Rising: Wesley Joseph is learning to let go in real time
“Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson…”
Wesley Joseph smiles warmly, half lost in the memory, as he lists off classic records from his dad’s collection of soul LPs. Before he could even walk, Joseph recalls running his fingers along the furniture, “like I was climbing a mountain to the rhythm of the music playing”.
This enduring influence is keenly felt in Joseph’s music. GLOW, the 26-year-old’s latest project, is a spellbinding blend of soul, avant-R&B, alternative rap and experimental electronic music, bolstered by lyrics that frequently orbit themes of passion and fear, and how the two intersect for him: “To blacken out the sun again before the day is over/ I stood up in the rain, staring at the face of phobia,” he raps somberly on the project’s soothingly languid lead single, Monsoon.
An introspective document of young adulthood, GLOW’s themes reveal themselves through a frank chronicling of Joseph’s struggles with self-doubt and realising his own potential. The studio, he tells me, became a space for healing for him in the lead-up to the album’s release. “This new project is more of a therapeutic embrace,” he says, explaining its creative process. “I’m pretty sure me and [producer] Harvey Dweller cried while making the first song, GLOW. It was like one of those [film] scenes where a guy sits on the piano, starts playing and… it came together in minutes.”
The eight-track project is a colourful expression of Joseph’s busy mind, where tension and release walk in step. While Monsoon is an existential cut in which Joseph expertly utilises his eerie falsetto, I Just Know Highs, co-created with electronic producer Leon Vynehall, is a heady brew featuring a wonky sax line swirling around Auto-Tuned vocals that sit somewhere between Blonde-era Frank Ocean and early Kevin Abstract. The song came together serendipitously in a late-night studio stupor, where “the result was such a surreal blur we weren’t even sure if the song was simply weird or beautiful”, he laughs.
Growing up, Joseph enjoyed the encouragement of creative parents, which perhaps explains his unfiltered approach. His mum is a painter who would curate Black cultural events across the UK – which she attended with a young Wesley in tow – and his dad was in a soul band. Spending his formative years in the West Midlands town of Walsall taught him to explore his imagination, too; he learned to be independent and industrious, in part due to a dearth of creative opportunities available locally. “I’m talking hacking software to download, putting together full albums from your bedroom and using your mum’s tights as a pop filter,” he says with pride. Eventually, he would find a hub for his artistic output as part of the Birmingham musical collective OG Horse, who boast another talented affiliate: his childhood friend Jorja Smith.
In 2016, he moved to London to study film, while continuing to refine his musical practice. These two disciplines collided in 2021 when he self-directed the moody, seaside-set visuals for his single Thrilla (which went on to win AIM Awards’ Best Independent Video that year). But Joseph, an exacting and meticulous thinker, is aware that at this point in his journey he’s still learning. “I tend to zoom in a bit too much at times. I’m very detail-oriented,” he reflects. GLOW, on the other hand, is a major step forward – a lesson in paring back the layers and an exercise in the “art of restraint”, as he puts it. “All the sessions happened in a beautifully spontaneous way, nothing was forced.”
This carefree approach has been a revelation for the budding star, who previously wrestled with what he describes as “the two planes of doubt”; one that drives you to overachieve, the other fuelling imposter syndrome. As he steps into his own as an artist, Joseph is being kinder to himself. Celebratory, even. “If I died, I’d like for my work to provide people with a unique window into who I was. My music is the nectar of who I am.”
Sounds like: Stylish R&B with an electronic bent
Soundtrack for: Epiphanies during golden hour
File next to: Kevin Abstract, Childish Gambino
Our favourite song: Hiatus
Where to find him: @wesleyjoseph__
GLOW is out now via Secretly Canadian