The Gospel Of Rap-dom According To Wande Isola — Life — Nigeria
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Yewande Isola is the kind of musician you would describe as a maverick. With her rare musical direction and her unrivalled stellar discography, the 25-year-old rapper stands tall as a woman of musical excellence. But that is just a fragment of her story.
Wande, as she is popularly known, is a beacon of hope for similar artistes in the Christian gospel music industry. The Nigerian-American rapper has carved a niche for herself as an alternative Hip-hop artiste, bringing on a breath of fresh air to the mainstream gospel music industry. Most of her songs are so sonically grand that it is easy to even listen multiple times without recognising that its lyrics are rooted in the Christian gospel. With two Extended Playlists (EP) dubbed, Exit and The Decision (both released last year), Wande has grown from an imaginative young girl in a Biology class to a radical musician, spreading hope, positivity and good vibes with didactic, motivational and Christian gospel music.
While some of her solid hits, such as Come my way (feat Toye and Teni Apata), Woo, No Ceilings, They Didn’t Know, among others, have continued to gain prominence, globally, the singer has also begun attracting a prominent fan base, including Michelle Obama, who listed her hit song Blessed Upon her official annual playlist. In this interview with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, she spoke about her musical beginnings, charting her path in alternative gospel rap-dom, cooking Amala in the United States, and her love for being Nigerian.
Tell us about your musical beginnings, how did they start?
SO, I grew up in the US; I was born in Nigeria, but I came to the US when I was a young child. My musical beginnings started in the US when I was in high school; I had a project where I explored using a song, instead of using the traditional Microsoft PowerPoint or Essay. So, I actually chose to use a song to make a rap for Biology class. And that is how I discovered that I had musical talent.
From that project, people saw that I was actually good at this. So, from there I just started using music as a tool at school to tell people about my faith, because I was actually passionate about my Christian faith.
What part of Nigeria were you born in?
I was born in Akure; my mother lived there.
So, when did you decide you would take music professionally?
It was pretty quick. Within a year from that high school project, I decided that I wanted to do this legitimately. So, I actually went to a church called RCCG, growing up; we had an American convention and I participated in the talent show there. I saw the reaction of the people who were there and I decided to take it up legitimately.
Would you call yourself an alternative gospel artiste?
I mean, it could be. I do Christian rap, but alternative Gospel is interesting too.
So, how did you hone this style?
When I knew that Christian rap even existed, it happened because I had totally decided to follow God with my lifestyle. So, the things I liked such as rap had to follow. I realised that with traditional rap, there were lyrics that were encouraging people to sin all the time, so I actually looked up Christian rap on YouTube. It made the most sense to me. So, I had to combine my rap with my Christian faith to become a Christian gospel rapper. I don’t consider myself a Christian singer; I saw myself first as a rapper, and I tried to adapt it to my faith.
Your songs are very different from mainstream gospel rap. What is your creative process like?
It is honestly just a gift from God, but I feel I do constantly surround myself with talented people. If you do so, you sharpen each other to be your best. I think honestly a lot of young people are using their gifts to glorify God. If Wizkid decides to be a gospel singer, he would continue making Wizkid music, but it would be gospel. So, I think it is more of the intention.
Before you started professionally, what was your life ambition?
My plan was to be a doctor, till I discovered my gift; I ended up going to College. After finding out that I could rap back in high school, I decided to switch my majors; I was taking all of the science courses before. My teachers were all sad and asking me to follow through to medical school, but I switched to communications. That way, I could be more about how to market myself. So, I studied Public Relations and Journalism.
Do people get surprised when they discover that you are Nigerian?
It varies. Some people can tell from my name, while others become surprised. If they get surprised, it is always a pleasant surprise.
Why did you retain the name Wande for your career?
I think I did it to stay true to myself; it embodies who I am.
You recently posted viral content of you connecting to Nigerians, using our local address for a flyer. What is your vibe with Nigeria like?
With that receipt, I chose it specifically because I grew up in RCCG and that is its headquarters in Nigeria. It was like a way of paying homage to my foundation. Also, my whole family lives there, except for my immediate family; my Grandma is in Nigeria, my cousins and other relatives. Nigeria is a great place and I want to come back as an adult now. I was actually planning on coming back last year, but Coronavirus happened; I will try to come next year.
Who are your favourite Nigerian musicians at the moment?
It is interesting; I like people like Wizkid and stuff. Other than that, there are some Nigerians who make pretty good gospel music.
While growing up, who were the people that influenced you?
The people who influence me the most, I’m on their label now. When it comes to Christian rap, the people who are doing it the most are Lecrae, Tedashii, Sho Baraka, among others. By God’s grace, I am on their label now.
Your sound is also very experimental; you sing on Trap, Hip-hop and even very genre-fluid beats. How do you pick your sounds?
I like to go into things without expectations. So, basically, I tell producers to be themselves and just create; I am open to anything. That is why my sound is always flowing like that; I don’t restrict people and I don’t like to restrict myself. I would say that this summer though, I am focusing more on rap songs solely.
If you would advise similar artistes who want to follow in your footsteps, what would you tell them?
I would say that most of the struggle is in your head; the biggest struggle you have to overcome is yourself. Once you are determined and you focus on what you want, you would go the farthest. Be consistent; continually try to make new music and dive into your craft. Get better; go to events and meet more people. If you just continue to work hard and put your work ethic out there, I think you would be fine.
I think there are lots of artistes coming in who would do it even better. Anytime I have new artistes, I always like to share them on a playlist. I put it on my Instagram; it helps people to see the new artistes.
Tell us five things you like most about being Nigerian?
I love the food; my favourite food is Amala and Okra soup, I eat it in the US too. I can make it; my mum taught me how to make it. It is basically what we eat any day. I love the music; we have very talented artistes. I love the landscape; we have cool places like Olumo Rock. I love the language; I understand and speak Yoruba. My intonation might not be the best, but I can say something if I need to. I love the people too; Nigerians are great. You have a lot of pioneers in a lot of industries. There are a lot of talented people here.
Finally, if you would define Wande in one word, what would it be?
Wande is an iconic artiste bringing a fresh sound to gospel music. If I could use a word, I would say exceptional.