to do. So much more.
DX: I remember you saying songwriting just kind of fell in your lap at the Musicology songwriting panel.
Candice Pillay: Songwriting totally fell in my lap. I never actually thought of myself as a songwriter. You know, I’ve always just been a singer from when I was back home. The only reason is because I needed songs for myself. For some reason, I just could never connect with singing other people’s words and cadences. I felt like I had to do something that was me. So I started to try to write songs. My first song I wrote was when I was like 12-years-old. That was something I started doing in the churches. I starting writing gospel. I still didn’t think I was a songwriter.
When I came out to L.A., I had gotten signed to Bangladesh and lived in Atlanta for a little bit. That was the first time I started really trying to figure out my sound as an artist. I was sitting there writing a song that was supposed to be for me. It was called “Cockiness.” That song eventually got placed with Rihanna. That was my first placement. Bang came to me, “Rihanna’s looking for a song, maybe we should see if we can shop the song to her. It would be a good look for you.”
I never thought of myself as a writer, but I was like, “Let’s try.” We shopped the song to Rihanna and it made her album. It literally catapulted my career in writing. As soon as that record came out, it was just crazy. I had people calling me. . . Christina Aguilera calling me saying, I want a ‘Cockiness.’” Selena Gomez, “Can I get a ‘Cockiness’?” Everyone wanted a “Cockiness.” I had to say, “Okay, I guess you’re writing now.”
It’s very difficult to do your artistry and to write. You have to do either one or another. When you’re writing for other people, you really have to really dive into it and give it your all, and put your mindset into that person’s life. You can’t be an artist and writer at the same time.
I took four years off my main career, and I started to really study ways to become a better writer. I did eight songs on Christina Aguilera’s project. I figured, people are asking me for records now, I have to be good at what I do. I literally stayed in the studio for like a year. I was writing, writing, writing, writing. I signed to Alex da Kid right after Bangladesh. From there, I was able to be more like a well-versed writer.
DX: Do you feel at times songwriters don’t get credited enough for their work? Especially if it’s a mainstream artist or track?
Candice Pillay: I guess so. It really depends on the consumer. You have your smart consumers. . . and some don’t even think about who wrote the song. They just think about the artist. A smart consumer is like, “Wait who wrote this? Who is the brains behind it?” I don’t really feel songwriters get credited as much as they should. Even producers are coming up a little more than songwriters.
Thanks to people like Sia, who has been a putting highlight/spotlight on songwriters. Sia has been writing songs for people for forever. People only know that now because she is in her artistry. She wrote “Diamonds” for Rihanna.
DX: Where do you get your inspiration and ideas to create?
Candice Pillay: I get my inspirations from life and heartbreak, and all these experiences we have. You have to write your life, it’s so true. I always say, “You can’t write your best song until you experience your first heartbreak.” I have lived a very hard life. I come from a really poor country in South Africa. . . very humble beginnings. I’ve worked almost all my life to immigrate my family from South Africa to here. Whether it’s hustling to survive, or my career, or my love life. . . all those things go into a song.
DX: How does it feel to work with artists such as Eminem, Kendrick, Snoop, Rihanna, ScHoolboy Q, Timbaland?
Candice Pillay: You know what, I’ve never really been starstruck because in Africa, we live very simply there. I feel like the only person I was really starstruck with was Dr. Dre. I was such a fan of Dre. I grew up with his poster on my wall. Rihanna is just a dope person. She’s really cool, also really down to earth. She’s like a homie to me. They’re just really good people, and you get to work with people on the same level musically. To me, it’s just all part of my plan. I’ve always known that I was going to do this since I was a kid. It’s just the next, the next thing.
I would love to work with Kanye on some shit, love to work with Drake on some shit. It’s just time now. It’s going to happen. I believe in fate. I’ve been through so much even to get here, and every year I have a new accolade. It just means I’m supposed to be doing this. Working with all these people, it just didn’t just happen. It was meant to happen. Everyone in life comes in your life for a reason.
DX: Before working with Dre, what was your relationship with Hip Hop?
Candice Pillay: Hip hop is everything to me. I just actually wrote a little blurb on my Instagram. When I found out I got that nomination call, the morning everyone was talking about Grammys, to find out I got nominated in the same category two years in a row, for best Hip Hop album, it makes me so proud. Everyone is working on pop and dance and stuff, and I’ve always stayed true to my love for Hip Hop. Just fighting for Hip Hop in general, and making it recognized a genre that’s not going anywhere.
That’s how we express ourselves, is through Hip Hop. I was just saying, “Hip Hop saved my life,” because growing up in South Africa, we didn’t get a lot of Hip Hop music, only ones that broke really big. I didn’t know Wu-Tang until I came to States. All we got was Pac, maybe a little Biggie. West coast rappers were huge: Snoop, Dre, 50 Cent, Eminem. I never knew about Mobb Deep, Mystic, the New York rappers, we never got that stuff.
But I’ve always had a love for Hip Hop. It’s just so crazy, when I came to L.A., that is the community that accepted me and has really put me on. It’s funny — I don’t do any work through my label. People just call me. I go to studios and work with Hip Hop artists. There’s like a family of people out here making music, at least on the West Coast. I get to work with Kendrick, the whole TDE crew, Dre, Eminem, who is so amazing, so talented. I just love Hip Hop so much. Yo get to work with all the people I look up to, is great. It means even more to me because it’s Hip Hop. They put me on. I’ll never ever lose that, because Hip Hop . . . man. It’s still here. It’s not going anywhere.
DX: How was working with Dre on Compton? What was the chemistry like with Dre on Compton? Any feelings of intimidation?
Candice Pillay: He’s amazing. I always say he’s the quintessential producer. He loves creating music. He’ll sit there and spend hours and hours to get the perfect vocal. He’s into developing artists. I enjoyed every moment of it. He’s so humble and has a great aura. A really, really a great mentor to me.
When I first met him, he was the only one where I was at a loss of words. He’s very down to earth and very nice, I was just like, “Ah. Wow.” The first day I met him, we talked a little bit about music we loved, the different genres. He asked me to play my music. That same day we worked on a song together in the studio. He was like “Love your music, would you like to do a song with me tonight?” I said, “Please, put me on that mic, I’m ready.” Since that day, we’ve been great friends. He’s a real cool guy.
DX: How was it attending the Straight Outta Compton premiere and being the standout girl amongst all the guys?
Candice Pillay: Oh man, that was awesome. I was actually looking at a picture last night, I saw myself: one girl among a hundred guys. It was great. I think taking those four years to develop and hone in on my skills was really important. I have a British accent and I come from Africa, and I’m always placed in studios with 200 dudes that’s doing rap music. They’re like, “Who’s this little girl trying to get on these records?” I really had to be secure in my talent and who I was. You tend to second guess yourself when you’re sitting in front of Dre, Snoop, Q. They look to you and say,” Get on the mic. Lead us. Do what you wanna do in a hook.”
At first, I would be like “Oh man.” But you just suck it up. “This is what I’m made for, what I came to the country for.” You really got to believe in what you’re selling. At first getting on the mic with Dre, I was a little nervous. Working with him for almost a year now, it’s second nature for me. You have to believe in what’s inside you. If you believe, it everyone else will.
DX: How was working with ScHoolboy Q on Blank Face LP? Congrats on the two Grammy nominations, by the way.
Candice Pillay: Oh man, thank you. Q is the homie. I don’t know if you follow him on Snapchat, but if you don’t, you should. He is the funniest guy you’ll ever see on there. He’s really real. He’s just so dope. The crazy thing is, I got to meet Kendrick way before Q. I worked with one of Kendrick’s managers, who’s a really good friend of mine. The whole time in the studio, I kept saying, “Listen, I love Kendrick, but I’m such a ScHoolboy fan.” To me, for females, Q makes them party records that we can just dance and vibe to. Like “Man of the Year,” “Studio,” “Collard Greens.” Girls love him. I just really wanted to work with Q.
I worked on Blank Face for almost a year. We were together for like six months. I helped him on a lot of the records and vocals. When they started out making album, they called me because they needed someone for “WHateva U Want.” They needed a girl to sing alternative, but had a good flow on a rap song. When I went in, I got to meet him and we just became best friends. We hit it off so much. I literally freestyled that song. When I left and came back, he was like, “I loved everything, I kept everything. It’s going to be on the album.” And it’s funny because I was just doing some funny, weird voices. He took everything on the song. I was like, “Dude that wasn’t meant to be on the song. He was like, “Nah it’s dope. We’re gonna put in there.”
I came back and worked with him on “Groovy Tony” and others records on the album. He’s a great friend. He’s doing amazing on tour. I’m so happy he got that nomination. He really put a lot of effort into that album. He deserves it man, he’s really talented.
Look out for The Wild that comes out in January. I have a tentative date, I’m not going to tell you yet because I want to make sure. And I another album to follow that coming out right after Grammys. Lots of music, videos, shows. . . I’m working with a lot of artists right now as well.