by Kat Parsons

JessB: No Need To Fake It

by Kat Parsons

JessB: No Need To Fake It

Can’t Fake It is the latest single from Kiwi rapper JessB. It comes almost a year after the exciting and dynamic artist’s previous track, From Tha Jump, and is accompanied by an impromptu music video filmed in London. Committed to her music and its expanding direction, Jessica Bourke talked with Kat Parsons to talk about the sound, Amsterdam, and the importance of staying true to yourself. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“My favourite saying is; ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed.’ Sometimes you just need to say to someone, ‘Hey, I really want to do this thing, can you help me?’ The worst that can happen is if they say no. So I think that it has served me well.”

The Auckland rapper has already become a prominent fixture in our hip hop scene, among other feats releasing three strong EPs in three years pre-Covid. (‘Bloom’ in 2018, ‘New Views’ in 2019 and ‘3 Nights in Amsterdam’ in 2020.) A former professional netball player, JessB has lately joined the likes of Ladi6, Six60, Lil Simz, Stormzy, and YG as both headliner and support act, and has toured Australia, the UK, Europe and North America. I ask her to think back on what is her earliest memory of music and what perhaps started it all?

“Probably in the car with my parents. They used to play Shania Twain, whenever that album came out. I remember them always playing it. That’s probably my earliest memory as an active participant, I’d say.”

Now an international artist herself, JessB’s new single Can’t Fake It was recorded in Amsterdam with Max Oude Weernink [MOW Music] and Bart Possemis [Burdell]. Perhaps not unlike Twain’s music, the song exudes sassy energy, paired with direct lyricism and body-twitching dance beats.

“So the first time I worked with Max was before Covid,” she recalls. “I was in London and went over to Amsterdam, kind of on a whim, to do sessions with him. We ended up hitting it off!

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve just been going back and forth with different stuff, making music. I made this one the first time that I went back this year. Honestly, it came together so simply. It’s probably one of the most simple processes I’ve ever had for making a song. Max was playing different beats and I was like, ‘Oh, I like this. I’m gonna write to this one.’ It kind of just all fell out of my mouth and my brain, and we recorded it. It was done in literally less than an hour and a half, or something like that.

“Yeah, that’s kind of all there is to it, to be honest! It’s not a huge backstory,” she chuckles. “But when it was finished we were like, ‘Oh, we should put this out because it’s just a vibe.’

“In terms of the content, it’s not something that was weighing heavy on my heart or anything. I loved the beat so much that I was just having fun with it – which is probably why it was so quick to make, because I wasn’t thinking too deeply about everything.

“I guess the idea of Can’t Fake It is just about being true to yourself; being real. Shak [Half Queen/Shaki Wasasala] was in the studio with me around the time that I was writing the song. We were talking about the idea of ‘imitation as a form of flattery’, and the idea of somebody idolising what you do – to the point of no return where they’re literally just emulating every single thing you do. It’s coming from a place of admiration. We were talking within that about the idea of being able to fake who we are, or to put on a mask.

“But, obviously, it’s a party song. You know what I mean? It’s about having fun.”

Her videos too have always presented an air of naturalness, and Jess readily talks about why she believes staying true to yourself is important, not only in the music industry but in life.

“I would say that being authentic, being who you are is your superpower. That’s the thing that makes you different, but it’s also the thing that will make people relate to you and it’s the thing that makes people want to follow your career; be interested in the music you make as well as what you’re saying in the songs.”

While her rap skills have elevated her career to a point where recording in Amsterdam is every day, JessB says she’s also just a human having a human experience.

“I’m changing heaps. The person that I was when I started doing music isn’t really the person I am now, and I think that’s reflected in what I’m saying and the sounds that I’m starting to develop.

“I think I’m also just really lucky to be surrounded by great peers and great friends who are so themselves in the realms that they are in, and have always encouraged that for me as well. I feel safe in who I am because obviously, I’m not JessB the musician 24/7.”

Full of sound bites, synths, and bassy rhythmic movement, the production of Can’t Fake It is smooth, fluid and sexy, all over in a little over two minutes.

“Someone messaged me saying, ‘I love the pigeon sounds’,” she laughs happily. “So I’m into all the kinds of sprinkles on top. All the things that make it quirky. There’s a line where I say, ‘…there ain’t nothing you can copy ’cause we learnt it on the block.’ It’s just saying that there are some things in life that you can’t imitate. You have to go through it or be a part of it to learn some of that stuff or understand it.”

Directed by Natasha Duursma and edited by Kiwi Connor Pritchard, the kleptic and energy-matching music video for Can’t Fake It encompasses the single completely with its fast cut edit and hand-held camera movement. Shot in London, the visual accompaniment elevates her high-energy track with its raw, no-nonsense aesthetic.

“So I was over in Amsterdam, then came back to NZ, and once I decided that I wanted to put Can’t Fake It out, I was also heading back overseas. At that time, I reached out to Connor Pritchard who does a lot of videos for NZ artists and who’s a friend of mine. I just told him, ‘Hey, I’m going back overseas. Do you reckon I could film something over there and you could oversee?’

“He was fully down so he kind of assembled a mini crew and we just absolutely did a guerilla-style,” she describes. “We didn’t have a single plan. We didn’t even really know where we were gonna go. I was hitting up my friends being like, ‘Yo, can we use the studio to film on your rooftop?’ and all this stuff. Then on the day we literally turned up, walked around, filmed, and then moved on.

“So in the same way that the song came about, the video also came about very freely,” JessB continues. “I’ve done a higher budget, highest stakes videos where it’s very very conceptual and crucial to get the shot while you’re doing it otherwise none of it makes sense, so that’s always a lot more stressful. So the idea of doing a video like this was so fun. We literally just took all the footage that day and then flipped it back to Connor in NZ and he did the edit. I had a really good time filming it and it didn’t even take that long.”

There have been lots of singles, but the last of those three EPs in her catalogue was back in 2020, a six-track mixtape titled ‘3 Nights in Amsterdam’ that marked a shift in sound for the artist. Combining hip hop, dancehall, and afrobeat, Can’t Fake It continues in that direction, placing JessB in a unique category of her own making.

“It’s definitely something that’s still growing and developing, and a lot of the stuff that I’ve landed on over the last couple of years actually hasn’t been released yet. So the JessB that people have seen, know, and expect has changed for me, but I just haven’t started putting that stuff out yet.”

“I guess it was a pretty influential time for me. Meeting Max over in Amsterdam and having the real synergy and chemistry that you need together to create something that feels unique but also so me. During the period of Covid, when we weren’t able to be in the studio with other people, I spent a long time in the studio alone. So I was kind of forced to learn how to engineer myself so I could record and mix my own vocals and that ability allowed me to try all of this different stuff. So I had this really intense, almost self-development-like process through that time. So because I’ve upskilled in all these different areas, the type of music that I’m making has changed and developed, or just expanded.”

In Australia for the majority of November playing several shows and festivals, JessB is also putting the finishing touches to her upcoming album.

“So with the album in mind, it kind of feels like the culmination of all the years rolling into a stamp in the sand,” she concludes.