COVER STORY | Man Of The Year: J-Wats
As we come close to the end of the first half of the year we want to thank you for your continued support and we are pleased to introduce to you the Tribe UG Magazine cover in partnership with Saidi Stunner a fellow creative behind Stunner Graphics. As creators in a music industry/space we take pride in collaboration as a value so as to grow in order to continue telling the Ugandan Hip-Hop stories and its collaboration that has birthed The Tribe Magazine Cover.
The cover will be coming out every month of the year, in which the artist featured will be The Tribe UG’s artist of the month. The artist will be interviewed and covered throughout the entire month. The aim of the cover is to tell/present Ugandan stories differently and in depth. To kick off this month our first cover, we had J-Wats who just released his debut album “On My Own” grace the first ever issue. We had a chat with the rapper and he shared with us about his come up story, the music family he grew up in and the challenges in the industry. Before we deeply dive into the interview, you can purchase a copy of his just released album at UGX 25,000 at the Twambale Apparel Store, Mabirizi Complex Shop L1-3.
What’s good boss? Thanks for doing this with us. How does it feel to make the first cover of The Tribe UG?
For me, its a blessing being on the first issue of the movement.
Let’s get into it, how did the music journey for J-Wats start? When did you decide to pursue the music hustle?
Well, it all started with a dream. Mum (Mrs. Namono Dorothy Watti) was an MDD trainee, so at the age of 8, she put me on her primary two class choir, (Narambhai Primary School). This was a moment for me because its where the dream officially kicked off. I was awarded a certificate for best perfomer, and i also got involved in acouple of singing and dancing competitions that often occured at school, still at a tender age. My dad (Mr. Watti Perez) was also a big music fan back then, he used to buy cassette tapes and play them on his radio in his bedroom. Most in his free time. I could sneak into his bedroom most of the times when i came from school, since it was only me and the maid at home.
I started listening, singing along and learning the lyrics of Maddox Ssematimba, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Fela Kuti, and a lot more music from Congo and South Africa. Later when i joined Seeta Hill College for my O’ level, i met IQ (Real names: Wakilo Isaac Eliud) who was actually 2 classes ahead of me.He taught me how to write rhymes, music verses, and all the basics that i needed to know about hip hop and rap music. I started doing rap battles, and also mimed a couple of songs at that time, 2009 i was in Senior two.
I gave music a break in my A’ level because my dad demanded good grades. I met IQ again in 2014, during my senior six vacation and we both started up a simple home studio where I learnt production. This was a turning point for me because i realized i could fuse singing and rapping together. This diversity and versatility made me a different type of artist. We started up a gospel duo together, which didn’t last long enough.
I joined Makerere University in 2015, to persue my Bachelors Of Arts In Social Sciences. At the university, I met Rey Macc who produced the beats to my first song titled “Brand New.” From that time on, I never looked back. One year later, I met Isaiah Misanvu and together with Rey Macc, we started recording my debut studio album “On My Own” , with singles like Holding The Light & Man Of The Year, which got me a double nomination in the much hyped Uganda Hip-Hop Awards for the categories, “Rookie Of The Year” and “Song Of The Year” categories.
How has the journey been so far? What does UG Hip-Hop look like through your eyes? What excites you about the industry and wrong with it?
The journey has been full of learning experiences. I’ve met so many new people, for example I got to work with like The Mith from Klear Kut, one of the big cats i grew up listening to, plus a couple of great artists and producers that feature on my debut album, for example Play 01, Pryce Teeba, Byg Ben, Baru among others. I’ve been to a couple of places, i traveled to Rwanda last year for a show with Runtown and Sheebah on the “Kigali Runtown Experience”, and also got nominated for the Uganda Hip-Hop Awards last year.
The industry at the moment is going through a new wave of sorts where we are seeing a change of guard and a rise of a new generation of Ugandan Hip Hop artists.The guys that were running the game 5 years ago appear to have taken a break to give room for new talent to prosper and that’s a good thing. The only challenge I see with it is that most artists and producers lack consistency with their work.
Let’s talk about your debut album “On my own”. Is there a story behind the title or is it the way you approach everything you do in life, “on your own”?
The title, “On My Own” was simply inspired by the phrase mum used to tell me as a child growing up. “Do it on your own!”, which meant it was always my responsibility to take the initiative, with or without any body’s help.
The album sounds versatile from hip-hop sounds to EDM. How would you describe the J-Wats sound to someone? Is the album a full representation of the J-Wats sound?
I agree! The album comprises an urban sound, (thanks to the producers: Rey Macc, Isaiah Misanvu, The CEE, Right Beats, Baru, D-Trix) with different genres and over 10 different artists from across the continent which actually shows how versatile I am as a singer and rapper. Apart from my music having an impact on people’s lives, i think diversity is one other thing that differentiates me from other rappers.
On one of your songs on the album you rap that “they said I wasn’t local enough”. How have you dealt with this feedback?
The feedback is basically based on the way I rap, the beats that I use sound too urban. But I’ve tried to blend in Luganda so that people can relate, and also to penetrate the home fan-base.
Let’s talk about the features on the album. They’re a perfect balance between known artists and new artists we’re hearing for the first time like Zesmore & Xtacy. Was this intended when creating the album? Also what did you consider when reaching out to those artists for guest verses?
It was intended to some extent because I wanted to reach out for new talent, and new sound. I wanted to give people something different. “Lord Knows” which features Zesmore, is literally a gospel song that shows how grateful I am despite the ups and downs in the industry. Zesmore comes to feature on the song because he has been part of my journey, we had been friends for a long time so he understands what we have been through coming up. And to me, i think he is one of the best Christian rappers in the industry. Working with Xtacy from Ghana on “All The Way,” I needed to reach across Uganda. I grew up listening to The Mith, and he has always been my inspiration so working on a project with him was one of my biggest steps in my career.
I understand “This Is Uganda” is your description of the chaos going on in the country. What pushed you over the edge to go into studio and record your version because we’re not used to getting such content from you.
I liked childish Gambino’s “This is America”. That’s where I picked my inspiration majorly. My other inspiration came from the fact that I am a Ugandan and I face the same issues and challenges as anyone that lives here so I decided to take on the challenge and make this is Uganda since no one else had. It’s a song that is out of my comfort zone but like I mentioned am still growing and that involves trying new things. I’m glad the fans are loving it.
What impact do you want to make with your music? What do you want people to take away and feel when they listen to you’re a J-Wats song or album?
I want my music to empower people with their dreams, not to give up on their goals.
Lastly, we’ve gotten a J-Wats album, a magazine cover, what else should we expect from you and the team this year?
I don’t want to drop any spoilers here but all i can say is my year is far from over..