In starting Now/It's: Nashville, the site's primary aim is to bridge the distinct and apparent gap between country and christian contemporary and all other forms of music in "Music City, USA." There's noticeable growth across all genre thresholds thanks to Nashville's coinciding growth, but even still, Nashville remains a town with a glass ceiling (at least for now). It's hard to admit, but parity is still a problem in Nashville. So when N/I met up with CAMM, it was reassuring to hear that someone in one of the "come up" genres was implementing a modernized approach, all the while maintaining a defined and realized view of his process. Nashville's hip-hop scene might not be at the forefront of the city's gallery for now, but with someone making as concerted and purposeful an effort as CAMM, it's hard to see things staying that way for long.
Now/It's: Nashville met with CAMM at Barista Parlor Golden Sound in The Gulch neighborhood of Nashville.
CAMM - How’s your morning been so far?
N/I - It’s been pretty good. I did some portraits earlier this morning over at Cornelia Airport. Have you been there?
CAMM - Is it kind of restricted? I snuck over there with my friends one time.
N/I - Right. I think at some point in recent years they’ve turned it into a park. So there are airstrips, but with people rollerblading up and down….
CAMM - That’s cool.
N/I - I haven’t seen anyone rollerblade in forever. So it was almost kind of comical in a way. So I did all that and then came here. What about you?
CAMM - Cool. I woke up at around 8:30, did some stuff around the house for a little bit.
N/I - Where do you live?
CAMM - I live on Nippers Corner. There’s a Publix over there - I live in some condominiums behind there, up on the hill.
N/I - Right on. How long have you been living there?
CAMM - Since last September or so. It’s a thirteen month lease.
N/I - Thirteen month lease?
CAMM - It’s a little different. It becomes month-by-month as we choose. We got a pretty cool landlord. So it’s pretty cool.
N/I - So how long have you [and your manager] Kristoff [Hart] been working together?
CAMM - Kristoff moved to Memphis…. Well he’s kind of from Memphis, but he came back to Memphis when we were sophomores in high school. So that was my first time meeting him, but I didn’t really know him like that. I think we became really good friends our junior year, and then senior year we were in choir together - and that’s the moment I decided I wanted to pursue music. I was always in love with music, but my parents weren’t necessarily supporting me on that. But so [Kristoff and I] wound up being roommates at Belmont and went from there. We just started the manager/artist role here recently, but he’s always been one of my best friends.
N/I - It’s probably a natural fit, I would imagine. So you said your parents weren’t crazy about you pursuing music when you first started out - has that changed at all since?
CAMM - Nah, they weren’t, but they’ve seen the light [laughs]. My dad’s just a pastor, so he’s real by the books and he initially wanted me to do something else.
N/I - I can see that, sometimes music can be tough to convince people as being worthwhile.
CAMM - Yeah, I mean, it was really him being upset that I chose to go to Belmont, more so. Because I was originally going to go to MTSU or Duke for engineering - I was offered scholarships to both of those places - but I gave up a full ride to MTSU to take on so much debt at Belmont, but I put in my name, I didn’t put it in their name. But even still, it was like “Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you do this?”
N/I - It’s interesting - in talking to people that pursue music - the concept of “chasing a dream” and being sound financially seems to create a generational disconnect of sorts. Certain people from older generations tend to prescribe by the notion that the only dream one should have is not owing anyone money - which is a worthwhile cause, and I’m sure for some people….
CAMM - Is the actual dream.
N/I - Exactly. And it would be great everyone had zero debts that they didn’t have to pay off over many years, but at the same time, what purpose does that give one outside of the purpose of finally paying that stuff off?
CAMM - While you are financially free, are you really doing what you love? I mean, you could love to be financially free, but are you doing what you love? I think millennials - I hate saying that….
N/I - It’s tough. I try and stay with the vague “generational” thing.
CAMM - Yeah. I think that the younger generation, closer to ours - you only get one chance. That “YOLO” thing really stuck with us.
N/I - Seriously!
CAMM - [Laughs] It’s most important to do what you love to do while you’re here. I feel like that’s kind of the mindset.
N/I - For sure. I would imagine every day that you wake up while you’re working on your music, that’s priority number one. It’s conceivably the only chance you get, and you have to make the most of it, so it’s some form of additional motivation outside of simply being successful and being the best in your field.
CAMM - Sure. I talk about it a lot with my parents, specifically my dad. I tell him “Every day I’m doing this, it’s for a bigger purpose.” It’s a bigger purpose in mind. So people may look at it and just be like “He’s trying to be a starving artist,” or “Typical lazy musician,” but I don’t really think there’s such thing as a “typical musician.” I think everyone has a reason behind what they’re doing and the art they’re creating, but still, it’s not easy for everyone to understand that. I tell my mom and dad, “I don’t think you’ll fully understand everything until I actually do it.” Then they’ll all get it, everything that I had been saying from before.
N/I - I understand completely. It’s like start a business, people might like the idea of CAMM incorporated, so to speak, but at the same time, everyone is aware of its potential for failure, which is always a reality with everybody’s projects.
CAMM - Yeah, but I think that’s becoming the norm all across the board. There are different independent artists spaced out and really approaching their artist brand as a company.
N/I - Exactly. I think the best example now would be Chance [the Rapper]. Granted, now he’s become his own sort of unique beast in the sense that he can get Apple Music to pay him so much money to drop Coloring Book. So he’s the end goal for now, but who’s to say what the model becomes in the future?
CAMM - Like how long will people embrace that? And how long will the Industry allow that to remain the norm? Are they always going to be comfortable with that? Are they going to keep having compassion toward the artists?
N/I - And it’s a matter of whether or not someone is going to try and gain control of that. So what do you when that independent model is locked up?
CAMM - Who knows man.
CAMM - Right. So a lot of the talks I ended up having from that competition kind of led me to look at myself in a different light, as more of a brand as opposed to an artist. I spoke to Lenny S - he’s the senior vice president of Roc Nation, and he’s DJ Khaled’s manager - so when I was talking to him - it seemed like he took a liking to me - so I hung out with him for four hours and listened to my whole catalog, and he was a big fan of my music. That being said, he went through my Instagram and was just kind of shooting a lot of stuff down, saying that “You release something, you promote, and then you kind of disappear, then you’ll come back and promote something else and then disappear.” He wound up telling me about branding myself and putting myself out there and staying consistent so I’m creating a “friendbase” rather than a fanbase, so people can feel connected to me on a deeper level, which will push them and incentivize them to buy in when I do release music instead of me just saying “Hey there’s a new song, listen to it.” That kind of stuff only makes things seem like “Who are you? What are you doing? I don’t really know you. Do you only release music?”
N/I - Okay. So it’s basically like if you were walking down the street in New York, LA, Chicago, Des Moines, or Boise, anyone could feel like they could come up and say “What’s up?” and feel like they know what’s been going on with you.
CAMM - Yup. Just like with DJ Khaled. That’s exactly what they do. [Lenny S] was just telling me about these different ways I could better position myself so I could grow with my fanbase and reach out a lot more. So when I came back, I kind of just focused on that and did a revamp, started doing a lot more photo shoots, starting to try and get my image a lot cleaner, but also just being a lot more transparent on social media, and letting people know what my day to day looks like. I’m using Instagram story a lot more, so the singles have been a big part, but I do feel confident that the music was there. I think that it was the wrapping and the presentation of it that needed more work. This year has been a lot of focus on that stuff these past few months, but we’re still focusing on singles with a lot waiting in the pot, ready to be released. We’re getting ready to come out with a lot more as the fall links up we’ll just be dropping a lot more. There’s one that’s going to come out called “Peak,” one coming out called “Pretend,” which is kind of like a party theme song. So I’m excited about the new music, but I’m more excited about just legitimizing myself and establishing myself on social media so people know I’m a person, I’m CAMM, this is what my life looks like, and if they kind of like that, then cool, let’s start relationships.
N/I - Yeah. You’re getting that brand set up - you’re making strides in…. I hesitate to say “controlling the message,” but at the very least, you’re controlling the perception, at least in the sense that one day you’re serving in a soup kitchen and the next you’re blowing five thousand dollars on something.
CAMM - No, not at all. It’s a more consistent thing.
N/I - Exactly. I would imagine right now, you’re still entering this rhythm of everything becoming a little more natural. And it sounds like after that meeting with Lenny S, you’re really making strides in becoming “friends” with all your fans without ever really meeting them. But at the same time, that’s gotta be hard.
CAMM - It can be. It’s a little bit unnatural for me - I’m more of a guy who likes to hang in the background - not for any suspicious reason, but I’m just kind of shy. I don’t really like to put myself out there, and I do alright in networking positions, but I’ve never been one to put my life out like that. So it’s a little unnatural, but the more I do it, the better I feel like I’ve become. I’ve become more confident in the fact that I’m not really talking about myself, it’s really more like me bringing people along for the ride of what I’m doing. And my music is consistent with the way I live, so it’s pretty much the same vibes across the board every single day.
N/I - So have you seen people respond to it in a big way? Or at least positively?
CAMM - Yeah, a lot of my friends have noticed. I don’t really think that I really have a lot of fans, I more so have a lot of friends. You know what I mean?
N/I - Sure, but it could be anyone that sees these things.
CAMM - Right, but my friends are saying “I see you posting more on social media,” or - you know how people can respond back to your Instagram stories? I get a lot of those. Like if I post something - I’m not like a motivational speaker or anything, but if I post something that was on my heart, a lot of people give good feedback on that. I’ll post song ideas while I’m working in the studio, and people will be like “Oh, I can’t wait to hear that.” It’s like I was just sharing this bit of an idea, but now it’s turned into a promotional thing for just this little snippet. It’s cool, because now it’s all starting to make sense.
N/I - You’re basically running your own grassroots, guerilla marketing campaign 24/7. But it’s different than trying really hard every morning to be like “Hey guys, it’s CAMM. Just a reminder - we’ve got a single coming out later this week.” Instead it’s something where someone can be interested enough to check in some time in the morning and then not check in until the end of the day, but when they do check in, they can catch up on everything you’ve put up during the day.
CAMM - That’s the goal, for sure.
N/I - That is - to me - fascinating, as far the learning curve is concerned. For someone like you to….
CAMM - Understand that process and everything. It helps, though. My followers have grown consistently, because I feel like the process influences people to buy in, more or less. They just want to be more involved when you’re staying consistent, you’re staying on their mind. They get to know you, and everyone has something to bring to the table, so they start liking things more. It’s not them taking things at face value like “Oh, I like this song.” It becomes “I like this artist, he’s a cool guy,” which makes people feel like they can get behind someone’s music in a more supportive way, and if the song is ear candy, that’s a bonus.
N/I - Right. So has anyone talked to you - in having a more public platform - about the potential pitfalls. I know you’re not trying to be a motivational speaker, but if something is weighing heavily on you - and it doesn’t matter what it’s about, it could be that people need to eat more vegetables - but there’s almost always inevitably going to be someone that’s in direct opposition to that - how would you handle that?
CAMM - I’ve had moments like that, but they’ve been kind of lower key. I don’t really remember many, but there was one where a guy I grew up with and went to highschool with commented on a post on Facebook and blasted me in front of everybody. I really can’t remember the conversation, but I remember the comment I had back was “Come on man, I’ve known you for a long time. Why do you have to do this here? Just give me a call and we’ll talk about it.” I just left it alone after that, and I don’t think he really said anything back, but everybody is entitled to their own opinion. So when I do get to a point where I am something and people are really listening, and someone says “That’s stupid,” or “That’s a horrible idea,” I’ll hear them out on that. Because in normal conversations, I like to - not debate - but hear where they’re coming from, because their walk of life has led them to that decision, or that line of belief, and I’d like to learn why. Not in the sense that it would change my mind, but to better understand.
N/I - It’s more concerted conversation than anything else. It might open up new viewpoints.
CAMM - Exactly. So I’ll embrace at any and all times. I would like to keep that mindset even as I elevate further. You know when someone might say something and then a group shuts them out? Or someone gets punished for talking out? I don’t like that. So I bring the conversation to them in order to keep that open dialogue of “I’m just talking my talk. If you don’t like it, let me know. Let’s talk more.”
N/I - So when you do that, you’re working to expand the community of CAMM in general, but at the same time, you’re trying to branch out into the greater community of Nashville, more specifically the hip-hop community. Have you seen people within those community embracing that mindset?
CAMM - Earlier on, when I first came to town, that was my main aim - to delve deeper into the Nashville hip-hop community. And that’s not saying that that was my only intention, but they did end up welcoming me with open arms. The Nashville community has changed a lot in the past few years, though. People are kind of leaving the grassroots thing at home and branching out to other places like Atlanta and Chattanooga. So there’s not too much inclusivity in the community happening right now, because everybody’s not here. In the past couple years, there haven’t been a ton of tight developments in terms of that. But that’s not a bad thing, so to speak, it’s just that there’s not as much movement from that end. But I’m always in support of the Nashville hip-hop community. They’ve always been a big help to me.
N/I - Interesting. The reason I ask is because in my initiative that is this website, it’s to celebrate Nashville as a whole, but show that the city’s long standing view of songwriters, country….
CAMM - CCM.
N/I - Right. CCM, Americana…. It’s all well and good. Even in living here, no matter what field you’re in, you have to kind of pay homage to all that. But at the same time, it’s not fair to all the smaller communities like the hip-hop community, the DIY community, the electronic community. Basically, any community outside the main music of Nashville. The question raised, in my mind, is why have those communities struggled more so than others to find their footing? It may just be that country music has been here for a little under a century.
CAMM - I that’s probably one of the reasons, because that’s the longstanding mindset of the city. But I definitely see people becoming more accepting of these newer views. I would bet that in the next five years, those pockets will grow exponentially. I have a friend over at BMI, and they’re always trying to do showcases for “New Nashville” or “Other Nashville” is another group that’s doing a lot of stuff. But they’re trying to put the focus on pop and hip-hop, techno and rock in order to show there’s other stuff here. Because the thing is everybody - even the country only people - wants Nashville to stay prominent. So if the industry isn’t praising country music or placing all its time and effort there, and beginning to focus more on urban music because that’s where the buying power is, of course Nashville will have to embrace it. It’s not “Country City” it’s “Music City.” So if they want to stay prominent in that position, the city has no choice but to start embracing those people. I definitely see that happening.
N/I - Right. But at the same time, how do you combat that problem of when someone [in hip-hop] begins to pick up some traction here in town - I think of Mike Floss - before they dip out of town. He still splits his time between Nashville and LA, but it seems like recently, it’s more LA. Or the burgeoning soul music scene, but people like Jonny P splits a lot of his time between Nashville and LA. I mean, his last record was produced out in LA, which is cool, because he got to work with James Gadson. It’s an incredible record, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for what you were saying - if Nashville stays “Music City” as opposed to “Country City” or “Contemporary Christian City” or whatever, once the community grows, who’s to say that in five years, people from LA and New York’s hip-hop scenes don’t start coming here?
CAMM - Exactly, and I feel like it could be. There’s definitely enough space to share. To house all of the genres. I don’t think there has to be a switch that elevates one and demotes the other. I don’t think country music has to go anywhere, but I do feel like there’s room to start embracing other types of music as well. I feel like if Nashville does that, then it becomes the front runner, because the built in thing here already is where else are you going to go for good country music? Where else are you going to get good CCM? Where do you find good soul? Because from here to Memphis isn’t much. So it makes sense to start embracing other genres, because Nashville really could become a New York or an LA. It has all the potential to. I’m excited and hoping that’s the direction it starts, or continues, to go. There are already a few people that are embracing that mindset, but I want the whole city to embrace the idea.