Ill Camille on The Album That Took a Village: 'Heirloom'
iLL CAMILLE is not one to rush the process, and HEIRLOOM is the perfect case in point: after nearly three years of a complex (and, at times, disheartening) period of development, the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2012’s iLLUSTRATED is here. And HEIRLOOM hits all the right notes: poignant, and deeply personal, we come face to face with the many layers that make up this rapper, one by one, with tracks like “Slip Away” and “Renewed”; each its own homage to an experience or emotion that helped her evolve into who she is today.
Simply put, HEIRLOOM is not for the faint of heart; it’s harsh, raw, and real, and its statement is clear: iLL CAMILLE is back, and she’s here to stay. We caught up with the artist once the album dropped and joined the ranks of music’s most eloquent to talk vulnerable lyrics, fresh beats, and why this one “took a village;” check the full interview below.
First of all, congratulations on releasing Heirloom! Can you talk about the inspiration behind the songs? How did it all come together?
Thank you. So the album was originally called iLLUSTRATED B-SIDE, as just like a follow-up to the album I put out in 2012 [iLLUSTRATED]. I just always reflect the times, like whatever I’m going through at the time, the songs are done based off of those events. Songs like “Slip Away”, “Live It Up”, and “Spider’s Jam”; those were recorded a couple of years ago. “Slip Away” was about a bad breakup situation. “Live It Up” was just because me and my homies felt like we were moving in the right direction, so I just wanted to do something that reflected that, but then also, I felt like people were getting so accustomed to me rapping over more standard hip hop driven beats, and I was like, “Yeah, but I’m a fan of Dungeon Family”, so I picked that beat perfectly just to show ‘em versatility. “Spider’s Jam” I had drafted two and a half years ago and then “Renewed”, the song about my father which I did in 2014. So those are really the foundation records of what I ended up naming Heirloom. So let’s say like 2015, I already had those drafts done, and I reached out to my homeboy and I was like, “I really need your help making this sonically sound good because I’m recording in different studios and I just want to make sure everything is in sync.” He also writes, he raps, he sings, so I felt like if I worked with him I could actually get it done. He really kept everything moving and centered. So we started drafting records around the four that I already had and then towards the end when we were mixing, let’s say like November, Battle Cat hit me after hearing the vocal of the record and he was like, ‘This album sounds too personal for you to give it such a regular mixtape-sounding name, why you naming it ‘iLLUSTRATED B-SIDE’? It’s been such a long gap between this and ‘iLLUSTRATED‘, you don’t have to name it that. It’s its own thing, it’s stand alone.” So I was like, “Alright, f’sho.” Literally the next morning I knew what I was gonna name it, I texted everybody on the team and said, “We’re going to name it ‘Heirloom’.” It made more sense to me, just for having everybody that contributed to it, and it shaped out to being a collaborative effort. But yeah, it took about three years to get it right.
Is your process usually that long, or did Heirloom take longer because there were so many moving parts?
I write rhymes fast, and if I really, really feel the beat, the production of it, I could write a song really quickly. So it wasn’t really that, but it was myself. I wasn’t really motivated to rap, I didn’t really know if I should be an artist, as opposed to playing a background role and focusing on being a writer, or some sort of creative. I was even applying for industry gigs, I just didn’t know if rap was the way I needed to be going because I felt like there wasn’t a demand for a female rapper. Nicki was killin it, the home girl Rapsody was doing her thing but it was even like, damn, they don’t appreciate her bars all the way. So I felt like there wasn’t a need or a want, so mentally, that’ll block your penmanship for sure. I developed writer’s block seriously, I lost interest, I started working on other people’s projects so I wasn’t really trippin. That’s what took so long. But the actual creative process, nah. If the beat is good and the vibe is right, it’s instant.
So what brought you out of that funk and made you realize you wanted to finish the album and put it out there?
A combination of things, just like family support. I really didn’t understand how unique that was, in hearing about how some of my friends making the decision to do music and their family wasn’t backing them up and I was like, “Damn. You mean your mama ain’t coming to your shows? You mean she disowned you?” So I felt like I wasn’t making use of this support that I had, treating it like nothing. So I owed it at least to them to finish what I started. And then just getting back to myself; realizing I didn’t have to be anyone else to do music; it’d come out more authentic and special if I stuck to my own thing. So once I tapped that into what I naturally had, things were coming out more easily—songs were coming out more fluidly, I got way more organized on top of my business, just those things, I just had to get back to myself and to my people that support me. That’s what pushed me to do it.
Your thing is that “It took a village.” Talk about what that phrase means to you and this album.
Yeah, family: whether blood-related or just extensions, friends and homies, people outside of music, people that gave me words to keep me motivated. I feel like we don’t really honor people that send you a text or two being like, “Hey, what’s up with the album?” or, “I really love that song,” or, “What’s up with the rap?” All that stuff, it really feeds your psyche. So I realized man, it took a village of people to really keep me going, because without those words or without my cousin trying to push me, I don’t know, I wouldn’t be rapping. And I don’t know what else I would do because nothing comes more natural, so I always say it takes a village. You definitely can’t compose an album by yourself, you know? Unless you want to, but I know I couldn’t have done it. I didn’t produce all the beats, I didn’t write every lyric, I know that. I gotta give credit where it’s due so I tell people it takes a village. Plus, the way I was raised, I was raised by everybody, from my mama to my grannie to my auntie, so I mean that in that respect too, it takes a village to raise a child and a village to produce a great album.
Do you feel like this is the most personal music that you’ve put out thus far?
Heck yeah. Up until this point. But I’ll be honest with you, as soon as it dropped I was like, “I got more to say.”
Is it a nerve-racking experience to put out music that a bunch of strangers—who don’t know you—will hear?
Yeah, I was hella nervous because my music is like my child, you can’t just let anybody watch your child. You gotta make sure your child is in protective care. So for me, I’m being very vulnerable and transparent in some of these records. Some of this shit is still happening to me, and I’m just like, “Damn, and I’m just gonna let everybody listen to it? Strangers?” Even people that may not like me all the way, or people that are skeptical of female rappers, I’m letting everybody come into my world and that’s a nerve-racking thing. So I was nervous about the release, I was relieved but I was like, “Uh oh, can we give it another week so I can get my mind around it?” I’m serious, I was really nervous about it.
Definitely—that vulnerability is huge. So now that the album is out, how has the reception been so far?
The reception has been crazy—I’m getting hit from everywhere and it’s overwhelming and I’m shocked. I didn’t realize that people listened as carefully as they do, you know? Some people are like, “I ran that song back and we have the same birthday.” Or, “Were you making a reference to this when you said this?” I’m getting DMs on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, and some people are texting me like, “Ay, explain this cause I thought you meant this.” People are really listening and that’s all I wanted, so I’m happy. Everyday is something and it makes me listen to it with a different set of ears as well.
Dope. So you said you’ve got more to say—are you already thinking about new music?
Ay, yup. I’ve already started working on something else. I have a couple of sessions this week to start really, really narrowing it down. But I realized this little old match, it definitely sparked more in me. I’ve got way more to say. I feel like Heirloom is the perfect segue for what I’m about to do, but I’m just scratching the surface. I’m glad I’m getting people prepped, you can always go deeper. You grow every day. I’m different from when I dropped the album, I can honestly say that. I’ve just got more to say and I plan on doing music for a while, so I’m not going to hoard music and wait four more years again. I feel like I’m back on track, so I’m definitely going to drop something else this year for sure, for sure, for sure. Most definitely. I’ve got little loosies, little songs that I can put out right now, but I’m just getting it together.
Featured image courtesy of Ill Camille
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising rap stars we love.