Signing a Deal, Changing the Game, & Respecting the Name – How Wande is Leading the Charge Past ‘Labels’ [INTERVIEW]
Wande was making connections and making moves. She’s traveled down quite a long number of roads to get to this point. Each stop has been an exit to her life with a destination turning point.
That is where part one of this two-part trip with Wande ended. She was interning with Rapzilla and her knowledge in the space helped her get noticed by Reach Records for an internship. This next move would be the biggest one of Wande’s life thus far – it’s time to take the Atlanta exit.
The young artist in pursuit of some musical action was stuck in a relatively quiet CHH scene in Austin, Texas. The only time she was able to interact with other artists and meet people in the industry was when she would attend SXSW.
Working at Reach Records
If you’re going to learn anything from Wande, it’s the value of internships in order to achieve a goal. After she applied to Christian rap’s largest label, she got the gig and made her trek to the southeast. She got a scholarship that paid for everything so her transition there was unburdened with monetary concerns.
Although she didn’t have an official title or job description, she finessed herself into some A&R work by constantly hitting Ace Harris with up and coming producers and artists. Many of those producers would work on Wande’s debut, EXIT.
She was slowly building their trust and recalled a time where she was cleaning an office room. Lecrae and Reach co-founder Ben Washer were having a talk about a tour and Wande offered useful info from an artistic point of view and they wound up using some of those ideas. They never forgot that and it ultimately led to her getting a job when the internship was over.
Then her move to Atlanta became permanent when she was offered the role of Assistant A&R. Now Wande would use her talents to find promising artists for Reach Records to work with. In the meantime, she’d continue to hone her own skills as an artist while learning more about the industry and being a professional.
In a sense, Wande hacked the game. She knew all the ins and outs, which paths to take, and what perils were ahead. She gleaned the foresight to avoid a lot of beginner artist mistakes because her job was to find artists that were almost ready. Wande knew exactly how to stand out.
After six months of working at Reach, things would change immensely for her.
Signing to Reach Records
“We did an artist consultation with 1K Phew. The next day was for RG, but it seemed he was really late,” she explained. “To pass the time, they started playing my music. It was an office joke because they’d dance to my songs all the time. Some of the exec team started coming in and dancing too. I thought they would dance and walk out but they sat down. ‘This is weird’, I thought.”
She continued, “They turn on the TV and my face is on it. ‘This isn’t an artist exec meeting Wande. Well actually it is, and it’s about you’!”
At that moment, they told Wande that they were offering her an artist contract. She had finally done it!
Wande negotiated over her contract for a while and kept her job for another six months so her life didn’t change too much right away. By keeping the job, it provided her income and allowed her to transition to artist to go over smoother. She was working on songs and still coming to work every day. Eventually, there were a lot of music responsibilities and shows, so she phased out once she could financially support herself.
One of the first things she had to do was learn to collaborate with other artists. She was so used to creating on her own and hadn’t yet known the value of bringing others into a creative process.
“I had to figure out who to write with and preferred to write myself, but people don’t trust women,” she said. “Now they trust me to do my thing.”
One of those things was shifting the culture and stepping out of the box a little bit. Although it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, Wande added dancers to her live set and it really added a completely new layer to her artistry. She unveiled that live component at A3C during the Light Work event.
Wande had been training to be a full-time artist for years already. Her internships and work experiences informed her movements.
“Every artist is a small business with little projects whether it be music, tour, promotion. It depends if you are hands-on – which I am,” she said.
During album season, she treats it like a normal job and books sessions 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She arrives at the studio with demos she recorded herself at home. At the studio, she’ll rerecord them professionally with an engineer. They’ll sit, vibe, and play around with the music. When doing new things, she’ll bring in other people, producers, and artists to just have around.
“Gelling with people pushes you to do more,” Wande revealed. “Just going through beats, freestyling, having fun – it gets exciting.”
Wande has been with Reach for over a year and has only had a handful of singles come out. When Hulvey signed, he dropped two EPs immediately. What took Wande so long?
“It hasn’t taken long in terms of music but in terms of people,” she shared. “I would fly somewhere, write a whole album, and would ask for the beat and the person wouldn’t send the song. I learned a lot about how people value you.”
She continued, “They’d make a fire beat at my session but then they’d not want to give it to me and keep it for themselves.” [See quote further up about not trusting women]
“You don’t value me because you think I’m not deserving. I would run into situations like that and would have to start over.”
Wande had an album ready when she signed but thought she could do things better. Then there were the backstabbing people and that takes her to the present. Eventually, the Lord sent the people her way that were involved in this version of the album.
A recent tweet by Wande may be geared toward the backstabbers, “I’ve received a lot of apology messages since this album dropped.”
Now that EXIT is finally here and many reading this have had a chance to digest the project, you can see the character arc in Wande’s story. The rapper takes you on this journey track by track up until this point.
“EXIT is about leaving all things behind so that you can enter the new phase of who God is calling you to be. You’ll go through my brain and lessons I learned in different seasons to unlock how I got to where I was,” stated Wande. “ I talk about the situation at Reach, the situation with people…It’s an encouraging album that tells you to always seek God’s will. We only have time to do what God’s calling us to do.”
The Christian rap fanbase isn’t the only people that have picked up on Wande’s story. ESPN has been an integral part of her “exits” as well.
“ESPN has shown a lot of love to team Wande. It’s very random but they send me emails asking about me and saying they love me,” she said with a laugh.
Wande revealed there is content that she’s making for them later in the year as well.
“It’s cool seeing Christian music on the platform and they let me be explicitly Christian. I don’t have to dumb down anything. They accept me for who I am.”
Today is May 1st, but she spent all of April as Artist of the Month. They played “Be the Light” for the WNBA draft and have played her single “Happy” throughout the month. They even shouted out when the album was dropping a few times.
“I get screenshots every day of people telling me they heard my songs on ESPN.”
It’s amazing that Wande gets to represent Christ on one of the biggest platforms in the world not only as a rapper but as a Nigerian born black woman. There are so many layers to that. She has a platform of visibility for Christians, Nigerians, women, and African Americans. It really is a feat to not be taken lightly, and while these “labels” describe her, they don’t define her either. She isn’t limited to THOSE things because at the end of the day – she is just as good, worthy, and talented as anyone else.
“It’s a delicate balance. I’m appreciative of the whole female rapper tag. It was an exciting time when Nicki [Minaj] dropped, we hadn’t had this. There is beauty in being a woman and celebrating that and championing other women to use their gifts and showcase that,” Wande said. “In ‘Happy’, we are wearing dresses and makeup and being girls. Just get rid of the negative connotations by being good. You won’t look at that video and be like, ‘It’s good for a girl’. No, it was a good video for an artist period.”
She continued, “Your work ethic helps diminish that. There’s nothing wrong with the title female rapper until you start putting negative things with it. Some guys now are starting to unlearn it. A lot of guys are showing me more respect for my artistry than ever before. Now they are looking at me as fire for being an artist, not for being just a female artist.”
A few years back, talented artist Cataphant made #CHHSexism a trend. Since then, there has been a ripple effect in the community. It started with Wande getting signed to Reach Records. Then it was Danielle Apicella to RMG, and finally A.I. the Anomaly to G.O.M. Angie Rose was also signed to Capitol CMG. 2019 was a big year for the women of Christian hip-hop.
Wande has had a little taste of some of this sexism and mistrust from male counterparts. “Some people might be too fearful to do things with me because they are scared of what other people think. ‘I don’t know if I can put a woman on it’. Or me not being a part of the ‘bro club’. I could be missing opportunities because I’m not ‘one of the guys’. If a guy is not intentional about bringing a woman into his space, then it becomes a cycle of collaborating with the same people.”
“Respect” is all that Wande can ask for and deserves. There’s still one more road that hasn’t been crossed – the relationship with her father. She had one more label to level the playing field on and that’s the religion of Islam.
“There is mutual respect. He respects what I do and is aware of the power of God,” Wande disclosed. “Nigerian culture is very prideful. There’s a lot of misogyny where men are the head of the household, a lot of not admitting that you’re wrong. It would take a lot for him to be a Christian because then he’d have to admit everything he told me before was wrong. He’d have to humble himself to his own child and the rest of the family. It’s a lot of pressure but I feel like he’s intrigued. He’s opened minded right now.”
As of right now, all Wande can do is pray that her father’s eyes are opened. The progress includes him coming to performances at churches here and there and he was at her initially signing celebration.
The only thing left for Wande is a tour of her own. She got a taste of it jumping on the weekend west coast leg of the Unashamed tour. Her only responsibility was to rap “Blessed Up” and call it a night. Now, she’s got a whole arsenal of songs and is a legitimate threat of a performer.
“It was beautiful to meet the fans,” she said and now after a deep dive into her journey, it’s beautiful for the fans to get to meet Wande.
We have reached the final destination of this trip. This is the final stop for now, and remember, “Every EXIT is an entrance.”
Be sure to pick up EXIT by Wande and read part one here.
Listen to Wande Below:
Buy or stream here.