Exclusives 18 January 2021
Author: Oli Knight

GRM Exclusive: How Sam Wise has sought to change the world with his music

18 January 2021

Sam Wise always wanted to change the world. On the “Budkast” podcast he broke down how he always had a revolutionary mindset, stemming from a desire to enact genuine change in the world, regardless of the medium. He spoke of how he went through a process of figuring out how to best harness this internal energy; from dabbling in politics as a youth mayor, to his early performing arts achievements, to finally connecting his musical love with his inherent talent for writing and beginning to create the music he is loved for today.

Music, to Wise, is perhaps therefore the most effective outlet for this internal hunger to drive innovation and upheaval. If this is the case, it would certainly explain his musical output. Sam Wise pushes an entirely unique brand of UK rap which feels like a culmination of the artistic underground scene inspired by groups such as A$AP Mob and Pro Era and the proliferation of British kids growing up who want to express their own unique experiences through rap. Wise’s artistic influences are very broad; elements of Pierre Bourne to Rejjie Snow can be detected, and he is a testament to the skill in drawing upon multiple different influences to create an entirely new piece of art. 

It is impossible to tell the story of Sam Wise without paying significant attention to the role of House of Pharaohs in his career. House of Pharaohs was a collective formed out of Kennington around 2014, who’s musical endeavours have not received nearly the attention they should have; but this is part of what makes their current legacy so interesting. House of Pharaohs, in Wise’s words “was just supposed to happen”. Formed between school friends who shared a love for the alternative sound and aesthetic of American collectives such as Pro Era and A$AP Mob. House of Pharaohs would go onto become an undisputed jewel in the blossoming UK underground scene.

A great introduction to House of Pharaohs and also Sam himself was the late 2014 cut “Roll It Up”. On this song, the members take turns to spit over a soulful beat which captures a certain late night, nostalgic vibe perfectly. This song is a great collaboration in which every artist contributes to the song in their own distinct way, but the evidence of Sam’s star quality cannot be overlooked.

After a more than stellar verse by AJ, Wise makes the track his own, rapping “South East of the ends/Where there’s always a vibe/That’s where the story begins/We stopped and now I’m sitting in a Benz with a benz that’s as big as Big Ben”. Immediately the listener is transported to a hazy night in inner-city London, as Wise’s ponderings of life pour out over the mellow instrumental. This presence on the microphone at such a young age speaks volumes about the natural talent Wise was blessed with, not only as wordsmith, but as a rapper. Many rappers, particularly within the UK scene are blessed with exceptional lyrical ability, yet lack the finesse and control of their vocal delivery to create songs that really connect with a scalable audience. Wise already has these skills on lock, giving him a fundamental advantage over other rappers who aren’t necessarily fully aware of the importance of their vocal presence and delivery. 

2017 was a monumental year in the progression of Sam Wise as a rapper and artist. House of Pharaohs released their first full length EP, titled Real Faces. This project cemented their indisputable ability and chemistry as a group. Tracks such as “Pope”, “7 Girls” and “Air” demonstrate the versatility of the group, as they bounce from moshpit starters such as “Pope”, to the electric “7 Girls” and then finally to the slower cut “Air”; which shows a much softer and mature side to the House members.

Wise shines throughout the project, offering a combination of innovative flows, poignant yet often amusing lyrics, and undeniable presence every time he steps up to the microphone. This tape, whilst not catapulting House of Pharaohs into mainstream UK rap attention, did intensify the cult buzz that was surrounding the group at the time. It offers an extensive snapshot into the mindset of Wise before his solo career. He offers a variety of lyrical content, traversing between celebrating his burgeoning success, reflecting on his personal issues and artistically conjuring imagery for the listener of the day to day realities of his life. 

2017 was monumental for Sam Wise especially, as it was the birth of his solo career. I remember watching the music video for “Lizzie” after it had been out for three months and it was sitting comfortably at 13,000 views. Three years later it is at over 650,000, and shows no sign of slowing down. The song itself is an undeniable summer smash, as Wise rides a mellow beat, dropping his usual charismatic bars whilst doing well to match the summer themed visuals with his playful delivery and laidback flow. Teased in the video was “Do or Die” – which would be released in May 2018 and would continue the progression of Sam’s solo career. “Do or Die” sees Wise rap over a slower, more reflective production, proclaiming “Sorry darling I’m a handful/I might just fuck up your whole evening” as he drives through the London night in the accompanying video.

Currently sitting at 637,000 views, “Rack Up” was many people’s first introduction to Sam Wise, and they couldn’t have asked for a much better example of what Sam Wise’s music is about. A Pierre Bourne-inspired beat, sees Wise chanting “Rack Up” for the duration of the chorus, before transitioning into a classic Sam Wise verse, complete with captivating flows and lyrics which leave the listener with little choice but to tune in fully.

Another landmark moment for House of Pharaohs, and particularly Wise and BlazeYL, was Kenny Allstar inviting him onto his Mad About Bars series. Both beats are expertly chosen, making clear the unique sound of House of Pharaohs in a scene and platform generally dominated by drill. Blaze and Wise go back to back, combining high energy flows with light hearted lyrics which gives an insight into the minds of two young artists growing up in South London. This freestyle is currently sitting at just over 200,000 views, and certainly has helped to expand the attention surrounding the group at the time.

Once again though, this would not be the precipice tipping movement in which House of Pharaohs suddenly became household names. Instead, as is a common theme with the story of House of Pharaohs, this move was not instantly life changing, but helped to lay the foundations for their inevitable future success. House of Pharaohs would seek to capitalise on this buzz by releasing the first installment of Seasons, an eight track EP which included standout tracks such as “Magic City” and “Summer Demo”. The production is excellent, as producers such as Nyge create spacey sonical worlds for the House of Pharaohs members to set their verses within. 

Seasons 2, released in late 2019, demonstrated a clear progression for House of Pharaohs. In contrast to Seasons 1, which was associated sonically and visually with summer, Seasons 2 represented winter. Tracks such as “Balmain”, “Lit Like London” and “Coast 2 Coast” are particularly memorable, with Bandanna and Sam Wise shining specifically. Sam Wise’s verse on “Coast 2 Coast” is particularly special, with him entering the song rapping “Coast to Coast, Kodak Black, let me drive the boat” as the 808s switch to a Kodak inspired bassline and sample, bouncing along with Wise’s infectious flow. This moment is an example of the culmination of the artistic vision of House of Pharaohs and the raw skill and talent of a great rapper. This moment on “Coast 2 Coast” clearly illustrates how high the potential for Sam Wise is. Bandanna and Wise enjoy an electric chemistry throughout the project, with specifically transition between Wise’s verse on “Balmain” to Bandanna’s verse beautifully executed. 

Sorry you Were Saying marked a watershed moment in the career of Sam Wise. It is the pinnacle of his career so far, with years of hard work spent refining his sound and skills focused into one single project. Of course, this left Wise vulnerable; if it had flopped, or disappointed his fanbase, it still would have been defining, just for all the wrong reasons. Instead, it was impactful purely for positive reasons, as the project succinctly presented the range of Wise’s artistic vision whilst never really dropping in quality. Particular highlights include “Frustrated”, “Follow the Leader” and “Dressed it”. Wise offers something completely different with each song, yet he still ensures he executes his vision with precision. “Frustrated” offers an unfiltered lens into the mind of Sam Wise. He opens up about how he “can’t help but feel frustrated”, as despite all of his success there are still imperfections in his life. Rapping “My friends they wouldn’t get it/ Sam you look so patterned/ But all that stuff is superficial, and trivial”, the listener feels the pain of an artist who seems to have so much to be happy for yet still can’t shake this inherent feeling of frustration. It’s an incredibly poignant song, which dives deep into Wise’s complex emotions and leaves the listener with questions to ponder for themselves.

“Follow the Leader” taps fellow Kennington native Blanco to create a much more upbeat, yet still introspective track. Blanco, of Harlem Spartans fame, has been reinventing himself as an artist since his departure from drill, and his combination of hard-hitting, street-focused lyrics and a relaxed yet precise flow lends itself perfectly to a feature on this particular track. Sam Wise himself delivers yet another sensational performance, with his rapping: “Gun Smoke, a heater, head loss, Amnesia” evoking the sense of being in a dark South London alley with danger lurking, but opportunity high.

All of these songs offer a completely different side to Wise, and speak to why this album is such a triumph for the Kennington rapper. Few rappers are as versatile as Wise in the first place, but to maintain this quality throughout an entire debut body of work is extremely impressive. 

Since Sorry You Were Saying, Wise’s music has continued to impress, both for its listenability and its ambitions to consistently push social boundaries. “Road Rage” is an energetic track in which Wise allows his natural charisma and charm to shine as he raps over a vibrant beat inspired by Pierre Bourne, superstar producer who made his name with Playboi Carti. As is often the case with Wise, the visuals are complex and engaging, following Wise speeding around London in a BMW. “Fxcked Up” with Knucks is another display of Wise’s ability to match verse for verse with more established rappers. Structurally and sonically the song is not dissimilar to much of Wise’s work, with a mellow, melodic rap beat giving space for both Wise and Knucks to do their thing. The premise of the hook is an ode to being careful at all times, as one moment of carelessness can lead to everything being “Fxcked Up”. This ability to create music that is sonically pleasing but also laced with messages illustrates the real talent that Sam Wise holds, and this is particularly obvious when paired with a rapper of a similar calibre, like Knucks.

“Shuda Cuda Wuda” was released in early September, and is perhaps his best track to date in his solo career. A bubbly beat that appears partially inspired by the melodic samples of the garage era builds to a crescendo as Wise readies himself for the drop. From the first line Wise spits, the listener is with him; “London boy I’m a Jugga, I ain’t hearing no Shuda Cuda Wuda”. This oozes of an intrinsic ambition to achieve and strive, no matter the obstacles that life presents. This unfiltered insight into the mind of Sam Wise is what makes him such a compelling artist to listen to, and as he continues to refine this skill, his music will only continue to get more and more captivating. 

Wise’s most recent track to date is the zestful “How It Feels”. Originally teased in the beginning of the music video for “Shuda Cuda Wuda”, fans were sent into raptures by the enigmatic trailer, giving a taster of the different approach Wise was taking with this track. “How It Feels” is a breath of fresh air from Wise to the UK rap scene, mainly because of the overwhelmingly positive message throughout the lyrics. The chorus begins with Wise admitting that “I know how it feels when it gets tough”, before offering a message of hope and reassurance, with lines such as “We’re just trynna see our people grow”. Particularly in the current global context, this song serves a necessary purpose of reminding people to be grateful for the small things and to know that life will get better. The inclusion of Wise’s siblings in the music video further assert this wholesome vibe and demonstrate how detached Wise is from the trap of generic musical tropes (girls, drugs, money) that many artists within the scene could be criticised for.

As Central Cee said “You should know that you can’t rush greatness”. This sentiment appears very relevant to the story of Sam Wise. Much less talented artists have achieved mainstream success quicker than he has; yet Sam Wise’s musical output has continued to get increasingly better since 2014.  People have been slow to take notice of him considering he has been in the game for the last six years, but it could be argued that this has offered him the chance to make his mainstream debut in the best possible way, when he is most ready to seize that opportunity with both hands. When that moment will come no one knows, but when it does, Wise will undoubtedly make sure his first impression to the masses is one worthy of all of these years of hard work and sacrifice.