Wise From Ohio embraces big ‘Changes’ with staggering new album
Four years after the death of friend and fellow rapper Nes Wordz, an older, wiser MC makes a welcome return
Roughly four years ago, after moving back to Ohio from Connecticut, rapper Wise From Ohio (formerly YoungWise) started work on a new album tentatively titled Living the Dream. The album was set to document the years the MC lived away from Ohio, first in Virginia and then in Connecticut. To commemorate the occasion, Wise and some friends even got matching tattoos.
But then things started to fall apart. One of the friends who joined Wise in getting tattooed died of an overdose. Then the rapper’s DJ died, which was followed in quick succession by the 2017 death of Nes Wordz, a Columbus rapper and icon who was a lifelong friend to Wise.
“And when Nes died, I just tapped out,” said Wise, who is in possession of the late rapper’s ashes, which were given to him by the family. “In a two- or three-year span I lost all of these people, and I was like, ‘I’m going to focus on being a dad.’ When you lose that many friends, you stop [caring].”
Gradually, though, Wise said he felt Nes’ spirit pulling him back to recording, along with the influence of his two oldest children, who when asked to name their favorite songs recorded by their father started to tick off tracks that stretched back a decade or more.
“That made me realize that I wanted my kids to see that you could still chase your dreams. … To show them you can keep going,” said Wise, who was further motivated by an approaching 40th birthday. “Really, it’s taken me four years to be like, ‘It’s OK. Everything’s OK. Let’s get back to it.’ … I needed that much time to gather myself and be comfortable with my losses.”
Wise documents this period of growth throughout new long-player Changes, which surfaced earlier this month. So while there might be times on the LP where Wise stumbles (“Falling Down Again”), the resultant album captures the sound of the rapper firmly reestablishing his footing as he delves into everything from his upbringing — “I came up from nothing,” he raps early on — to the death of Nes, who features on album track “All I Do.”
“That record was the last song we did together, and it’s super scary because he’s rapping about another friend who just died,” said Wise, who almost passed on releasing the track due to the unease he felt hearing Nes rap about death. “The song is called ‘All I Do Is Party,’ and we drank many, many nights after a friend died, where we would catch ourselves partying and trying to get over that person.”
On tracks such as “Witches,” Wise also confronts his bipolar disorder, rapping about the voices in his head, which can often take the form of monsters in his songs. Witness previous album King of Monsters or the Godzilla mixtape, both of which, according to the rapper, capture a more arrogant side brought about by his illness. “I put all of my cocky moments and arrogance into this idea, or concept, where I defined the monster, my flaws,” he said. “And then I get to separate it and just be Robbie, or just be Wise From Ohio with this new album.”
Wise grew up in a heavily musical family. The rapper said his sister has performed Sundays on BET Gospel for four years, while his mother once provided backup vocals for Patti LaBelle and his uncle sang backup for Tony! Toni! Tone! Wise is also related by blood to Columbus producer Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton, who provided the beat for album-opening track “Intro.”
But while other family members were listening to gospel music, which remained in constant rotation on the home stereo, Wise would generally stow away in his bedroom, where he would listen to Death Row Records releases on the sly.
“Everything I wasn’t supposed to listen to, I was listening to,” said Wise, who rapped a version of the Kris Kross track “Jump” during the talent show in fifth grade, his first public performance.
Early on, Wise said he patterned his flow after Lil Wayne, though he was also drawn toward the storytelling elements embraced by rappers like Jay Z. But while Wise has been performing his own material since the eighth grade, he said it’s only in the last four or five years that he’s started to discover his own voice as an artist, which flowers fully amid the unguarded moments populating Changes.
Fittingly, the album also marks a point in time when the music has taken on a different significance for the rapper, who was more driven by the allure of fame and riches when he started rapping as a youngster.
“You get comfortable with the idea that you’re not going to become famous, and you’re not going to get a million dollars from rap. I mean, you might, but I’m not going to bank on it,” said Wise, who was born in San Antonio, Texas, and moved to Columbus with his family at age 8. “When you think of typical rapper ambitions you think of cars, you think of girls, you think of jewelry, you think of money, you think of attention and all of that. I’ve had all of those things and they don’t add up to happiness. But I still have goals, and I still have ambitions. I’m just trying to show my genuine side now outside of that chase.”