New rap is always good, but it’s even better when it comes at you from unexpected places. Auckland rapper JessB was raised by her Kenyan and Pākehā parents to be independent, strong and adventurous, qualities that saw her turning away from professional netball and choosing to instead find herself through music, flanked by her best mates. JessB is an absolute firecracker, both onstage and off, and one of New Zealand’s most exciting young exports. We caught up with her to find out more.
Everyone at Monster Children is really excited about you! Congratulations on your success so far.
How does your journey feel?
It’s been great. It’s good to be making progress, and to have new opportunities coming up. It’s been kind of happening in a way that’s gradual enough that I haven’t lost the plot, thankfully.
That’s really important, I think. I first heard of you when you collaborated with Baker Boy on the track ‘Meditjin’. The music video was so brilliant and fun. It looks like you’ve already had opportunities to do some great collaborations. Are there any new one’s coming up, or do you have a list of dream collaborations?
There are no immediate plans, but there are so many people I would love to collaborate with. Some are realistic and within my reach and some are like, my dream collabs! I think that my dream collabs would be people that inspired me growing up, people like Missy Elliott, Timbaland and Pharrell. I would love to do some more collaborations in Australia now that I’m starting to get to know more artists. I would love to work with Kwame, Tkay Maidza and Kaiit; I think we could make something dope.
How important to you is bringing up minority groups and giving them space and a voice?
Being a minority myself, growing up in New Zealand and being a woman in hip hop is essential to what I’m doing, as I’m part of it. It’s a part of what I do and who I am, and what I stand for because it’s so relevant.
Can you tell me about FILTH, the club night you’ve created?
Definitely. I created a night with my great friend and DJ, who goes by the name half.queen. In Auckland, in particular, there was a lack of safe party spaces we could go and all be a part of. I was influenced by being lucky enough to travel overseas and see different subcultures in places like London and LA, but not just in terms of minority groups, but the types of music they play as well. When we came back to New Zealand, we had this idea to create the space that we were looking for, both musically and in terms of who’s being prioritised and kept safe. So, we created a space for people who feel like they didn’t have one before.
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That’s so important. I’m thrilled you did it because it’s just so much fun when people can be themselves, no matter who they are.
Totally! And we want people to come as weird and wonderful as they want and in be in a space that feels safe, and have a great time with great music that we want to listen to, as well as uplifting the community. And the DJs are able to have a space to play that sort of music. It can become quite one dimensional otherwise, just because New Zealand is small.
For me, after living in London for eight years, something that I was grateful for after I left was just how integrated their night clubs were. Everyone was having a party and everyone was welcome.
Exactly. I’ve been to London for the last two years, and it was just amazing to see these great parties that were so well established and thriving. It was really motivating and reaffirmed the sort of vibe that we wanted to create.
Awesome. Can you share with us the person or people you’ve surrounded yourself with, who’ve given you the most encouragement or inspiration in music?
For me, I didn’t grow up in a musical household, so, music was a journey that I went on by myself. I looked to music to find a sense of self. I was always gravitating towards it. I think partly this is because there was a lack of representation for people like me in New Zealand at the time, and me seeing all these dope female rappers, like Missy Elliott. I didn’t grow up with a musical family, or a house that always had music playing. The most encouragement and inspiration came from the people I found while searching for music, and I’m blessed that so many of these people are now my close friends and they joined me on my search. With music, I found my own sense of self.
What does JessB’s world look like if you could be in charge?
In charge of the entire world?
Well, yeah. Or you can choose a little corner.
(Laughs) Well I don’t really know if I want to be in charge of the entire world, but if I found a little place in it then I guess everybody would be free to express themselves and be their truest and most fruity selves. There would definitely be a woman leader, and I guess I’d just want to have everybody that I love with me. If I can just have the people that I love around me all the time, then I’d be pretty happy wherever I go.