— WIZE —

On North London, Super Mario, Aaliyah, memorising bars, rap, grime, hating losing, Soundcloud, Crowdsourced, viral moments and why music is all he’s ever known.

(All photos submitted by WIZE)

WIZE is a busy man. In fact, since leaving college in the early 2010s, busy is all he’s ever known. “I’ve never once had a proper job you know”, he says intently, leaning back in his chair as we open our conversation early on Friday evening. “And I’m not saying that like it’s an accolade or anything, I just literally haven’t.” He’s speaking to me during a break at a studio session in Hertfordshire, where he’s currently working with a host of different artists on new music. “I used to hate driving”, he says, smiling, “but coming out here from North London, especially after the year we’ve all had … I actually look forward to it now.”

Although active as a producer, rapper, writer and studio engineer since 2007, WIZE’s career to this point has been a tale of peaks and troughs. There have been huge, career-defining moments — many of which we’ll discuss later — and also periods of uncertainty and doubt; but come rain or shine, he’s treated both success and disappointment with the same gusto. “I’ve found a lot of things to do throughout the pandemic that have kept me quite busy”, he says of the last 12 months. “They’re not even things people gave me to do either, I just created a lot of opportunities during the times I was stuck in my house. I can’t lie, it’s led me to a place where I feel quite confident in myself. And that feels pretty good.”

Born and raised in Holloway in North London to parents of Jamaican, Chinese and Irish heritage, WIZE has always been fascinated by art, video games and music, as well as the desire to create and make things; “My brain runs at 100 miles per hour, bro”, he says nonchalantly. “It always has.” “That kid just loved video games, too”, he continues, briefly switching to third person. “He just wanted to be on his Super Nintendo and his N64 all day … and he used to love to hear his mum sing. My mum’s a singer, so I used to go to the studio with her all the time. She used to do session singing, so she’d always be on a bunch of different people’s projects. There are certain rappers that are pretty much legends now that I met as a kid, like Skinnyman for example. I remember seeing him when I was about three, him taking me to the shop and that. Saying all that though, that version of me didn’t wanna be a musician, I wanted to make games and do art. I wanted to be a graphic designer in all honesty, mainly because I was really into drawing. I went to art classes after school and used to get stuck into doing school displays and stuff like that. I was a super nerd really, but you know, we all come from somewhere.”

School was a sanctuary for WIZE — “I was a super good kid all the way through, I never skipped lessons or anything like that” — and he excelled until his college years. Kept in check by his mum, who he describes as a “really cool person”, her example had a profound impact on how he navigated life both in-and-out of class. “She just kept me grounded, man”, he explains. “I’ve never been a confrontational person, I’ve never wanted to be in a gang … I just always wanted to be me, at peace. That attitude carried me through school really, and I owe a lot of that to her.”

While music was always ticking along in the background, video games were WIZE’s first major obsession as a child. But rather than the escapism or even the graphics, it was the concept of winning that kept him hooked. “I’m very fixated on winning and I very much hate losing”, he says, chuckling to himself. “I hate it, like, a lot. I get a very, very large thrill from winning and I have done since I was a kid. I remember my uncles used to have to let me beat them at Street Fighter otherwise I’d get really mad. I’d be raging if I didn’t win.”

“I remember my uncles used to have to let me beat them at Street Fighter otherwise I’d get really mad. I’d be raging if I didn’t win.”

What was the first game he really loved, I ask? “Ah there’s so many, man”, he says, racking his brain for thirty seconds or so. “Okay, okay, so the first game I truly fell in love with bro … Super Mario Allstars on the Super Nintendo. That was a compilation of all the best Mario games in one. My dad had actually given me his old console shortly after it came out and that game there bro, I must have spent at least 40-50 percent of my childhood just glued to it, literally. Away from Super Mario, anything Pokémon. Anything Pokémon. Even the obscure pinball games that they’d put out … I was like ‘yeah, gimme a bit of that’. They were the two things I can guarantee I would have always been playing.”

As for his own relationship with music? A school assembly, of all places, would be the spark. “I’d always been around music with my mum and that, but the first time I really remember being drawn in by it was in an assembly in year four. I must have been eight, maybe nine years old. There was this kid who I’m actually still friends with today, his name is Ottoman, and he got up to perform during this assembly, which was like a talent show basically. His talent was rapping and he was gonna rap this Limp Bizkit song … I can’t remember the name of it … but he rapped it on stage and I though it was the most phenomenal thing ever. I just thought, ‘wow, did you really just say all of it that fast?’ kinda thing. It was at that point that I started listening to music and writing down the lyrics so I could learn them. That eventually led to me writing my own lyrics and yeah, it just went from there. Saying that, it took another three or four years for me to really get into it properly. It was when I saw my friend Ronnie, who again I’m still friends with today, make a beat on a Sony Ericsson phone. Remember those phones with the music apps in-built? He made a beat with one and then rapped over the top and I was like, ‘Bro, oh my God, what? Why are you not famous?’. I was gobsmacked by the fact he could just do that so that was it, I knew I had to start penning my own bars … he couldn’t be the only guy round here who rapped.”

What was it about rap that appealed to him, I ask? “I dunno, you know”, he says, his eyes scanning the room around him. “I guess I’ve always just found it really cool. When I think back to things that always caught my ear as a kid, it was always RnB, hip-hop, that sort of sound I guess. I forgot to mention earlier but when I was about seven, my mum married someone and he used to play a lot of hip-hop around the house. Stuff like Mystikal, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg … I guess subconsciously, I just grew an appreciation for it. A year or so later, I remember So Solid Crew released ’21 Seconds’ and honestly, that song man. I actually bought it on vinyl the other day, limited edition. That song changed my life, I swear. Remember I told you I used to write down lyrics? I wrote every single bar of that song down and I learned them by heart. Back then, you could test me and I would give you everyone’s bars … except for the swear words because my would probably have been there.”

“My mum was always blasting music, too”, WIZE continues, “but to be honest, she was really into pop … the Spice Girls, Backsreet Boys, N-Sync … and then she’d get in her soul bag and play lots of Anita Baker, Minnie Riperton, Tina Marie, Toni Braxton. I definitely loved it when she played that stuff. Aaliyah, as well. Apparently, or so the story goes, when I was born my mum had her headphones in and was listening to Aaliyah. Imagine that, she had her headphones in when I was born. Anyway, I mean I remember it all beginning for me with Michael Jackson. My mum used to play his music a lot and I was just obsessed … to the point where I actually stole some of my mum’s tapes. I don’t know what I was thinking, I was probably only five or six, but I put one in my tape player and I think I pressed Record. I ended up recording over ‘Smooth Criminal’ and she was so angry.”

“Apparently, or so the story goes, when I was born my mum had her headphones in and was listening to Aaliyah.”

WIZE started experimenting with making his own music when he just 12 years old — all inspired by an issue of Computer Music and some free DAW software that came with the magazine. “I remember going to the Poundshop in Angel and buying a webcam mic”, he recalls. “It was one of those proper little thin ones, like a car aerial almost, and in my head I could record music with that. I’d already got this copy of Computer Music and this DAW called Kristal. It was a really, really basic sequencer that you could record about eight tracks on. I just thought I’d get a microphone, put a beat from Limewire in there, and I could rap on it? So that’s exactly what I did … and I recorded my first song. I carried on just learning and trying things out by myself or a while and then there was this one kid who moved to my school. His name was Sa’id and his producer name was Flash G. Not Bloodline Flash G, but I found out that he made his own beats either way. I’d started to use FL Studio, where as he used Reason, so me and him started gradually becoming friends, showing each other our beats and how the different software worked. He ended up moving over to FL and we became even better friends because we were using the same DAW, we were collaborating on tunes. It was cool because he was more into techno and electronic stuff, where I was more into hip-hop and grime. We just bonded over that. Even though we’re not really cool anymore, I still credit him with teaching me a lot of the stuff that I used to really etch out the producer I am today, you know.”

After finishing school, WIZE headed to college — on three separate occasions. “I got kicked out twice”, he says, quite matter-of-factly. “I don’t even know what I was doing, bro. I think I was going through my little rebellious, adolescent phase and I just remember thinking, ‘I’ve just done so many years of education and now I’ve gotta go back and do more?’. What I didn’t realise was that I should have just gone to college and done something I was interested in. I wasted two years doing courses I didn’t wanna do and then the third time, I went to a different college to study Music Technology … which I loved! And I passed with flying colours. I then went off to university at SAE in London but I only lasted two days. Basically, I’d just had a child and then life got crazy and I couldn’t keep it up. If I’m being real with you bro, it’s also because they tried to teach me Maths. It was part of the course but I was just like, ‘how is that a module?’. It wasn’t for me at all. I just wanted to learn how to make some bangers.”

While becoming a father for the first time and leaving university may have initially flipped WIZE’s world on its head, he soon become adept at juggling responsibilities. All the while, belief in his own musicianship never wavered. Not once. “Ever since I was 15, it was always ‘I’ve gotta be the best producer in the world’. I had to be. I’ve always wanted to be the guy that people revered for how much work I did to get where I am … because I love it that much. I need people to appreciate me as much as I love it.” 

“Ever since I was 15, it was always ‘I’ve gotta be the best producer in the world’. I had to be.”

What were his first in-roads into the industry, I ask? “I was lucky enough to get access to the internet at home when I was about 14”, WIZE recalls. “The minute I discovered you could upload your beats online and people might listen to them, I just kept on doing it. Eventually, I actually posted about this on instagram the other day, but I had this beat called ‘Ah Yeah’ and I don’t know what it was about it, but it seemed to connect with someone in every area in London. At least one rapper from every ends spat on that beat and put it on YouTube, which in turn led it to becoming a very, very early version of a viral moment. After that, I started getting rappers emailing me asking to make this kinda beat or that kinda beat for like, £20. That in itself was crazy to me. I was even working with people in the US on MySpace in like 2008. People in Texas? I’m like a 14, 15 year-old kid but even then, I just knew it was what I wanted to do.”

WIZE’s first eureka moment came in the form of earning a much sought-after producer credit on Wiley’s 2012 studio album, ‘The Ascent’, when he was just 18 years old. He produced ‘Skillzone’, the third tack on the LP, which boasted the most guest MCs of the entire tracklist, with Ghetts, Griminal, Manga, Frisco, Double S, Scratchy and Big Shizz all recording their own verses alongside Wiley himself. “I just remember getting an email from Wiley saying ‘This tune is gonna be on my album’, and I couldn’t believe it”, he says sheepishly. “I’m a grime kid and I’d grown up my whole life thinking Wiley was a God, so just to even see those words in an email … ah, man. It was then I knew that I could make it as a producer. I knew things were serious.”

“I remember getting an email from Wiley saying, ‘This tune is gonna be on my album’, and I couldn’t believe it.”

In the years following, WIZE would go onto produce beats for everyone from D Block Europe and Lotto Boyzz to NSG and Yxng Bane, marking himself out as both a gifted producer and engineer and with it, a true under-sung hero behind-the-scenes. He also saw one of his tracks, ‘Be Happy’ — originally self-released in 2018 — lifted by Apple to soundtrack their ‘Behind The Mac’ campaign last summer. “How that happened, I’ve no idea, I just credit the universe”, he says. But for all his successes, there have been plenty of obstacles to overcome too. “One thing I’ve really had to come to terms with as a producer is that nothing is promised”, he says firmly. “There is no opportunity presented to you that’s one hundred percent gonna happen. Never. There’s always a chance that someone will turn around and say, ‘Sorry, that’s not happening anymore for x, y and z reason and we’re not concerned about how that affects you’. When you’re young and good at what you do, people vibe with that, and you build up this expectation that the world is gonna see you in the same way … and it definitely doesn’t. The world will screw you around and eff you over and feel no way about it. And that’s what I had to come to terms with. It happened to me a lot, you know. I’d be going to different label buildings, meeting with different A&Rs and thinking, ’Wow, is this it? This guy likes my music, is he gonna sign me?’, and of course I’d never hear from them again. The confidence dip that used to cause was really hard to get over for a while. Also, financially, it was tough. Just not being able to monetise my work because I came up in an era where the producer wasn’t as revered as they are now made things more difficult. Don’t forget, I’m a father too, so I had the responsibility of providing for my daughter and being a producer, it can be tough, I’m not gonna lie to you.”

“When you’re young and good at what you do, people vibe with that, and you build up this expectation that the world is gonna see you in the same way … and it definitely doesn’t. The world will screw you around and eff you over and feel no way about it.”

How did he navigate those pitfalls, I ask? “I had to arm myself with the necessary tools to market myself the way I needed to be marketed”, WIZE explains. “Even just trying to perfect my craft as a producer. Like, don’t just stagnate, you know. Just because I’m in the same place in life, doesn’t mean I have to be in the same place with my craft. My craft can evolve and I can be struggling, but as long as that takes care of itself, I’ve got prospects. Soundcloud is a huge reason behind me surviving as well, even now. The ability to repost other people’s music, that function right there … that changed my life. I still have people referencing my stuff being reposted years ago, which just shows how big it was. Once I learnt how to monetise my work through online ads as well, I knew I’d be able to find my own revenue stream.”

“Through Soundcloud, I was able to meet people that are some of my best friends today” he continues. “Massie (Craig), who I used to do Crowdsourced with, Morenight, one of my closest friends and one of the best producers that I know, Digital Mozart … these are all people I met through Soundcloud and over time, we eventually became a clique. We’re a family, you know and they definitely help me to see that we’re all going through the same stuff. They’re all cold as well, so we bounce off each other inspiration wise, which has always been a big help.”

As a rapper, too, WIZE has also consistently impressed. His 2014 Fire In The Streets freestyle for Charlie Sloth is a good entry point for anyone trying to get to grips with his style, diction and flow — as is his latest release on Truth Hz — but for an artist who can turn his hand to both producing and performing, I wondered which side of the coin inspired him more? “It’s all rhythmic at the end of the day innit, it’s all sonics”, he explains. “For example, Dot Rotten always says to me that I make beats how I rap and if you listen to how I make beats and the pockets that I fill, there’s a synergy there. Really and truly, I’m just converting the sonics in my head into lyrics. It’s all the same energy that I’m trying to channel, if that makes sense.” 

“Dot Rotten always says to me that I make beats how I rap and if you listen to how I make beats and the pockets that I fill, there’s a synergy there.”

What about performing? “I’m a creative, but I wouldn’t say I’m a natural performer”, he says, leaning forward slightly. “That’s something I’ve had to learn over time. It’s not native for me to perform, where as it is to create it and think about it and craft it. I’ve had to really work on that side of things, especially because I can get self-conscious. I find myself questioning if tracks are as good as I think they are, but even then, I don’t really get nervous … I’ll still go and do a show and perform. Deep down though, that’s probably why there’s been more production stuff and less rap stuff over the years.”

In and amongst his production work, solo material and running studios as an engineer, another jewel in WIZE’s career was Crowdsourced — the off-piste, beat-making challenge that became a cornerstone of Boiler Room’s in-house output for almost two years. Originally the brain child of Craig Massie — DJ, all-round content wizard former long-term Creative Lead at Boiler Room — it evolved to become a two-hour show in which a guest producer would be tasked with making a beat directly from samples sent in by fans. Hosted by WIZE, the pair were able to bring in some of underground dance music’s most iconic names, with everyone from Flava D and Crazy Cousinz to Jimmy Edgar & Machinedrum (J-E-T-S), Iglooghost and Nightwave taking part between 2017 and 2019. “Massie came to me one day with this idea about making beats live and using samples”, WIZE explains, “so it was really his thing if I’m honest with you. It wasn’t originally broadcast through Boiler Room, we used to just film the early episodes in there because Massie had access to the studio there, but he ended up pitching the idea after we’d filmed five or six epodes. They loved it, so decided to put some money behind it and let us do our thing.”

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done”, he continues. “Honestly, that show … I feel like it was such an important part of producer culture at that time. It really helped show producers in the light that we needed to be showed in. Like, ‘look, this is what we can do on the spot with random sounds, without our usual tools, and we’re gonna create magic for you, live’. I don’t think there’s been that level of insight anywhere else … and then the fact that you could interact with producers as they go? It was almost like we were inviting people into a studio for a few hours. I enjoyed every single minute of it. It was a lot of fun to meet so many people that I admired as well, you know. Flava D, I mean she was one of my favourite producers growing up, she’s been cold for so long … and then she just comes on my show and does a madness? It was an honour to be a part of that whole thing.”

“Flava D, I mean she was one of my favourite producers growing up, she’s been cold for so long … and then she just comes on my show and does a madness?”

More recently, WIZE has found joy with freestyle edits — a part of his beat-making make-up since 2011, although only fully appreciated over the last 12 months. Inspired by US producer Knwledge, who had pioneered the art of isolating old US rap freestyle vocals and layering them over re-booted beats, WIZE began trying his hand at doing the same from a UK vantage point via grime and drill. His own edits of classic vocals by Wiley, Skepta, Ghetts, Esco (RIP) and more, each uploaded to his socials with original accompanying footage, have become a phenomenon online, racking up thousands of likes and shares each — to the point that they’ve opened up a whole new audience of fans discovering his music for the first time. “I was glued to Knwledge’s channel for months and I loved the work he does with Anderson .Paak, so I was hyper aware of what he was about”, WIZE explains. “Once I clocked how he was doing it, there was no way I was gonna let him be the only guy. At first, I mean I’ve uploaded so many now that I know which ones are gonna make people tick, but when I started I was just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. I don’t have a formula or anything because the way social media works, the algorithms change all the time, but I think it was the Wiley and Skepta one that took it to the level where people now associate the edit thing with my name. Wherever I go, people seem to have stumbled on it somehow. There’s been a load of media coverage since, a lot of interest from artists … like right now I’m at a studio and if I’m being honest, it’s probably because of the edits. A lot of brands wanna work with me now, too. It’s strange.”

“The only issue with the edits though is that people think that they’re like, the pinnacle of my production”, WIZE continues. “And that’s dangerous. I don’t wanna be that guy, I’m not even any guy really … I just don’t want people to think that they’re all I am. When I come and spin people with a jazz song, I don’t want anybody to be confused.” 

“When I come and spin people with a jazz song, I don’t want anybody to be confused.”

As our conversation begins to wind down, the sound of background noise slowly starting to pick-up on WIZE’s mic, it’s hard to think of an artist more defiant about his craft. A true creative to his core, WIZE’s talent — and his ability to shift and adapt amidst such a rapidly-evolving social media backdrop — feels all the more one-of-a-kind and special than ever right now. “I realise that I’ve always created my own limits”, he says, sharing one final thought before darting back into the studio. “And I’ve realised that you can ignore that by just being. When you realise that all you have to do is be, you’re good.”

You can stay up to date with WIZE’s music via Bandcamp:

https://wizetheproducer.bandcamp.com/

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