Mila J is one of those artists that I could just sit there and talk for hours with. In addition to being the sweetest (and baddest) individual, the singer, songwriter, and actor is a creative in her own right. Through her music and visuals, real name Jamila Akiko Aba Chilombo brings in her own personal experiences to deliver the most heartfelt, emotional records for people to relate to. Read more…
Taking a little hiatus after her 2014 breakout singles “My Main” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and “Smoke, Drink, Break-Up,” Mila J is back and better than ever. For one, she’s enjoying the freedom of being an independent artist and taking advantage of her ability to consistently release new music for her fans.
Most recently, she’s been unleashing an EP each month as part of her 12-part series for the year, leading up to her full-length debut in 2019.
For those who don’t know, who is Mila J?
I’m a singer, songwriter, entertainer from LA, and I act now too.
Where do you fit in the realm of hip-hop and R&B?
Growing up, all I listened was rap music first. Believe it or not, I was always in girl groups, but I was the rapper in the group. My favorite movie growing up was Krush Groove, like The Fat Boys. It’s a super hip-hop based movie, so I always actually preferred rap more than anything. But then naturally growing up to TLC and Mary J Blige, I saw how they merged the gap. It’s not just being the R&B star of it, that’s only powerhouse songs. So I’ve always just come in the lane of merging the two.
You’re from LA, how does that play into your life and career?
I was born right down the street at California Hospital, no lie. First off, it’s the melting pot for everything (besides New York). Just style-wise, because so many cultures come here, you’re able to mix and match different vibes. LA is naturally going to be always more laid-back. Even though my personality is bigger, my music is a little more laid-back. The LA sound comes out. And my accent… I’m just playing. [laughs]
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
All the labels are here and New York, always. But the good thing now, the struggle that people getting in the industry don’t have, is they have the internet. You can be in two places at once so to speak, or get to who you need to get to. I don’t necessarily think you have to live here to make it, but it definitely is going to put you way ahead because everything is here. Everyone is here. You’re going to run into who you need to run into.
You had some success with “My Main” featuring Ty$ and “Smoke, Drink, Break-Up” a couple years back. Talk about your journey in music and the hiatus you took.
It’s interesting with Ty$, we go way back. He was actually in a band, we had mutual friends. We were always around each other, so he’s always been a friend in the industry. I mean, I got started in the business at probably 7 years old officially, but dancing and doing videos for artists, and kid song type stuff. Me and my siblings were working at a young age, and doing it basically our whole lives.
The hiatus I took was one of those things like, “Dang, I want a break. I’m tired of going on auditions.” That’s a lot for a kid to go through: rejection, so much stuff. It was just like, “I want to be normal. I want a 9 to 5.” But then of course, that only last for so long. You got to go back to what you love. It was just one of those breathers.
How long was it?
That’s a good question, I never counted. I know it was more than a year, probably 2. Then also, it was the girl groups I was in, those weren’t working out. I was like, “Let me reassess everything, what do I want to do?” ‘Cause I never planned on being solo. I liked being in groups, they just never fucking worked out. It was like, “Okay, I’m not going to stop doing music just because groups aren’t working out.”
What’s the intention behind releasing a 12-part EP series vs. a full album?
It’s the lead up to an album. Fun fact: I have put out a lot of mixtapes and EPs, but I’ve never done a full-length album. The concept behind this is pretty much a true story based on one relationship. It’s something that I’ve never talked about so I was like, “let me address it.” I’m a Scorpio, I keep stuff in. We just kind of go through without dealing with what the situation is at hand. Obviously, I wanted to do it through song and through art. Honestly, nobody’s really done that before.
You recently dropped your August EP. Talk about the creative process and how long it took you.
Every EP, not just August, they’re being done in real time. That’s the other thing too. It wasn’t the beginning year like, “Okay, you have 40 songs, let’s space them out.” It was a personal challenge. None of the songs are pre-done. The process is usually a couple days as far as the writing and recording. Really, to be honest with you, the mixing and mastering takes longer than the actual recording. The story is easy because it’s real. There’s real people involved and real situations. Then I take 2 days to cut. The mixing and mastering is usually the hardest part, because I don’t do that obviously. It’s out of my control.
On “Business and Pleasure, talk about the pain in this song. How has music been a form of therapy for you?
For me personally, It’s the only way to get something out of me to express myself because I’m not a big talker. I’m not a person who calls 10 people for advice. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I was like that, but I’m just not. I’ll keep stuff to myself so for me, it’s the only outlet.
Your music has this message of giving girls confidence, but what is it you want fans to get from your story?
For this one in particular, it has a lot to do with a breakup. People always say to “lead by example,” but for certain things and for certain relationships, that might not be what you should be in. I always say “leaving by example.” We always get the example of the woman who only gets props for staying in something, and then they’re considered like, “She strong because she stood by him, even though he cheated.”
What about the woman that is strong enough to say no, I deserve better than this.” She doesn’t ever really get the props. I want to show it’s going to be a lot, it’s going to be emotionally draining, but you can leave. I want to show that narrative, that there are women who are like, “No, I deserve better. Sorry. Peace. I’m out. You can call me whatever, I’m dipping. I don’t need to stay just so I can be considered the strong woman who stayed and got ran over.” [laughs]
Any upcoming collaborations?
Yes, but I won’t say who. [laughs]
Give us a little bit.
It’s a girl.
And you’re good remaining independent?
For now. [laughs] My whole thing is always having the artistic and creative control. As long as I can have a grasp on the releasing of things, I’ll be good.
What did you do with your first advance?
First off, I was 12 in the first girl group I was in, so I did really dumb stuff. For a fact, I went to the Beverly Center and spent so much on getting Polo and Tommy Hilfiger. I kid you not. I look back like, “That is so stupid, why did I do that?” I wish I still had some of the stuff though. It wasn’t that much, don’t get it twisted. We had to split it 3 ways.
How has your sister Jhene Aiko’s career impacted yours?
It’s inspiring because we come from a music background and we’ve both been doing it our whole lives. If you think about it, she was born super into it because all of her siblings were in nit. There’s 5 of us. It’s inspiring to see because it really took off for her. To me, that’s the dopest part and to see her remain herself and humble. ‘Cause I’ve watched a lot of people change. The industry can change you, related to a person or not, friends or not. You can see a person and be like, “Oh, you a whole different person.” To me, that’s the most important. That’s the success, not accolades.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
Getting up, working out. Right now, it’s mostly just studio. This year, it was just about the music. Normally, if it’s like for shows or preparing for videos, it’s going crazy with 8 hour rehearsals for the most part.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
Probably “My Main” just because no matter where I am and what age, it’s just a song for girls to rep their friends. I just feel like it never gets old. You’re always going to like to do the song where you get energy from the people. I definitely like doing that one. But from all the new stuff, I’m not going to know what I’m going to like the best. It’s my favorite music that I’ve done.
What was the last tour you did?
Earlier this year, I did a tour overseas. It was about 6 shows. Before then was Australia.
How was the fan reception there?
Bomb. They really appreciate too, because a lot of R&B and hip-hop don’t really go out there. The promoter I was with was telling me they fiending for that to come. When you come, they really appreciate. Here in LA, you get spoiled. It’s like, “You performing every 2 days, at some club.” It’s like “I’ma see you when I see you.” But out there, it’s like, “Yo, I don’t know when this person’s coming back.”
I remember going to Japan, not even for a show for me. I was with a friend. They just assumed I was going to be there because we were friends. They came with a record that I didn’t even have, an actual record from the first girl group I was ever in. I was like, “How do you have this? I don’t even have this.” They were like, “Is Mila J back here?” I’m like, “Someone’s asking for me?” They were like, “Yeah, these fans want you to sign this.” Overseas is lit, I’m not going to lie.
3 things you need in the studio?
My voice, a little weed, and my charger for my phone.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I’ll never forget this older lady, she was probably in her 50’s. Let me tell you, I was hosting a club in the Bay. The security guy was like, “This lady she really wants to see you.” I’m like, “Yeah it’s cool, let her come.” She came just so urgent — she was on leave from the army — but she was like, “I drove 4 hours because I heard you were going to be here.” I have this song called “No More Complaining,” which is basically just that. It’s you put up with it or let it go. She just starts crying the club and I’m like, “Why is this lady crying the club?”
She was just like, “I had to come tell you, you are the reason why I left my toxic relationship. My husband was abusive and I was just listening to that song. It literally came on and I looked at him and was like, ‘No, this is it.’” She just had to come personally and tell me that. I just thought that was cool because she’s not a club lady. She made it a point to drive, come, put herself in the situation that is not her thing… I was just like “whoa.” I’m not good with people crying. I’m like, “No, no, don’t cry. I’m glad you’re okay.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music or acting?
I love working with kids. All of my jobs as a teenager was working at YMCA’s, so something with kids honestly. Or film. I really like photography. I’ve always been obsessed with cameras, before the selfie era.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Besides me, Drake. That’s a give in. Astroworld, it has a little vibe to it. Even if you don’t know the words, it’s just the music. Cardi B, obviously.
My dream collab would be with my sister. Not like a dream collab, but that would be the most special.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Download the Mila J app! Most of my content with be there. A lot of the behind-the-scenes. A lot of the process of making the different albums. Come into my world.