Meet Anna Wise: The Spectral Voice on “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” and Her New Album

You’ve already listened to Anna Wise, you probably just didn’t know it at the time. On “Money Trees,” Kendrick Lamar’s adenoidal half-singing has a more melodic complement–that was Anna Wise. “Cartoon & Cereal,” Lamar’s magnum opus featuring a typically unhinged Gunplay, also features Anna Wise’s spectral presence on the song’s chorus. She even made brief cameo on “Westside, Right on Time.” But she was most prominent on “Real,” and for her chorus she received credit as a feature.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city only featured the vocals of a single Top Dawg Entertainment member (Jay Rock), so how’d Anna Wise, an unknown vocalist, end up with such a heavy influence?

Wise attended (but didn’t graduate from) Berklee School of Music, and while in Boston formed a musical partnership with fellow attendee Dane Orr, a saxaphone student. Berklee was Wise’s third conservatory; previous attempts at both classical and jazz training school ended with her departing the programs before their completion.

Together, Orr and Wise became Sonnymoon. When Andreas Hale of Life and Times asked the duo about how they met, Orr answered “We knew that this is what we are supposed to do. It was immediately obvious that we brought out the best of each other.” The story is, in fact, a little less mystical and a bit more meet-cute: they moved into separate rooms in a mutual friend’s apartment, and began making music the same weekend. In 2011, after over two years of Sonnymoon and one debut album (Golden Age), Wise and Orr were roadtripping across the country when Wise received a fateful phone call. On the line was Kendrick Lamar.

In a March interview with Billboard, Wise said that Lamar had sought out her phone number after hearing Sonnymoon’s “Nursery Boys” on YouTube. Shortly thereafter, Orr and Wise rerouted their trip through Carson (Wise believed it to be Compton, the next town over). Wise described collaboration with Lamar by comparing him to a film director (“a Quentin Tarantino type”) and herself to an actor in his production.

After her work was finished on GKMC, Wise returned to Boston, but stayed in touch with the Compton rapper; when it came time to start production on Lamar’s most recent effort, To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar again contacted Wise.

“These Walls” was the first time Wise and Lamar had written together; in both her interview with Billboard and a recent interview with SHUF Sounds, Wise used the word “trance” in an attempt to expound on their combined creative process.

When with Orr, Wise’s music largely skews toward jangling, avant-garde experimentation. Sonnymoon’s recently released The Courage of Present Times digs deeply into dissonance and the en vogue post-everything sounds of Brooklyn, circa 2015. Though its sounds are varied, The Courage and TPAB share an essential, immutable influence: jazz. Through markedly different paths, Wise and Lamar have arrived at the same place.

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