Music Monday: JSWISS
With beats that bolster live instrumentation and an honest, storytelling style, rapper JSWISS caught our attention through his latest project Awthenticity. Born Julian Caldwell, JSWISS grew up in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Still early in his hip hop career, Caldwell transplanted to UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina in pursuit of a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Not letting his studies impede on his aspirations for a career in music, JSWISS has delivered five mixtapes, three EPs, as well as shared the stage with Big K.R.I.T., Soul Khan, 2 Chainz, and Asher Roth over the last four years of a career that spans six years. Now having graduated, we can expect more from this artist on the rise as he shares with us his future plans and his latest single, “Universal Just Called.”
Kiara Gillette: Were you born in New York?
JSWISS: Yes, I was born in New York. Lived there pretty much my whole life, except for… I just graduated from school at UNC-Chapel Hill so for the better part of those four years, I was down in North Carolina. Otherwise, it’s been New York the whole time.
KG: So what part of New York did you grow up in?
JSWISS: Most of my life, I grew up in Westchester county in a place called Dobbs Ferry. So I lived in Yonkers for the first five years of my life and then moved there. That’s where I grew up and lived most of my life.
KG: So at what age did you start getting into rapping, or music in general?
JSWISS: Yeah, it was real gradual. I would say that I probably wrote my first rhyme at like twelve. And it came from like it was no objective to it at first. You know, listening to music and just stuff started coming to my head, and I would write four and eight bars here, you know, just being out in class and inspiration would hit, but really no intent to write any full verses or songs, or anything like that. And it gradually got into it when I was about 15, 16 I got a little, basic four track tape recorder to record music, microphone stuff at my house. So I did some songs here and there. And then it really got to be something more serious when I was 18, first year of college, freshman year, and that was when I put out my first project. And since, I’ve been going hard recording, promoting myself as an actual career. So it’s real gradual from the first time I ever started writing to my shortest project is about six years.
KG: So who are some of your musical influences growing up?
JSWISS: Hip hop-wise, A Tribe Called Quest has been a big one. The Roots, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, especially his first album or two on the hip hop end. But also I listen to a lot of non-hip hop music by way of my dad a lot Jamiroquai was a group I was into a lot, Brand New Heavies is a group I was into a lot, Soulive is a group I’m into, Lettuce was a group that had some of the same members. You know, some jazz stuff, some funk stuff. Even some rock elements here and there like some Lenny Kravitz. So it’s a wide range of different acts.
KG: Do you ever try to incorporate some of the non-hip hop influences in to your music as well?
JSWISS: Well, I’ve definitely, more recently, have been trying to incorporate more live instruments into my stuff. You know, whether it’s performing or recording. I have some of that on the Awthenticity project, some live instruments, some live bass on a few tracks. The intro is all live instruments. I definitely, you know, even when I’m picking instrumentals and everything, even if it’s not live instruments that the instrumentation might feel like I might like some stuff that’s more funky, maybe traditional if it’s hard hitting, or drum. You know, drum-driven, hard drum stuff that has more instruments that might be a little bit more funky. Stuff that has a little bit more going on in it I’m naturally drawn to just because of all those years of listening to other types of music and really enjoying that and wanting to have that in my music as well.
KG: Yeah, no I really dig the fact that you try to do some kind of experimentation with your music like you did sort of an art collaboration with your music featured in an art exhibition, correct?
JSWISS: Yeah, yeah, yeah that was with the Cool Grey EP. It was definitely an honor to have, to collaborate again with those student artists, they’re all art majors to make different pieces inspired by the track. To have it happen at a museum on campus… It’s not something that you see all of the time. You know, generally it’s just classic art. So they had a hip hop exhibition and had my music playing in the museum. So it was something special. And I’m glad it just came from an idea in my head to something that actually was made happen. Because a lot of times you just have grand ideas and they don’t work out, but that’s one that I saw came to fruition.
KG: Absolutely! So do you plan on doing more work like that in the future?
JSWISS: I would love to, yeah. And in New York, to bring that to New York would be something I’m definitely looking to do in the future. I was thinking about that when I put out more projects and, you know, have a chance to meet more of those artistic minded people in the New York area and do a collaboration like that. Hopefully, you see that again.
KG: Speaking of artistic-minded people. At UNC, that’s where No9to5 Music was formed, right?
JSWISS: Yeah, it was born… I’m trying to remember the exact time. Like a year and a half to two years ago. We all met on campus at UNC. There’s a studio in the bottom library on campus and so a lot of us, people who did music like that, would just be there even if you didn’t have studio time booked. It was kind of the go to place to have an hour to chill. I ended up going there sometimes. And so the people who were always there that worked just kind of came to know each other. That’s kind of how No9to5 came together. You know, we get together and we always have that great energy, especially on live performances and stuff. It’s cool. We’re all friends, we’re all talented, and we all have different styles at the same time. We do a lot of shows together and we have some instrument songs together, like the song “Clockwork” was recently put out. It’s one of the few tracks that has all of us on it at the same time. We have completely different styles. So naturally we have our own solo stuff, but we also get together. And we have a project that we put out together and then also we do a lot of live performances together too. You bring just more people and the energy and we vibe off of each other and it just takes it to another level.
KG: So congrats on the college degree. I’m all about getting an education myself. So what made you decide to continue and eventually get your degree at UNC?
JSWISS: That was always something that I thought I could do. I didn’t feel like I needed to drop out to do the music. I guess also because I started spending all of my money on out of state tuition. (Laughing) But I wasn’t going to make an excuse and be like I need to drop out to do this. I felt like that would be almost like the lazy thing to do. But I did have to put in a lot of effort to be able to do the school work and the music. But it was possible. It just took more effort and a little less sleep. I could do both at the same time, just took a little more push, a little more drive.
KG: So do you feel that being in college has helped your music in terms of exposure?
JSWISS: Oh yeah! I mean I wouldn’t have started my career… I guess that’s why I never thought about dropping out or leaving because the reason that I was there is the reason why any of this exists now.
KG: How did you get the name JSWISS?
JSWISS: It was a nickname that my friend gave me in like fifth, sixth grade. I can’t remember exactly how we got there, but it had to do with KSWISS shoes. I mean that’s the only thing that comes to mind. I know that ironically before that, he was calling me the nickname J. Will. Because at the time, Jason Williams was a popular basketball player, ironically, at Duke, UNC’s rival school. So he was calling me J. Will and then one day he was like why am I calling you J. Will because there’s no “Will” in your name, or whatever. So he just some how went from there to just working off the J and I guess he just got to JSWISS.
KG: How would describe your style and creative process?
JSWISS: My creative process is writing a lot to the instrumentals. You know, I get those first and will write to those. Sometimes, more recently, I’ve been more experimenting with concepts, storytelling, and more symbolism. I might have an idea and then write some lines before I have an instrumental, which I did on maybe one or two track on Awthenticity. But I’ve really just have been trying to draw from real life stuff. Not taking for granted stuff that happens that you might see on tv, a conversation you might have, something that you just observed, you know, being out in the world. Not taking that for granted and moving on. Just take a note and say okay I observed this about it maybe I want to put it in my music, or that’s part of the bigger message that I want to put into my music. The Awthenticity part of it is it’s real-life stuff. And what you think about that real life stuff and trying to convey it in a creative way. I’m really trying to pay attention to everything that’s going on and in my life even if I’m not thinking about writing like reading a book or magazine like maybe that’s something that I want to write about and put into my music.
KG: So what do you hope that people take away from your music when they first listen to it?
JSWISS: In general, I hope that people take away being passionate about something, being true to yourself about something and that anything is possible if you are that. Obviously, I put in a lot of time doing a lot of different stuff for this project. But just being passionate about it was still able to get it out. And with my live show I think people see with myself and No9to5 in general that we really put a lot into our live shows. No matter how many people are out there. If it’s 15 people or an 800 person show, putting your whole passion into it. And I hope that’s infectious and that people draw that into whatever they do. If it’s music, if it’s art, if it’s being a doctor or lawyer or if it’s being a student just that passion and that drive to bring your all into it and let nothing get in the way.
KG: So what does authenticity mean to you?
JSWISS: Authenticity means being honest even when it’s not convenient. Kind of the idea from it came from what’s real. Like the word real is kind of losing its meaning and its validity when people say this is real hip hop and this is not real hip hop and this person is real because they act like this and this music is real because it just sounds like this and it has nothing to do with whether it’s true to that person. It’s just that I think that whatever is real has to look or sound just like this. And so it’s more about just being true to yourself. So that’s what authenticity is to me being true and honest because real doesn’t seem to mean what it used to anymore.
Words By: Kiara Gillette