“[TDE] Followed a Blueprint and Now They’ve Become Bigger Than Life.” Meet Ill Camille, One of LA’s Best-Kept Secrets

With just two albums (2011’s The Pre-Write and 2012’s Illustrated), plus a long list of cameos and behind the scenes work, Ill Camille has earned the respect of legends such as Kurupt, and new school avant-gardiste Georgia Anne Muldrow.

We spoke with Ill Camille about what it means to be a relatively undiscovered talent with family ties to Kendrick Lamar as she puts the finishing touches on her next release, Illustrated: B-Sides.

You got your start working with West Coast production legend Battlecat. How did that come about?
I hooked up with Battlecat through his brother Mykestro, who happens to be one of my favorite emcees. At the time I was working for a blog and I wanted to do a series highlighting my favorite West Coast rappers and producers. I met Mykestro and we became like family—and that’s how I met Battlecat.

By the time Mykestro convinced me that I should be rapping, he shot me a batch of beats that weren’t being used and one of them wound up being used for my first single, “All I Know,” from The Pre-Write. When Mykestro played it for Battlecat, he was all in and told me to come to the studio. After that it’s been on ever since.

For the past few years Los Angeles has been on a musical resurgence. Tell me about the role you’ve played in this movement.
I have one foot in the new school and one foot in the old school. I’ve kept the traditional West Coast sound alive sonically, and as far as content is concerned, I have that, but there’s a new thing about it that comes out in my music because I’m younger.

When I first came out, people were saying I felt both nostalgic and new. My role has been to make sure the traditions of what the West Coast is known for isn’t forgotten while still putting my own little spin to it. I don’t know if that means so much, but I know that’s been my intent.

You do a lot behind the scenes. What are some things that you’ve worked on that people would be surprised to know about?
I co-wrote a song called “Naked” for Bobby Valentino. That was straight R&B. I’ve done background work on all of Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House albums. I wrote a lot of Terrace Martin’s 3ChordFold and Locke High 2 albums and I helped shoot his artwork. I’ve worked with Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar, and I was on the title track to Logic’s album Under Pressure. I’ve also worked with Overdoz, Kurupt, Stalley, and a bunch of little things that I forget about sometimes.

What has it been like to witness TDE’s rise from the beginning?

I’ve known Kendrick and all of them since about 2006 or 2007. It’s incredible and inspiring to watch people that you know be where they are, having come from where you are now. I’ve been at the studio where they’ve done nothing but record and write for weeks—they have such a serious work ethic.

They had these big posters on the wall with rules about what you need to do to be successful; they’re the first people I’ve seen who followed a written out blueprint and they’ve become bigger than life. I know a lot of successful people, but I’ve never seen something so ironed out and done so strategically, and they’re still connected to the community.

It makes me feel like I have a great chance, because you know what they say about birds of a feather. I can write out my visions and aspirations and turn them into something real that my family can eat from; I can buy my mom a house if I stick to my plan. I’m a visual person and I really used to study their blueprint. They would say how they were going to put out a project, it would go according to the plan, and it would be successful. That’s mind-blowing—you know how many people in LA want to be rappers? TDE really did that and while it’s great that I know them, it’s even greater that I have an example to look up to. I’m impressed and I’m proud. That’s part of my motivation. When your homies are winning, you feel more inspired to win.

Who are your top five female emcees and why?
Yo-Yo because she had the homegirl element to her. I always felt she was an older cousin or a homegirl when I was younger. I envisioned her being exactly how she was in her videos and she is that now that I’ve come to know her.

Lauryn Hill, of course, because of who she is as a woman and how she’s able to translate that lyrically. “Final Hour” (from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill) had me sold that she’s one of the greatest of all time.

The Lady Of Rage for her grit, bravado, and assertion. I love that about her and she had a bicoastal thing about her that I liked, because I listen to both East Coast and West Coast rap. She had all of that over Dr. Dre production, which was killer.

My homegirl Gizzle, Glenda Proby, from Los Angeles, is one of the best emcees I’ve ever heard. She’s able to go from trap to hip-hop. She’s a songwriter who’s all-inclusive. I’m glad people know her as a songwriter who has worked with Iggy Azalea and others, but as an emcee she’s one of the greatest, period, male or female.

Rapsody is great. I love her message, she has a clever and witty flow with a Southern twang to it that I really enjoy. Those are my five. I love so many woman emcees but as of today I’m cool with that list.

You are still one of LA’s best-kept secrets. What do you think it will take for people to catch on?
I have to drop more projects. I’ve only dropped two in a four-year period. How can people rep or support me if I don’t give them something to support? I also think the awards shows need categories for women rappers, so we can feel inspired like we can get somewhere with it.

Labels have to be more open to signing female rappers and stop looking at us like we’re a risk. They have to start putting our projects out with a lot of promotion and support. Lastly, the audience needs to be more open to hearing women emcees because we all aren’t the same. We have stories and things to say, you have to be open to letting it be said. But every day there’s a new person hitting me up or saying something about my music, so it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

Image: Kyle Coleman

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