On a Friday night, West Pico bar The Mint was host to a small, hardcore crowd of hip hop purists donning hi-top fades and African medallions. On stage, a woman dressed in a vintage Nike windbreaker, silver leggings, and gold bamboo earrings grabbed the mic and introduced herself to the crowd. "I like to get my aggressive rap shit out first." With no backing vocals, Inglewood-based emcee iLLCamille rhymed over West Coast influenced breakbeats and soulful arrangements. She carried herself with the professionalism of a headlining artist and the humility of a block party rapper.
iLLCamille's second album, iLLUSTRATED, came out in December 2012 with little fanfare. Her grassroots effort in freestyling on online shows and collaborating with progressive indie artists like Terrace Martin and Iman Omari created a groundswell of attention, however, and resulted in a SXSW performance and an upcoming project with L.A. native and electro-soul artist Georgia Ann Muldrow.
iLLCamille was raised by a large musical family that she calls "the village". Split between her father's family in South Central and her mother's family in the Inland Empire, iLLCamille was surrounded by DJs, jazz enthusiasts, and performers from the Project Blowed open-mic crew. This musical gumbo produced a synthesis of hip hop soul drenched in West Coast pride.
"I was five and six years old when ABC [Another Bad Creation] was out," she says. "I would go and listen to the trendy stuff, but my aunties and uncles would have backyard functions where they was bumping The Whispers, Roy Ayers, and The Temptations. I was young but I had an old soul."
Despite her desire for a career embodying the sounds of her childhood, iLLCamille was initially concerned that becoming a rapper would cost her relationship with God. "I was always nervous, you know, you hear horror stories about the music industry and how people lose their faith." The former Baylor marketing student captured this turmoil in "Nothing In Common", a song from her weekly series Millie Mondays. "There's no way that I can go from wanting to be a lawyer and just working a regular job to completely quitting my job and being like, 'alright, let's see if this music thing works out,'" she says. "Not only did He make that happen, He made more than that happen. To me, I can't give that credit to no one else but God."
With the opportunities now afforded to her, iLLCamille is pursuing her musical ambitions while refusing to classify herself as a female artist. "It puts a ceiling on me. I know you see my boobs, and I'm obviously a woman, so why do we have to make it more apparent that I'm a woman?" she says. "Don't nobody say 'mancee' or 'malecee'. [Female emcee] makes it seem like, yeah, we're acknowledging you but its a half-assed acknowledgement. No diss to anyone who uses that term, but [...] just look at me as an emcee trying to come up and be a great artist."
iLLCamille uses her femininity not as a calling card, but rather as a way of expressing the intricacies of love. This concept is exemplified by one of iLLUSTRATED's most vulnerable songs, "Lopsided." An homage to an imbalanced relationship, she says the track is about when it feels like you're "going super hard for a person" and it's just not coming back, no matter what you do. "I woke up at 2 o'clock in the morning," she rhymes on the track in a subdued, melancholy tone coarser than her normally smooth vocal texture. "I didn't even try, that's what it was. We did it one time."
"I understand why artists seclude themselves," iLLCamille says of her creative process, "because whatever you're feeling should come out in your records." In fact, she describes her music from the perspective of a writer more than a rapper. "I want to write it all. I've written a lot of R&B records and some of them have been used. My next challenge is to write a pop record." For most rap artists, such a feat seems unlikely, but perhaps not for this Katy Perry enthusiast.
"I don't think it's a far-fetched concept for me to do. When you love music, you want to touch all parts of it."
Before iLLCamille opens up for Muldrow's May 22nd release party at Low End Theory.
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