19-year-old Wesley Grey came to The Big Apple to pursue his dream. His sound is a fusion of hip-hop, jazz, and lounge with strong reflective lyrics. Originally from St.Louis, Missouri, think MC Solaar, but American, and English-speaking. Wesley Grey has a message, and many will sit up and listen.
How long have you been making music?
I wrote my first song at seven years old and have continued writing ever since.
Tell us the history of how you started?
It’s kind of hard to say exactly when I got started because rapping has been a part of my life for such a long time. People began to know me for my rap abilities around age 12 in 6th grade. I rapped all through middle school and really started making strides in High School. In my freshman year, I actually performed at a talent show in front of 5,000 people. That night really motivated me to keep pursuing music.
You were in a band before – tell us about that.
Well, I have known Jose or Poet j for all of my life. He is my older brother, minus the blood line. We met aged 7 at a church youth group and were friends for a while. After some time we realized we both enjoyed music so the two of us started rapping and writing music together. In 2014 we decided to legitimize it and form the duo Subtle Aggression Monopoly. Since then we have released our debut album Perennial Complex and played shows regularly in our hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri.
Where did your band name come from?
Subtle and aggressive are how we describe our voice. We also have a very in your face message in our music that is aggressive even in its subtlety. Subtle Aggression Monopoly or S.A.M. is the full name of the band/rap group.
What’s the situation now band-wise?
At the moment we are working on our second album with my younger brother O- (o negative) and he’s actually my blood brother. The album is entitled The Sans, based on Shakespeare’s 12 stages of man.
Nice. But you’ve been working solo also?
Yes, I am. Mostly because of the distance but also because it’s nice to find and nurture my own sound while still being part of a group.
Tell us about what inspires your music?
Collaboration is a big thing – collaboration and my own life experiences. All of my music is very precise and to the point. I do not make a song for no reason. Every song I make has a focus or narrative. For example, my album, Blue Hiraeth (pronounced Hooray) is all about my thoughts and feelings during my last year in Saint Louis. There was a lot happening that year. On a personal level, I was working at a restaurant all hours to get money to get the album done. What helped motivate me was as I heard music coming through the speakers at the restaurant I was thinking one day that will be me being played. Politically there was a lot of racial tension and injustice with the death of Michael Brown and Ferguson being one of them. I wrote this album more for my own memory of that year then for anyone or anything else. The title actually explains the albums concept quite well, look up the definition of hiraeth and you will see what I mean.
How did you produce your first solo album?
I purchased the instrumentals online and then worked with a number of artists I know from St.Louis, primarily singers, but Poet J is on the project a few times as well.
What inspired you to get into music?
My father really got me inspired to get into it. My father has always been a serious music lover. He plays piano and studied music theory in college. When I was little he would play me classical music and teach me how to name all the different instruments that were playing. My father has really pushed my brother and I to express ourselves through music and I seriously respect him for that.
What makes you different from others in your music genre?
I think a big part of it is my background. Authenticity is a very important thing in Hip-Hop culture and being a privileged white person from suburbia, my placement inside of the culture is kind of a grey area. Hence the name Wesley Grey. Am I appropriating hip-hop or contributing to it? I believe I am contributing to it but there are those who think otherwise, and I understand why. My music has the potential to be the starting point for many important conversations. I do this purposefully in my music.
Who are your musical influences?
Kid Cudi was the first really big influence, and then Mos Def, and Ab-soul after that. Those three artists really helped me find and perfect my own sound.
It seems to be getting tough to make money nowadays – what’s your plan as a new artist breaking through?
I am currently double majoring in English and Education. Being an English teacher is really the plan B at this point, and having a good grasp of the English language is good for my rap lyrics. So all good. On a plan A front I’ll be playing shows in New York.
Where has been your favourite place and venue to perform in so far?
The Saint Louis Fox Theater. It’s absolutely incredible venue. The inside of it looks like an Indian palace. It was built as a giant movie theatre in the 1930s and then later on became the real theater it is today. It seats 6,000 people.
Where’s your dream venue/place to perform?
I would love to perform at Birdland in New York, and That and Sway in the morning – which is a radio show. I really want to freestyle on Sway.
What are you aiming towards musically?
My younger brother besides being a producer is also a jazz pianist. He’s only 15 but composes some of the best music I have heard. I want to work with him more and push Hip-Hop into a more conceptual ambient space. I have been working with a lot of jazz musicians as well. I think it would be dope to play and record with a jazz band.
Tell us about your creative process, are you heavily involved in the album artwork and music videos?
I tend to write at night when it’s pitch black around me. I then either write on my computer or phone. I have terrible handwriting, so pen and paper just does not work for me. I do not make my own videos, but I help edit them when I can. With album covers, I’m inspired by many things.
Tell us about your upcoming music and projects you are working on?
I am currently sitting on my debut solo album Blue Hiraeth. I am hoping to release it in spring 2016 depending on how well the promotion and everything goes. It took me two years to make the album, so I don’t want to put it out without some time put in to properly market it.
What advice would you give to fellow bands/artist starting out in the music industry?
Do it yourself. Especially with funding. A lot of people think that they need money from other people to support their music career, but the likelihood of that happening is quite slim. It takes time to fund an entire project yourself but it’s worth it.
Who are your ones to watch in the music industry?
4i. He’s actually a rapper from London. He is definitely someone to look out for. M.M.E. as well. They are an amazing Hip-Hop group from Saint Louis.
What’s on your work playlist?
Right now it’s Robert Glasper, Taylor McFerrin, Kaki King, and King Krule.
And finally, what’s your favourite Madonna song?
Bad Girl. That’s the only one I know.