Photos by Candice Morgutia
Friday marks the release of Cam & China’s self-titled debut EP, but the twins from Inglewood are hardly newcomers to the LA rap world. In the early Obama years, Cam & China accounted for two-fifths of the all-women Pink Dollaz—then as Cammy and Cee Cee—whose teenaged gym class sass, unapologetic rhymes about sex, and odes to female empowerment put the group at the fore of the jerkin’ scene. In the time since, the 23-year-olds have been busy carving out their sound as a duo, collaborating with M.I.A. and West Coast heavyweights like DJ Mustard, Nocando, Battlecat, and D.R.U.G.S., with the latter crew helming production duties on the EP, following a deal with the crew's Chordz 3D. With their new project, the unhinged energy of their Pink Dollaz days is still there, but now accompanied by a depth that rolls the cramped house parties and their aftermath into a single dose of controlled chaos.
The twins describe their music as raw, lyrical, organic, and real. “We tell our stories from deep inside—we don’t sugar coat anything. That's just who we are," China says, pointing to the distinctly female perspective on tracks like “That B” and “In My Feelings.” “It’s really what every woman is thinking.”
Earlier this week, we caught up with the MCs to talk their development, West Coast crossover, gender politics in hip-hop, and much more. Listen in to this weekend’s episode of Noisey Radio on Beats 1 for more from our conversation, and read on for the premiere of Cam & China exclusively on Noisey.
NOISEY: What music did you grow up listening to?
China: Growing up we really paid a lot of attention to Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Lil Kim, the whole Junior Mafia, Outkast. We were kind of all over the place too, we were R&B heads too, but Lil Kim was like… I just really respect Lil Kim for being who she was, especially when you turn on the radio and you hear all these guys and you hear all this stuff about women. It just stood out to me. She really played a part in my upbringing in this music. Her creativity is crazy.
Cam: Missy, Aaliyah, those are pretty much the people that we listened to.
Six or seven years ago you were in "Pink Dollaz" — how’d that all come together?
Cam: We were all going to a school called Hamilton High School, which was a performing arts school, where we pretty much started our career. We knew a guy named J-Hawk, we were friends in P.E. class and we got together, he knew we would do music, me and the other girls. We were all close friends, very popular in school—not trying to boost my ego or anything like that, but you know, we were just very friendly people. So we got together, and he was like, "There’s this song I want you to get on," so that weekend we did it and got in the studio, made music and that’s how Pink Dollaz all began. Just us having fun.
China: And we weren’t even in the music program. We were just doing our own thing, we were rebellious, like "Let’s leave school" and "Let’s go do this" or "let’s go do that," we were always into something. So we came together and made our first songs, "I’m Tasty" and "Never Hungry," in the same day, then we came back to school like, "You guys like our songs?" and they were like, "Send them to me right now!" And then the next day we come back to school and everybody was like, "'I’m Tasty!’" I was like "Oh, this is dope." That’s how it started.
What have you guys been up to between then and now?
China: It’s been a major transition with the group separating. We’ve been really just getting our pen game stronger, taking it a lot more serious, getting focused, telling more stories. Focusing on our future and what it is we want to put out, our album, organizing, studying, just taking it a lot more serious at this point. There’s a lot more responsibility.
With the exception of artists like YG, I feel like LA rap acts haven't been crossing over that much lately. Why do you think that is?
China: No, because it's like a West Coast thing going on right now. The West Coast is so hot right now, everybody wants to get over here and be a part of this movement. So everybody trying to stay true to it, because it's hot right now. Nobody really wants to cross over because it's not really the move right now. Which is a good and a bad thing.
Cam: Or personally, I think certain artists just get too comfortable.
China: Yeah, people get comfortable too. You got people who just aren't ready for that, or maybe just don't want to do that. It all depends.
What is it like working with your twin sister?
Cam: It’s like working with myself! It’s so weird. Because I know what I like she’ll like, or what I’m thinking she’s thinking, or what’s tight to her is tight to me. Or she’ll do something opposite where if I didn’t pick something up she picked it up for me. So it’s really interesting.
China: It’s really a blessing too, because it’s like working with your soul. There’s nothing off. Everything is so in unison, we’re like a unit. It’s a blessing, because a lot of people don’t get that. I feel like I don’t need anything or anybody else because she catches everything. We work so strong together. We’re always as one, inseparable.
Do you write together?
Cam: Together and separate. Together is the best though.
China: It’s the best when we’re together. Usually we’ll get in the studio late night and it just turns all the way on. We’ll get in that zone and we’ll just start coming up with shit. I’ll come up with the first line and she’ll be like, ‘Okay, this can be the story,’ and kinda fills it in, and then next thing you know we’re coming up with the chorus. It just comes together. The writing process is always better when we’re together.
Cam: It doesn’t sound like this is her verse, and this is my verse. It’s one mind.
You can tell how close you are listening to your songs.
China: We’re always together. With music, without music, we’re inseparable. If she’s gone five minutes and I’m like, ‘where’s she at?’
Cam: Yeah, after she cursed me out and says she hated me.
China: I can curse her, I can fight her, and then five minutes later I’m like, ‘What do you want to eat?’ I’m always thinking about her. If I go get a bite, I have to share half my sandwich with her. That’s just how we are.
What is the ideal setting for people to listen to your music?
Cam: For sure driving in the car.
Cam: Getting dressed. On your way somewhere with your girls — for sure when you’re with your girls.
China: When you’re getting drunk.
Cam: When you’re in the mirror… Low-key, when you have a guy around you, and you wanna get a message across to him. Play our song, it’ll make him feel so uncomfortable.
What’s is it like to collaborate together on songs that are only about one of your exes?
Cam: I have to dig in deep. Some of the songs that she has, and some of the songs I have, we go through two different things at two different times. She’s on some other shit and i’m on some other shit...
China: She could tell the bright side of her ex, and I could just be going through ‘I hate him I hate him I hate him I hate him,’ so I’m tellin’ the hatred. Two different pages mixed together.
Cam: Let’s say you gave me a topic where I’m supposed to talk about being in love with a guy, but I’m going through a breakup. I’m going to find a way to talk about that by talking about the shit that he’s done to me, and that I loved him so much. I’m going to find a way, versus saying I’m in love, because my mind isn’t there. So I’ll find a way to paint the story without being corny or saying something that’s not me. It’s like a diary.
China: I’ve always been the person that’s like, ‘Forget ‘em, girl. Get you another one. They’re out here, don’t fall for it.’ And she’s the one that’s been like ‘I’m frustrated with him, but I’m in love with him.’ It’s okay to be in love, but just be wise. Know yourself, know your morals, and understand that you matter too. It’s about having confidence in yourself.
It’s nice that you have each other, especially when rap is so male-centric and competitive.
Cam: It’s such a male dominated thing. Men degrade women anyway, so they see a female rap artist, and they just… it’s terrible.
China: Shit is terrible. You get no love, you get dissed, and I’m like, I know my shit is hot. I’ve seen it happen so many times, we’re like, ‘Let’s just do us.’ That’s just the way it is. Sometimes we’ll walk in the room and guys are like, ‘What are you about to do? You sing? What are you here for?’ I’m so used to it. I laugh at it.
Cam: It motivates me to go hard for women, so that women can feel like they have some type of confidence. Because it can break a woman. When you go into a room and you see a guy saying something about a woman, or calling her fat, or whatever… It gives me the motivation to go into the studio and speak for the women.
China: But it’s okay to be scared to do it. The game is made to destroy women. You have to stand up and say no.
I feel like women get to be the "rap star" one at a time. Like right now it’s Nicki Minaj, and that’s it.
Cam: Yeah, it feels like there can only be one female rapper in the game at a time, which is really weird. The rap game, it’s like 20, 30 dudes at a time that are all hot, and you just like them all. I think it could be because there’s not enough female rappers are in the game, but also because they get it so hard. People want to point the finger at only one person, versus giving everyone else their credit. They wanna say, ‘This is the best female rapper.’
China: But then again, it’s so male dominant that they’re saying that to us. Like, ‘That’s the female rapper.’ It’s just the way they’re portraying us. We need to change their minds. It shouldn’t be like that. Women are so competitive with each other, and we should be more open. They’re already against us, so we shouldn’t be against us.
Cam: It’s so funny because when you hear guys say — or people say, period — that there’s only one ‘best female rapper,’ it’s like why are you saying that? Because there were so many other good female rappers that were coming up at the same time as Nicki Minaj. To pick one person is really contradictory. There’s a lot of male rappers that are really weak, but people still listen to their music and don’t call them wack. They like the cadence. They’re not going to judge them the same way they judge the women, they’ll just say, ‘That’s swag.’ We all know it’s a lot of male rappers out here that it’s just like, ‘Why is he saying this? Do you hear what he’s saying?’
China: But females can’t do that. We can’t get on a record and talk about this and talk about that. We have to spit. We have to go our hardest. We have to prove we’re worth listening to. They’re playing this wack shit on the radio every day, but women can’t do that. We have to go extra, extra, extra hard. Men already don’t listen to female rappers.
Women dominate the pop space, and you often see female rappers moving in that direction.
Cam: Because they want to bracket them. They don’t want them in the males’ lane. They want to put them over here, and make them feel big.
China: It kinda shows too though, how strong a woman can be. Even when we do these things, women just have this creative thing inside where we can do a lot of things and be really good at it. To do that, it kinda puts you above everything.
Cam: I still think they’re trying to label them. I think they’re trying to put them in a separate bracket so they can get them away from being in this lane. Why can’t they choose what they want to do?
China: We just need more women, period. Doing what they want to do, whatever they want to do. Standing up for themselves, and saying, "To hell with it, I’m going to do what makes me special."
Cam & China is out everywhere July 29.
Haley Potiker is a writer and artist manager based in LA. Follow her on Twitter.