ISHA: The Belgian rapper who dreams from elsewhere

The French rap explosion in recent years is quite astonishing. The wave of new artists is one of the symptoms of a renewed public interest for this kind of music, which was left behind years ago. This renewal has made people want to offer something unique. Isha, previously known as Psmaker, is back with a short project with a lot of character. But as ten years have passed, does this character still suit the new era? We met Isha, the belgian rapper who has made a fresh start.

Airplane Mode: You took a long break before coming back this year; did you completely stop making music in the meantime?

Isha: One never really stops. Even if I didn’t really have any projects, I was one foot in the door. When someone would call me to perform 8 or 16 bars, I was always up for it. It was a break, but not a real one; I simply didn’t have any projects and no ambition in that respect.

AM: So, you came back with your real name, Isha.

Isha: First I thought: well, I’m going to set up a project to seriously get back into music. But that was before I started working with my current producer. But I always kept in mind the idea of doing something quite solid. Then, I joined my current team and the name change happened while we were working on this project.

AM: Does the change bear a symbolic meaning for you?

Isha: Yes. But it is also because, to be honest, the name PsMaker was difficult to pronounce. I always had critics telling me that my real name could be a good stage name.

“I thought at that time that something had changed in the rap scene”

AM: Why did you get back into music; did someone push you to or did you feel the need to?

Isha: I thought at that time that something had changed in the rap scene, and not only in the Belgian one. That was the time of guys like Kaaris, Joke, Niro, who arrived 4 or 5 years ago and brought a sense of freshness. I hadn’t enjoyed listening to rappers or watching their music videos in a while. And then, I thought, actually, I want to get back in the game.

AM: Did you want something more easy-going and less serious?

Isha: Yes and even in terms of visuals, it was “cleaner”, unique. I related to this generation of new rappers and I wanted to be part of it. Then, there was the Belgian wave that made me feel that I belonged to it and that my project was concrete. I was in the right place at the right time.

AM: Regarding this new Belgian wave, did you feel any impact on your audience and in general?

Isha: Nobody saw it coming, even if backstage everybody knew something was going on. From the outside, it looked crazy, but even before Hamza released H24, we already knew that record labels were on it. When it was released, our assumptions were confirmed. This motivated me to continue my project.

AM: Rap has become the most popular music among young people; do you notice it?

Isha: For a while, I didn’t realize the effect our music has on young people. I only noticed it when Jeanjass and Caballero invited me to the ULB Nocturnes. There were 4000 people I think and the average age was quite low, they were kids. It was there that I realized the music we make reaches young people. A lot of people, like me, refused to accept rap and today they’re changing their minds. There is also a return to the previous technical components: sample, rhythmic, bass, etc. It’s the very essence of rap in sum, which Drake brought back. The new generation as well as the previous one like it, and we, as rappers, can feel this.

AM: What was the creation process for this album like?

Isha: My creations are always based on inspiration and I was inspired at that time. I took some music and the instrumental told me what to tell. There are not really any specific topics and even when I have one, I always change them. Sometimes I can have a topic for months, like Le Frigo Américain (The American Fridge), I need music to start writing. Some topics are based on a single idea, and others come from nowhere. I never know what the outcome will be but I keep moving forward.

“There is also a return to the previous technical components: sample, rhythmic, bass, etc. It’s the very essence of rap in sum”.

AM: When you talk about the American fridge, is it a metaphor?

Isha: No, I’m talking about an actual fridge. It made me dream when I was a child and still does. But there is a metaphor because this fridge represents my goal, my success and comfort in life. There is a double meaning but I’m really talking about the object.

AM: Regarding the album, the first song La Vie Augmente is really calm and out of touch with the rest in this regard.

Isha: For me and those who know me, this first song is even more a part of me than singles like Oh Putain, Tony Hawk, 3h37 or La Rue Pelletier. I have released an album in which I modestly talk about myself almost 10 years ago and this song is like its successor. It is the introspective song, the one through which you get to know me more. It is one of my favorites because all the diversity of the album can be found in it. There is a bit of madness like in Oh Putain, some emotion and nostalgia that you find in Le Frigo Américain, and also a bit of rage as in Yipiya. You have the whole album in a 3-minute song.

AM: In SOAB you say “Je devais arrêter de rapper mais j’ai fait une grosse erreur” (I was about to stop rapping but I made a big mistake). Did you have the feeling that this break was an obligation?

Isha: Honestly, I wonder really often if I should stop rapping, I’m quite unstable. Once or twice I really wanted to drop everything; I even stopped listening to music. Maybe at that time I didn’t feel comfortable, nothing was going on. I was always questioning, and I still don’t have answers to all these questions. It (rap) makes my family and friends happy, I feed off it and it helps me to develop projects, but do I really want to go further? This sentence will gain meaning in a year or two when I’ll have problems to face. There are always problems when things work. Then, I will think: “Shit, I decided to stop and now I’m in trouble.”

AM: Coloris
(featuring Caballero and Hamza) has a crazy commercial potential, it gets good feedback. Why is it not in the album?

Isha: If you listen to the ten songs, you’ll see that my goal was to make it flow and for the album to pass like a summer breeze. I thought that Coloris was too similar to Oh Putain. I needed one banger, not two. And Coloris is no a failed featuring but a collaboration. According to me, there is a difference between a feat, where you have something homogeneous, and a collaboration where you see the structure. You can feel that we weren’t together when we did our verses.

I already had the piece (of music) for a year and I needed two dope rappers on it. It met with a lot of success, it was played on the radio but I don’t think it went well with La Vie Augmente. That’s it.

AM: Do you plan going back on tour?

Isha: We have already played some gigs. I feel comfortable on stage, more than in the studio. It makes me feel sensations that I had previously felt. There are only a few things in rap that I can really relate to, and being on stage is definitely my thing.


AM: You’re often called “The Belgian”, but in L’Augmentation pt. 1 you say “On a jamais aimé Bruxelles” (We never liked Brussels). Why?

Isha: Here I feel like an alien. In terms of mentality and approach, I feel out of the loop. It’s difficult to live with other people long term and when you don’t share the same point of view on life and success; relationships become pointless. I reproach Brussels for my past: the neglection of the potential of youth. We’ve been making music for 15 years and it was not before we were talked about in France that they started talking about us in Belgium. It’s distressing; I have the feeling that everybody missed the boat. Young people are not encouraged to innovate here, it’s all fake. There are subsidies, but they are very difficult to get and always granted to the same kind of projects.

There is also a racist tension that I’ve been feeling since I was a kid. I was born in Saint-Luc and grew up in Woluwe. During police control, I was always asked what I was doing there and I would answer that “I live here; you see the building two kilometers away, I was born there”. Black is still associated with fear. And it’s always when I open my mouth to talk to people that they think: “Oh, but he is actually a sensitive person, not a thug.” I’m fed up with this tune. I’d like people to learn more about me without any prejudices. When you feel like moving away since you were a teenager and have the same feeling at the age of 30, that your future is somewhere else, there is obviously a problem with your environment.

AM: And where would you like to go?

Isha: The only country I feel attracted to right now is Canada. People there don’t care about how you’re dressed, how you look or where you come from. What matters is what you’re able to do and what you deserve.

I try to make the young people aware; they should leave Brussels and look for a better place to live. Even in Paris, it’s different. If you ask a 16 or 18 year-old guy or girl what they want to do, they would answer that they want to be their own boss. Even if it’s a small business, like a pizzeria, they want to do it on their own. Here we say “I want to work for Mr So-and-so”. It’s the only place where people think like this, it’s quite revealing of the Belgian way of thinking.

AM: Are you taking your time for the second part of the album?

Isha: Today you have no choice. If you take your time, people forget you. The first songs must be released within 6 months. I feel confident; I have quite a lot of pieces in process on which I’d like to work for the second part. What I’d like is that within two months, well-known beat makers will like the project and we can work together. For some albums, you can feel that the beat makers who worked on it were dope, like those who work with SCH, Lacrim and others. My goal is to attract them and work with them. It’s often a matter of feeling. I’d like people to feel that there are other guys behind the project.

Interview by Valentin Mattelaer.