South Jersey artists Mir Fontane and Ish Williams are just working hard to put the South Jersey music scene on the map. Their recent single, "Wanni Wag," has made a splash and people are paying attention.
Mir and Ish sat down with HYPEFRESH’s (@MEGBERB) to chat about the state of South Jersey music, what inspires them and how their latest single, "Wanni Wag," came to be.
Meg: Introduce yourselves.
Mir Fontane: 22: Camden, NJ,
Ish Williams: 23, Collingswood, NJ
Meg: So you like all types of music. Can you explain?
Ish: I get influences from rap of course. I love Kid Cudi, Drake of course and Jay Z. But, I also like Nirvana (Kurt Cobain), and Pink Floyd.
Mir: Like Ish, I like a lot of music too. Draw inspiration from Drake, J.Cole, Kanye, Evanescence. I like more of that old school soulful type sounds. The Gorillaz is dope.
Ish: Yeah, they need to drop another album.
Meg: Taking it back, how did you guys both get into making music? I know you (Mir), did a lot of covers and medleys. So how did that progress?
Mir: I wanted to put myself out there on YouTube, but I wanted to do something different. I thought it would be clever to put songs that were hot at the time to mash them up together with no beat, just simple, cafeteria, banging on the desk-type style. I had my friend Sharell help me out on all of the covers but from there I just enjoyed creating the music and I liked the feeling I got from doing it and I liked the feeling I could give to someone else and influence someone else.
Meg: And how did you decided to go from there to what you’re doing now?
Mir: I just decided to go hard with what I was doing. I just wanted to go 100 percent with it while I was young and see how far I could go. I thought, ‘Why not?’
Meg: How did you (Ish) start getting into music?
Ish: I started writing when I was 12 years old. My older brother was rapping and I used to look up to him. When I was 10/11, I was stealing his raps and rap them to my friends and then I told myself I would make up my own. Then I created a little group of my friends and we just did that whole little middle school/high school rap group thing.
Meg: Did you guys have a name?
Ish: In middle school our name was Nuw Generation Crew. We recorded on a performing microphone and we had to have one speaker in the closet and one speaker out, just so they could hear when it stopped.
Meg: So how did your career progress for you?
Ish: When I was 16, I knew I didn’t want to live an average life. It’s go to school, get a regular job, but I wanted my mom to have a better life, for my family, my friends. I just want to make music for the rest of my life and just run with it.
Meg: How did you guys come together?
Ish: In South Jersey, there’s a whole bunch of rappers on Facebook and I was a fan of Mir. I was making music with my friend Kev Rodgers and we’ve been making music together since I was 13/14. I told Kev that I was going to bring Mir over to his house so that Mir could record. They made a song called, "Biggie Poppa." It had the whole Biggie Smalls influence to it. After that we were making music and with each other almost every day. That was about 2/3 years ago.
Meg:How does South Jersey influence you and your music and where do you fit in? Like, I listened to ‘Camden.’
Mir: Did you like?
Meg: Yeah, I did.
Mir: Well, South Jersey really doesn’t have a rap scene per se. Everyone is making music but we don’t have a lot of venues. You have to come to Philly to perform. We don’t look at anyone as like ‘We’re better than them’ or whatever. We just feel like we’re on a different plane. It’s not New York. No one is constantly driven to just go hard with their art. That’s pretty much unheard of where we’re from. People question, "You’re really going to make it doing this?" We’re trying to pioneer something.
Ish: Yeah, trying to make it so shows are actually possible. Like, we want people to chase your dream in South Jersey. I feel like people here have half dreams but they’ll get scared because someone will say they aren’t good enough or something won’t go one way their time, so they give up.
Mir: We’re like the poorest city in America. Nobody is anywhere right now. There’s really no competition, hopefully it just happens.
Meg: So what’s your goal? Do you want to have more shows in Jersey?
Ish: It would be a blessing to have more shows in Jersey around our area but there’s like no art scene.
Mir: It’s crazy because there are a bunch of abandoned buildings, they could be historical landmarks, but there is nothing in there. It just takes somebody to put money either into the city or into that building. Yo… there’s this building on Broadway, if they could just clean Broadway up, this building could easily be a club or venue. But, nobody wants to take the chance right now. There are people who have never been to Camden but they have their own view of what it is like out there, like it’s a war zone. They think I live in Call of Duty. But it’s not like that.
Meg: Yeah, I think it’s all about giving people a chance.
Mir: Yeah, I think it’s not being done because they don’t think people will appreciate it or it will get messed up or something but we don’t really have anything to appreciate to put that assumption there. They just started building Cooper and Victor and there’s no graffiti there. I think change is scary to them. Either they don’t have it in themselves to do it or they don’t want to see you do it. Shit, I’ll take that chance though.
Meg: How many artists do you think are coming out of this South Jersey area?
Ish: A lot.
Mir: I wouldn’t even say it’s a lot. There are a lot of rappers, but there’s not a lot of people who actually create. There’s a lot of people who can rhyme but nobody is going to step outside the box and create something that makes people look at South Jersey.
Meg: What do you think you need?
Mir: We’re at a point now were we’re just bubbling. It just takes the right ear. If you can find someone that can get your music to the right person, that’s what you need. The product should already be perfect. Maybe I’m naive for thinking that way, but I could be wrong.
Ish: Nah, nah, nah.
Mir: I don’t even want to sound like I’m not humble but it’s like when they hear the music they’re drawn to it, because it’s something they don’t expect. When I tell them where I’m from they’re expecting something terrible, trash or mediocre. But when it sounds like something that could actually be played on the radio right now, you see their face light up. Imagine if Diddy heard it and boom, I know what I could do with that. Point you in the right direction or actually invest in you.
Ish: If you look at the industry now, there’s Fetty Wap, he’s from North Jersey. But, North Jersey and South Jersey are totally different.
Mir: North Jersey is more New York and down here is more Philly, but it’s still different. We have our own lingo and style that you won’t find anywhere else. The Game seems to like Philly.
Ish: Mike Zombie, he’s from South Jersey, but he leans toward N. Jersey, which is more NY. Nobody really reps it so hard and that’s what me and Mir try to do.
Meg: You talk about how culture is so important in your songs? Especially with "Wanni Wag" that both collaborated on?
Mir: I feel like leaving a bread trail or being a time machine in each of my songs. So, if I can use my music to capture a moment or go back on a moment, that’s what I want to do. Like for "Wanni Wag". In high school Dajuan Wagner scored 100 points. Now, how can I take an idea and make it relate to something in 2015? I ball. I can drop 100. If can do that, it’s going to appeal a mass amount of people. People get into those moments when they just gonna drop 100 and go. At the same time, I was trying to rap about Camden and Jersey without sounding like all of the other rappers out there.
Ish: Instead of just saying, “Jersey” over and over again…
Mir: Why not relate that to something? I like the word play. So for example, I take Steph Curry and ‘street relate it.’ But, I don’t want to rap about the street because that’s expected and that’s what everyone else is sounding like. And finally, I’m more intelligent than settling for a gun bar. They’re the easiest thing to rap about. But I don’t live that and it’s a cop out for me and I’d rather have a challenge. How can I make myself relate to everybody? Not just people from Camden. Everyone knows Steph Curry, right? So, let’s just make that an anthem. There might be four different people with four different perspectives on one song, but somehow they can all relate to it.
Meg:Can you go more into "Wanni Wag" and what it feels like to get featured on HotNewHipHop?
Ish: Me and Mir have these writing sessions and we just play 2K. This is what separates us from other artists. They’ll just sit down and spend their whole time dedicated to writing one song. We’ll just play a game free styling and then we’ll stop and say ‘Yoooo… we can actually do something with that.’ Once we got the chorus, time to play 2K again.
Mir: We know we can just come up with the verses back and forth with each other.
Ish: I told him, “I know in my verse, I’ll say 100 a bunch of times just so it could be repetitive.’ Then I know Mir free style his part.
Meg: I like the way you guys write your songs.
Ish: Yeah! We’re still having fun with it at the same time. Always has to be fun. I know Mir’s manager (Jon) had the plug to it, but I wasn’t expecting it. We weren’t expecting it. I was taking a nap and woke up and saw it was posted. We had 3,000 plays going in and HNHH gave it that push. Now we’re at 8K, which is a blessing.
Mir: I had to make sure it wasn’t a parody account at first. I was playing 2K and I was like, ‘Splash.’ That’s the real thing!
Ish: I used to go on HNHH every morning before school and check it for new songs. It’s weird to see my name is on the front page of the site. And to have them rate it Hot, that was dope. It was right under R. Kelly’s song too.
Meg: How do you use social media?
Mir: I just want to have a big enough platform one day to connect with my fans. There’s a ton of artists out there, like Jay-Z that don’t utilize their platform enough to talk about bigger issues.
Meg: Who are some of the artists you look up to that are actively engaged with fans?
Ish: J. Cole, Kendrick. That’s about it.
Mir: Lupe Fiasco, has his times. Even if I don’t agree with him all the time, he still stands up for what he believes in. Talib Kweli. People like that have the platform.
Ish: If you got a voice, you gotta use it.
Meg:If you had a platform like Jay-Z, how would you use it and would your main speaking point be?
Ish: If you want to judge someone, judge them by their character. Not everyone is perfect. If you feel like you’re better than someone, you should try to help them. Encourage them to be better.
Mir: I want to show people that your life is bigger than where you’re at now. A lot of people in Camden have never left Camden. That’s all they know. It’s only eight miles long. It’s sad. A lot of people won’t even leave. It’s because they’re complacent or it’s no use. They might get beat down from inside/outside the home. Media telling you things, the education system sucks there. Some people just give up and I want to be the one to tell them otherwise. That’s why I have the balloon as my logo. You can float away from all that. You can get out of all of it. Slight hope. There’s a bigger world out there.
Meg: What goals do you have for the next year?
Ish: I want to perform on a bigger platform. In the beginning of 2015, I didn’t have any shows like that, my shows weren’t consistent. When I linked up with my friend from high school (he just became my manager), and I’ve been having one or two shows every month since we started, for the past six or seven months. By the end of 2016, I think me and Fontane have a shot at the Freshman (XXL) cover. I feel like 2016 is the year for South Jersey. I think it’s time that time. We’ve been slept on.
Mir: I want to do XXL. I want to do ‘Made In America.’ I just want to get the recognition on a wider scale. Heard on the radio. I’m dreaming too big, too early (laughs). I want a video on BET Jams. Just little things like that where one ear will stumble upon it and it’s like “Fly them out here.”
Ish: That co-sign means a lot. Like nobody knew who Makonnen was until he was cosigned and now he’s got a deal. It’s crazy.
Mir: Our dream is to make it independent. If I could be independent, I’d do it.
Ish: Yeah for sure. Labels, they want to take your soul. See what Lil Wayne is going through.
Mir: Oh and a DJ Drama mixtape!
Ish: Oh yeah! It’d drop at the end and he’d say, “BOOM BOOM, I got these guys from Jersey.”
Mir: Oh my god, that’s when you know you made it.