Jesswar Transformed Her Anger At Being Overlooked Into 'Venom'
By Sam Manzella
From the very first verse of Jesswar
’s “Venom,” we know she didn’t come to play. The rising Fijian-Aussie rapper lets the poison flow, pairing fierce beats with slick rhymes that extol her excellence. Nevertheless this unapologetic self-assuredness didn’t routinely come so conveniently. Zooming with MTV News from her new digs in Australia’s scenic Yugambeh Nation, Jesswar recalls her first foray into making and performing music as a 16-year-old living in Brisbane
. “It began as me working through my own problems with music,” she says. “And then I just began playing with some bands. I was totally not confident at all. It took me a while to get up and even talk in front of people.”
Those early years of practice served Jesswar well. Today, her charisma and confidence are contagious, even through a computer screen from halfway around the world. She’s proudly claimed space for herself, a Pasifika woman of color, in a scene still dominated by males, fashioning the anger she felt at being patronized by her male peers and industry gatekeepers into her bop-filled debut EP, Tropixx
, out today (March 5). MTV News caught up with Jesswar to talk about honoring her heritage, including members of her community in her music videos, and finally putting her years-in-the-making EP out into the world.
MTV News: You’re Fijian-Australian, and I know you’re super delighted of your heritage. What does being Fijian mean to you?
It's my identity. It's in my blood; it's in my bones. I habitually desire to resemble my culture no matter what, especially living here in Australia. It gives me strength, and I feel delighted of it. As I go on in life, I never wish to feel ashamed of who I am. So [being Fijian] influences a lot of my daily life, my personalized life, my music and art, and just who I am as a person.
MTV News: Were you raised in Fiji, or did you grow up in Australia?
I spent most of my life here in Australia, so I haven't been back to Fiji in quite a while. At times, I do feel far away from my culture. That's why I habitually desire to symbolize it. It's in my blood, so I never aspire to forget it, and I'd like to show other Pasifika artists or Pacific Islanders that you could be delighted of your culture.
MTV News: What’s the hip-hop scene like in Australia?
It's growing and changing, especially in the South Pacific and Asia Pacific. I feel like it began out small and it's just order kind of getting its legs. There is lots more people who are diverse and people of color working in the industry. It's changed a lot from per year ago to 10 years back. And right now, you're seeing artists even have the chance to take their craft internationally as well, which is really cute. The scene is male-dominated, however there really are some astonishing female rappers there. Tkay Maidza
— there really are so many.
MTV News: Your new EP, Tropixx, was three years in the making. How are you feeling about releasing it into the world?
It was such a personalized experience]. So it's interesting to be able to see it be so public as well, yet it feels good. I'm attempting to get used to the way it is — releasing music again, that schedule. I was living a quieter, more undercover life before this. Nevertheless it feels good because I've contained on to these songs for so long. Three years? That's wild. I just can't wait to release the next project immediately after this because I've listened to these songs all thousands of times.
James Hornsby and Georgia WallaceMTV News: Is it outlandish promoting new music in a pandemic? I’m not sure what it’s like now in Australia, yet in New York, in-person concerts are basically nonexistent.
peculiar. We played this one show where squares are painted on the floor. And the security employee order kind of briefed me, like, “If anyone goes outdoor of the square, you group kind of have to stop them or the show gets shut down.” However in some places like New Zealand, they're having complete, full-on music festivals
. Like, thousands of people.
MTV News: Your first single, “Savage,” dropped in 2017. How has your sound changed since then?
Even outdoor of music, I've evolved so much. With your artistry, how you are in that moment of time certainly influences the music. Any time Whenever I released that song in 2017, I had no plans to [make a music video]. I was just going to put it on SoundCloud. It was a song that we played at our pre-games, you know? It was pretty astonishing how I got approached to prepare a video clip for that and put it online. I listen to it right now and I just sound… I don't know. I feel like I was really cheeky. You could certainly tell I had a lot more years in me to grow and evolve and get better with my craft. I feel like in “Savage,” I was saying punchlines just to be cheeky because I could.
MTV News: You previously mentioned that writing “Venom,” an individual off Tropixx, was self-care for you. Can you tell me more about that?
While writing this project, I was going through a pretty rough time personally in my life. I was being failed to notice and discussed down to a lot. So writing this project was a complete retaliation to that treatment. I feel like through that anger and rage, I noticed a calmness. Right now I can look back on that and be like, oh, I'm really glad I got that [anger] out.
MTV News: It’s so interesting, writing about anger as a woman. The world doesn't want you to express your anger.
One-hundred percent. Although it feels so good! Everything I mention in that song is a timestamp for me at that moment in my life. Some days I can listen to a song, and I'll go back to exactly where I was living, what I was wearing — I remember all that. However I think it's good to remember that because right now, I feel much more calm and much more steady in my life.
MTV News: What about “Medusa”? The visuals for that song in particular are stunning.
“Medusa” was written in that same order kind of vein as “Venom,” and the video was made in that sense as well. Except any time Once I was making “Medusa,” there were so several powerful girls around me — and there still are — who I was watching just absolutely kill it with success. We had heaps of people from my community come through [for the music video]. We hand-painted all of jackets and all of the jewelry. We were just attempting to create do with what we had. And then some of these females I've known since I was in high school. That was where I got a lot of my inspiration from, also. Maybe not so much from people who are well known, yet more so people who I know in my daily life. And seeing that really inspired me because I was like, “I can do this, too.” I made the song for us in a way, and the video as well.
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