Winning With Words…
Mr. & Mrs. — the explosive new album by Mississippi-born rapper/producer Jonathan Whitfield, a.k.a. Swisha, and the marble-eyed Jamaican rapper/poet Nadirah X — embodies what Whitfield calls, “being in the foxhole with somebody and knowing they got your back.” Indeed, the husband-wife team have fought a spiritual, artistic, social and professional war side by side and they hope that this album, an expression of that struggle, breaks them through to the victory they have been seeking for so long.
With its driving beats, hard-hitting, heartfelt, intelligent lyrics, rousing instrumentation, and propulsive samples, Mr. & Mrs. conveys the artists’ busting-at-the-seams impatience with a system, a music industry, a society that stands in the way of genuine self-expression, innovation, originality, and soul.
Their stylish, snarling video of the single “On Everything” boasts, “I put it on everything.” In other words, “No matter what anyone tries to say or do to demoralize me, everything I do, I make it hot.” Masterfully shot, directed and edited for a mere $32 by accomplished video director Shane McLafferty, who has also made videos for acts like Neon Trees, Super Heavy, Stevie Nicks and Mick Jagger, the “On Everything” video simultaneously captures the glamour and the underbelly of Los Angeles, where Swisha and Nadirah live. They battle the “circus freaks” arbitrating who gets to the top in the music business, the cowering conformists who dare not take a chance on an exciting new act that breaks the mold. Nadirah calls the demand for ringtone-type music, “a taste for processed cheese.”
Although stunningly beautiful, Nadirah makes a conscious choice not to show cleavage as a music-selling gimmick. She explains, “I consider myself primarily a poet. I am a poetic MC.” Having grown up in a Muslim household in the bountiful Jamaican countryside, Nadirah historically has brought her idyllic background to play in lyrical, conscious rhymes, low on profanity. She defied musical expectations, bypassing Jamaican dancehall, for a conscious hip-hop sound that led to her winning “Best New Artist in the Caribbean” and ending up on magazine covers. Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and a multi-platinum music producer discovered her at a show in Jamaica, “Christopher Columbus style,” as Nadirah puts it, and began managing her.
Meanwhile, her husband Swisha’s story reads like less of a fairy tale. He grew up in violent Clinton, Miss. listening to hardcore East-coast rap, struggling every step of the way, battling in ciphers, developing a more raw, profanity-laden style that he says reflects that “life is not perfect.” Swisha explains, “I am spiritual, but I have also always been an advocate of not being overly preachy or holier than thou. There are multiple facets to us as human beings. The profanity comes from frustration with the struggle.” Swisha’s impact on Nadirah reveals itself in “On Everything,” in which she snarls at the camera, curses and declares to the camera, “We gon’ end up elevated or we’ll end up in an urn.”
This quest for elevation out of the struggle, the balance of the divine and the profane, exhibits itself in moving emotional outcries from Swisha in “On Everything,” who speaks of promising his mother “that he would finish,” that he would make it as an artist. He raps in “Divine” about how his father, an accomplished pianist, almost died of a stroke and how the miracle of his recovery inspired both the song and a re-invigorated desire to win the battle as an artist. The exquisite piano strokes interlaced with the song and highlighted at the end fly from the fingers of Swisha’s father himself. In the same cut Nadirah sings of how she hides the struggle from her own daughter, how she herself is still a “little girl with a dream from Jamaica”:
They told me stay patient All you have is time What’s written in the stars is given to you by design But I hope I never fade from mine Hope you remember my divine.
On the track, “Know Mi Name,” sampling an old Jamaican folk song, “The lyrics say, ‘When I was a bad man, killing people, everyone knew my name. Now that I’m spiritual, no one knows me,'” explains Nadirah. With their album Mr. & Mrs., Swisha and Nadirah throw down the gauntlet to the music industry and to our society, daring us to “know the name” of more than gangsta’ rappers and ho’ slappers, daring us to know the name of spiritual warriors, poets, originals, with the audacity to speak of the divine. Daring us to know the divine within ourselves.
Follow Swish and Nadirah at @officialswish and @nadirahx