Tucked deep in the shell of a former industrial complex, Cash Campain idly checks his phone, his bald head glistening in the dim red lights of a mixing room.
“Work emails,” he offers as a quick apology before turning his phone over. He’s on the clock, draped in a windowpane button-up and gray dress slacks, but his job at an arts and entertainment college affords him the ability to hide away in its many studio spaces. When not stage ready, there’s little way to tell he is an acclaimed R&B singer antsy for the coming debut of his new project, Valley Hi, which comes out Wednesday, Dec. 6.
In fact, he wears so many hats that it’s almost a surprise he has time to focus on his art. Aside from professional and creative focuses, he’s also a Ph.D. candidate with a wife and young son at home.
“I don’t make excuses. I’ve got to give as much as humanly possible to each thing,” he says. “For example, I’m going to L.A. next weekend for a press run. So, I’m getting ahead at my job so I don’t get work calls while I’m down there. On the plane, I’ll be finishing up a homework assignment. Then I’m getting some Hennessey, and it’s straight to an interview when I land. The whole weekend is like that, maximizing my time.”
As a doctoral student in business, this focus on maximization is expected, and Campain could have internalized these principles, boiling his creativity down to a ruthlessly efficient formula in a quest for widespread popularity. However, he holds a respect for the story behind the story in music — the growth of the human behind the art, and not the dissemination myth created by it — and the integral role that story plays in the creation of lasting art. He’s seen, both through his own career and through the rapid ascent of his brother, Caleborate, “there are no heroes, we’re all human, and we each have a journey we have to take.” The depths of that personal journey make the success all the more enjoyable.
Campain’s journey began in Valley Hi, and his latest album is an ode to the South Sacramento neighborhood. The project is the culmination of the little experiences he had in those streets, from listening to Mary J. Blige in his mother’s new-to-her BMW to realizing he’d outgrown those streets his first day back after graduating college. Each track is steeped in this relatable nostalgia, and the innocence lost to the maturation process.
“I’m not someone who can put into words what is happening in the moment,” he says. “But looking back, seeing why I am who I am, where I’ve made mistakes, where I could’ve made mistakes, that’s what inspires me to make art.”
Valley Hi also stems from Campain’s growing disinterest in the Trap-Soul sound. After his last project, Michael in ’79, which, by his own admission, draws almost entirely on that sound, he began attempting to capture something more organic. The key lay in a restructuring of his creative process, learning to allow his production team to have a more active role in the construction of his tracks.
“I’m most comfortable taking a beat and writing to it, because that’s what I’ve done my whole career,” he says. “But I started reaching out to producers with a cappellas, letting them produce around my voice.”
This revision has led to what he feels are some of his most engaging works. And now, when he reaches “the front of the class, people who revisit my catalogue will find songs like ‘Sin’ and ‘Holy Matrimony’ and wonder where I’ve been.”
Until then, Campain will continue to be a proponent of the “crock pot” method of creation, a theory for lasting success instilled by his producer, Wax Roof.
“Slow cooking is underrated in this music industry, but in the same way it applies to food, it comes together perfectly. It’s not microwaved, but it lasts, and you really remember what you had.”