Showcasing a fluid combo of sharp bars and stunning falsetto vocals, Wesley Joseph’s recent COLORS performance of ‘Hiatus’ encapsulated his status as a true multi-hyphenate. Not only can the Walsall-raised, London-based creative sing, rap, and produce, but his filmmaking talents are also reflected in cinematic self-directed videos shot in far-flung spots like the Kazakh desert.
Having already fulfilled his ambition to “make a feature-length film disguised as a beautiful music video” on the darkly comic ‘Cold Summer’, he’s built an artistic persona that interweaves the audio and the visual.
Joseph has gained recognition for big features with artists like fellow Walsall native Jorja Smith (on ‘Patience’) and South London rapper Loyle Carner (whose track ‘Blood On My Nikes’ centres around his stirring vocal hook). One of the UK’s most versatile young musicians, his distinct blend of hip-hop, jazz, and RnB was captured cohesively in 2021 project Ultramarine, a soulful collection of tracks that leaned on pop-tinged vocal hooks and soft piano performances.
His follow-up release, Glow, meanwhile, is at its best when it’s a little darker. Maintaining the soft, pad-driven eeriness that defines much of his work, while adding a deeper splash of ambience reflective of sensual RnB pioneers like Kelela or ABRA, Glow makes a decisive shift towards a more polished, ambitious sound.
The track that best sums up the project (Joseph is firm in his stance this is neither an EP nor an LP) is probably ‘Cold Summer’. Encapsulating the West Midlands artist’s cinematic thinking, the track’s intro employs dark violins not dissimilar to Jed Kurzel’s deliciously haunting ‘Macbeth’ soundtrack. On the mic, he jumps between skippy 16-bar verses and more spacious vocal melodies that tie neatly with the track’s strings backdrop, unleashing energetic poetics like “Dipping overseas / Reading Socrates / Til it’s time to leave / Suttin’ up my sleeve”.
Across the record, Joseph’s lyrics are thoughtful and evocative, a step up from Ultramarine, with his interest in communicating abstract sensory ideas captured by hooks like ‘Monsoon’s “Small world, filled with true lies / Sore eyes, I’m walking in blind / What it feels like / In the thick of night”. The way Joseph plays with the track’s varying segments, building anticipation and release between its minimalistic choruses and vibrant, swaying hip-hop verses, shows his talent for building narrative in music as well as video.
This understanding of texture is reflected in the ethereal pads, subtle high-pass filters, and ambient backing vocals Joseph uses to create moments of tension that help his soulful, wide-ranging vocal melodies cut through powerfully.
‘HIATUS’, one of the project’s most impressive pieces of work, encapsulates this idea, as Joseph chops dynamically between icy rap flows and soaring harmonies, against a dark backdrop of swelling pads and punchy percussion. When he reaches the height of his falsetto solo during the track’s outro, it’s a genuine moment of surprise, especially seeing as that vocal range isn’t always taken full advantage of; for example, the high-pitched autotuned melodies on ‘I Just Know Highs’ feel a little laboured at times.
Still, bold lyrical statements like “Statues weren’t made for the critics / They were made for the criticised men” highlight that Joseph is unlikely to care much about what others think. And why should he? With his singular artistic vision and ability to switch rapidly between vocal styles, he’s a genuinely unique performer, and one with a seriously bright future.