We caught up with Ilham before the release of her new, self-titled EP. During our conversation, she touches on moving from being indie to signing to a label and creating alternative R&B.
Ilham is a Cancer. If you’re familiar with her work, learning that she is a crab — the sign’s symbol — probably won’t come as a surprise. Through her last two projects — 41-10 and with time — Ilham has shown many of the personality traits indicative of a Cancer: a naturally-gifted person who’s in tune with their emotions and is often mistaken for having a hard exterior when, in reality, they’re gentle at their core, embodying a calming aura and softness that is magnetic to people. This, paired with her musical talent, has made her a promising and rising artist who strives to create boundless, post-genre music (although, if she had to choose a genre for her music, it’d be alternative R&B). Now, after allowing her previous projects to have a slow burn on her fans, the 26-year-old is prepping for the release of a new self-titled EP, which drops on September 30.
For the past two years, she’s been in the studio every day working on new music while also dating, dealing with heartbreak, and coping with family health issues. Over Zoom, she said she found her way through all of the traumas and adversity that’s been thrown at her since the pandemic hit.
“I feel like with this EP, it’s kind of a little insight into my life — the writing and all of that,” she said. “It explores the beginning stages of a relationship — with an underlying tone of confusion — and experiencing insecurities and how to deal with that.”
The EP is narrative-driven, building upon the past music she shared prior to officially signing to Def Jam in October. Alongside pop inclinations, the singer writes about what she was dealing with in recent years. Featuring production from past collaborators like Fisticuffs, if the EP could be described as an emotional state, it’d be calm and collected.
Throughout her eponymous EP, you’ll hear her navigating through insecurities and growing in love with a romantic partner who she’s no longer with. Paired with experimental drums and synths, the strong project evokes one of Ilham’s biggest inspirations, Aaliyah, the end result is an honest and vulnerable endeavor that is sure to keep her fans engaged as she continues to grow as an artist.
We recently spoke with Ilham about this transitional phase of her life, the sound on her upcoming self-titled EP, and what she’s hopeful for in the future.
Since we last spoke, has anything transformative happened to you?
2021 was a very challenging but beautiful year for me. It was a year of transitions: from different teams, out of a relationship, experiencing deaths, and grieving that. But [also] healing from heartbreak through experiencing a real-life death. So it was just a lot. I think during that time it felt like all odds were against me.
What’s different about the music you’re currently creating?
When I was independent I just utilized whatever I had. I would literally steal beats from YouTube, put a melody on it, send it to my manager, and we would drop it. But I feel like with my team expanding, [I can] explore different sounds and fully nurture and grow. What’s cool about this project is I was able to work with some of the people that I worked with when I was indie, such as the Fisticuffs and Business Boy. But the executive producer for this [forthcoming] project is Danny Boy Styles, who people know from working with The Weeknd and the XO team.
Do you feel that with your music your fans listen to it immediately and resonate with it, but then they can still sit with it over the course of a couple of years and still feel kind of that same way?
I agree with that 100%. I actually think that my fans will listen to it a couple [of] times and then probably resonate [with] it. It’s a real slow burn and I can say that confidently because I speak to my fans — I don’t call them fans, I call them my family — every day. There’s certain people who will DM me and they’re like, “Ah, this song got me out of a heartbreak.” Then they experienced another heartbreak and they’re like, “It’s still getting me out of heartbreak.” And I’m like, “Oh damn.”
What can you tell me about the sound on your new EP?
I feel like I still don’t really believe in a genre, but if we had to put something on it I would say alternative R&B. In terms of sound, I feel like it’s more [tapped] into my world. When I was making this project on the TV screen, I always had Lo-Fi [music] playing. So visually, I’m always seeing dark purples, dark pinks, just dark. That’s kind of the color scape of the EP. Sonically, I feel like it’s just me. I just honed in on what I’ve been doing but elevated.
What were the ongoing themes you hoped to address on this EP?
When I first started my project — and even the music to come after this — it was when I first started a relationship. I don’t want to tell you what it’s about ’cause I really feel like people listening to it and deciphering on their own is important. But it’s kind of two people being so in love, but it’s just the noise around them. Whether it’s from society or whoever is kind of playing a role of they’re in love, they’re just confused ‘cause they both never really felt this way before.
Do you see this project as the next phase of your career?
1,000%. I feel like this is a nice snack to a bigger meal that’s going to come. I’m excited to bring you guys into my world.
What are you hopeful for as you continue to build your artistry?
As I continue to build, my goal is to just keep reaching more and more people. I just want people to just feel. Whether you like the project or you don’t, it doesn’t matter — it entices [you]. You have an emotion about it. I think that literally has been my goal since the beginning. It’s just to make people feel again.
Banner Photo Credit: Val Ok (@val.ok)