The New Locals: Jesswar

Brisbane rapper Jesswar has been making music since she was 16. Now 24, she’s seen a lot of change in the industry over the last eight years. There’s more diversity on festival lineups and more opportunities are being made available to a broader array of artists, particularly women and people of colour. But there’s still a long way to go, and Jesswar won’t stop until, in her own words, she’s “…running this shit.” And she has the kind of fiery determination that ensures she’ll get there. Jesswar made her debut in 2017 with ‘Savage’, a track that demanded attention and hinted at greater things to come. Since then, she’s worked with artists like Okenyo and B Wise and performed at almost every Australian festival under the sun.

It’s been two years since she’s released a solo single, but ‘Heata’, her new track featuring Canadian artist Tasha The Amazon, is a return to form. The deep bass and Jesswar’s quick wordplay combine with Tasha The Amazon’s vocals for a memorable, assured sounding track. It’s clear that Jesswar’s back and she’s here to stay. We spoke to her about the process of creating the new single, the Brisbane hip-hop scene, and what navigating the industry as a queer woman has been like for her.

Hi Jesswar! Tell us about your new single, ‘Heata’ ft. Tasha the Amazon. How did this collaboration come about and what does the song mean to you?
I had been sitting on ‘Heata’ for a few months looking for a feature but nothing seemed to work so my label told me about Tasha and sent me some of her music. I was blown away so I DMed her on Instagram with the instrumental and she hit me back in five days with a polished verse. It’s been so long since I’ve released a single and ‘Heata’ is the product of all that tenacious fire I’ve held in for the past two years haha. I’m so ready to put this track out!

How did you get into hip-hop and what was the first hip-hop album you remember buying?
I was introduced to hip-hop through my older brother. I would always steal his burned CDs featuring 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Biggie, and Wutang, and he would always go off when I scratched them. The first CD I bought with my own money was Kanye West’s Goodlife [but I] only bought the single cause I didn’t have enough for the album. The singles used to come with the instrumental too so that was my first introduction into writing my own lyrics.

You first started rapping and performing at 16. How has the industry changed in that time?
I used to catch a train up from the Gold Coast to the Valley or sometimes my mum would drive to play any gig where they would let me jump up, but because I was under age I had to be escorted out by the security guards as soon as I finished playing. The main thing I’ve noticed now is that there’s so many more women/women of colour being given opportunities that only one of us would have got a few years ago. Now there’s a few of us on a hip-hop line up. This is just the beginning though, in a few years we’ll be running this shit.

What’s it like making hip-hop music in Brisbane? Is there a community of other like-minded artists around you?
For sure. We have a big community. I think it’s seasonal, sometimes we are all around and jamming, seeing each other at gigs, festivals, bars, and other seasons everyone’s writing and making, so it’s quieter. But there’s big love here and it’s supportive of one another.  

As a queer woman, what has your experience navigating the world of hip-hop been like?
It’s important for young queer women of colour to see themselves represented in hip-hop. They need to know they belong in the spotlight just as much as anyone else. I keep pushing through any barriers thrown at me in hopes that someone who looks like me can be represented. This is a new platform in hip-hop so I do everything in my power to smooth this path out for those that come after me, because there will be many more. My way of navigating this is that I refuse to censor myself or change my music for anyone.

Do you think we make our own luck in life?
100% we do make our own luck in life! I believe if you’re making music from your soul, no one can tell you it’s wrong. I’ll keep pushing and manifesting the things I want to achieve until it happens. The fact that we’re even doing this interview is that!

What have you been listening to/watching/reading lately?
That new Missy [Eliott] EP ICONOLOGY is on repeat as well as Kaiit, Tkay Maidza – ‘Awake’, and a new music discovery from NZ, Eleven74. I’m not watching many shows at the moment but sometimes [I] just watch re-runs of shark week or [the] best live performance videos on YouTube haha. 

What’s up next for you?
Releasing ‘Heata’, few more singles, then the EP followed by a tour. And I’m doing some festival slots for Red Bull Music Festival in Melbourne on October 18, Beer and Cider Festival in Brisbane September 20, MCA Art Bar November 29 and Meredith Music Festival December 13-15 in Melbourne! And beyond my music I intend to soak up this summer hardout! #hotboysummer  

For more on Jesswar follow her here

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