‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ signifies a musical rebirth & evolution for boundary-pusher Jesswar
In what arrives as a significant moment within a massive year for Australian hip-hop, Yugambeh and Kombumerri based artist Jesswar has returned with their new mixtape ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’. Centred around themes of learning to go with the flow and harnessing an adherence to staying true to one’s emotions in the moment, the mixtape expands on Jesswar’s previous releases whilst further solidifying their unmatched presence within the Australian rap sphere.
For those unacquainted, Jesswar could be previously found stepping on the necks of every doubter, hater and nefarious individual they came across throughout their earlier singles and 2021 EP ‘TROPIXX’. Here however, Jesswar (who is still armed with their ominously husky vocal inflection) is less abrasive and more inclined towards exploring a deep love and connection with a significant other – in and amongst moments of focused braggadocio.
Personal expectations for the mixtape tipped towards something in the vein of ‘TROPIXX’ where the bass-heavy, distorted electronic production and hoarse, ominous Jesswar delivery reigned supreme. And there are touches of that here, but largely ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ serves to reaffirm Jesswar as an unstoppable musical force and to explore the resonant emotion that comes with being with someone special and living it up. And it’s an inimitable delight to be enveloped by as a listener.
Speaking on the mixtape, Jesswar acknowledged their inspiration and willingness to experiment that drove the creation of ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’, a project which has been in the works for some time.
“I’ve just been immersed in the world of making this for the last eight months. From the album artworks, the music videos, planning them and going location scouting, to finding the right beats, working with the producers to get the songs at the right point in the pocket, to the mix and mastering process.
“To be able to create a project like this, for me, it’s been so joyful and I feel like it’s a new step in elementing the creation process. I had a lot of fun making it and I was intrigued the whole time and just didn’t know where it was going to go or any of the themes. It was a really fast process and I was writing the songs as I was recording the demo vocals for the first time, so, a lot of those vocals are what I recorded in my room. I feel like it has a really good energy because of that.
“It’s definitely a different step into a completely new territory with slower songs, love songs and working with a lot of different subgenres of hip-hop. And I think that was really cool to push myself creatively in that way instead of just riding on what I’m used to – really heavy, hard music and lots of lyrical content. I wanted to push myself in different directions to see how I could sit on these songs and exist in these worlds, and that excites me as an artist. I want to put my hands in all the different pots.”
The project’s opening tracks ‘GOLDEN FOUR DRIVE’ and ‘FELL IN LOVE’ typify the chilled out, romantic and playful that Jesswar embraces to demonstrate the love they have found themselves in. It is after these tracks however where my personal favourite on the mixtape arrives.
Perhaps prophetically, the song is titled ‘WAVES’ and is one that immediately sweeps you off your feet through the irresistible triumph embedded in the production. In contrast to the epic production by longtime collaborator R.F.P, Jesswar’s lyrics are raw and speak to the need to balance one’s ego with the requisite level of empathy to be able to effectively traverse the obstacles of the music industry.
“I had a little private link going of this mixtape that I was sending to friends and all of them said it was their favourite track as well. Rory [R.F.P] produced it too and I feel like for me that beat it’s so nostalgic with the stabs at the start, and I love that fat bass and 808 in there, it kind of feels like it could be a 90s beat at the start but then it goes to quite modern 808 sounds as well,” Jesswar explains.
“As soon as I heard that track, I got on and wrote a verse to a completely different song and that was on the other project. And when I was starting 'Life’s Short, Live Big’ I just revisited that instrumental and reconfigured it out with a little vocal sample in there and sent it to Papertoy who put a little magic on there as well. It just became one of my favourite songs because its literally just about going through life and where I was at in life at that point.
“What I mean like even the line about how you can meet people that are really shiny and the industry just going through the ups and downs and peaks and valleys of it all, and keeping your head up no matter what. It reminds me of living by the ocean and going through life like waves, and it’s kind of a time capsule of what I was going through in life at that time.”
Thematically, the mixtape up until this point channels a deliberate clarity in Jesswar’s voice and allows them to display a contentedness in their surroundings. Visually, the video clips for ‘FELL IN LOVE’ and ‘WAVES’ embody a clear vision and showcase a rich depth to Jesswar’s creative thinking behind the release. For Jesswar though, the arrival of ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ felt almost cosmic following a few years impacted by COVID-19.
“I feel like this era is all rebirth. And I actually had a project before this but then I scrapped it last minute. It was actually called ‘Rebirth’ and it was roughly around the same amount of tracks. And its so crazy because Beyoncé just released ‘RENAISSANCE’ which means ‘rebirth’ in French. So, I just feel cosmically that everyone is sort of going… especially with COVID and what the pandemic did to our industry, I feel like I’m being pushed into rebirthing and finding what else I can do.”
It is on the mixtape’s fifth track, ‘ANTISOCIAL’, where Jesswar switches things up in order to symbolise the brief moments where the young artist has to check themself to prevent burn out or further struggle. And it is on the following track ‘SWEET’ where Jesswar delivers a testament a relationship that cannot be replicated, courtesy of DVNA’s heartfelt vocals which give Jesswar comfort following their personal struggles identified on 'ANTISOCIAL'.
The bravado that Jesswar draped their earlier works in makes a return throughout the latter parts of the mixtape, offering up a consistently hard selection of bangers including the flashy ‘HEFTY’ and bombastic ‘BAD LIKE RIRI’ which features Texan rapper Erica Banks. To cap the mixtape off though, Jesswar splits their time on the sensual ‘CANDY’ and the bass-boosted distortion of ‘THROW IT IN THE AIR’ and ‘WORK IT OUT’ which feel like an ode to dynamics of ‘TROPIXX’.
As one experiences ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ it becomes apparent that Jesswar is seeking to showcase multiple headspaces that they’ve evidently found themselves in over the past few years. And with the balance of love-focused songs and self-confident no fucks given songs, Jesswar was seeking to showcase their versatility.
“I think this project taught me to be versatile as well like writing songs like ‘FELL IN LOVE’ that was so different to anything I’d written before. It wasn’t so much about the lyrical content, like you could repeat phrases and the phrases didn’t always have to match. It was a really different way of songwriting for me and I loved it, it felt so cool. Each song was really exciting, I was pushing myself to write on different types of beats that I normally would never have written on.
“And then you’ve got songs like ‘HEFTY’ which I made so fast. Most of it I wrote as I was making it, and I’d bounce it out and put it in my car straight away and just cruise around. Rory, who produced it and who I believe is one of the best producers coming out of this country, he always sends me the most incredible beats. And I always say to him like “send me some fuckin’ weird shit”, because I love to go on that. He produced a majority of the beats on this tape and that was a really cool process working with him as well.
“It was cool to mix in the light; the dark; and the medium tones. Some of the songs have got a beachier vibe to them, there’s a lot of good guitar samples in there. It was cool to mix it up a bit, like some of the songs don’t even have choruses I was just like “BAM done” and I kind of liked that though. It just really ignited a flame for creation within me. It felt like before a lot of the time I would just butcher my music. Just be so in my head or like it wasn’t flowing as well as it did for this project. That’s why I named it that because I felt if I don’t put it out, I’m going to regret it.”
It’s difficult for artists in this scene to avoid the traditional routes of the musicians that came before them, both in terms of how they get heard and how they successfully get their name out there. Immediately from experiencing Jesswar’s artistry however, one is able to infer that they’re intentionally railing against the traditional ways of progressing through the industry.
“With anything I do, I love to do everything from the videos and the whole concept in my head and have my hands in all of those pots, because I want to be in every part of the creation process. This whole project I came up with myself, I storyboarded it – I was on Pinterest for hours just putting it together. We’ve got an amazing crew at Jáen Collective that help me bring those visions to life.
“So, I feel like all of the traditional boundaries I just don’t pay attention to them at all and I have a lot of self-belief in the project and myself. If I can just keep doing me and stick to my values, stick to what I love, like this is why I do it. To make this world that I never thought was possible when I was younger. I always remind myself of how blessed I am to be making music and to be able to put it out. I applied for heaps of grants to get funding, like I really hustle really hard to be able to do this. I just always make sure that my music and my heart stays true to myself and I really believe the rest will follow after that.”
‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ organically represents Jesswar’s story and journey through love as a queer person of colour. And with artists such as BVT and Jamaica Moana pushing through and putting on for the queer community by staying authentic to their journeys, Jesswar is excited for a future where LGBTQIA+ representation is in greater abundance.
“It is changing to much in hip-hop, R&B and the music industry in general like it just excites me. This is what I’ve been waiting for and it definitely is changing from when I was first ever playing shows and stuff. And I feel it can only get bigger and only get stronger. I feel like too, not only the artists but blogs putting spotlights on producers and artists that are representing queer communities and people of colour as well, I think that’s just going to make the change even more.”
As for the culminative message and intention behind ‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’, Jesswar hopes to deliver the same impact that some of their favourite projects left on them.
“Making this project gave me a sense of freedom sonically, visually, and just in my life personally. So, I really hope that people can feel that when they’re listening this, that they can vibe out and maybe it can take them to a different world where they don’t have to worry about anything. It’s purely what it does for me and I just really hope for this to have the same effect on others that listening to certain albums like ‘Channel Orange’ has had on me, where I would just listen to it on repeat and I was just in Frank Ocean’s world and feeling like I knew this artist just by listening to it. And I really hope I can do that for people as well.”
‘LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG’ is out now across various streaming platforms and outlets.
Photo 3 by @jadedamico, Photo 1, 2, 4 & 5 by @georgiawallacepictorial
Words by Matthew Badrov