New Zealand Music Month: JessB talks lockdown, award recognition and how to support Kiwi artists

JessB is known for her tracks Set It Off,  Mood and So Low featuring songstress Paige.
JessB is known for her tracks Set It Off, Mood and So Low featuring songstress Paige. Photo credit: Instagram / @OGJESSB

My house, my bubble: As New Zealanders stay home to fight COVID-19, Fiona Connor is talking to well-known Kiwis about what's helping to pass the time, while learning more about their craft and passions.  

Off the back of a whirlwind summer that saw JessB move between live showcases around the country, the Kiwi rapper is adjusting to life at a slower pace in lockdown. 

Known and respected for her energetic delivery of relatable lyrics, JessB continues to evolve by thinking outside the box when it comes to her live performances, collaborations and music videos. 

Rapper JessB has been a rising star on the Kiwi music scene over the last four years.
Rapper JessB has been a rising star on the Kiwi music scene over the last four years. Photo credit: Instagram / @OGJESSB

Offering an insight into what matters to her most, her songs delve into social issues, touch on personal boundaries and entertain with wit and realism. 

A self-confessed "busy body", Jess says the opportunity to take some time to herself has seen her take the pressure off and just relax. 

She counts herself lucky to be living in her flat with six others, allowing her more than a few familiar faces in close company during level 4 and 3 lockdowns. 

For JessB, it's less about making music that wins awards, and much more about making music that connects with her audience. But that hasn't stopped her being put up for some of the top accolades available to our local hit-makers.

In 2019 she took home a coveted Moonman for Best New Zealand Act at the European Music Awards, and more recently earned a nomination for the Taite Music Prize, which honours outstanding creativity for a collection of music (Troy Kingi won the award, which was announced on Tuesday night). 

To celebrate New Zealand Music Month, JessB chatted to Newshub about the honour of being recognised as a contender, how she's keeping distracted in level 3 and the simple ways Kiwis can get behind our favourite music artists in May. 

Of mixed Kenyan and Pākehā descent, JessB is part of a new generation of Kiwi African hip-hop artists breaking through with evolving talent.
Of mixed Kenyan and Pākehā descent, JessB is part of a new generation of Kiwi African hip-hop artists breaking through with evolving talent. Photo credit: Instagram / @OGJESSB

What has been helping you adjust to a more restricted lifestyle? 

JB: I've been trying to exercise every day; my gym was very kind in letting us borrow some equipment and bring it home with us, so I've been doing home workouts and running because that's been helping me stay feeling grounded, and it's the one thing I can do every day. 

We've been cooking together, we've been eating a lot of food and I don't normally cook that much, being at home at dinner time and then having to think about meals to cook has been something different.

What has been difficult during this time and has it been a struggle to find inspiration to write? 

JB: I have no work for the foreseeable future in terms of gigs and touring, and I came off the back of a really, really busy summer so I've definitely been feeling the absence of being busy and doing shows. 

The creative aspect has been quite hard, I know lots of people have been talking about using the four weeks to be productive but I also am trying to keep really mindful that we're literally in the middle of a global health pandemic and that it's okay to not have to use the time to write a hit song or have an album finished. It has been a struggle not being able to have my normal routine and go to the studio, so I can't wait to be back doing that.

"She came in and handled it first take. She’s got a vibe, and she’s super confident," David Dallas is quoted to telling Red Bull.
"She came in and handled it first take. She’s got a vibe, and she’s super confident," David Dallas is quoted to telling Red Bull. Photo credit: Instagram / @OGJESSB

Have you had any takeaways yet and what are you most looking forward to eating again? 

JB: I got some woodfire pizza from one of the local places but I honestly feel fine, I don't feel like I need to rush out and get anything, I'll probably chill for a bit, for me it's the convenience of not having to cook that's probably the thing I'm most excited about - I'm not super crazy about takeaways. 

What have been some positives to come out of this time?

JB: I think you sort of realise how important the connections that we have to other people are in our lives. When we don't have access to them, you really notice the absence of those people. I guess we're really lucky now because everyone can still connect over Zoom or Skype or FaceTime or whatever, but I know for me, my friendships and the close relationships in my life are probably the most important thing. 

I love my job, I'm the type of person who loves being out of the house, and I love meeting people and travelling and doing shows, so I definitely feel grateful that I have a job that allows me to do that - when we're not in a health pandemic. I don't really stop, so this has been a bit of a forced break. 

You were recently nominated for the Taite Music Prize, what does that mean to you? 

JB: I honestly didn't expect to be nominated at all, let alone in the top 10, so it was quite shocking to me actually. I had to accept that I'd been nominated in the top 10 first before I could even accept everything else around it, but I think for me it just feels validating for the path that I'm on. I don't chase awards, it's not why I am doing music, but the nomination makes me feel like I am on the right life path and what I am doing actually means something to someone other than me. 

You got to work with Australian singer/songwriter G Flip, who is also a sensationally talented drummer, on her Triple J Like A Version cover of Lady Marmalade. Tell me about that? 

JB: That was so cool, I had met G Flip, the end of last year we did a studio session together. I thought she was a really cool chick, great musician and then since then I've been following her career in Australia, so I was stoked to be asked to be a part of it to be honest. Australia has been the next stop for me in terms of trying to build a career and doing shows and gaining more awareness there, so to be able to collaborate with Australian artists who I think are really cool is super exciting, and the whole experience was so much fun. 

What are the next six months going to be about for you? 

JB: I'm pretty open to anything. I think people are getting really creative at the moment - I've seen some really, really dope ideas of ways to do music online, but I already had a plan for music releases for the year which hasn't really changed because all the music is already done. So I think I will just keep releasing music and assessing at each point. Like, maybe at level 2 I will be able to make a music video and do different creative things to keep a presence and not lose traction.

How can Kiwis support local artists throughout New Zealand Music Month? 

JB:I think online support and really engaging with artists' music is a huge, huge help. Even if it's just as simple as leaving comments on Instagram or sharing their song. Social media is such a big part of what we do as artists now, I know at least for me that online interaction with people who enjoy the music actually means a lot. It's as simple as that all the way through to actually going on Bandcamp and purchasing albums or merch and that stuff but it doesn't have to be about the money. 

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