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"I Can't Speak For Others, But I'm Real." Ocean Wisdom Talks 'Wizville'

Friday, 23 February 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

There's no doubt the wider UK urban music scene is currently enjoying exposure on a level never seen before (Stormzy just won a couple of Brits and called out the Prime Minister on live TV, winning the support of another political leader in the space of 24 hours). But, while much of the mainstream attention has been afforded to the burgeoning grime scene, UK hip hop is enjoying a mini-renaissance of its own.

The likes of Ghostpoet, Loyle Carner and Kojey Radical have all sought to resurrect the golden era of British rap in unique ways, but Ocean Wisdom might be the most exciting prospect out there. Having spent years refining his skills in his hometown of Brighton, he burst onto the radar with the spectacular Walkin' in 2014. Within months, the track had hit a million views and he was being hyped as the future of UK hip hop and, perhaps more impressively, as faster than Eminem.

Can anyone rap faster than Wisdom? “No, man, they don't exist,” he says. “If they do, they're not saying words. It's almost like asking Ronaldo if anyone can do more step-overs. He doesn't usually need to do more than one to bang in all his goals. So, to be honest, that's not my whole thing – it's just an aspect.”

For Wisdom, who built up his rhythmic dexterity as a beatboxer from the age of seven, showmanship is just one part of his artistry. A prolific writer, his debut album 'Chaos 93'' was a mammoth effort that stretched to 17 tracks.

Although the album was designed to showcase his breathtaking ability, Wisdom was still careful to do things by the book, releasing with respected label High Focus and enlisting the reliable Dirty Dike for production duties. But its follow-up, 'Wizville', is a different kettle of fish, with a range of producers, styles and guest features.

“I'd say this is my first real project,” he says. “It's a million times more varied. There's a lot more going on and the soundscapes are much larger. And there's a lot that people can vibe to – there's stuff people can move around and dance to. I didn't want to be beholden to anyone else this time around, so there's a real diverse sound.

“A lot of 'Chaos 93'' I actually wrote when I was, like, 17 or 18. A lot of the stuff here is more current. I'm much better at rapping than I was then because I have a million more hours under my belt. I go down more musical avenues than I did before. I know myself and my voice better, and I know how to construct songs better. I think I've developed in the art of writing a good song.”

It's perhaps unsurprising that songwriting – a trait overlooked by so many up-and-coming rappers – is a key point of focus for Wisdom. Learning from musical forebears is important to him: he cites UK underground artists Jehst and Chester P as key influences and says he spent much of his youth “arguing with mates about which of them was the best spitter in the UK”.

The reverence he holds them in is telling. He asked both to appear on 'Wizville', along with the more publicly recognised Dizzee Rascal, Roots Manuva and Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan. It's a list of names most artists could only dream of working with, but reflects Wisdom's ability to appeal as much to established stars as he does respected heads.

“It was all very mutual,” he says. “I was on Method Man's radar because of some support shows, while Dizzee I just reached out to on Twitter. How does it feel to be respected by guys like that? It feels great. I feel really lucky because I've not had to compromise what I do.

“It's why High Focus really appealed to me. It was partly for the obvious reasons – because they're the biggest and best independent UK hip hop label – but also because there's no pressure to make a certain type of music. I can do what I want to do – I can be crass and crude if I want to, but I have creative control. It wasn't just about the commercial side of it and rising to fame: I wanted to be around guys that were known for releasing real music.”

Being part of the High Focus family - made up of the likes of Fliptrix, Jam Baxter and Ed Scissor – is a source of pride. He regularly performs live with labelmates such as the Four Owls, led by Fliptrix, who describes him as “something special”.

However, there's also the sense that Wisdom is prepared to drag the UK scene into the 21st century kicking and screaming if necessary. His style, which straddles hip hop and grime, is blunter than that of his more abstract peers. As he puts it on his new single Eye Contact: “I ain't tryna copy man, I'm out here doing me.” If 'Chaos 93'' was defined by its quick wit and wry observations, how will 'Wizville' stack up?

“I'd say every track is different this time around,” he says. “It's not just about being relatable all the time or being deep all the time either, but about being true to yourself. Sometimes I want to play something the family can enjoy at Christmas, where no one's going to get offended; sometimes I want to make something that's just gonna bang.

“There's way too much talk in the scene from people just trying to be mystical and deep for no reason. They're not saying real things, whereas I'm quite good at portraying my own character musically. A lot of people don't know what to talk about or how to appeal. They dress it up, you know? In hip hop, people have always gravitated towards the person they see as reflective of them. It's easy to sell me because I am me. I can't speak for others, but I'm real.”

'Wizville' is out now on High Focus.

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