ilham is ready to become the superstar she’s always destined to be. Hailing from Morocco, the singer-songwriter arrives as a breath of fresh air in the music industry, with a strong pen game and smooth, buttery vocals that has listeners all around the world tuned in waiting for more.
Hailing from the Queensbridge projects in New York City, the rising star is here to defeat the odds, using each and every day as an opportunity to live out her dreams to the fullest. Breaking onto the scene with her smash hit “cycle of games,” which currently boasts over 3 million streams on Spotify and counting independently, ilham recently inked her new deal with Def Jam, as well as to French Montana’s imprint.
To celebrate, ilham unveiled her highly-anticipated self-titled EP titled ilham, spearheaded by lead single “corazon” featuring French Montana. The song’s official music video boasts standout appearances from Cassie and Karreuche.
Sheen spoke with ilham in Los Angeles to discuss her signing to French, how the “corazon” video came into fruition, goals, and more!
You’re in Los Angeles, how are you feeling?
I feel good. I feel creative. It’s really brick in New York right now. It’s hella cold so just being here, it’s a vibe.
You just released your self-titled EP, congrats!
Honestly, it’s my best body of work. I’m so proud of it and to release it, I feel like… [sighs] Because a lot of these songs were made two years ago, so to get it out feels amazing to me. I can’t even wait to get the other stuff out because I know it’s going to serve people, but I’m ready for the new stuff as well. I’m on go go go.
Why two years, was it Covid and all that?
It was Covid, I had just gotten signed. You know how things go with that. When you’re indie, you’re a bit more flexible.
So this is your first project on Def Jam, how’s that?
It’s an adjustment because I had done it independently for so long. It’s an adjustment, but I’m really excited to see what Def Jam and I can do.
What does it mean to sign to French Montana? Obviously, you guys are both Moroccan.
French is my mentor. At the end of the day, that’s my big brother. He’s the type of person where I should be reaching out to him most times, but I don’t. I only reach out to him sometimes when the fire is already set, but regardless of what it is, he’s always been super supportive of me and always gives me really good advice. He’s extremely smart. Having someone like French by my side, feels like I have a tiny little family in this music space. Which is necessary.
Congrats on the “corazon” video hitting a million views on Youtube! I feel like that’s always the goal.
It is the goal, I’m ready to hit 5. [laughs] 5 million, then 10, then 20. I love that video. “corazon” made me fall in love with the song. Fun fact, I did the song with The Fisticuffs, who do all of Jhene’s stuff. I did the song in 2019. I walked into the studio and said “Yo, let’s make a record that samples something that everyone is scared to touch.” Because “Me & U” is such an iconic song, no one’s really going to touch it because it’s so fire. You can’t really do it justice. We made the beat, then I worked on it and I put it in the vault. One of my mentors and first managers, Rahim, always had it in his phone, and was always playing it for people. He loved that song!
Fast forward to a few years later when I got with French, Rahim sent it to him. [laughs] One day I walked into the studio and I played my music for French, the music that’s on ilham the EP. He said “Yo, this is amazing, but where’s that ‘Corazon’ record?” I looked at him like, “How the fuck did you know about this song?” The correlation didn’t even happen. He’s like “alright, I want to jump on it. Recut it, let’s do this.” I was like wow.
After we cut it, the label was finding it difficult to clear the record so I had slid in Ryan Leslie’s DM. We did a Zoom call, and such a great human. He said “Can I mentor you?” I’m like, “Can you?”
My homegirl’s literally obsessed with Ryan Leslie.
He’s talented. I said “please, clear this record.” He said “I got you,” so boom that happened. Do things yourself because I’m telling you, I sat there for two months waiting like, “it’s gon’ get cleared!” No. [laughs]
How’d you link with Karreuche?
Karrueche has a classic look. Everything she represents is aligned with what I represent. She’s very beautiful. She lives in her aura, her space. When we linked, she fell in love with me and asked to direct the video rather than just being in the video.
Just like that?
One sitting, we went to Catch and she asked to direct the video. I’m like what? You want to direct it and be in it? She said “Yeah.” We kept talking and talking. I told her my story, my vision.
Where did you shoot the video and what was the best memory?
It was shot in a Moroccan house in LA. My favorite memory? There’s a scene with me and French, where we had to dance and act like we’re vibing. It was funny because I see him as a big bro. Am I supposed to dance on you? [laughs] That was a really funny moment. I thought it was cute because it’s big bro, little sis.
Talk about your debut album coming out early next year. Do you have a name yet?
I do, I don’t want to say it. I’m still working right now. What I will say is my writing has gotten so much better. My experiences, I definitely experienced a lot of shit. 2021 was a challenging year for everybody. I was challenged career-wise, relationship-wise, mentally-wise, health-wise, family-wise. Everything felt like it was a lot. It was an overstimulation of emotions so that’s going to be very reflected on this album. I can’t wait to get it out because I know people are going to heal through my music, the same way I healed through other people’s music but also healed through my music.
What people don’t understand is, when I wrote 41-10 or “cycle of games,” I never experienced heartbreak. I was writing from a director’s perspective, I wasn‘t experiencing a lot of things. I was writing based on other people’s stories or imagination. So now I can be more personal and get this out because life moves fast and I wanna talk about other shit.
That’s so relatable too.
Even so, the writing is also changing. Yeah it touches on love and heartbreak, but I do want to focus right now a lot on my life. There’s a lot more to me than just love, relationships. That’s cool, but I was born in a homeless shelter. I did grow up in the hood, I want to be able to highlight that layer of me. People may look at me and not even know my story, so doing it through music is the best thing that can happen.
Any goals for yourself at this point?
My goal is for my music to reach as many people as possible. My goal is to be the biggest artist in the world. Because I know little girls and boys in Africa or in the hood, need someone like me to look at. They need someone who grew up like me, they need that because I needed that when I was young. I didn’t have that artist that I looked up to because nobody had a similar story to me. And ofcourse, to get my parents out the hood. We’re still on that mission.