The wonderful world of WizTheMC: "Rap was my disguise."
He’s found his sound, honed his craft and bided his time, so not even a year like 2020 could keep Toronto-based artist WiztheMC from his brilliant come up.
In the carefully constructed stories we love, few beats are as key as the ‘inciting incident,’ or the moment when an event throws the protagonist into their story.
Reality is rarely as cohesive. The principles of cause and effect are less clear that they might appear on the page, and where writers trade in contrivance, we find only chaos. Life isn’t so much what happens when you’re busy making other plans as it is the constant, frenzied push-and-pull of who-knows-what against something-or-other.
WiztheMC knows this better than most. In the days before his forthright moniker, Sanele – who goes by Wiz – was the man behind the camera, making musical dreams come true with a keen eye and a keener enthusiasm. “My initial creative journey started with photography when I was like 9 or 10, and then went to videos,” he explains. “I was into filming heavy for like a good five years of my life, and that's what I first thought was going to be my life and career, until I started shooting music videos for this one rapper out of my town.” Wiz can almost pinpoint the exact moment that WiztheDP evolved into WiztheMC, and it was at home in Germany, running back over the footage they’d filmed. “He inspired me to make music because I saw him dance in the video I shot and I was like, dancing to your own music is the coolest thing I ever saw, you know?” He laughs a little, the memory distant. “That planted the seed, initially.”
It’s strange to think that, on the release of Wiz’s What About Now EP, music was ever something other than a dream for the giddy singer-songwriter. A natural at injecting melodies with upbeat energy and glowing optimism, Wiz’s charismatic vocal and freewheeling sentiment casts him as a natural on the mic, suited to an era of bedroom studios and sleeve-mounted hearts. “It feels amazing that it's out,” he gushes, having long sat with the seven-track record. “I made them last summer, and I'm just so happy about the positive feedback I've been getting so far!”
The comfort that comes across in spades on tracks such as For A Minute and All My Friends Are Stoned wasn’t always a part of Wiz’s purview. The journey to unearthing his sound, much like the one that saw the South African grow up in Germany and relocate to Toronto, was defined by both time and effort. “I would make beats and rap and try to get better at rapping,” says Wiz of his early days. “Then I met Hugo, who came from a pop background, and so my rapping and his pop influences created the sound that you hear on Growing Teeth.”
That record, released back in February, also hails from the summer of 2019, defined by the sturdy pop-rap crossover he unearthed in Berlin alongside collaborator Hugo Palka. “I'm like, 'Oh my god, I like singing, I like melodies,'” he recalls, “all these things that I would maybe tap into on a few songs that I would do by myself. Having a producer, I could focus more on writing and figuring that whole part out.”
Hugo’s role in shaping Wiz’s sound is clearest on WhoWho, where the prolific producer and artist – he’s had a hand in ten singles this year alone – features alongside his collaborator. It runs the gamut from outright emceeing to unambiguous singing, playing about that melodic hip-hop vein without the heavy autotune that crooning so often receives. The song’s sole producer, Hugo’s soft-spoken piano offers a plush, tailored base that feels as well paired as Wiz suggests.
“Then in Toronto, I met Jeff Hazin,” he continues, “and he pulled even more out of me, and now I feel like the world, or my voice, is my oyster, in the sense that I can do anything. I've always loved everything, way beyond rap, so it's just a liberating feeling!” Hazin, who co-wrote and produced All My Friends Are Stoned, is as good a match for Hugo as he is Wiz: both lean into the power of brevity, eschewing extended intros in favour of slow, hook-laden crescendos. It’s an approach that’s all the more pressing when you consider Wiz’s earlier records, Backin Toronto and Blessings In Disguise, both cut in the moments before he found his musical feet.
“I guess rap was my disguise,” says Wiz of his transition from cameraman to starring role. “In the beginning of my career, I would imitate being someone else, or just having this different life where I will be cooler, where I do this, where people would like me, and so stepping in front of the camera, I was playing someone rather than being me vulnerable.” The leap from behind the camera to in front of it is one seldom made – usually, both parties are where they’d rather be – but in spite of the challenges, Wiz’s pivot found surer footing when his honed sound laid a stronger foundation. “I got to break through the mask and become authentic, and lots of other artists are authentic, like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, inspired me the most, because they really showed their inside through their still-infamous image, you know?” It’s an honesty that Wiz looks to embody, but that kind of earnest catharsis is more a process than a goal. “I'm learning now to become more vulnerable and more real, because I see that what I want to write about is who I am.”
If Wiz’s career can be seen as a segue into his earnest self, then What About Now might just be a personal mission statement. The urgency of the moment is tethered to his dizzying energy, both of which he puts down to his experiences with mindfulness. “I had a phase maybe like six years ago,” he tells me of his demeanour, explaining how “a friend who was spiritually inclined inspired me initially to kind of follow this path of, I don't know… wanting to be happy. I lived for a few months happy, but it wasn't real happiness, it was more me ignoring what's not so happy.”
“I got introduced through my mom to meditation and a mindful life, and since then, I guess my philosophy of life is like 'happiness arises when there's not a lot of stress are distractions in your head.' It's just like a natural state that’s there all the time, but lots of things in this world don't allow for that to come out, you know?”
Distractible isn’t a word that comes to mind as Wiz lays out his personal take on happiness, and that’s a sign in itself. He’ll read a question back just to check he’s answering it, and though he moves about with a restless energy, his attention is unwavering – especially when we touch on the tracks themselves. “It's just the first song of mine where it goes into the... I guess rocky, into the rocky, punky genre,” he says of personal favourite Say Hi, “and like I'd never tried it out. I remember being in the studio with Wolfskind, and he just found that bass sample and I was like, 'This is sick, let's do it.’” A crunchier track that most, Say Hi builds to the soaring sharpness of an arena rock hit, giving Wiz a chance to trade in both the familiar and the foreign. “I just didn't know I could do that music, or sing to that type of music. I was like, 'This is exciting!' This opens so many doors, and I've just been really excited about the song like for a year now.”
Another long-gestating standout, For A Minute plays like an intravenous hit of self-esteem, the kind you might jam into your outer thigh moments before you cross the dancefloor and strike something up with your crush. There’s no need for that though, because it works just as fast aurally – at a tight two minutes, it’s little more than a handful of contagious moments that hit with dance-ready precision. The electric guitar, the clap-heavy percussion, the cheery mantras, and the wandering cadences prize precision but emanate spontaneity, a carefully constructed slice of reckless romantic abandon.
“The first lockdown hit in the beginning of March, and I used that time to get into the studio, or into the little setup that I had,” says Wiz of the track, his independence spurring a need for resilience and productivity. “I remember in the first two weeks, I made like 20 demos or so, and For A Minute was one of those demos,” he continues. “The process was like how I make every song: I make a beat, I start freestyling until something sticks, I record it, and I leave it and see if I like it in a week.” It’s no surprise that For A Minute stood the test of time. “It came out of a rush of just needing to be productive, and it was interesting because usually I'm very anti-force when it comes to making music – I make it, if it doesn't work, I don't do it.”
A song as trim and invigorating as For A Minute seems destined for a big budget music video, and whilst that was little more than a dream when Wiz cut the track, it had a hand in his subsequent signing with 10K Projects. “We released the song independently, and then in the midst of it blowing up, I signed the record deal,” he says, explaining the flashy clip. “That was my first big-budget music video. I remember walking into that studio and I was like, 'is this the right room?' There were like 17 people working, building sets, I was like 'this is crazy,’ because this used to be my filmmaking dream, and I get to live it as an artist.” It’s said with a touch of incredulity, the very fact that we’re talking taken as a similarly bizarre sign of success. “Now when I shoot with all these professional directors and teams, I've got input, or I give the initial idea or treatment, and then they turn it into something… it comes naturally.”
Those professional videos give a colourful rendering of Wiz’s technicolour ethos, but even as he courts set dressing and committed crews, he knows there’s no substitute for vision, vim and vigour. In the moments before his intricately staged clip, Wiz helmed his own For A Minute video, fixing a tripod out the front of his Toronto home and dancing through two minutes of high-energy pantomime. Working his way through a joint, he leaps about the porch, shopping trolleys and bannister theatrics fading in and out with his digital clones, all dancing to his own tune.
If this were some kind of story arc, that’d probably be the end of it: his motivation fulfilled, Wiz has made good on the fleeting moment of inspiration that took him from cameraman to top billing. Lucky for us, real life is rarely that simple, and it feels that for all he’s done to date, Wiz is only just getting started. Armed with a greater understanding of self, surer musical footing and exuberance that just won’t quit, it seems he’ll be dancing to his own songs whether or not we choose to join.
There’s really no choice to be made, though – some grooves you just can’t refuse.
WizTheMC's new EP, What About Now, is out now via 10K Projects / Homemade Projects / Caroline Australia.
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