While many are blessed with multiple creative talents, it’s not every day that someone can not only hone their gifts to make music, but also are able to articulate what they have created with words and with ease. Essentially not every painter can describe the art they created to a tee, just like not every dancer has perfect pitch singing. Those that perfect several contrasting artistic gifts may experience expressing themselves in a way that can oftentimes be misunderstood, or difficult to communicate about.
Kanye West, for example, recently claimed he has synesthesia and credited that to his multifaceted genius. Synesthesia is an interesting “condition” where people are physically able to experience abstract concepts in a way that others are unable to, such as being able to see sound or taste words.
With JSWISS, a musician currently based out of New York City, it’s not quite as intense or obscure as what Kanye shouted about on The Ellen Show, but take one listen to his music, and it’s easy to get the feeling there’s much more behind his creativity than just being able to put together quality records.
Perhaps it’s his ability to naturally explain his music to other people really well (putting sounds into words is a very difficult task, by the way) that helps him to resonate with his audience or perhaps it’s his passion giving another dimension to his work. It could even be that he was born with “star quality,” whatever that may mean. No matter what it is, it’s undeniable that there’s something special about this artist that is deeper than just “he makes good music.”
While JSWISS himself exclaims that his current project, No Music, is the music he’s been working towards making since he got his start at age 12, the diverse songs found on the album show that he had to mature and experiment through his craft to be able to execute a project of this calibre. The listenability of his new music, especially how he successfully draws influence from a variety of genres, is also helping to connect him to a widespread audience, with fans of R&B, hip hop, soul, pop and rock all able to find something to like in JSWISS.
Simply put, No Music is an incredible introduction to an artist determined to rise higher than where he was yesterday and is achieving his goals one well-executed project at a time.
How long have you been doing what you do? How did you get started?
I first started writing raps for fun at 12 years old, around 2003, 2004. My first recordings came around 2006 on a 4-track tape recorder and my first mixtape dropped in 2009 during my freshman year of college.
It all started real organically, just from having a love for hip hop as well as other genres, like R&B/soul, jazz, funk. I just couldn’t help myself from thinking up lyrics. Back then I would randomly think of 4 or 8 bars during class, remember it and then write it down after class. Stumbling upon a recording studio in the undergraduate library at UNC-Chapel Hill my freshman year was definitely a pivotal point. Me and my friends lived there pretty much.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about getting into your craft, such as when you realized this was more than just a hobby or a passion?
The development of this into a career was real gradual and organic, but I remember when it got to a point where I knew more than anything else in life I couldn’t look back at my life at 70, 80 years old and not say I really went all in and made this happen. That was right before my senior year of college and I have a song titled “August 3rd” on my project Awthenticity named for the date when I made this known to my parents.
How do you describe your sound/what you do to people you haven’t heard before?
First off, I emphasize that I’m an emcee, not that I’m a rapper. What that means is I have certain command over language and as a vocalist I really weave into and flow with the music itself as well instead of just rapping over it. That’s really clear on my No Music EP and in my live performances. Elements of the lyricism gives off vibes of that “Golden Era” of hip hop in the 90s, but the musicality really draws in people who wouldn’t usually listen to hip hop as well. I grew up on The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest so if you like them, I think you’ll dig me.
Who are your influences? What is some advice that has stuck with you?
My biggest influence is probably my dad. I’m so much like him, I couldn’t even help it or deny it. Not settling is something that’s been emphasized to me and is real important to me. That goes for what you expect from the outside and what you expect from yourself as well.
What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
I hope they take away that I can spit! I hope people come away making the ugly face at how skillful my wordplay is and also come away inspired. Also something that I hope and is a reality is that people also always come away actually hearing and understanding pretty much all of my lyrics. Whether I’m just spitting metaphors or other wordplay, or telling a story, or getting introspective, people really seem to appreciate that the words are clear. That’s the emcee in me.
Tell us a little bit about your new project, such as concepts/themes and what inspired you.
So for the title, No Music refers to how when music becomes so close to you and is just always present, it’s like the music never shuts off, it’s never something separate. It’s “no music,” it’s just life.
As far as sound, it’s a blend of hip hop, soul, funk and a little jazz, all the elements I grew up on. It’s really the music 12-year-old JSWISS has been working towards making all along. I got to work with some incredible musicians on it like Brady Watt, Nick Rolfe, Maya Azucena and members of the band Phantom Pop. If you don’t know those names they’ve worked with people like Aretha Franklin, Talib Kweli, Joey Bada$$, India Arie, etc. so these are all top notch musicians with eclectic backgrounds. It’s got straight-up feel good tracks like “Sunshine to Rain” to introspective ones like “Dedicate.LoveSomethin” and “Figure It Out.” The soul and lyricism are the command thread throughout.
No Music also has the most demo versions and drafts of songs of any project because I was really part of developing the music to them as well as the lyrics. For none of these songs did I get a beat sent to me and then write to it. I was right there for the whole process. Everything’s married together really well because of that.
What does the rest of 2016 look like for you? What can we keep an eye out for?
Well since No Music just came out that’ll live for the rest of the year and forever really. There will be videos from that, of course. A lot of performing. In addition to my own performances, I’ve also been doing guest spots on shows throughout NYC with funk and jazz bands, rock/soul artists, etc. I’ll be down in North Carolina in August with my crew No9to5 Music too. I’ve got music in some films, which are great. And I have some collaborations coming to be on the look out for. They’re some of my favorite features I’ve ever done. Follow me at @jswisshere on Twitter/Instagram to keep up ‘cuz I’m always on the move.
Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.