Coming out of the early years of COVID, producer and rapper bwiselive, like many, felt cut off from everything around him – a sensation that inspired released in early May.
But while the song started as a reflection on the coronavirus era, it gradually took on additional meaning as the musician worked, capturing the sense of isolation he felt as a kid searching for identity, as well as the way modern technology can leave us adrift even in crowded rooms. “Especially now, you can be in the same space with people and be in a completely different world,” he said, glancing around the coffee shop in which we were seated. “Everybody has headphones on. We’re all looking at screens.”
Recently, however, bwiselive has made a concerted effort to engage rather than retreat, and he filled the first part of our late May interview with details about ongoing collaborations with the rapper Dom Deshawn and the artist and DJ Reg Zhener – a more communal tact he linked to a series of events that included the global pandemic and an early experience with death.
“It was going through everything the last couple of years, and then my father died from cancer at an age I’m about to hit, and I think that was weighing on me, too,” said bwiselive, born Brandon Williams in Columbus, whose father died when he was 8 years old. “To me it was like, well, you might as well try things. … So, 2022 was really the first year when I started going outside of myself.”
Up until that point, bwiselive said he invested most of his time in helping other musicians to craft their own sonic worlds, as he termed them, rather than building his own – a trait that served him well in the years he owned and operated a recording studio in Dallas, Texas.
Stepping out more as an artist coincided with a deeper self-exploration on which the musician has embarked. Bwiselive said he started therapy, and those sessions have led to a larger personal excavation over the last year that has started to bleed into the music. “It has been a process. You get to a certain place in your life, and you think, oh, I know who I am,” he said. “And then you step outside yourself a bit, and maybe you get frustrated with where you are, and you start to try different things. … I guess I’ve been digging into myself and figuring out what feeds me, as opposed to what feeds everybody else around me.”
This new outlook has been accompanied by a shift in priorities. At 25, bwiselive was motivated in part by the idea of landing a record deal. Now in his mid-30s, he said he’s more driven by the possibility inherent in creation, recording tracks and then releasing them to clear the decks for whatever comes next. “It’s about following the muse wherever it goes,” said the musician, who released a pair of songs in early May: the aforementioned “Isolated” and a deceptively slinky track he pegged as “more of a shit-talk record.” “Even with these records, I’m appreciative that you reached out, or that anyone would listen to them. But I also needed it out of my house. And I needed it to not be on my hard drive.”
Raised by a mother who struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues, bswiselive gravitated toward music early in life. Often, he would hole up for hours and listen to ‘90s rap, R&B and alt-rock records while poring over liner notes and assorted music magazines in an effort to familiarize himself with every aspect of an album, from the session players employed to the specific sample utilized on a hook. Once, when he learned that an artist had sampled a Funkadelic track, he went back and listened to the pioneering funk band’s entire catalog. “I’d hear these records and live and die by them. I wanted to know everything,” he said.
Soon after, the musician started to produce his own tracks, embracing the act of creation as a means of establishing control over an early existence that often left him feeling untethered. “In general, when you feel like your surroundings can’t be controlled, you’re looking for a place you can escape, or something you can control,” he said. “And for me that was music.”