Anna Wise has an ethereal, airy quality to her singing. The notes and textures left behind by her strutting voice are otherworldly. Considering how novel Wise naturally sounds, it’s easy to understand why the 28-year-old songstress is among rap superstar Kendrick Lamar’s most frequent collaborators.
On October 18, the GRAMMY-award winning vocalist steps into the forefront by releasing her solo debut album, As If It Were Forever. The project highlights songwriting that is as outspoken as it is deliberate. The 12-track project is, by far, the most fearlessly intimate the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and producer has ever been.
“I wanted to focus on my personal growth,” she tells DJBooth over the phone. “[Focus] on the micro, as opposed to constantly focussing on—and possibly accepting—the macro, things I can’t control. I can control my growth and ability to change, and hopefully become a better, more capable, spiritual person. I can control that.”
That wasn’t the case with her previous work, though. The Feminine: Act I, released in April 2016, is a vibrant Molotov cocktail thrown smoothly at patriarchy. Its follow-up, The Feminine: Act II, released 10 months later in February 2017, is a casual victory lap. With both projects, the concept of womanhood is a core theme. As If It Were Forever shifts the scope towards the author. However, that doesn’t mean Wise is done raging against the machine.
“Programming exists on many, many levels. Not just under the patriarchy,” she says. “There’s the power of privilege, and being blind to that can be dangerous. Whether it’s white privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege, body-abled privilege... I think we’ve come to a time where we all need to reconcile what our privileges are and act appropriately in society. Be aware of what privileges we have and dismantle those.”
A willingness to look at yourself and modify what needs adjusting ties directly into the album’s theme: change. As If It Were Forever demands to be taken in as a whole, with songs bleeding in and out of each other, forming suites, both conceptually and musically. The first half of the album touches on various frustrations in life—from losing faith (“Blue Rose”) to an emotionally unavailable partner (“Abracadabra”).
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While the first half deals with doubts and unhealthy patterns, the second feels calmer, hinging upon a song called “The Moment (Interlude).” The songs that follow substitute melancholy and disappointment for a sense of warmth.
“Vivre d’Amour et d’Eau Fraîche” starts with dark, murky drum sounds, but is quickly accompanied by a strumming guitar and loving vocals courtesy of Jon Bap. “Our love will be louder than if the mountains fall,” Wise sings on “Mirror,” before the instrumental-only “Coming Home” leads into the strident “Juice.” It’s the album’s final piece, perfectly summing up its overall themes: “You can’t take back the change / If you are afraid of change / then all there will be is change.”
The strong thematic arc of the album wasn’t set out from the start. “It came through the experience of my life that influenced the creation of the album,” Wise notes calmy. “Many of the songs from the first and second half were written out of succession, so it wasn’t necessarily intended when I put it together to be that sort of journey. But often the universe, spirit guides, or angels—whatever you want to call your higher self or the unseen—can help guide you through.”
She continues: “I’ve always been open and receptive to those energies coming through me. This album is a great example of that. That goes back to calling it my debut; the records before were me in my mind; pushing a theme because I was angry about something.”
One of the most significant changes in Wise’s life—a change that fueled the album—was the birth of her first child. “That process of being pregnant, and the change in my identity, from being myself, a woman, to now being myself but also a mother to this incredible baby,” she says.“ It has completely changed my life, and I was going through that as I was finishing the record.”
As happy as Wise is to be a mother, becoming a parent meant undergoing an identity change, one she learned to accept only after being confronted with it. “There was a part of me that was transformed, and that part of me did not want to be transformed, even as I was going through the process of pregnancy,” Wise says, wisely.
The album’s title, As If It Were Forever, directly connects to that change. “I knew it wasn’t going to last forever,” she says in reference to her pregnancy and the delivery of her child. “But in contrast, when I sit and stare at my child, I’m hoping for that moment to last forever.”