“I always wanted to do a high budget video in Liverpool”: B Wise on how Western Sydney made him who he is

Sydney rapper B Wise is currently at the tail end of an Australia-wide tour in support of his brilliant new album, Area Famous. His is an appeal that is universal, and the album encapsulates this in more ways than one.

Fundamentally, Area Famous feels like a vignette of Australian suburbia in its diversity of experiences. From a conversation with his incarcerated musician best friend, to songs about love, and a video showing his mate’s kids riding their bikes in the same spots he and his friends used to, the album speaks about lives lived and relived, and this is something everyone can relate to.

The album touches on the cycles of growing up that we all experience, abbreviated through the lens of Western Sydney. All this is written to beats drawn from a range of regional rap genres that sound at times both international and regional.

We caught up with B Wise between dates on his tour to chat staying versatile, plans to move overseas, and how Western Sydney made him who he is today.

Photos by Dani Hansen

“It gave me a different story to tell”. At the tail end of his Australia-wide tour for Area Famous, B Wise chats how Western Sydney made him who he is today.

HAPPY: So, it’s been just over a month since you released your first album Area Famous and you’re in the middle of your Australia-wide tour, how have you been finding the reception for the album so far?

B WISE: Good, really good. You’re not sure what to expect at first because you’ve been listening to it for so long so there are mixed reactions for how you feel it will go. But overall I’m surprised to find, not just is it a good reaction, but people have actually paid attention to the layout and the way the sonics work and the arrangement, comments on that, and finding more people relating to it than I expected. So, overall I’ve been happy with the response.

HAPPY: Yeah, I wanted to ask you as well about the audience who’s coming to see your shows – is it surprising the kind of people you’ve touched with the album?

B WISE: It was mixed. Other people have been making comments on the same thing so when we did the Sydney show that was the first show we did and that’s hometown as well, and just to see the variety in the audience was really good. I’ve been to a lot of shows, rap shows from artists from Sydney or from [elsewhere in] Australia, and you know, it’s just really good to see a different group of people in my audience from mixed backgrounds and nationalities to ages, so it’s got a really wholesome feeling. And seeing how the music touches that variety of people to seeing what people react to what songs, you what I mean.

HAPPY: Yeah that’s cool. Why is it so important to be “area famous” when you’re coming up?

B WISE: [Laughs] It was just to be known for something, you know what I mean. Just to have some kind of reputation for something. It will vary what it was for but I took a liking to rap and I was known for that guy being the house party MC dude. Just being known in your area was the be all and end all. You wanted to go to local house parties or to school or wherever you were and just be known for something. That was just the vibe at that time. And because a lot of the material that I wrote was from those early teen years to those adult years, that was the thinking and that was the theme at the time, which is why I named the album Area Famous.

HAPPY: When did you decide to dedicate everything to music?

B WISE: I think it was when I finished uni. It was about 2014 and I was thinking alright, well, what are you going to do? Are you going to do this, and use your degree, or are you going to really go one hundred percent with this music, because it’s always been something I’ve been passionate about, you know, but I just wasn’t sure which was to go about it. I think around 2014 or 2015 was when I really put my head into making this happen; putting myself into the right places at the right times with the right people that could help mould my craft into becoming a career. I always knew this was something I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how. I knew it would always be happening, I just didn’t know how or when it would happen.

B Wise

HAPPY: Is there a track on the album that means the most to you?

B WISE: It varies. When I started, The Key was my favourite song because of what I was saying and how it made me feel. And then, The Code, was important to me. But right now, I like this song called Time, featuring Kaiit.

HAPPY: I really liked the track Feel Something, because – I’m not from the West of Sydney – but what I got from it was just that universal idea that when you’re a kid, your area or your suburb is everything that you know. All your friends are there, all the spots you ever hang out at are there. How did the area make you the musician that you are today?

B WISE: I think it gave me a different story to tell, you know. I think there are other artists from Southwest Sydney or West Sydney that have similar stories to tell, it’s just the way I encountered it and the way I delivered it, and I had the platform to talk about it. I feel that it – it almost sounds cliché when you say it – but just growing up amongst an array of backgrounds and ethnicities and just, kind of, a way of living that helped mould the music that I make, which sometimes can be carefree and sometimes can be forward-thinking.

You know, I don’t like to put myself in boxes or anything, where I feel like I’m not allowed to do something. I felt and feel like I’m allowed to do whatever I wanted to do, you know, and more-so a confidence, not in a cocky way, but more in a confidence way. And I feel that where I grew up gave me that confidence to not take those boundaries, and do whatever I wanted to do, and that’s what I did with this album, I kind of executive produced it myself – I had multiple producers but I didn’t have one person that was going to oversee everything – that was me and that was my first time doing it, and it gave me the freedom to take it any which way I wanted to.

I’m even glad, even how you said with Feel Something, you can relate to everything where you grew up and just those feels, because that’s what that song was saying. It was a reminder that I wanted to feel that carefree feeling again. Like, we get caught up with work, rent, whatever, but sometimes you just remember those high school days where it’s super carefree, it was just you and your friends, and that was exactly what that song was saying, and then we just put that in the environment where it was happening at the time, you know.

HAPPY: That video for Feel Something as well, it shows you, I guess, moving through the area. Did you feel like it was important to put that on film?

B WISE: One hundred percent. I always wanted to do a high budget video in Liverpool.

HAPPY: It was awesome to see that.

B WISE: Yeah, a fucking heavy video, in Livo, you know, like, one day.

HAPPY: [Laughter] It’s a bit Beyoncé vibes, you’re like hanging out the car window.

B WISE: [Laughter] I almost died man that day too, you know. That was some serious stunt work. But it was cool. We always wanted to do it one day, and the opportunity came up and the song was there and I was like, yeah, let’s do this in Livo, let’s make it true.

HAPPY: Did you just call up all your mates and say, “we’re doing a video, come over”.

B WISE: Yeah, pretty much that basic. We were just calling friends and fam and telling them to bring their kids. It’s a family affair. You know, because the kids that were riding their bikes in the video clip, that’s one of my good friend’s sons and that was basically us, that’s what that was saying, but now it’s like a generational thing where my boy now has his kids and they were doing their own thing, and my friends have kids and they were now riding through the same spaces. So it was just a little flip there. Down to that BMX track where we are at, I used to ride down there all the time and now it’s shut down, to out the front of the furniture store which is around the corner from my primary school, you know. It was a good vibe. My favourite video to date.

HAPPY: You wrote the lyrics on Feel Something to that beat right? Because it’s a different beat to the other tracks on the album, it’s kind of tribal and watery.

B WISE: Yeah, it’s a bit glitchy and shit. Yeah, they were the words that came out of that beat. HUSH produced it, these guys from Canberra. That was actually one of the first songs I started writing to for the album. I started with the chorus and then when I knew where the song was going I went into the verse. Hence why also it was one of the first singles to come off the album.

HAPPY: I found that the album had a lot of different regional influences. Sort of that, some of it sounded like classic hip-hop, like Actin’ Different, and some of it was a bit grimey, like The Code, I felt. Do you think about that stuff when you’re making the music?

B WISE: I’m always conscious of it, all the time. Like, what’s my sound? I’m trying to figure that out. And I think I’m getting quite close to exactly the sound that I want to have. But the thing is, with things like that, it’s also down to the producer that you’re working with and then how do the sonics fit in with the bigger picture of the whole project. And I feel like I’ve always been one artist who can always prove that if you put a particular sound or genre of rap in front of me, I’ll always be able to do something to it. So, I like to keep it quite versatile. But yeah, I wanted to show the different sounds, the different sonics, but I didn’t want it to be too foreign either, I wanted to tie in just close enough. That was a tough challenge. What song goes next, after the other; what goes later on. I did eight arrangements all together.

HAPPY: Well there is definitely a sequence to it.

B WISE: There’s a sequence. There were so many different arrangements. Songs like The Key, which are now last and now probably the more well-known songs, it was weird, a lot of people asked “why would you put that as the last song?” but I was like, that’s sonically where it sits right now – it was at the start for the album for ages.

HAPPY: I thought that made sense, because you talked about all this heavy shit and then you got to the end and you were saying, hang on, that’s The Key.

B WISE: I’m glad you picked that up, that’s exactly it.

HAPPY: You have an interlude on the album called Free Scrap, and when I first heard that, without knowing the story or anything, it sounded to me a bit like the conversation at the end of Corn on the Curb on Skepta’s Konnichiwa.

B WISE: That’s not the one with Chip is it?

HAPPY: Yeah, exactly, the one with Chip.

B WISE: Yeah, it’s similar.

HAPPY: Why was it important to include that on the album?

[A fan shouts out from the street to thank B for his music and what he is doing.]

B WISE: Scrap was supposed to be on the album, so he’s one of my best friends, and he also raps as well. He’s a new and upcoming rapper but unfortunately because of his incarceration we weren’t able to have him on the album. So I said, “Ok, what’s the way I’m going to do it”. So it was just like, alright, well call me up and we’ll just have a talk. He’s also in the Feel Something video, one of the dudes in the back seat. So that’s why we were talking about that on the interlude as well. And that’s why it then rolled into Feel Something, because we all grew up together. It was also to give people an insight as to other peoples’ lives and what our daily lives are and you know that this is just something that I deal with every day. But I didn’t want to make it about me. I wanted to more-so make it about him. So that when he comes home, to let people know that we’re thinking of him too and we want to put his voice out there. See questions like this, it lets people know, who Scrap is. You can now YouTube him and see some of his work so that now when he gets out he will be able to continue doing what he wants to do. So it was just important to do that. To have him part of the project one way or another.

HAPPY: The Code talks a lot about racism, school being like a battlefield, and the way you grew up and that. Is it easy for you to write about that personal stuff?

B WISE: Yeah, it sort of just comes out. I feel like it’s easy for me. I wear my heart on my sleeve when I make music. I started that way. I’ve always been able to tell my story in that way and put those words together. I find it easier to talk about personal experiences than for me to make up a scenario, to be honest with you. When someone says we need a cracker song, like a hit per say, something real radio, I find that harder. I don’t know what a radio smash is or something. I try to show personal experiences, you know what I mean.

HAPPY: You also talk about going to Nigeria and how that changed you as a kid. What was that change?

B WISE: Nigeria, how did it change me? Because it’s Nigeria bro. [Laughs]

HAPPY: [Laughs] Yeah, right, simple as that.

B WISE: I was young and we had to go to school there. My dad had to finish working there, he had a business at the time. So the time we spent there was impeding into our school year, and because both my parents are there so no one could look after us back in Australia so we had to get enrolled into school. So just the culture shock of going to another primary school and in West Africa, it was a crazy thing. But it was good, I got exposed to a lot, which made you mentally tougher and just ready for life. And you had to be tough there, you can’t just be any kind of pushover kid. My cousins went to same school. And then I came back to Australia and I was like nah, there won’t be any more bullying. Because I was a really wimpy kid. You could bully the shit out of me, and I’d just take it, for ages until I went there and came back, and it literally changed my persona and way of thinking. So, yeah, lines like that, “til I left the country…”. The Code was just talking about all those different kinds of things.

B Wise

HAPPY: So, you’re area famous. Do you have international aspirations?

B WISE: Yeah, one hundred percent. That’s the go. That’s definitely where we’re looking now. The next thing is to start moving – god willing – to Europe, and things like that. Even going and doing some music out there now. I was just thinking about that today, like when am I going to leave? I’ve done an EP prior to Area Famous, I’ve done the whole album process, touring it now, and I’ve already started making new music again. But do I want to do all that new music [in Australia]? I don’t think so. I want to try and now to keep it moving. Definitely looking to go overseas and follow up on some of these inquiries that have already been made from overseas, but everything has just been focused on this region so far.

HAPPY: Do you think it’s hard for Australian rappers to make it internationally, and why?

B WISE: I think it’s easier than it was, say, five or ten years ago. I would say there are still challenges there and the challenges would be differences in culture and what people know about Australia compared to what we know about the rest of the world, because we are isolated. But things like digital streaming platforms have made it a lot easier for us to hit those markets now and have our music in different regions because of playlisting and things like that. So, there will always be challenges, but I think we can see that there is progression there.