Lecrae. Andy Mineo. Trip Lee. Tedashii. The Reach Records roster is a murderer’s row of hip hop stars famous for bold lyrics that don’t sacrifice a single iota of quality, power and force. And now, Reach is prepping its next generation of artists to carry the torch even further.
One of the most exciting names on their list is Wande, a 24-year-old hip-hop wunderkind who came to the U.S. from Nigeria with her family when she was a baby. Her new EP Exit showcases a blistering talent and gift for lyrical wordplay on tracks like “No Cap,” “No Ceilings” and “Be the Light”, which popped up on ESPN’s WNBA 2020 Draft Promotion. Her music has also been heard on VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop” and Lena Waithe’s “Twenties.”
For Wande (full name: Yewande Isola), the journey was never straightforward. Growing up, her father was unhappy that she’d rejected his Muslim faith. In school, she says nobody would have picked her for a future rapper. But Wande’s life is all about taking unexpected opportunities to enter exciting new phases. In RELEVANT’s conversation with her, she talked about making peace with her dad, her unlikely path to discovering her own talent and the added pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
So when you were little, your dad was not a fan of you being a Christian, right?
I wasn’t allowed to go to church for a couple of years. I had to wake up at five in the morning to read the Bible and go to work with my mom to basically get picked up so that I can go to church. It was a blessing in disguise because God threw a curveball in my life. In a biology class, I discovered I was a rapper. I just had a whole career shift. I noticed that people really paid attention to the rapping, so I started using it as a way to tell kids at school about Jesus. At lunch, I would do freestyle circles and it just turned into a passion.
How’s your dad feel about where you’re at now?
We’ve made peace. He’s supportive. We have mutual respect. He’ll ask questions about God. He’s definitely proud and we’re cool. He respects that I go to church.
Did you say you discovered you’re a rapper in biology class?
Yeah, man. Stay in school. I found my calling through a biology class because my teacher basically had an end of the year project in December. She was like, “OK, for the end of the year we’re going to talk about cellular transport. And if you don’t want to do a PowerPoint or an essay, I can let you do the rapping option.”
I looked around, like, why would you not choose the rapping option? It was definitely out of character, something I wouldn’t normally do. I was the smart kid in school. But when I did it, my friends were like “Wow, this is really good.” It was something I really enjoyed. I put myself out there and I really liked it. And so, it definitely turned into a passion.
Do you feel like the stigma around being a Christian who raps is a thing of the past?
Lecrae and them definitely paved the way. There’s a lot of stuff that I may have not had to go through because he had to go through it. But I will say there are still some issues on a personal level. I think some people have an internal stigma where they feel like they’re not holy enough to listen to it, which is why they feel bad. I definitely try to break down the stigma.
For instance, I have a roommate who’s now actually going to church with me but when we first met, she wanted nothing to do with God. And so when I told her I was a rapper, I didn’t tell her the Christian part. But then she’s like, “Oh, you’re rapping about God? I don’t know if I can listen to this.” But as she got to know me and we got to do life together, she began to see that like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter that you’re talking about God.”
So do you feel the freedom to engage in controversial topics?
Andy [Mineo] and Lecrae have been really vocal about saying things that are uncomfortable. Andy has an album called Uncomfortable! They’ve been really good at breaking down that first initial shock. So I think now, us younger artists can open ourselves up to speak about some even more uncomfortable things and it’s not as shocking. I think we have a larger crowd who’s more open to it. And I think even my generation, we’re very open-minded. We have a whole generation of people who are more open to it.
You’re the first woman signed to Reach. Does it feel like the bar is a little higher for you?
Definitely. I can’t just put out super average or mediocre music. If I put out super mediocre music, some people might be like, “Oh, that’s expected. She’s a girl.” But at the same time, I have to put out exceptionally good music for people to be like, “Wow, this is not what I was expecting. I didn’t know girls were capable of doing this.” You have higher expectations because people automatically expect mediocrity from you.
How did you land on Exit as an album title?
I landed on Exit because God was showing me through this project that each sound was a snapshot of an exit point that I had to go through in order to get to my final destination. God was showing me that, in life, we have exit points. While we’re driving on our journey in life, there are certain spots where God is trying to teach you something. And until you learn that lesson, you’ll never be able to exit so that you can go to the next phase. He’s just showing me that in life, appreciate the journey, appreciate the moments. He’s trying to show you something because those are moments that develop your character. Those are moments that refine you. Once you finally learn those things, you will exit into the next phase.