In conversation with Queens’ soulful singer, ilham

The rising NYC star offers a breath of fresh air in the alternative r&b scene. The talented singer-songwriter’s smooth and soulful voice combined with r&b, pop-inflected beats, creates the perfect mix to vibe to. Focused more on mood-based vibes over specific genres, the stylistic and contemporary r&b sounds pay homage to ilham’s roots and culture. Not one to be labeled or stereotyped, ilham is far from your standard r&b singer. Her songwriting ability complements each track’s rhythm and beat, with her relatable lyrics resonating for many. 

Stuck in lockdown, ilham wrote and recorded the freestyle ‘in my room’. Trending on Soundcloud, the stripped back track really showcases iham’s musical talents. We sat down with ilham to discuss music, culture and the importance of representation. 

The voice of an angel. The success of ilham’s acclaimed EP’s has asserted herself as an artist to watch. Her soulful voice floats over the pulse of every track, generating a powerful and emotive response. With such a passionate and provocative tone, we were keen to hear where ilham’s love of music stemmed from.  ilham fell in love with music because of her Father and his favourite song by Cheb Mami. The track drew raw emotion from her Father, a reflection of memories in his native Morocco. 

“I’ve never seen him really get emotional or cry, until this one time when he was playing Cheb Mami. That was the first time that I saw him shed a tear. It really struck a chord with both of us.

ilham also noted the importance of her beloved, fierce females. Aaliyah, Mya, Ashanti and Rhianna continue to inspire her. With sheer talent and tone, the powerful women provided ilham the confidence in her own voice. Their sultry and seductive voices embody every essence of femininity and empowerment. 

“Aaliyah, Mya, Ashanti, and Rihanna. All of these women gave me confidence in my tone, because they have beautiful, angelic, light (yet powerful), sultry voices that are somewhat similar to mine.”

Once the center of the rap universe, ilham’s hometown of Queensbridge is both rich in culture and music. 

Birthing the likes of Nas, Roxanne Shanté and Mobb Deep; the vibrant borough is the home to many music greats. As the artists rap and sing about their neighbourhood, their music emphasises both the rawness and honesty. With ilham’s music touching the hearts of many, she often pays homage to the beloved borough of Queens.

“It’s full of cultural history. An artist, I am proud to say that’s where I grew up.”

Accompanying ilham’s sulty tracks are powerful visuals. A tribute to her hometown, the ‘in too deep’ video remains a personal favourite. Shot in her ends, ilham brought the community together and vibed the entire shoot. Full of fun, laughter and lots of dancing, ‘in too deep’ really embodies the essence of Queens.

“It was a classic hood R&B video.”

“Shoutout to Kiing Shooter (RIP) – he played a pivotal part in helping me get the community together. I know for a fact that this video will forever have its place in Queensbridge history.”

Rising star, ilham has already secured a strong resumé working with several credible artists such as Arin Rey and Dave East. Her acclaimed EP 41-10 saw NYC legend Dave East jump on the track ‘Last Night’. The song sees both a back-and-forth exploration of paranoia followed by Dave East’s chilling counter verse. As ilham’s long list of hit tracks continues to build, her name is certainly one to remember. ilham dreams of a collaboration with the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, Rhianna or Lana Del Rey and we couldn’t agree more!

“Dave East is a legend in NYC. Everybody loves and respects him. I chose to collaborate with him for the culture.”

We couldn’t chat with ilham without discussing her fierce fashion sense. Born and raised in Queens, the New Yorker credits her stylish street image to her hometown and powerful zodiac sign. A born Cancer, ilham describes her style as both rough and ready with a hint of girliness. 

“I’m an emotional thug.”

In addition to the adoration for her hometown, another subject close to ilham’s heart is representation. Beyond the music, ilham is proud of her Moroccan background and sees the importance of further positive portrayal for brown and black communities. Using her voice as a powerful tool in spreading self love, ilham hopes to inspire young kids from every race and community. Growing up, ilham didn’t feel like any music divas or big artists really looked like her or told her story. This fueled the importance of representation to her. Whether you grew up in the projects with little to your name, ilham aims to remain relatable.

“Representation inspires kids and people of all spectrums to chase their dreams and feel that they can do whatever they set their mind to.”

“I make music for everyone of course, but I want brown girls and boys to look at me and think ‘wow she’s North African, brown, and a superstar. I can really do anything.’”

With the World stuck in Covid lockdown and much of the creative industry at a halt, many are struggling with the creative void left behind. The stress of the pandemic and expectations to adjust to the quarantine life, ilham gifted us with a refreshing freestyle ‘in my room’. Written and recorded in the midst of lockdown, ilham crafted a new hit through exploration and experimentation of her own voice and sound. Not to mention covering an Aaliyah beat and making it her own!

“My lockdown advice is: take things at your own pace. Deal with the pandemic properly, then when you’re ready to make strides, do you.”

With much of ilham’s career ahead of her, she has most definitely made her mark. As more and more people remember her name, her music continues to rise in notoriety. As her two EP’s gained widespread success, she has acquired quite the repertoire of fans both in the US and overseas. The honest and relatable lyrics have no doubt touched the hearts of many with ilham noting the highlight in her career has been witnessing genuine fans crying and singing her words back to her. The cherished moments on tour will ride with her throughout her journey in the music industry. As her career blossoms, we were keen to hear her goals and dreams as a rising musical star.

“To take over the world. To inspire. To be the best ilham.”

From growing up in Queens to showcasing her talent on spotlight lit stages across the country, ilham continues to propel her career to the next level. Wanting to inspire the next generation through her raw and relatable music, ilham remains both grounded and honest. As ilham’s career continues to flourish we wanted to share her wise words for all aspiring musicians out there.

“Your dreams start and end with you. Don’t let fear control you. There’s no book, or how-to guide for being successful in music. Just be persistent, creative, and stay true to who you are.”

ilham’s music releases a refreshing new vibe, with many of her tracks rotating round our playlists. It seems rare to find a voice like ilham’s in the industry, both different and new yet soulful and timeless. As we chill and listen to our favourite ilham tracks, we were eager to hear what she has been listening to to get her through these lockdown weeks.

“I’ve been listening to Blood Orange and Rad Museum.”

Relax and vibe to ilham’s latest track ‘in my room’ available to stream now.

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