Fresh off a flight, I catch rapper Jesswar via Zoom as she arrives in Sydney to shoot a music video for her new single ‘XXL‘ in collaboration with one of the countries most iconic vogue crews, House of Slè. XXL is the next single taken from her brand-new debut EP TROPIXX. A project in which Jesswar showcases her sinister-sounding flows, heavy bass lines and sharp wordplay. She tells me that she began writing the EP back in 2017, a time when she felt fed-up with being overlooked in the music industry: “I was really angry a lot, I felt tired. I felt like I was getting overlooked in ways and through that, I created this project where it made me feel strong and confident.”
As a proud Fijian woman raised in Brisbane/Meanjin, Jesswar says she looks to other strong Pasifika women from the creative community in Australia and New Zealand for inspiration; from Jahra Rager and DJ Half Queen to friends and family growing up. For Jesswar, it’s the power of her community that has given her the courage to speak her mind on the EP. “I’m hoping that it gives people power because it gave me power.” Jess states during our conversation.
This mindset sees Jesswar deliver a project that’s sharp, raw, and unapologetic as she aims to give confidence and visibility to other young women like her; “Sometimes you’re not even seen… there’s a lot of young women I work with in hip hop, it’s for them as well. It’s for us to be like ‘We deserve to be here too’.”
Congratulations on your debut EP! What was happening for you when you started making TROPIXX?
The music industry is a tough industry, you know what I mean? In ways, it can really rock you and for me—I took time out just working on myself and that’s been our main goal. What is my identity outside of music? What’s my relationship with myself? I think working on that has helped make this project what it is.
What are some of the struggles you wanted to address?
When people do look down on you there is that gatekeep-y vibe—not just in the music scene but in many scenes, within many workplaces. I think that’s why this project sounds so vicious to me. When I was younger, I’d sort of let things go. I’d let people treat me like that. Then, I got to a point in my life where I was like ‘I can’t let this happen and be overlooked again.’
Are you still based in Brisbane/Meanjin? What’s it like as a creative person there?
I was there for the last five years but I just moved to the ocean the Gold Coast on Yugumbeh country. It’s away from people, right by the ocean and also the rainforest. It’s some of the most beautiful bits of country you could ever see and that’s where I’m residing as a guest over here on Indigenous land. It’s an extremely special place to create, you know I’ve got the ocean there, I’ve got the rainforest, bushwalking. It’s a magical place, it’s very spiritual.
Do you feel like there has been a surge in Pasifika creatives emerging locally in recent times?
I just want to say with my gut like—why can’t any time be the time? We’ve always been excellent and we’ve always been here but in terms of the industry, maybe only now people are just starting to look. But we’ve always been phenomenal and powerful and it’s just now that people are starting to look, but we’ve always been here.
I feel like young women of colour, we have certain family structures— we do as we’re told, we don’t talk back to our elders or shake up the status quo too much. So as we get older or enter creative fields we have to do a lot of growing publicly, has this been a challenge in your life?
It took me a long time to be comfortable with myself. When I was little I couldn’t even say my name in public— like they make you go stand up and say your name in class and I would really shut down. That’s just the way it was, you don’t speak up. I just felt like I was in the background like background noise. So for me to do this it really took a lot of work to be able to say like ‘No, you can do this and you can perform.’ I was doing youth work a lot and every time I did youth work I just saw myself reflected in these young people and that’s always been a good thing for me. I still remember how hard it was to even say my name when I was young, that’s why for me to be here at this point and not feel shame or even feel shy to talk to you that’s really special for me.
Growing up in that community, what have you observed of the power in the way women can pull resources out of very limited beginnings?
When coming up with the ‘Venom’ video idea, I just started a group chat and hit up all the sissys and everyone was hitting me back like ‘Do you need me to bring food, mats, everyone was just pulling everything.’ One of the sissys just found out she was pregnant on the night of the shoot, it was wild and even on this ‘XXL’ shoot, my partner is here helping out, we got people on the ground helping, so I’m still so inspired by my community because I’ve seen a lot of women of colour be very successful and that just shows me that I can do it too. I’m inspired by the community, it feels like family to me. I’ve seen women do it and I know what can happen when we come together and pull shit together, we can make shit happen. This fight is not a new fight and we’re a couple of generations down now, so we can take that and keep going forward.
Who are some Pasifika women you look up to?
There’s so many, I think the first one that comes to mind is my friend Ofa, she’s a woman in my community who’s a bit older than me who I look up to a lot. She was in the ‘Venom’ video too, but I look up to her as a guide in a way, how she goes through life. Even over in NZ, JessB, Half Queen and Jahra (Rager) are phenomenal and then my friends who I grew up with. They’re the ones who I look up to.
I feel like there is real power in being able to shine a light on local stories or talents—do you want to go international with your music too?
International is always the goal, if I can do that in this lifetime that’s pretty amazing. I want to be as big as I can be, so of course I want to take all those opportunities and go out there and get them locally or internationally. I think that’s really important for me to be able to do that. I’m already feeling so grateful and lucky to be doing what I’m doing right now and have the resources that I have because not many people get to experience this in their lives. I want to be as big as I can be.
What are you hoping your fans will get out of listening to TROPIXX?
I mean I’m just hoping that it gives people power because it gave me power. Like that song Medusa, when we play it live and the bass hits and the bass is so big—that’s all I’m hoping for, for it to give people power.
Follow Jessward here for more and stream TROPIXX below.