Born and raised in Kennington, twenty-one year old Sam Wise is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is he a prominent member of South London collective House of Pharaohs, he is also on the come up as a very promising solo act; so as I approach his neighbourhood in South London, I feel privileged to be invited into the home where he has lived all his life. One of six siblings, Wise would always strike me as one of the colder characters in House of Pharaohs, but despite the attitude he exudes in his music, he greets me with the biggest smile and is more than happy to share his story.
With his signature dreads tied up in a top knot, the rapper flaunts his youth with flawless skin and a set of teeth you’d gladly show off. Though there is darkness around his eyes, they are full of life and it’s clear to see the energy that draws so many fans to him. Reflecting on his teen years, Wise describes the transition from making music as a hobby to making it as a career in the real world. "It feels like just the other day I was sixteen. I look back on the mindset we used to have and we really didn’t give a sh*t. But I’m glad, because I might not have done the same things back then if I had the mindset I do now. Back then we were so free, we just did whatever we wanted despite what people thought. I don’t doubt myself and I still trust my path, but it’s like… yo, this is real now.”
"HOUSE OF PHARAOHS WAS JUST SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN"
If you know anything about UK rap, you'll know House of Pharaohs are the talk of the town right now. They've got the formula on lock - and each member brings something different to the table. But what's their secret? Was there a trial run? A few stragglers who didn't make the cut? Sam sets it straight. “House of Pharaohs was just was supposed to happen. Around year eleven, I was hanging out with Bandanna, Blaze and a few others... and we were all into alternative stuff. We were seeing Pro Era, A$AP, these groups that are getting together and doing what they love and having a positive influence.”
“One day AJ hit me up and said we should bring some people together - and I remember the day he called me and was like ‘yo I’m outside’. I open the door and just see hella faces. My mum’s here and I’m like okay cool, everyone’s just running in the house, it seemed like a movie, everyone was buzzing about being around likeminded people and wanting to start something. We ended up going to a party that night and everyone just did their thing - we shut it down, it was wavey. And that’s when we started rolling.” In awe of their progress, he adds, “I remember me and Gaius at the back of our science class talking about wanting to do these things and now we’re really doing it - and we’re breaking bread.”
Along with the group's music, Sam’s solo material is almost always complemented by impeccable visuals; and if you've been lucky enough to catch one of his performances, there is no denying the infectious energy he brings to the stage. So it's no surprise to hear that the young rapper came from a performing arts background, like many of his peers in House of Pharaohs. "That’s just something I’ve always been into. And I think the reason I fell into rapping and writing is because I was quite academic. English was my subject - I did really well in it so it made sense to use words.”
Contrary to artists who may spend months or years racking their brains for the perfect alias, "Sam Wise" first came into the picture as a school nickname. “I was doing Performing Arts for GCSE at secondary school and there was a person who kept calling me Sam Wise in lessons. And one day I asked, 'how come you’re calling me Sam Wise?' He said, ‘I dunno… you just seem kinda wise and spiritual’.”
"IT CAN BE DAUNTING TO THINK... IF THIS DOES REALLY WELL, IT’S [MY TIME] NOW. I THINK THAT SCARES ME A BIT."
More recently, Twitter took to storm when JME tweeted director J Mornix to ask about a song he'd heard earlier, to which Mornix replied with a screenshot of "Rack Up" on Apple Music. "That was completely random, I think someone was playing it at a shoot he was at and then he just asked what the song was. We haven’t been in contact, it’s just about appreciating the song. And JME is a sick guy - if you look at BBK and their model, I’d say House of Pharaohs definitely take influence from them. They’ve done countless things that are completely new for the UK. They’re innovators."
Rack Up is a track you can picture blasting out of car windows cruising around town with the roof down. And what’s more, it's a totally fresh sound. "Kadiata produced Rack Up. It started off as a loose beat that he wasn’t sure about, but I heard it and knew it could be something. And Kadiata’s a producer that I’ve really been able to experiment with, he’s someone who told me to break that barrier. Because I can get bored of tracks easily and just leave them unfinished, but he taught me to push through that.” And as for the video… “that’s gonna take a little while because I don’t want it to just be me and my friends flexing. To me it sounds like a soundtrack or a trailer so we’re trying to capture that with the visuals. I’ve had so many people banging on to me, ‘Sam, this is a big track, where’s the video?!’ People really like it.” He pauses. “I think it can be daunting to think, wow… if this does really well, it’s [my time] now. I think that scares me a bit.”
"YOU CAN'T FORCE IT, BUT SOMETIMES THERE'S A BARRIER YOU HAVE TO BREAK"
The young star’s effortless delivery is something that’s always captivated me about his music. Every verse begins so smoothly and with such confidence and I wonder whether this was always part of his style or a craft he’s perfected over the years. “I’ve learnt so much just from doing it. I came across some of my old lyrics the other day and I just laughed. I definitely wasn’t as smooth as I am now, but I knew there was something there so I just followed it and perfected it. And every time I wrote I was getting better, listening to certain people, taking influence and making it my own. So I kept doing it and just got way more comfortable.”
He takes me further down memory lane to a place where creativity had no limits. ”One of my favourite stages of making music was at Tariq Disu’s house - he’s just an amazing artist who went on to do incredible things. His place had walls like a canvas and there were pens everywhere so we could write wherever - the house had this whole feel to it and we used to go there and just be free."
His latest visual masterpiece pays homage to Pulp Fiction, from the graphics to the storyline. Produced by 4Stringsz and directed by BKAS, “Do or Die” hears him confess, "sorry darlin' I'm a handful - I might just f*ck up your whole evening". Before being released on all major global streaming platforms, the track was available on Soundcloud and the iconic first line is even featured as his Instagram bio. With bars like that, it’s clear that Wise has no qualms with speaking his speaking mind, so I imagine studio life isn’t much of a challenge for him. “There are times when it just flows and I’m channelling so many different things… and there are times when I can’t write at all. Sometimes you actually have to put the pad or the phone down and be like, I can’t write today, I don’t wanna force it. But sometimes there is a barrier, and if you can break that down, you can keep going."
"I CAN HEAR SOMEONE'S MUSIC AND TELL WHETHER THEY KNOW WHAT THEIR POWER IS"
Another big move for Wise was his hit collaboration “100 Degrees” with rising star Octavian, who he first discovered was a fan when his name cropped up in a song. ”He had a song where in the hook he says ‘like Sam Wise I’mma get that’. Someone showed it to me and I was like rah, someone said my name in a song. Is Sam Wise a thing like that now? And it was a sick song, so I followed him and one day he hit me up." Fast forward to now and Sam recently made a surprise appearance at Octavian's headline show to perform the track - it's safe to say everyone in the crowd lost their minds.
"When I heard Octavian for the first time, I thought… this guy is gonna be big. He’s got this tone in his voice that’s so sick. I can hear someone’s music and tell whether they know what their power is. A lot of artists don’t really know, they can just be popping because some stuff is very easy for people to like.” He adds, “the Drake and Virgil co-sign wasn't even a surprise.
You know what certain people are due for. I know what I’m due for. And it’s sick to see things finally come together.” You can listen to "Rack Up" here and check out the video for "Do or Die" below.