How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the crowd to queen of the stage

The evolution of JessB

Bursting onto the male-dominated hip hop scene, Auckland rapper JessB has gone from a face in the crowd to performing to huge crowds and today, releases her much-anticipated debut EP, Bloom.

Back in the city after doing the summer music festival circuit, the 24-year-old says she’s gone to so many festivals in the past, it was all the sweeter to be there as an artist performing.

“That’s one of my favourite aspects of it all, performing on stage. It’s a real way of connecting with people who enjoy your music, it’s face to face; you give and receive energy from people.”

Rapping since high school, JessB, aka Jess Bourke, says her new EP, produced by P-Money, is the result of her musical, and personal, evolution.

“It’s a long journey to get to the point where you put something out. I’ve been working on the music for the last year but prior to that, there's lots of music and demos that aren’t ever going to be released but kind of needed to happen to find my sound and be comfortable with the artist I am.”

The title, Bloom, reflects this journey: “To bloom is to reach your full form, I’ve been on a big journey lately... both in terms of my identity and my whole musical journey. It feels like I’ve really started to know who I am and who I want to be and where I’m going, and that feels like blooming.”

As a woman of colour, Bourke wants to share her experiences ‒ and not just lyrically.

“It’s so much more than the music, what I’m trying do. I’m keen to talk about issues that are being faced by people like me at the moment. I think it’s important to have awareness around all the different ways we can talk about feminism and all the intersecting issues, because we’re not winning unless we’re all winning.”

Some of this she explores on Bloom, but there are also more light-hearted tracks too, like ‘Take it Down’, she says.

The music video for the song, released recently, features Rubi Du, aka Silva MC, and has a distinctive dancehall sound, but she says she doesn’t stick to just one style.

“I don’t like to box myself in, I like the option to have lots of different sounds, explore different sounds... I definitely like my groove and hip-hop, something that makes you feel like you wanna dance.

Her influences include early 2000s hip-hop ‒ Timbaland and Missy Elliot are some favourites ‒ and she listens to a lot of female rappers, like Sampa the Great and Leikeli47.

Being female in the music industry doesn’t faze her.

“It's definitely male-dominated but my experience has actually been really positive. I’ve been able to create interest because I am slightly different to what New Zealand hip-hop is known to be. I haven’t had any direct negative experiences [but] people will have their own preconceived kind of notions about what I should and shouldn't be doing.”

Whatever she’s doing though, is working.

JessB’s new EP Bloom is out now. See her live at the EP release party in Auckland on 6 April, click here for details.