“It's all about progression / loiterers should be arrested.”— Jay-Z
Hip-Hop culture is a vibrant and beautiful thing. Always in motion, composed of a number of different organisms and beings. The culture represents and speaks for millions of individuals who are drawn to different things, from pomp and circumstance to the intellectual and to the political.
Hip-Hop is not simply about the music— it’s a culture. Originating in the Bronx, Hip-Hop is comprised of several facets, including art, fashion, and dancing. The B-Boys danced to the music and scratches of the DJ’s who embraced the style and flare of the graffiti artists who often reflected the sentiments of the streets they hailed from. From its inception, Hip-Hop has always been about inclusion. Although many different people make up many different aspects of the culture, it has always been a progressive entity about unity and giving voice to those without one.
Unfortunately, many artists have been forced-fed the idea that in order to attain financial success, they must conform to a certain plastic mold, which lacks in artistic integrity. Rather than producing their own particular brand and style of music, the powers that be “recommend” that new-comers re-hash some of the more popular phases of the industry that have a knack for selling records: the Bling-Bling Era, Crunk, and Screwed & Chopped. These naïve—perhaps even complicit—artists do not focus on creating music that speaks to their inner soul. Rather, they create music that subscribes to the best interests of the major record labels.
Such artists, following the push and pull demands of labels, don’t tend to last long in the industry, as they become fodder for record labels to replace at an instant. Their popularity surges and then dissipates as they fall out of favor when the a new young artist produces the next trendy fad.
But artists who completely disregard the economic aspect struggle to make it, because everyone, no matter how creative, needs to make a living. So the artists with driving power, the ones that stay on our minds and hearts, that we carry with us for years, are the ones who can balance the driving economic forces behind the music industry and the need to create timeless music: music that brings their artistry to another level and does not succumb to the wishes of those seeking solely monetary gains.
In order to achieve that kind of balance, artists must be able connect with their audience on two levels: that of the crowd and that of the individual listener. While the current climate in the music industry prioritizes a club sound, it’s refreshing to know and listen to an artist that can understand the different ways they can reach an audience. That an artist will not fail because they refrained from creating an album made up entirely of radio singles. Their musical endeavors need not be solely concentrating on the materialistic aspects of our society. Instead, it can also recognize the need for growth and progress and elevating the culture to a level that we can all be proud of.
The current state of affairs calls for new artists that are willing to take creative risks, ones that will not simply follow the money-making paths set out by less talented but commercially successful artists. These artists should follow their hearts, not the bank accounts of the major record labels. Their music should convey their own personal perspectives and beliefs, not what will increase their number of twitter followers or feed an action-movie fantasy. They do not necessarily disregard the importance of a commercial presence, but they do not solely abide by commercial philosophies. Striving for balance and progression, Wi.Sh is one of those artists.
“I haven’t even started yet. I’ve just begun. Nahmean?
The world is an oyster. I’ve just started.
I’m finna run it, I’m finna do everything.
I don’t want to burn out, I want to live forever.”
In the digital age—one rife with dwindling sales and declining popularity of artists—not many individuals would risk foregoing “normal” career opportunities for one filled with risk and doubt. Working part-time and recording music part-time leaves many feeling unfulfilled, leading many budding artists to stop recording and move towards more traditional employment roles. It takes determination, ambition, and cojones to risk an attempt at breaking into the music industry.
Born Winston Shaw, Wi.Sh—who hails from Harlem but grew up in Florida, California and NYC—began as one of those individuals trying to balance two worlds. He worked multiple odd jobs before finally realizing that he needed to follow something closer to his heart, something that provided him more than just income and dull moments. He told me he “rapped a small amount” during high school and into his college, but it was not until after college, where he graduated from Morehouse, that he understood what he needed to do. He spent his post-college days working as a hotel bellboy, a marketing coordinator at ESPN, and an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia. Wi.Sh says rap has “always been his constant,” a means to an escape to alleviate whatever troubles plagued him at that moment in time. Rather than disavowing that ability to escape, Wi.Sh embraced it and has not looked back.
Wi.Sh left behind his part-time work in favor of becoming a full-time rapper. Advancing from simply “habitually writing lyrics” to continuously working on his craft has proven to be a challenge. But Wi.Sh is developing into a budding MC that could seamlessly meld multiple worlds together into a single compilation of music. It takes a certain kind of person to contravene expected norms in order to follow a passion that may not provide a certain level of stability. That same person must have the knowledge and understanding that in order to develop, they must have patience and maintain a tremendous amount of work ethic.
Luckily, the networking and drive Wi.Sh developed while working multiple jobs only helped him develop the skills to forcefully break into the music industry. With his skill set and specific worldview, he can achieve great success within the Hip-Hop musical field. He believes “music defines the human spirit.” The multiple styles in hip-hop he subscribes to are particular to him, but he says he would “never suggest that any strain of music should be muted.” In his opinion, “it is all about authenticity.” He would quickly tell you that “real recognize real,” and those providing the “game” with “dense lyricism” will keep the spirit of authenticity alive and well. “Hip-Hop will always be just fine as long as everyone has a chance to be heard,” he says.
“Much success to ya, even if you wish me the opposite /
Sooner or later we’ll all see who the prophet is.”
It’s a difficult to keep the line between cocky and confident. Too often individuals feel that they have to promote themselves as simply superior to others all in the name of promotion. Wi.Sh disavows that mentality with his brand—what is more accurately described as a lifestyle and world view—“Greater Than, But Equal Too.” He promotes a way of living that “represents moving with confidence and seeking improvement at every corner but never forgetting that whatever success you achieve, whatever good things come your way, that you remember that you are no better than anyone else.”
Wi.Sh says Greater Than, But Equal Too endorses the concept that “we are all uneven and imperfect, and in that way we are all equal.” Part of his brand is the idea of togetherness and unity; through music and other personal endeavors we can become closer to those in our community. From the beginning of his career, Wi.Sh has always promised one minute of community service for every download of any musical project he releases. For his past projects he has already provided 100 hours of community service in the past year, and just for his latest release Milk And Honey alone he already owes more than 55 hours of community service, already having served many hours through volunteering at homeless shelters and building homes through habitat for humanity. He offers such a promotion in the hopes of endorsing educational advancement, as impacting his own community through his musical impact provides an ideal scenario.
Reaching people through your music is one thing, but playing an active role in the community as a thank you to your audience is even better. We, as listeners, should credit artists when they do more than just promote their music. An artist like Wi.Sh encourages educational advancement, demonstrating to the younger demographic that there are several ways in which we can progress as a community, with music as a backbone. Growth and development is his mission, highlighting one of the aspects that can separate Wi.Sh from other up-and-coming artists that won’t bring similar substance and integrity to the “game.”
“Price over quantity, yea nothing over quality /
Price is a commodity, and I am an anomaly.”
Of all the musical projects Wi.Sh has released, Milk And Honey is by far his best, from the production to the song writing to the promotion to the conceptualization. Once you begin listening to the album, from the quality and crispness of the sound, you know you are listening to hard work, a man that “put his all into the recording process: heart, soul, and pocketbook,” as he puts it. In order to receive better prices for studio time, he had to record during the hours no one else wanted to, when the studio was empty, which was often in the wee hours of the night. All of the effort he put forth on this album paid off in the form of creating an aesthetic delightful musical experience.
“Biggie with the pen / dead wrong when I’m right”
The production ranges from pulsating to bustling, transporting you from all the different places Wi.Sh has lived as you sit back and enjoy the ride. Rather than receive audio turbulence, Milk And Honey delivers a tightly woven narrative fully of complementary chapters that unites unique story arches. The diversity in production and lyrical content provides a refreshing taste of hip-hop, one that does not settle on standard economic norms nor relies on a simple dialogue between the artist and the audience. The album touches on several subjects: from flashy attire to love and lust to the educational crisis and prison industrial complex. He pushes the envelope through his wordplay and chosen flows that alternate between songs, making his listeners all the better for it.
“Little ghetto boy, like Donnie Hathaway /
Just trying to give a little joy before I pass away”
Milk And Honey is Wi.Sh’s first project consisting of only original tracks. He delayed the release a few times in order to bring it up to his standards. The diversity of artists involved in the project (in terms of experience, region, and style)—Young Chris, Ground Up, Greg Porn, Madd Rapper, Mike Jerz—shows in the quality of the music. When asked about the features on the album, Wi.Sh states that “everyone provided their own unique perspective to the album,” in which the overall process “was an incredible learning experience of not only the things needed in order to make a complete music project, but what it takes on multiple levels to become a more renown artist.” He added, “it was like putting together a puzzle where each piece comes together to form a picture of what I’m about.”
“Read books if you want to leave crooks /
In the pursuit of proper living, college over prison.”
Ultimately, Wi.Sh feels that his music says a lot. He’s a bit of a trash talker, but one that can blend complex international and political themes within a braggadocio context. He simultaneously embraces the more flashy aspects of the culture with the more intellectual facets. His stance on rap: “Things don’t have to be separated all the time. You can be smart and cocky, street and intellectual at the same time.”
“Lived a quarter century and still haven’t met somebody cooler”
With so many different avenues to approach within the culture, Wi.Sh is a versatile artist that seeks to promote a unified front through balancing multiple styles. In creating his music, he reflects his own personal search for balance—in his life, in his heart, and in his mind. He considers himself to be a reader, writer, and poet, one raised by Hip-Hop. The American diaspora—and all of its complications and challenges—is something he loves. He buys into the notion that we can all better ourselves through our music, something he strives for with every recording.
“Peace to the Favelas / police officers fail us”
As in all cultures, there are negative aspects that can often draw more attention than the positive aspects, but it is all about what you seek to find. For Wi.Sh, there’s much positivity and inspiration to be drawn from the culture, it’s simply a matter of approach. With his music and lifestyle, he wants others to succeed, bringing together a strong nucleus of future successful artists that can carry the “game” in more than one way.
“When I was six I met Mandela / I’ll cherish that forever”
In projecting a persona that has a sleek style while simultaneously discussing travelling, reading and being an intellectual, Wi.Sh says he “hopes to make learning more attractive, not just some boring, passive thing that happens to you by accident.” By being himself, he hopes to make others realize that they can be themselves and not have to succumb to the societal norms enforced unto them. Be Greater Than, but Equal Too. Perhaps he said it best, “I appreciate the recognition, tell ‘em hope, peace and love, that’s the new tradition.”