“[I’m] coming out swingin’ in 2021, bro,” says B Wise in conversation with collaborator and producer, BLESSED. This candid bit of chit-chat appears at the conclusion of ‘Black Visionary’, the penultimate track on Wise’s second album, jamie. But what exactly is the Western Sydney rapper swinging for this time around?
B Wise was born James Iheakanwa in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool. His father is Nigerian Igbo and his mother white Australian. Since midway through the last decade, he’s been a central figure in the Western Sydney hip hop scene, building foundational relationships with the likes of Manu Crooks, BLESSED, Lil Spacely, Milan Ring and ONEFOUR, most of who appear on jamie.
Arriving three years after his 2018 debut, Area Famous, Wise’s second LP is a conscious attempt to bring listeners closer. “The concept with jamie is like … people who call me that is like my blood family, my very closest,” he tells BLESSED.
Opening track, ‘APEX’, sets the scene by drawing attention to the competing influences of Wise’s paternal heritage and his 2170 birthplace. Growing up, Wise was pushed to be tough, stoic. “Never thought to be a boy,” he raps, “was only told to be a man.” This instilled in him a desire to achieve greatness – something that, by his own estimation, he’s gone on to do, at least in terms of developing the requisite skillset.
‘APEX’ includes the first in a series of amusing similes, where Wise compares his own prowess to that of various cultural touchstones. “I’m the one the game’s been missing, Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen,” he says. By track four, the hard-hitting ‘WHO?!’, he’s feeling like “Snoop Dogg in ’96,” while ‘Dust Ya Feet Off’ – another of the album’s denser, rap-heavy cuts – forecasts that “like The Beatles, it’s gon’ be another hit.”
However, the real revelation comes towards the end of ‘APEX’, when Wise sums up his life choices: “Either turn into an apex or turn into a victim.” He wants you to know that, in accordance with this binary, his quest for artistic ascendancy is neither dollar-driven nor a phony exercise in brand inflation. Rather, he has to be great, lest society eat him up.
But jamie isn’t only a document of Wise’s ambition, but also his indignation – he’s never received his due plaudits, and so he’s developed a fierce strain of self-reliance. In the ONEFOUR collab, ‘Won’t Stop’, Wise sings of “never bein’ wanted”; ‘On My Soul’ includes a reference to having to “eat with [his] hands” like he “never had cutlery”; ‘WHO?!’ is dedicated to “the underdogs”; and on ‘Think Twice’ we hear the “self-made” Wise insist he “don’t need advice.”
Despite such dogged independence, he doesn’t go it alone on jamie. Far from it, in fact – jamie is his most collaborative project to date and the album’s diverse lineup of guests, including Western Sydney allies ONEFOUR, Manu Crooks and BLESSED, are all perfectly integrated into Wise’s world.
Wise also worked closely with the producers UNO Stereo, Juvé, i.amsolo, Milan Ring and Styalz Fuego to give the album a springy, contemporary feel. The production style owes equal debt to trap-pop acts like A$AP Mob and Denzel Curry as visionaries like The Neptunes, Kanye West and Tyler, the Creator.
Meanwhile, the album’s best verses come courtesy of British MC Kojey Radical (‘Think Twice’), Aotearoa’s JessB (‘Dust Ya Feet Off’) and the Zambia-via-Melbourne star, Sampa the Great (‘Ezinna’). Wise doesn’t possess the aggression or fierce purposiveness of the guest MCs, but his verses all carry a tone of verisimilitude; rarely does he overreach or undersell.
Wise’s rap style is elegant and often tuneful and he shines brightest when the lines between hip hop and pop/R&B begin to blur. For example, with ONEFOUR’s Spenny and J Emz bringing the necessary heft to big-up anthem, ‘Won’t Stop’, Wise’s chorus hook gives the track its playlist-ready optimism. On ‘B the One’, he works with rising Kamilaroi/Pasifika singer Becca Hatch to knock out a straight-up lustful R&B jam that’s more Miguel than Migos.
The closing track, ‘Ezinna’, is a homecoming song in both style and substance. With help from Sampa the Great and Milan Ring, Wise embraces the spirited guitar styles and sunny exterior of West African music. ‘Ezinna’ also includes one of the Wise’s most plainly revealing lyrics: “I’m looking for the old me.”
Is he looking for the version of himself that existed before acculturation and systemic racism skewed his outlook? Or is it a more abstract sense of self; the jamie who might’ve existed had circumstances been different? Either way, ‘Ezinna’ brings jamie to an open-ended conclusion, with Wise still yet to find inner peace.
That said, there’s one lyric (from ‘Think Twice’) that’ll reverberate long after the record stops spinning: “This the shit that might change your life.”
‘jamie’ is out today. Listen here.