Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 10:14AM
Philadelphia-based MC W!SH upholds a consistent humility in both his craft and in life. He stands by the notion to constantly strive to be better, whilst acknowledging that he is no better than anyone else. He takes on a unique offer with his music, donating one minute of community service for every online download, working primarily with inmates in prison. His recent mixtape, Get Right or Get Left features the track College Over Prison, which highlights the contrast between college and prison life, whilst advocating college education in state prisons. His highly anticipated album Unusual Suspects is due to drop in April this year.
We chat to W!SH about his Greater Than Equal Too brand, how he met Nelson Mandela as a child, and his upcoming album Unusual Suspects. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You donate one minute of community service for every download you receive. What does that entail?
We’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and it really keeps me honest. In reality, it’s not too far away from what I would be doing normally, because sixty downloads would only equate to an hour. I’ve only put out three mixtapes since I really started doing that, but definitely in the past year and a half we’ve been more consistent with it. We do this program called Books Thru Bars and I like that a lot. They send books to in-mates and it’s only on a word-of-mouth basis, so you have to hear from another in-mate and then request a book. So you can request by theme, some people request self-help, obviously people request the Bible and Qur’an a lot. Then there are different organisations that give out food, and we have events we do ourselves as well. We just did one giving out hot chocolate, food and little packs of love for Valentines Day. So it’s cool. It keeps me honest. One of my friends told me I should put a tracker on our website to track how many minutes we do. So we’re definitely going to do that
Tell us about the Greater Than Equal Too project.
It can be a challenge to find people who really believe in what the brand is about. A lot of people want to work with me, like friends I’ve grown up with, but I’ve found that a lot of people are not really about what the brand is about so I get selective about who I choose to work with. So it’s taken a while to get off the ground, but I’m happy with it now.
How long have you been working on the brand?
I came up with it in 2010 and I was working as an intern for ESPN at the time, then I was a teacher after that. So I really came up with the concept then, but I would say that I didn’t really start working on it until 2011.
You also met Nelson Mandela during the fall of Apartheid. How was that experience?
Yeah, I met Nelson Mandela when I was 7 or 8 years old, which was such a great opportunity. My father was a civil rights attorney, so he dedicated all his time to progressive causes, and after a while he was speaking a lot internationally about the civil rights movement here. It’s kind of been seen as a blueprint for Roma rights in Europe, and obviously blacks in South Africa and other countries near the Cape. So he was speaking down there, and they needed to create a new brain trust of black intellectuals. They needed to fill this vacuum because a lot of people were scared and a lot of the intellectual capital left. So they brought in a lot of people to fill that vacuum. They held a lot of fast-paced classes and had seminars, and my father was a part of that. I went with him, and I met Nelson Mandela, and he told me “you’re gonna be a great man some day.” I don’t know, he might say that to all kids, but I’ll take it.
You’ve worked with some great producers like DJay Juls and Mike Jerz. How has it been working with those guys?
Yeah, I worked with DJay Juls from London on the project I just put out. I never actually got to meet him in person, but we have a friend in common and we connected a few years back. He had a track on Milk & Honey, my first mixtape, and then we have this one, which is great. I’m definitely blessed to work with some great producers from all over the world.
Tell us about your latest project Get Right or Get Left.
Yeah, man. That’s really just a laid back, cool collective of songs. I look at it like a warning shot before my next project. I already have a whole other project that’s already finished and I kind of wanted to introduce the diversity of my music before I throw a whole bunch of different flows and production and singing at the public. I wanted to kind of ease them into that and to put out an original project that has a bit more of a local feel. Like an old-school hip-hop vibe, like the classic taste I did on Industry Beats I did last year. I wanted to do something similar to that but with original tracks, so it has real east-coast hip-hop vibe.
Who were your main influences when you were younger?
Growing up I listened to a lot of different types of music. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I listened to the Spice Girls a lot when I was younger (laughs). I listened to Sublime, 311, a lot of stuff outside of hip-hop that was popular at the time. I would say that Tupac had the biggest influence on me when I was younger, and then when I got older I would say that Kanye had a big influence on me. I listened to artists like Mac Dre, a local Californian artist, because that’s a big part of who I am. I listened to Nas, Wu-Tang… I listened to a whole lot growing up.
I think that’s the best way to find your sound. You diversify what you listen to, and then you can pull elements from each genre to formulate what kind of music you want to produce…
To be honest with you, I think that’s what I’ve been doing. I didn’t know it, but that’s what I was doing over the first few years of taking myself seriously as a hip-hop artist. I had these things I was pulling from in my production and took me a little while to bring it all together into one cohesive sound. So I’m excited to bring that to people. That’s really what this project is about… to introduce that.
Any other projects you’re working on?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things I’m most excited about… it’s like my baby, and I think it could win me a Grammy – no, it could not win me a Grammy, not these days, let’s be real. That Grammy will probably go to Iggy. But in all seriousness Unusual Suspects is what I really I hope get everybody in the world to listen to. It’s already finished, it’s got a couple of great features on it, which I won’t mention. But feature-wise it’s more like Milk & Honey than Get Right or Get Left, but it has more of a west-coast sound and a west-coast brand production-wise. It tells a story of who I am, with the backdrop of the pressure on urban communities as well as the war on drugs and issues like the legalisation of marijuana in a narrative form. So it’s dope.
What stimulates your soul?
I love that question. Being greater than, but equal too is a constant every day challenge. I try to hold myself up to that every day and sometimes I fall short, but that’s what I try to do every day. I challenge myself to be better while remembering I’m not better than anyone else in everything that I do.
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