A debut album, accordin’ to JimmyWiz

In terms South African hip hop debut offerings, JimmyWiz put out one of the most solid releases in recent times. Some boom bap, socio-political themes and introspective lyricism are all apparent on his Accordin’ To Jim album. I caught up the MC to discuss the process behind his deeply personal first offering. Dig in to our in-depth interview below:

I should probably start by asking which samples caused the push back of the album, if that’s something we can be privy to?

The sample clearance issues we faced were because of two of the most loved songs on the album, “A Woman Scorned” and “Fat Boy Chronicles”.

They say it takes your whole life to make your debut album. How did you feel throughout the process of making ‘Accordin’ to Jim’?

It was an emotional trip; it makes you realize how the mind is such a funny thing. I had to relive everything — every moment — and I still do when I listen to the album now. It took a lot out of me to a point where I remember after finishing the album, I didn’t want to be behind the mic for a while. I took a bit of a break afterwards.

Writing this album was therapeutic and it helped me face demons I had locked away for so long. Some I hadn’t I guess, but I chose to act as if they were invisible. Sitting down with myself and doing a lot of introspection helped me understand who I am, and who I had to become. (The album) helped me understand that everything happened as it should have and having the gift I have, I was destined to touch hearts and heal people. Everyday the feedback from so many people has made me realize that I wasn’t the only one and so many people needed to hear what I had to say.

How long were you working on the album for?

I remember sitting with Dubb Mandela and listening to “Lost” and we felt like “this is what we’ve been waiting for”. That’s when ‘Accordin’ to Jim’ was born. I’ve been yelling ATJ in the Birch Acres streets for over 12 years now but I can safely say I’ve been cooking it for 10 years. I had so many trials and errors — trying to find my identity as JimmyWiz and figure out what story I was trying to tell. I often think of the greatest artists to ever do it and they all gave you a piece of themselves. Unlocking my story was the key to it all, especially after I recorded “Lost”.

Fuck the Instagram fame, I’d rather tweet ‘bout how I’m dealing with pain” — does this line of thought apply to your honesty about your struggles and those of the people around you?

I think after The Hustle on Vuzu I had a moment where I almost lost myself. Looking at my peers, everything seemed glossy and that led to a lot of turmoil within me. I think having someone like Dubb around afforded me the confidence to be myself. There was a lot of back and forth between us — him reminding me how gifted a storyteller I am and that all people want is someone to relate to. So the more I wrote that way the better I felt. I realized how listening to my favourites made me feel and how I could relate to their truths. I chose healing every time I picked up my pen. That’s what makes me different and even though I could have done what my peers did, it would’ve been short term and I wouldn’t have stood out.

That’s not what hip hop is. Hip Hop is about being a rebel against cultural norms and finding yourself. I’m unshaken and extremely confident in me and how gifted I am. This is me. I’m JimmyWiz and ‘Accordin’ To Jim’ is my story.

“A Woman Scorned” is a very heartfelt, and tragic, song. Do you think there’s enough interrogation of topical issues such as gender based violence in contemporary hip hop?

No, there isn’t. Well not in the media that is. I think if you look in the right places you’ll definitely find such gems but ‘chasing the bag’ has compromised the culture in its raw essence. And don’t get me wrong — I don’t blame anyone, all I know is hip hop was youth culture. It was our way of talking about the environments we grew up in and we used it as the voice of young black youth. We shed light on all social ills and injustices that plagued us as a community. Unfortunately because of corporate and government ties we chose the bag they offer over being the mouthpiece for the streets.

Following on, the same track speaks of feeling safe in your own body. You’ve said before you’re “a fat kid who found confidence in writing rhymes”. How does your persona today reflect that kid… how has he evolved?

For me, hip hop helped build confidence. My whole childhood I was ridiculed for being the fat boy. The cutest girls I had a crush on never looked in my direction and if they did it was because of my friends. Having looked at the likes of Heavy D, Pun and Biggie… it taught me that being big wasn’t the issue — it was how I saw myself and how that translated into people’s perception of me.

I am the biggest boss. I am God persona. Once I started believing that without an inch of doubt it began manifesting into my personality. My charisma became the very reason Jim was given birth. Because of hip hop I grew a thick skin and became what I believed I was. I became who I believe I am.

How has your frequent collaborator ShabZi impacted your music-making and what did you learn from creating ‘Look At The Team’?

ShabZi is such an incredible being and I’ve learnt so much from him. I learnt how planning every move was key and how building your own team was more important than a lot of other things. He taught me how coming together to share ideas was far greater than doing this all alone. It’s so much and I’m so grateful to have a brother like him.

Speaking of collaborations, you kept this one lean on features. What traits would you borrow from other South African rappers?

Someone who I think has an incredible ear sonically is Emtee — especially on his hooks. Then the storytelling element I’d get from someone like Zubz — especially with what he did on a record like “Handiende”.

Similarly, on “Dear Listener,” it’s clear you were surrounded by jazz coming up. What other sounds influenced the artist that is JimmyWiz — any favourite non-hip hop artists?

Jazz was definitely the foundation. Growing up I loved records by Sankomota and a lot of gospel joints. One day I hope to get in the booth with someone like Tshepo Tshola. Other influences came from R&B — the likes of New Edition and a lot of Motown funk records. I love jams from the likes of Marvin Gaye too. Then again — that’s exactly what hip hop is — it’s the offspring of many genres put in one by means of sampling.

Finally, describe the typical song-making process for this album — was it beats, lyrics, melodies or concepts that first struck you?

I don’t want to take all the credit ’cause I had a lot of help from my partner in crime Dubb Mandela. I trust him so much and spending 18 years together has yielded an unbreakable bond and trust. He knows me like the back of his hand. Most importantly, he trusts my ear and my opinion too.

Most of the time I’d rock up, hear beats and take them to go play with. I usually let the beat guide me and I listen for a feel. Once I identify the mood, I know who would best suit the beat and compliment me. There are some beats I forcefully took from other artists — I actually heard him play the beats and I’d ask him who they belong to. A song like “My Father’s Son” was originally meant for Shane Eagle, but after they wrapped up ‘Yellow’. I noticed he hadn’t used it so I told Dubb I’m taking it and asked him to slow it down. After I had recorded my verses I sat with the team trying to figure out what to do with the hook. A day later Chuck Stats barged into studio and said a horn is what we need for the hook. We placed a call to Sbu Khoza and he came through with the muted horn. And that was that, it was a wrap.

That’s a wrap on this one too! Catch JimmyWiz on Twitter.

samples and reworks… “if you see the E drop it”