Andre Romelle Young has always had the gift of an impeccable ear that picks up on new talent. By now, you’ve heard his swan song, Compton, and studied the credits, which feature some familiar faces and several new names. One of the fresher names that graces the album is South African singer/songwriter Candice Pillay. The artist from Pietermaritzburg is known in industry circles for her work behind the scenes with the likes of Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Rita Ora, and Sevyn Streeter, but she also snuck out from behind the curtain with her own project titled The Mood Kill at the top of 2015. Her unique commingling of R&B, trap, dubstep, electronica, and alternative was just what the Doctor ordered to give Compton the signature ambiance that has been praised since its release.
Whether it is her Jamaican-tinged vocals on “Genocide,” her saccharin cooing of “go fuck yourself” on “Medicine Man,” or the powerful Teena Marie-inspired belting on the album’s intro, consider this the universe’s formal introduction to Candice Pillay.
We recently caught up with Pillay to discuss how she ended up working with Dr. Dre, her contributions to the album, and being compared by Dre to Kendrick Lamar.
When did you first meet Dr. Dre?
Back in February I had connected with King Mez on Instagram and wanted him to remix these records off of The Mood Kill. He hit me one night to come to the studio to work with me between his sessions working with Dr. Dre. Even though he said Dre was going to be there, I didn’t think he’d show up. I walked in and the first person I saw sitting on the couch was Dre.
What was your immediate reaction?
I’ve seen and worked with everyone you can think of, but the effect Dre had on me was so different. He’s an icon, and I grew up in South Africa with his poster on my wall, so seeing him made me nervous. He’s like, “Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Dre,” and I literally couldn’t talk so I said, “Hello,” and slinked off into one of the studios to work with Mez. But Mez wasn’t ready so I ended up in the studio kitchen where Dre was and he started talking to me. [Aftermath A&R] Ty formally introduced us and mentioned that I have a crazy album and I wrote for Rihanna. We started talking about music and our love for Queen. In the middle of the conversation he told me he was working on some stuff but would love to hear my music if I had the time.
If you “had the time”? That had to be interesting.
It was. We went to the big studio, he sat down, and that’s the first time I saw what Dre is about. All he is about is the music and doesn’t care about anything else. He had his back to me with his head down and told me to play something. I played him “Maybe” [off The Mood Kill], and his response was instant. He made me play it three times and blasted it so insanely, ignorantly loud. Right there, on the spot, he said, “You inspire me, and I would like to make a record right now. Do you have some time to work on something?”
When did you realize that you were working on what eventually became Compton?
When you’re in this industry for a while that fire you once had starts to fade because of the industry bullshit. But Dre had that spark in his eye. He’s like a little 16-year-old rapper that’s telling you about his sound. The first time I met him he was like, “I’m putting this album together, and I have this intro that I’d love to get you on.” He was so excited.
Did you believe him? I mean, who hasn’t, at some point, mentioned that they worked on Detox?
He was so sincere that I could just tell. He really wanted to put out Detox but thought it wasn’t good enough and told us that he was going to be honest with everyone about why it didn’t come out. He cares so much about what the fans are expecting from him, and I see it on his face every day. I believed him because he was in there every single day working on it for four months until it became what it is today.
Writing with [dr. dre] is fun as s**t. He loves chicken wings and gin. When Snoop or whoever comes through it’s just so fun.
What’s a day in the studio like with Dre?
Dude, there are no breaks, but it’s really fun. I don’t know if he’s a machine or what. When he’s in the zone the most you’ll see him do is go to the restroom. We’d go to the studio at 7 p.m. and wouldn’t leave until 6 a.m. Writing with him is fun as shit. He loves chicken wings and gin. When Snoop or whoever comes through it’s just so fun. I’ve brought my dad to the studio. He treats us like a family. We’d go for hours and hours doing all-nighters for months.
How did you know that you were going to be a major part of the album?
I brought something to that camp that’s not really there. Marsha Ambrosius is very soulful, and she has that lane sewed up. My sound is more alternative pop but sits heavy on a hip-hop and R&B sound. What I brought to that situation worked for him. I remember one day he said to me, “You remind of this guy…. Do you know him? His name is Kendrick Lamar. He’s pretty awesome and I signed him. You have an energy that’s very similar.” It was weird, because, of course I knew who he was!
Speaking of Kendrick Lamar, how did “Genocide” come about?
I knew the first record we worked on together was not fitting with the rest of the album because it was way too pop. But I knew I just had to give it a little time. Marsha had written a hook to a song that Dem Jointz produced. There was a part Marsha referenced that needed a certain type of Jamaican rap vocal from a female. They couldn’t find anyone that would fit that category. I asked Dem Jointz to let me have a crack at that part. I did the verse, but Jointz said that I sounded “too perfect” and was going to take me off the song. But he came to me the next day with an idea of me doing the vocal off the beat. At the time I was getting really sick and my voice was really low and raspy. But I did it and we looked at each other and knew Dre was going to fuck with it.
“Medicine Man” has your fingerprints all over it from the production to the unique hook. How did that come about?
It would be unique to anyone who hasn’t been listening to my music for the past year. I’ve always had this idea of singing really crazy shit in a sweet tone because it’s easier to digest. But I’ve been doing that in The Mood Kill and I wanted to bring that over to what we were doing on Compton. The writing of those lyrics are exactly how I felt at the time. Just know that it’s never personal, and I’m usually writing about what’s most important for me, my career.
It’s also the only song that features Eminem.
It was evident to [Dem Jointz and me] that the only person who could be on that record was Eminem. At the time Dre had all his features except for Marshall, and it was so important that he was on the album. Dre told us that Eminem hadn’t been excited about anything in a while. We changed the record a hundred times, which happened quite recently even though we made the song a long time ago, and sent it to him. It was like the 4th of July and Dre sat me down to tell me that he loved the song. He would keep sending us verses that were completely off the dome and filled with crazy, crazy shit. He kept sending fire verses until we found the one that worked.
What’s next after being featured prominently on arguably the most significant album of the year?
I’m already back in the studio and did some work for Game on his new album. I’ve got an EP coming out in the next month or so too, and The Mood Kill is on iTunes so cop that!