Interview: Jesswar chats Australia’s increasingly diverse hip hop scene and forthcoming EP

After a total of five showcase events across this year’s BIGSOUND it’s safe to say Jesswar more than proved her worth. Ferocious on the mic with a penchant for witty lyricism, the young Brisbane emcee dominated discussions on the “next big thing” in Australia’s hip hop scene, and with all that hype and excitement lifting anticipation for her forthcoming EP – for which she scored a distribution deal with Golden Era Records – we had to catch a bit of interview time with her on-ground.

Discussing her first BIGSOUND and giving us a bit of background info on what led her to this point, Jesswar let us know her thoughts on Australia’s increasingly diverse hip hop scene and what she’s bringing to the table. Check the full transcript below and keep your ears to the ground for the EPs first single, “Savage”.

First off, this is your first BIGSOUND, how has it been for you so far?

It’s been really busy. We’ve played five shows this week. We’ve had a lot of meetings, a lot of interviews; we’ve made a lot of connections which has been good and we’ve met new artists, seen so much good talent that’s coming out of Australia at the moment. It’s been great, I’m really stoked and grateful to play this year.

It seems like a lot is happening for you this year; I understand you signed a distribution deal a few months ago with Golden Era Records.

Yeah we signed that deal, it’s crazy, that just came of the blow. I was really excited so I’m really keen to get my music out there. I’m keen for the first single to drop, which will be “Savage”. We’ve just finished filming the video clip for it, it’s like Kill Bill/Female Assassin vibes. I’m really excited to see how it’ll be received, whether negative or positive. I’m just excited to put it out there.

With BIGSOUND, what I’ve noticed is that there’s a significant increase in the amount of hip hop this year. It’s evidence that the scene is getting much more diverse and expansive. Has this growth in the scene assisted you in getting your message out now, as opposed to a couple of years ago?

Yeah I think right now the time in hip hop – in Australia – especially women are coming up, and it’s the time for it. It wasn’t like this two, three, four years ago when I started playing shows. It was very male dominated. Now I will be on line ups with like three other women – whether it be singer-songwriters, hip hop artists or DJs. It’s definitely the time, and every show in Brisbane is so diverse. With our scene here we really support each others shows, going to see each others shows. I’m really happy with the way the scene is going in Brisbane at the moment.

What do you think is driving that change?

I think also hip hop crowds have gotten bored and tired of the same hip hop that’s been going around for the last ten years. A lot of overseas influence has happened, especially with instrumentals in hip hop. You have electronic sounds, a lot of trap sounds and Flume type beats that have really inspired this new wave and new push of artists. A lot of American influence but you’ve got artists who are putting their own twist on it, and it still sounds like their music. It’s growth.

Jesswar (Credit: Michelle Grace Hunder)

I can definitely see your own twist on a distinctly Brooklyn style.

I recently moved to Brisbane about a year ago but I grew up on the Gold Coast, I went to school down there. That was quite interesting, playing hip hop shows down there. I remember I’d play a gig there and I was so different from everyone else on the line up, there would be like 80-100 people there and by the time I went on everyone would leave the stage area. It was kind of awkward but shit happens. I guess I was way too different at that time, I just wasn’t what people would want to hear. I love that that doesn’t happen now. Even in Brisbane people can have that old-school sort of sound, or old-school Australian sound, or new-wave trap sound, but everyone’s so into hip hop culture that everyone will just stay for that set no matter how different it is.

Seeing you live just now; your first track had that very traditional hip hop sound but your later tracks had more electronic influences. Is that balance what you’re going for?

Yeah I grew up on that whole 90s hip hop era. I love to flow and rap to those boom-bap type beats. Recently I’ve gone more so electronic, but when I do the stage show I like to put in all those styles. I feel like if I just did a whole set of boom-bap beats it wouldn’t be as interesting. I really try to fuck with all different types of instrumentals and genres within hip hop.

And is that why you kind of structure your performance the way you do? Rapping and then DJing, that is.

Yeah we normally have a longer set, like 30 minutes to an hour, so we’ll start of DJing a few songs then we’ll go in and smash out one after the other, then finish the set with DJing a few more songs. We try to create this whole vibe within our set, so people can leave remembering the feeling and energy.

Back to a few years ago when you first started. What kind of sparked you into pursuing this career as a hip hop artist?

I studied music from when I was 16, but I was also playing in bands. Just emceeing for pop bands or blues bands. I was just doing it to get credits or get some money. I think studying it for four years really helped me to learn so much about the industry – how to book gigs, how to invoice. I can’t see myself doing anything else.

For more on Jesswar head to her official website HERE.

Lead photo by Michelle Grace Hunder.


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy-Editor-At-Large of the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.

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