“Let me peel it back a bit and introduce you to me and who I am” is a statement B Wise made to himself with jamie, the sophomore album from the West-Sydney rapper. It’s an album that follows over a year of lockdowns, social turmoil, and the constant anxiety of hearing the news every day. Pandemonium created a space for the veteran to reflect, and now reintroduce himself to what he knows and loves: music.
The results are of course some of B Wise’s strongest music to date; the man who made 2013’s ‘Long Neck Brown Paper Bag’ in his prime. The album is a versatile mix with the common thread being vitality, traversing through the sounds of trap, pop-soaked rap, afrobeat, R&B, and more with a sense of hunger and passion. The guest list is stacked, with features from the likes of Sampa The Great, BLESSED, ONEFOUR, and more adding their perspectives to the opus, while the likes of UNO Stereo, Willstah, Milan Ring, and others thrive on the production side. jamie takes us deeper insight into the man that is B Wise, as he sings and spits some of his most vulnerable, insightful lyrics yet. In 2018 he told us he was Area Famous, today, he allows us into the area of his consciousness.
To peel back more layers, I hopped on the phone with B Wise to chat through reintroducing himself on jamie, as well as the collaborations on the project, and how he’s embracing his cultural heritage.
Congratulations on the album, man. How are you feeling about the release?
Man, I’m feeling excited, and a bit of anxiety, but I’m just happy. I’ve been sitting on this project for a year now and working on it for a year, so it’s good to give it to the people in its entirety and really celebrate that moment because we put a lot of work into this one.
You’ve signified it is kind of like a reintroduction. Why did this feel like the right time to reintroduce yourself to the music scene?
I think it’s probably the perfect time if anything. When I came out the first time, I said what I had to say, and I brought what I had to the table, but there was also a bit of a shield because I was still relatively new to the Australian music scene, and the world music scene. With rap music we generally have this bravado, we sort of have a shield in a way, but things are moving and there are so many young kids repping so I wanted to talk to my audience, and new audiences, and say “Let me peel it back a bit and introduce you more to me and who I am”. And I felt the best way that I could do that was by stamping the project with a name that only my close ones really call me at home, just to say to people, this is me, and I’m peeling back, but at the same time it’s just the tip of the iceberg, this is just a new journey. You’re going to see different sides on this project, it’s up, it’s down, you’re going to see the fun party side to me, you’re going to see the serious side to me. The listener is really exploring sonically how much I care about my music and how I want it to sound and come across. That’s really what it is, I just want people to just really get to know me better.
The album shows your growth musically, but also reveals the duality of the person that you are outside of the music. How do you think personal growth and musical evolution play hand in hand?
I think they’re really, really tight. Any good, honest artist tends to put what they’re going through and who they are into their music or their art in general. I think my growth was more so about wanting to just be more honest with people about who I am. There are some good things about me, there are some things about me that are not the best, but I work on the bad things, learn from them and try to lean more towards the good. But I want people to see everything in its entirety because we’re all human, we all do the same shit, you know?
The reason I said earlier it was just the tip of the iceberg is because a lot of the music on this project I did within the period of 2020 when so much was going on, and now we’re damn near 2022. So I’ve already got a whole lot more I want to say and put out, but we had to pull it back a little bit because of the pandemic and work the rollout around that. But as you said, it all works hand in hand.
One thing that I’ve loved about your musical progression is how you’ve leaned into your singing bag more and more with each release. What is it about melody that you think enhances the power of expression and vulnerability?
I think everyone can relate to a little bit of melodics and singing. To be honest with you I’m an R&B lover as much as I am a rap lover, so it was only a matter of time, I kind of kept just pushing the bar further and further. I think melody helps you express yourself a bit more, you hear the sentiment of what someone is trying to say a bit more. But now there’s a fine line between rapping and singing so I really try to find that bag in the midway and play with it. As long as it feels good on the ear then I’ll do it, but for some songs, it just won’t work. There are some beats on the project that I just needed to come at, to just destroy with bars. At the end of the day, I am a rapper, that’s what I started with, but the melody side is just me trying to show my growth as an artist and to try and give different flavours, different treatments for the ear.
When you interviewed Goldlink for Acclaim, you said when you started out making music, you never thought about integrating themes or sonics from your cultural heritage. How do you think your music has gotten more personal and explorative of who you really are and where you come from and why you’re here? Have you reconnected with that ancestral foundation?
I think that was part of the inspiration, Goldlink, and also Skepta, was really part of the inspiration for me to get back into my bag of incorporating my culture more. I’ve talked about it in interviews, people know my heritage, they know I’m Afro Aussie, but it was super important, not just for me, but to my dad and other family members that as an artist I try and delve into our culture’s sounds and sonics. But I always felt super nervous about it, I always thought afrobeat was a bit corny tied into rap. I liked listening to it but I wasn’t sure how I’d sound, and God knows I did try over the years. But with ‘Ezinna’, for example, on this album, bringing in Sampa and then having Milan on there co-producing and also featuring it all made sense. For me to speak my dad’s tongue, which is Igbo, on a song, and to have others contribute parts of their heritage on the song, and then wrap it up in sort of a ‘welcome home’ message is crazy. Ezinna is my grandpa’s title by the church, he’s a Nigerian man and has passed away but the song is named after him.
The music industry often feels like it’s in a space where trends are more important than expression or algorithms are a priority over the art itself. Is it hard to be so open in your music when the business side can be closed off of that part of the craft?
Yeah, sometimes it can be disheartening like you really pour your all into something and do stuff to separate yourself from the pack and a lot of music curators will just go with what’s trending right now. But, I’m not gonna complain, that’s all good, the way people consume music is how they consume music, they’ve got a business to run through. I’m running a business and so are they. For the most part, a lot of this business is we’ve gotta grow and we’ve gotta work together anyway, so they’re just setting it up how I guess radio used to set it up, they play what they think people want to hear. So I think when the music touches the people, if it hits you and you feel something from it, it doesn’t matter if it’s one person, 10 people, 2 million people, or plus, I’m all good as long as someone is related to it. At the end of the day, I am really fortunate that I’m touching people with it. Algorithms will do what they wanna do, but there are always different ways to get heard, and it’s my job to really explore those other options and avenues to get as many people to listen to my music as possible.
And on that topic of connecting with people and being open, in March you tweeted about crying in the booth while recording a verse and that was kind of a first. Has this process of being an open book been a therapeutic release or an internal battle?
Both, man. I went through all the motions. At the beginning of the project, I wasn’t even sure if I was ready to start an album yet. So that’s why when we did the camp I said “let me see”, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go through all the emotions yet. It was supposed to be an EP but when I came back from the camp I was sitting on 18 to 25 songs already in one week so I said, yeah, I think we’re good to go and I know what I wanna do. But just going through the motions of getting all those records and songs done, that was internal battles of all kinds. Trying to keep focused after getting hit with this pandemic and just feeling disheartened, getting on the drink and just wasting time, then trying to get remotivated to get back on the grind again. We went through it all. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so much more music that I want to share with people on top of this. Who knows there might be a jamie 2.0, we’ll see.
The album features musicians like BLESSED, Sampa The Great, ONEFOUR, and more who, like you, have reached a point in their artistry where they emphasize wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Do you remember any conversations you had with these collaborators whilst making this project that impacted the direction of the lyrics or even changed your perspective on things in life?
Yeah man, this would turn into a super long interview if I went into every convo we ever had [Laughs], but it was great chatter. I had great chats with ONEFOUR, we said so much about our come up, growing up, and what we’re about. And with BLESSED, he and I always have great talks. Even with Kojey Radical, even though we haven’t met in person, we talk on the phone and on Instagram. Just hearing words from him and getting inspiration from him, I really relate to his journey because he’s doing amazing things and I really think he’s going to get his flowers soon, you can tell he’s just really been putting in that work. He gave me a lot of inspiration and encouragement for sure.
You often hear the cliche of ‘friendship and business doesn’t mesh’ yet music always seems to be the one form of business and art where it brings collaborators together to see them flourish. Why do you think that is?
It’s a fine line, man because at the end of the day I’m an independent artist, we’re still running a business, but at the same time, everything came together through friendship. I was able to get all these people to organically understand my vision and what I was trying to do and say. If I couldn’t say something for myself I would look for the right person to help me push the message across. In the music business, your friendships and business dance around each other, but that’s what you have managers for. I oversee everything but managers help our business flow happen and we just keep the creativity going. We want to create first, we want to get the music right, and when it’s right that’s when we’ll talk about the business.
It’s really beautiful to see all these collaborators come together on an Australian rap album that is very personal, vulnerable, and open, especially with spending the last year being so secluded from everyone that we know and love. I think it’s a positive symbolism.
That’s it, man. I’m a fan of everyone on this project. It’s also celebrating community. Everyone who knows personally knows I’m also a big part of the community and what we do. We’re better and stronger in numbers so I just wanted to celebrate that and showcase that with what I wanted to do sonically.
Community is such a big part of music and I wanted to ask you about one community of rap music you’ve been a fan of for a long time, which is the West Coast, which has been a hub for boundary-pushing music. What is it about that sound that speaks to you?
That was just the first set of CDs that we had. My dad had Tupac and Snoop and all of that but I really got into it more with the 2000s guys like The Game, and obviously, Kendrick Lamar was a massive inspiration to me. The West Coast just had that flavour, it’s got that smoothness but it’s cutting edge. If you’ve ever been to LA, it’s got so many different elements to it, and that notion of the street shit to it as well. We kind of see that a lot growing up but the reason I relate to Kendrick so much is that I always related with the Good Kid, M.A.A.D City thing.
I’ve read that you wrote a lot of your first raps to Warren G. Do you remember what they were like?
Man, I couldn’t tell you what the actual raps were, but they definitely would have sounded like Warren. I used to love Warren G. so it definitely would have been in that pocket. That kind of sound is how I started and I definitely grew from that.
As a mutual lifelong fan of The Game, what’s your favourite song from him?
It’d be ‘Ali Bomaye’, damn, it’s gotta be something off of The Documentary though. There are so many. I’m gonna say ‘Ali Bomaye’ for now but The Documentary as an album itself, there are too many gems on there so I can’t give you one.
On ‘On My Soul’, you rap about coming up and not following a blueprint. And that’s something that’s prevalent in communities like West Coast rap, early Memphis rap, the Flint, Michigan scene today, and, of course, the whole Western Sydney area. I feel like a lot of these artists come up with no blueprints because of the adversity they face in their neighborhoods in the systematic oppression designed to not really give them access to any blueprints or a way out. As someone who has made their own way, how did you lay the foundation for your own blueprint?
I just kind of went with my gut and with my heart. Domestically, there wasn’t really someone I could personally relate to or follow in the steps of. I didn’t see anything on the TV that reflected me, growing up in Australia during the 90s and 2000s, so I had to go with my gut. I’d also look at things like what Jay Z or Master P did. I’d look at people who were coming from regions that weren’t really popular or taken seriously for rap music, see what they did to come up and run it back. That’s why I’ve stayed independent still to this day, I’ve really just been on my own. I’ve been on my business but also my music because I want to fully control every element of what I do. I want to know everything that’s going on, I’m hands-on like that. I feel like that’s just the best way to express myself and to grow. Growing up in Western Sydney there’s the hustle mentality and the grind. I’ve been asked what the difference between Sydney and other cities is and I think it’s really just where we grew up and who we are. I’m a child of a migrant parent, and that man came here in the 70s just after the White Australia policy ended. He had to hustle and work to come up, I’ve seen that my whole life. That’s really what we’re saying, it’s on my soul that I’m gonna get this shit done. We don’t have our own blueprint to follow so we make our own.
As someone who is now a veteran in the game, who has successfully toured and stayed relevant in the rapidly changing climate of music, what blueprint pointers would you give someone trying to navigate this scene with their art? Exactly that, stick to your gut and do what you feel is right. But now at least if you’re coming up there’s so much diversity in the country, so much vibrance and excitement. So look at some of your favourite artists where you’re from and see what they’re doing, reach out. Upcoming artists often reach out to me on Instagram and ask me questions about my growth and how I do certain things, and to be honest I let as many of them know, just tell me what you’re doing and I’ll tell you what I know. I think information is key, like, sharing the keys. You really have to work through an element of yourself and learn, but at the same time information should be shared. People have a lot more options now via the internet, access to tools and features, etc. At the end of the day, there are just so many assets out there, look at what works for others. Just know that someone else’s come up is not going to work for you, and I had to realise that myself over time. Everyone’s story is their own.
Lastly, after the release of the album, what do you want to do with the rest of 2021? Do you want to tour if you know things start to open up again? Do you just want to relax, you have more stuff coming? What’s going on?
I just want to get back, get an Airbnb and change my environment. I wanna record more music, I wanna do more things, I wanna diversify to other projects now. I’m not going to move hastily into new music, I just want to try different things and soak up as much time as I can, because it’s so uncertain touring in Australia at the moment. We’ve got some dates parked and reserved so we’re talking about a few different ideas as to how we can celebrate the album with the fans but I’m not going to rush that if it’s not the right time as well. So I’m not going to say we’re doing this or that, but I am optimistic. I’m just gonna enjoy the album being out and start creating new things, diversify the other projects and try and enjoy what’s left of 2021.