Anyone embedded in Los Angeles’ Hip Hop scene has run into Ill Camille at least once, or has at least heard her on some music from a high-profile artist native to the city. Her current manager and cousin DJ Shanx made mixtapes that included very early music from Top Dawg Entertainment. Her 2011 debut project The Pre Write featured guest appearances from Terrace Martin, BJ The Chicago Kid and DJ Battlecat. Kurupt ended up giving her a huge co-sign.
Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar used her vocals for good kid, m.A.A.d city highlight “Sing About Me/Dying Of Thirst” and she did some writing for Ty Dolla $ign as well. Camille was no doubt being championed by nearly every major figure in the area at one point. After dropping the highly praised Illustrated album a year later, she just faded into the background outside of some guest appearances and a pretty dope TeamBackpack cypher.
The reason? It just made more sense to hold on to her close ones, do some career refocusing and deal with the death of family members.
Before 2016 ended, she released the video for “Almost There” featuring buzzing Inglewood artist SiR. The visuals served as a symbolic return and leadoff to her most personal album to date, Heirloom. Recorded over the past four years, the album sees Camille laying out everything she’s gone through while spitting her ass off like no other.
When HipHopDX caught up with her at Shanx’s LA apartment/studio, the two are preparing the metadata for Heirloom’s iTunes release. Though she essentially has a village of support around her, there’s no doubt Camille is bearing the independent artist’s burden. But, like her bars, she clearly has everything in control.
Sitting down with Camille, we discuss her relationships, the new album, bullshit that comes with being a female MC and LA’s influx of outsiders.
Ill Camille Describes The Struggle Of Being A Female MC Without A Clique Or Crew
HipHopDX: First off, I’d like to start by saying Happy New Year. Hope it was all well.
Ill Camille: Thank you! It was good. I actually finished my project on New Year’s Eve. So, my New Year was crackin’ because, by January 1, I knew I was done. That was a personal goal and I didn’t do anything or go out. I make my one event a month count.
DX: Rap heads out here have been waiting on the follow-up to Illustrated for a long time. It’s been around four years, right? What have you been up to?
Ill Camille: In that timespan? Whoa! A lot of tailoring down my circle. I kick it with my family more and more I realize it. My sisters are of age. Before, it was such a difference to where we couldn’t go anywhere, but once they hit their 20s, I realized how much of a friendship we have. I kick it with my sisters, my cousins and my best friends. Plus, all of them keep me rooted and they’re on my head about this music shit. They ain’t going to let me slack or let up at all. 2014 had so many deaths in my family. Like they were back to back. My dad, uncle and grandmother passed. They were like the pillars. I felt like I was losing half of my foundation with them leaving. It’s crazy because I was named after my grandmother. My Uncle Sam died the day of my dad’s funeral. It was just a lot and they didn’t tell me till after the funeral. Then, it’s always that feeling of if I should be doing music. Should I really be doing this? It seems so difficult. It seems like I’m doing so much to do something I love. This was my thought process before I got to where I am now.
DX: And, you rap. Like really rap. You’re not with the bullshit. You were doing a lot of writing and feature work between Illustrated and now as well.
Ill Camille: People I was close to were asking me just to write. I’m like damn, you’re going to default me to writing? What is it about me that you think won’t make me a successful artist? You know how people say things in a subtle fashion? Those thoughts started to fester. Like, what are you not saying? Then they’ll say something like Missy Elliott was a writer first or say I could do some administrative background work. Why are you talking me out of the path I want to go? Add that to the fact that a lot of people don’t respect female MCs. I don’t do the femcee shit or anything because that’s not my wave. But, I realize that there is a lack of regard for us.
DX: Especially in Los Angeles which hasn’t seen a high-profile female rapper in decades it seems. A shame considering that the East Coast and South have a nice handful.
Ill Camille: I don’t know. It’s something about our culture here. We’re supposed to be all encompassing, but we’re a clique culture. That has a lot to do with it. So, if a woman doesn’t subscribe to a certain team, organization or camp, we’re left by ourselves.
DX: Interesting you say that because I remember hearing rumors about you being on Top Dawg Entertainment years back. However, you’ve essentially been on your own.
Ill Camille: I’m dolo. My camp is Front Room Entertainment which is fronted by my cousin Shanx and Vibe Music Collective which is Iman Omari’s. All I need is the support of people who believe enough to help me. Iman been rocking with me since my first project. Those are two people who have been rocking with me from the go. I built a relationship with Georgia Anne Muldrow after she heard my stuff because she’s a woman who happens to produce, sing and rhyme. She’s on an island of her own too. She knew what the road was going to look like for me and just reached out. It’s like an unspoken thing like she knew I was going to go through some bullshit. She let me know it just wasn’t me who was going through this. Georgia Anne and Dudley Perkins are huge parts of my project. I’m not the first lady of no camp or anything like that. When it comes to TDE, I have personal relationships with people from there. I was introduced to their music through my cousin when I was in college around early 2003 or 2004. I’d come to Carson and just chill. I wasn’t even rapping back then. I’d come through, chill and listen to the music. Kendrick was going by K Dot at the time and Jay Rock was crackin’. ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul were still growing. My relationship with them with is more personal and they have included me on their projects.
Ill Camille: We used to trade bars through Blackberry Messenger. Q and I did a song together around 2011 with a beat Iman Omari produced. I’m sure Ali got the session for that somewhere. I’ve done background vocals for Soulo. Just involved in little shit they’ll have me involved in every once in awhile. I rep who I rep because they rep me.
DX: What kind of bullshit comes with being a female MC without the protection of a crew?
Ill Camille: People try you a lot. I’ll go to the studio dolo or maybe one homegirl and the perception is always that I’m coming for some man or because some man is going to write my records. You gotta weed through that and do it tactfully to where you’re not coming off as a diva or bitch when you try to check somebody. One, I rap and I don’t sing. Two, I write my own records and three, this my session. You have to do it in a way where it’s understood, but not where it could possibly lead to a chin check. I feel like we’re always being told how we should be. Why do women MCs or women artist in general, have to be melded into something. People always wanted me to pick my identity all the time. Are you like the conscious Lauryn Hill type or are you Yo-Yo? I’m like an Ill Camille that’s growing up. People try to tag or categorize us in a way that makes sense to everybody else. I am who I am. I make sense to myself and to those who understand my message. Those are the people I’m talking to and I mean one at a time. I’m worried about permeating your mind. If it’s going to take a while, it’s going to take a while, but at least I know I got you.
Family & Friends Molded Heirloom Into A Real Personal Album
Ill Camille: It’s getting better. Look at it. Young M.A is a different type of woman. She’s a woman nonetheless though and she has a camp around her. However, she leads her camp. That’s telling you something right there. It’s a changing of the guard to where people are respecting the fact that we can run our own operations and can be independent artists. We need support from everybody male or female alike, but we’re not reliant on men to choose our beats, tell us how to rap and stuff. I’m not on no feminist shit, but what I’m saying is the truth. Men don’t need women to tell y’all what to do. It’s a balance. We can recommend or suggest and all that, but we don’t need anyone spearheading. No one can tell us how to be us better than us. No one knows my experiences better than me. We’re coming into an age where women are going to say what they want to say. Respect it or not.
DX: Where does this lead to Heirloom?
Ill Camille: I’d been calling this project Illustrated B-Sides for so long. Battlecat triggered something in me and was like this project is too original and quality sounding to give it such a mixtape sounding name. It’s too personal and introspective for you to call it something. I thought about it and with Heirloom, everything on there is very personal. And, I know everyone says that. Some of these tracks, I was writing the records while the shit was happening. These are real-time records. Shit was happening right then and I had no choice to capture it. I feel like everyone are heirlooms of our mothers and fathers. An heirloom is just something that’s passed down through a family. We get heirlooms in the form of game, encouragement or wise words. I know everyone has an aunt or uncle that’s given them some bars about life in general. I have a village around me that have given me heirlooms in the form of conversations and it was weird because I compelled to start telling people that I wanted to record them during talks. Like I didn’t tell them when because I wanted them to speak naturally. Between those conversations and objects and physical things that I have heirlooms like pens, glasses, coat and music.
DX: I remember my mother giving me her old cast iron skillets before she passed. It makes some good fried chicken.
Ill Camille: That’s dope. I bet that chicken is bomb. That’s why I had to call my album Heirloom because it’s a culmination of everything that has happened in my life. Lessons on lessons through these people who raised me. I realized how much I’m them by doing this project. Sometimes, I sound like my mom on a record.
DX: Where does the “Almost There” track with SiR fit into the themes of Heirloom. Both of you guys worked with each other on Illustrated. What’s it like watching him grow into one of the more buzzworthy artists out of Inglewood?
Ill Camille: Growing with your friends is the best thing you can ever do, especially when you’re in the same industry.
DX: You have a lot of friends you’ve grown with.
Ill Camille: Yes, that whole Woodworks Collective. They really took me in and I have gotten better and more confident in my music because they are too. We’re coming up at the same time and growing as people at the same time. That comes out in the music. It’s been the greatest thing to work with somebody who you can trust with your sound and help it a little bit. He’s an engineer, producer, singer, songwriter and he raps. It was no point in me going to someone to shape my sound with this project.
He knows what I want. It was a family environment and it’s the way I’ll be working from here on out because of the way me and SiR work. I have to work with someone who feels like family to me because if not, it’s going to fuck up my vibe. I’m raised by too many people to work with someone who doesn’t have that same set-up. Working on “Almost There” was a no-brainer. I’ve been wanted to work with MNDSGN and SiR told him I wanted to collaborate. MNDSGN was like come through. My homegirl who works for Stones Throw and Boiler Room was rooming with MNDSGN so it came together well. We caught a vibe and it was on from there. He made some shit from scratch and started with on the keys because MNDSGN so soulful. It took him like 10 minutes. I freestyled a lot of it because my phone kept dying and all I remember saying was that we’re almost there cause it felt like me and my friends are progressing at the same time. That ain’t no coincidental shit.
How Damani Nkosi’s Underrated Thoughtful King Helped Develop Ill Camille Artistically
DX: When should we expect Heirloom?
Ill Camille: Sometime in February. We’re aiming for the top cause I’m done. It’s just a matter of getting it out. Getting the roll out right. You know how it is. That’s one of the records SiR is on. I took like a Dr. Dre approach in regards to keeping the people who worked on the last project on this one. Why not? This is my Soulquarian. This is my Native Tongues. So, I’m going to hear people on multiple records. SiR is on multiple records. I put out “Almost There” as a symbolic way of letting people know the album was on the way. It’s also me telling the homies you’re almost there too. If you’re falling off and feel as if you’re not almost there, this is the song for you to get there. Feel encouraged and motivated by it. Plus, I’m talking to myself. I got sixteen songs on there. I got Georgia Anne, Like, DJ Battlecat, Punch, Camp Lo,Damani Nkosi and some others.
DX: I remember DX in 2014 gave Damani Nkosi’s Thoughtful King album a well deserved 4.5.
Ill Camille: I know y’all heard it. That’s a classic album right there. He helped really me become a great artist and not just a great MC.
DX: I ran into him at Roger Park some months back and he told me he was heading to South Africa.
Ill Camille: Yes, because he gets such a good reception out there. He went out there on a whim and ended up doing shows and all kinds of stuff. He’s definitely the traveling follow-your-heart type of dude. Why not have that same kind of spirit on my album. That’s why I made sure he was on two very important songs for me. I felt like he was the perfect addition to my album. Thoughtful King is an album I’ve been living off of still. Thoughtful King and To Pimp A Butterfly are neck-and-neck to me. They’re the most transparent thoughtful albums from out here. Not just who is on there but how it’s put together. It’s not so often, nowadays, that you hear someone be that heartfelt and honest on and off the record. I think Kendrick and Damani executed that well. I think we’re in a time where people are going to revisit Thoughtful King and if they revisit it through listening to him on my album, I’ve done my job.
DX: You’ve had a first-hand look into the LA Hip Hop scene’s growth over the past decade. What’s it like watching all these out-of-towners come through.
Ill Camille: Shit man, I ain’t got no problem with that. I’ve lived everywhere. I don’t have a problem with people coming in, just respect the residence. Respect the residence. That’s all I’m going to say. That, in a nutshell, should tell you a lot. Niggas out here ain’t the most Hollywood niggas. It’s the people who not from here that be the most Hollywood niggas. That’s weird to me. Please check yourself. Why not move to LA? I get it. It’s beautiful and the weather is nice. This guy I was talking to brought something up that was interesting. He said people don’t think shit happens out here cause it looks nice. It’s real out here. Don’t let the beach fool you. Don’t let that palm tree outside get you fucked up. It’s real out here and I think the weather has a lot to do with our attitudes, our composure and how we carry ourselves.
If I was coming from a place that always kept me uptight, cold, hard and aggressive, I’d need to leave and experience something else. I get why people move out here. Just off the weather alone. The West Coast, whether we’re doing a project or not, are a part of other projects from other coasts. Whether it’s the engineer, session player, the background vocalist. There is West Coast representation on most major projects because you’re going to get a vibe, sound quality and musicianship because we’re real big on that here. You’re going to come here, get that and it’s going to sound bomb. You’re going to get the formula. I’m not saying we’re the pencil, but that’s where we are.