Today (August 20), Sydney rapper B Wise has released his second album, ‘jamie’, on the fledgling imprint Semi Pro Sound.
B Wise (real name James Iheakanwa) debuted with 2018’s ‘Area Famous’ via Elefant Traks, honouring his heritage as a Nigerian Australian from Sydney’s South-West. For ‘jamie’, Wise recruited his longtime Melbourne cohort UNO Stereo (Khalid, Kaiit) as executive producer, settling in a Blue Mountains Airbnb to prep a more focussed – and ambitious – album. He’s joined by guests that include ONEFOUR, Manu Crooks and BLESSED.
‘jamie’ has already spawned several singles – from the sage anthem ‘Think Twice’, featuring UK grime don Kojey Radical, to the garage banger ‘B The One’ alongside Wise’s Campbelltown homegirl (and past tour buddy) Becca Hatch. Wise approached Sampa The Great for the Afro-beat jam ‘Ezinna’, local polymath Milan Ring assisting with vocals, guitars and production.
NME caught up with a merry Wise, locked down in inner-Sydney, over the phone to discuss his artistic growth, role in Australia’s hip-hop boom and pandemic headspace. He laughs off trepidation about dropping ‘jamie’ ahead of a potential chart battle between Kanye West and Drake: “I don’t know how I’ll feel, but we hope for the best!”
You’re releasing ‘jamie’ on Semi Pro Sound – so you’re not with Elefant Traks anymore?
“Yeah, I’m no longer with ET – it’s still love, we’re still fam… I’ve always been an independent artist, I’ve always been on an indie grind, and that’s why it even made sense with ET at the time. Semi Pro Sound is my own imprint which I’ve started and we’re getting off the ground. This album is basically gonna be the first release off my imprint. I’m in partnership now with [music distribution company] The Orchard. So we have a situation together.”
Your first album had a communal theme and this one is more personal. But where does Jamie end and Wise begin?
“I think, if I were to even phrase it, I’d probably put it the other way around! I’d say, ‘Where does Wise end and where does Jamie begin?’ That’s what we’re actually going for on this matter because like, ‘OK, I’ve introduced myself: this is B Wise…’ There’s a bit of a shield that we all kind of carry – I naturally carry that, anyway. I’m like that. I say what I say, but I have this guard and this bravado – like you’ve really got to act a certain way.
“But, this time, it’s just more like, ‘All right, I said what I said on ‘Area Famous’. Now everyone is getting to see and hear a lot more music from South-West and Western Sydney, it’s poppin’ now, it’s up there and there’s so much young talent doing it and repping for the culture and for the area.’ So now what I wanna say to my fans is, ‘I want you to get to know me a bit better.’
“This album is the beginning point of me bringing people in closer to know me better and who I am. On the album, you see every side – there’s the reckless side, there’s the one who wants to have fun, there’s the serious side, there’s the sentimental… Then there’s a person who wants to shine musically. I wanna come through; I want people to see what I could do sonically – I can be dynamic and just really show what I can bring to the table. It’s always about proving oneself.”
Ironically, you have more guests on this album than your first. Tell me about your curation process – I imagine it was fairly organic and that you knew most of your collaborators?
“That’s right. It was all super organic. You know, there wasn’t any ‘process’ and, like I said, I’m still an independent artist. So everything we do, I do it from the ground roots. I’ll text you, I’ll give you a call, if I feel that relationship.”
You have a special chemistry with Becca Hatch. Will you work together again – could you do a whole project together?
“Definitely – we’re gonna work together again, for sure… I’m always open to anything. As long as it makes sense, then I’m down for it… She’s got something special. She’s very unique. I just was glad to have her be part of this record. She’s a hard worker and it came through. But the chemistry was natural.”
You are a leader in this new wave of hip-hop and R&B from South-West Sydney, which The Kid LAROI is repping on a global level. Are you surprised just how big it’s become?
“I always knew that it was only a matter of time, otherwise I would have stopped a long time ago – or I would have left Australia. I would have left and gone overseas where this genre is a lot more appreciated. But I knew that there is so much love here at home.
“Obviously, like you mentioned The Kid LAROI now – he’s at the number one spot on the US charts. Even when I first met LAROI, and when we all were coming up and seeing him grow, we knew he would do something special. But just now to see him really where he went with that, how big – it’s amazing.”
Why do you think Sydney’s hip-hop scene is more defined than Melbourne’s – not to play into any rivalry!
“I can’t really tell you, to be honest. I love Melbourne; Melbourne is a whole vibe. You have a large community of migrants, like we do. I just think Sydney has that extra hustle element to it, that’s all. Sydney is the big smoke of the country.”
COVID-19 has been an existentialist time for creatives. How do you see yourself in a post-pandemic world?
“I still see just growing, diversifying, you know. COVID is really unfortunate… Sometimes it’s kind of bad to think like this, but I’m one of those people who live all the time like something’s about to drop – like a piano’s gonna fall on my head at any time. I’ll always have this cloud over me like that. I have a hard time sometimes enjoying moments, when I’m in a great moment, so I’m prepared for the worst.
“So, basically, COVID didn’t really hurt me that much. I was already prepared for whatever came. But I did learn from this experience that what’s important – which is ourselves, our mental health, our family, everything like that – comes first. Then also just diversifying; not being comfortable in just one thing – just knowing how to move.”