South African/American songwriter Candice Pillay has been killing it, first a huge songwriting placement with Rihanna’s “American Oxygen” and now global praise for her contributions to Hip Hop legend Dr. Dre’s final album “Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre“. What else could possibly be next?
Candice is that rare gem the music industry today needs – beyond valuable and some may say more precious than that vintage diamond Rolex you’ve always wanted to own.
As a girl with a real story and undeniable talent in the midst of the overheated talent map in Los Angeles, Candice is the kind of person you know won’t take no for an answer. Having worked with the best in the game (Dr. Dre, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna + more) she’s one hell of an example to follow for the dreamers and “Go-Getta”s.
Many would say that she’s reached the top having co-written “American Oxygen” by Rihanna and now featuring numerous times on Dr. Dre’s “Compton” album. Despite working daily in the upper echelons of the music industry, you can hear not only excitement to share more results of her hard work but also a humbleness in her conversation. Rarely does that musical fire and spark mix so well with solid grounding and come across clearly during a phone interview.
She’s now forever a part of the legendary path and story of Dr. Dre. Candice features on two songs on Dr. Dre’s final album including “Genocide” (also featuring Kendrick Lamar & Marsha Ambrosius) and “Medicine Man” (featuring Eminem & Anderson .Paak). As if that wasn’t enough she leant her writing skills to “One Shot One Kill” which featured Jon Connor & West Coast legend Snoop Dogg! Candice actually released her own solo EP “The Mood Kill” earlier on in 2015 and it was produced by Dr. Dre collaborator Dem Jointz and Imagine Dragons’ super producer Alex Da Kid.
With the buzz surrounding Candice and having spoken to her earlier on this year regarding American Oxygen we wanted to get an insiders view on what it was like to be in studio working side by side with Dr. Dre and some of the most powerful names in music of all time. We also found out what advice she would give to other female artists who want to stand out and be counted in hip hop/urban music which is traditionally a man’s world.
Read the full interview below:
1. Firstly, congratulations on the success of Compton – the reaction to your songs have been overwhelming! How does it feel?
Oh my God, overwhelming is the quintessential word of the moment! [Laughs] So overwhelming and it makes me so happy, I have had a permanent smile plastered over my face for the past couple of weeks from finishing up the album, getting out there to seeing the reviews. We worked hard at the project, got our heads down and we just hoped that everyone would love it! The hardest part is putting it out there and seeing what people say and getting ready for the criticism. Having such amazing feedback from everyone has been overwhelming, I love where I’m at right now.
2. You attended the premiere of Straight Outta Compton, how did it feel to watch the film knowing that you are now an important part of Dr. Dre’s story having had a large contribution to his final album?
Wow, I never thought of it that way. I had seen a cut of the movie from being in the studio with Dre for a while. We had seen parts of the movie but to see it put together in such a grand way was amazing. It is so nostalgic, especially important for hip hop and the kids of today to know the story that comes across so eloquently in the movie. Hearing the music you guys will hear in the movie, it was so cool. The fact that we were part of the soundtrack of the album made it even that much more exciting. Our little family of people that had been working on the project, there’s a lot of us – it was our day. We had been working until the last day, I actually went to the studio with Dre the day the album came out. Dre’s always working! We were able to celebrate the accomplishment, get some drinks and we had a ball! It was at the Nokia Theater in LA and literally two whole rows of the theater were full of people who worked on the album. We all sat together and watched the movie and were screaming and laughing and singing and shouting! It was just a time for us to take it all in, it was awesome. We all on the dance floor doing little performances at the afterparty – I had so much fun which is why I didn’t wake up this morning! [Laughs]
3. As you work with many people in LA who are part of the legendary West Coast Compton hip hop scene, what does Compton itself mean to you?
You guys know I’m from South Africa, but I’ve spent half my life in South Africa and half in LA. When I first moved there I was on the East coast but only for a couple of months before I moved to California. It’s just such an amazing place, I automatically fell in love with it and that’s why I decided to stay for my career. This is the city that I chose to live in because it’s so much like my country and so different at the same time. There’s so many things where I look at it and say “Wow that reminds me of home!”. I grew up in a really tough part of South Africa and when I came out here to this country I lived in so many different cities out here in LA, form Inglewood to Long Beach to Central LA. I lived in Inglewood for a long time, it’s close to where Compton is.
Dre is from Compton, Dem Jointz is from Compton and Kendrick Lamar is from Compton. A lot of art has come out of Compton. Most of the rappers we love today have come out of these type of neighbourhoods – Compton, Inglewood and Long Beach. Being out here in the latter part of my life seeing the hustle and the grind and the kind of music coming out of this area, seeing these artists perform at little shows and stuff like that with the exposure they get has pushed us to keep going ourselves. I definitely always knew about this little city especially because Dem Jointz is from there I’ve heard stories about it and to see it come to life in the movie was amazing. Snoop’s from Long Beach – these surrounding cities have produced this talent where they are legendary to this day. Snoop was amazing on the album as well.
4. What was your favourite part about working with Snoop Dogg on “One Shot One Kill”?
Snoop is a dude. Like everybody wants to be best friends with Snoop because he’s the funnest guy ever! We all know from following his Instagram that he’s super fun, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s funny and he’s energetic. Really cool. I was in the studio when Snoop was doing the record I got to watch just to take it in and to see these legends that we grew up on go behind that mic and kill it was so cool. He’s awesome.
As we were finishing up the record Dre had us come in, we co-wrote with Jon Connor. Me and Dem Jointz were working in one room, Dre and Snoop were in another room, Connor was working in another room all working on this album. I came in to help on “One Shot One Kill”, I did a little background vocals – I think I did, can’t even remember we did so much recording that night. I did some writing with Dre, Connor and Jointz on “One Shot One Kill”. It’s another amazing record, I mean every record is so dope on that album!
5. When you’re in the studio with Dr. Dre, how do you guys begin working on a song? Is the beat already pretty much made with loose ideas on the top prior to the session?
Pretty much the beat has to already be there and then we go into the writing. As long as we have the skeleton of the beat. Dre of course always goes back in to make the beat into this humongous stuff that we hear in the end. When the beat is there we come up with melodies, he’s very instrumental in that whole process – he comes up with melodies, we write together and we cut our vocals together. It’s all done there, unless I do stuff on my own and go in and bring it to him and then he tweaks it.
6. “Genocide” (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay) was produced by Dem Jointz who actually produced most of your solo album The Mood Kill. In your recent interview with MTV you discussed the process behind “Genocide”. How did you get your head around doing a rap that wasn’t strictly following the beat?
Yeah that was kinda weird. The funny part of it is that from The Mood Kill you can kind of hear I still have my tone on there that I did from that record – but I had to sound like I didn’t care and I was speaking almost. We tried it a couple of times and to me it didn’t sound right but Dem Jointz kept pushing me behind the beat and I like my vocals to be behind the beat anyway but this time we really pushed it behind. I came in not on the one but on literally a different beat and after I did this a couple of times I was really feeling it. I’ve listened to this song so many times now and I can’t think of doing it any other way! It really suits the record.
So with this record you were really pushing the boundaries of what you could do yourself too?
Definitely, I wanted to be a part of that record, I was gonna do what it took to get on a record like that. As singers and songwriters we always want to sound cool on the record, we don’t want to be uncomfortable. We hold ourselves back sometimes from doing things we wouldn’t necessarily do but when you push yourself to try some new and different ideas, that’s how some of the coolest end up happening.
7. Why do you think so many people have turned to Kendrick Lamar’s music? In your own words, what makes him stand out from the crowd?
Oh my God so much. I think for me his lyrical content is so strong. He’s always saying something important that you want to listen to and dissect and figure out what’s in his mind when he’s coming up with the stuff. Another thing is his delivery and presence on the record. It’s so phenomenal – he definitely brings the energy up and he takes it there to a high standard. I think it was so great to put him on that record!
8. Tell us more about the process behind recording “Medicine Man” with Dr. Dre & Eminem? Can you let us in on your interpretation of the lyrics/story behind this song?
I was actually talking to someone about both “Genocide” and “Medicine Man”. A person from South Africa was telling me how they thought it was about the harsh life of Compton and that you have to be strapped and you have to kill people to survive and that kinda thing. I was explaining to them that it wasn’t meant to be that, it was meant to be metaphorical. If you listen to Dre’s verse he’s saying hip hop needed a change, “someone to carry it…so I swung down in that chariot”. We’re basically saying that the game needed a change and we’re metaphorically murdering our competition. Our music is our bullet – we obviously don’t want to condone any type of violent aspect to it. Our music is something we fight for everyday and we take it very seriously.
“Medicine Man” was something I was feeling at the time and when you’ve been in this industry as long as I have with so many different people you want your own time and opportunity. I felt like who else to bring this across to than Dr. Dre who has done so many things with NWA & his “F–k tha Police”. You might look at it with the profanity as pushing the limits, I’ve always done it with my stuff and it might be easier to digest with my stuff because I sing it in a really sweet tone in that little falsetto voice that I use. I needed someone that could sell that and of course Dre is the ultimate – and who else but Eminem because he’s always pushing the limit with controversial stuff and he wants to say what’s on his mind. It’s not cookie cutter, it is what it is. With “Medicine Man” I recorded that on Dem Jointz’ beat. We came up with the concept based on a whole bunch of different feelings I was having. We came up with the hook, left the studio and took it to him and he loved it. From there it was built into a bigger record. Dre loved the hook, he got on the verse and we wanted a singer on the bridge so we put Anderson .Paak on there. I loved Paak on there he killed it. It was an Eminem record, it was almost made for him and when Em goes in you can’t stop him he is just phenomenal, I was just so impressed with everything he made on that record. We went back and forth with him and just never ceases to amaze me man. Eminem is one of the greatest.
Does he usually work in his own studio and send stems over then?
Yeah, Em was really busy working on the soundtrack for the movie he’s working on at the time. He has his own engineers and producers and he was sending stuff back – he’s very much of a perfectionist, just like Dre. He pulled up some of my hook vocals and put it in his verse, that was his idea. He’s really diligent about his stuff, he takes it very seriously and he’s just incredible. This is the first time I’ve worked with Eminem and to be introduced to him by Dre was great – hopefully I’ll be able to work with Em more in the future.
9. You’re surrounded by some of the most powerful, legendary & opinionated men in the music industry. You’re obviously a very respected and talented artist to have worked alongside some of the greatest in the hip hop game. In what is traditionally a man’s world, what advice would you give other female artists who want to stand out and be counted?
Oh my God I love that question, I don’t feel like anybody has ever asked me a question like that. It’s a really important point that nobody really understands. Besides the fact that I’m a foreigner and I came out here with just two bags, myself and determination. I am also a female and sometimes you are just judged on your looks and aren’t taken seriously. I’ve had to make a lot of choices that put me in circumstances that led to this point. I’ve always been a very strong individual and I’ve turned down many opportunities that I didn’t feel were good for me at the time – if I was asked to come down to the studio without a manager or if I was asked to be on songs that didn’t suit what I was trying to put out there, I’d turn a lot of stuff down. From being in people’s videos to… just so many things as a female where you’re not taken seriously – you really have to hold your weight and prove yourself.
It’s a constant struggle for female artists and for me it is too, which is why I took the surviving route. Sometimes when I would walk into a room I have to give people just a little at a time – kind of like “I paint, I do sculptures, I cook and I’m an interior designer” – they look at you and think you’re probably not good at all of those things, you’re probably good at one thing and you’re just pulling my leg! You have to use your opportunities as they come to you but you have to dumb it down a bit – so for me I went in there and I said “listen I play a little guitar, this is my live performance, this is my writing, this is all the different types of writing I want to do and I co-produce a little bit.” and when I said all of this people were just like “Hmm that’s a lot for a girl that’s from South Africa that is coming here trying to take over the world!”
It’s hard to believe so I realised I had to pull a lot of that back and start working on specific things, so I worked on my writing for a long time. That was the only way that I believed that I would get the respect that I needed because hundreds of artists come to LA to do the same thing as me. If I can make a hit record for someone that is up in those echelons and I can come up to their standard then maybe they’ll look at me and be like “well, what is she about then?”. I took the time to really delve into the writing and really solidify myself as a songwriter from the Rihanna stuff to tons of other stuff I’m writing right now. I felt like that was my path, I know everyone has their own path but I feel like writing was something that I used to get me in the door as a credible artist.
As a woman in this industry it is harsh on me, I went into the studio the other day with my sister and Dre. I was actually doing something with a couple of strong male artists, they’re rappers and I’ve just got this little kind of British, kind of South African accent and I’m not by any means as hood as these guys. These are like some serious guys but I know what I can bring to the table, it’s something completely different from what they can bring to the table and I have to believe in the fact that what I’m bringing is just as strong. If I’m singing very sweetly on a track and they’re coming hard with the rap then it’s night and day, but that’s what makes it work and I’ve known this forever I’ve just needed an opportunity to try it out on a record – I didn’t expect it to be a record as big as this but that is a blessing you know.
10. What are the best words of wisdom or life lessons that Dr. Dre has offered you?
Oh my God Dr. Dre is a walking life lesson! [Laughs] If you could just come into contact with him or watch interviews with him you’d see the person that he truly is. It just gives us something to believe in, you know how they say “never meet your heroes because they disappoint you”? With Dre that is the opposite, meeting Dre really changed my life because not only do I see his diligence and his attention to detail, the perfectionism that he prides himself on but also the fact he’s a businessman. The thing I take most from Dre is that in all his years of doing his music is that he’s so humble and down to earth – a person that has a light inside him that shines, it really does. In the studio he greets every person, he makes contact with every person, shakes your hand, gives you a hug. He passes his energy onto everyone and I want to be that person. I’ve always said that if I meet anyone in my life I want to try to make an impact and leave an impression on them, and that’s exactly what he does. It’s working hard and he always keeps us on our toes, gotta keep working, gotta get back to work – you don’t dwell on things, you just gotta keep going. I love the drive in work that he has, but his nature and spirit and how he’s got such a good attitude is something I want to carry with me and to make sure that I stay humble and open to people around me who love the music I make. I feel like that’s very important and that’s why he’s so successful, he’s such a happy person.
11. Last time we spoke Rihanna’s “American Oxygen” was just being released. Are there any more exciting collaborations or songwriting placements you can share with us at this time?
Lots of stuff! We make these records and they tell us they love them but we wait and see whether they actually make the album because there’s always so many changes that happen in between. I’ve been working on a couple of projects with Dem Jointz on something cool for Rita Ora which we hope is going to be on her album, that’s really cool. I worked with a group called Dumblonde who’re like a pet project of mine. Their shit is dope. They have a full album, I pretty much worked on the entire album. I’m really focussing on my album right now. It’s actually gonna be an EP that’ll be a preview to my album but we’re going to release my first actual project to Interscope which I’m super excited about. It’s going to be a continuation from The Mood Kill but I did that record at a different time in my life. I did that record in winter, it was more chill and very vibey. It’s summer now and I’m in an amazing period in my life where I’m on a natural high just from everything that’s going on. The EP is called The High, Dem Jointz has a lot of tracks on there, Alex Da Kid also has some stuff on there as well. We’re definitely excited about it, I wanted to put something out there right now for people to hear me. I’ve grown from The Mood Kill and am taking my music to a different place, I want to give the clubs some stuff to play too you know! It’s a little more up than The Mood Kill was.\
12. When is the release date for The High EP?
I don’t really have a release date yet, but we’re almost done! It’s gonna be really really soon. We’re gonna talk soon about this again! So I think maybe by the middle of next month it’ll be out! Thank you so much, I know you guys have followed me since The Mood Kill and that means so much to me!
Get Dr. Dre’s Compton album featuring Candice Pillay on iTunes now!
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