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Bear Witnez doesn’t shy away from his checkered past; he once sold marijuana to make ends meet. He’s also candid when it comes to the DMV’s hip-hop scene—-he says its the most talented scene in the world.
So he’s pretty confident. While there are plenty of great MCs here, Bear says his combination of raw honesty and vocal projection makes him the best.
Bear spoke with Arts Deskabout his personal struggles, his new Witnez Winter EP, and why he’s a leader of the local hip-hop scene.
Washington City Paper: What is different about your EP?
Bear Witnez: This Witnez Winter EP is really a buffer kind of CD, it’s a transition. The last album I put out was Bear Season: Out of Hibernation, which was really more of an introduction. With Out of Hibernation, I’ve been doing this for a minute, but I kind of fell back a little bit, saw the time was right to jump back in it, so I did that with the Bear Season. I’ve got a history of battle rapping. I came up big in the open-mic circuit, the battle rap scene and all that, but that doesn’t make money.
So, basically what I’m doing now is transitioning myself to becoming a mainstream artist. This CD here is the lunch between breakfast and dinner, ya know what I mean? You don’t wanna completely shell shock your fan base, coming completely commercial, so this is a transitional CD—-showing my lighter side, showing my sense of humor and a little bit of my versatility. This CD is only supposed to have the shelf life of about a month or so. It’s really just a tester to get them wanting a little more. It’s enough to give you the growth, but it’s not gonna get you full.
WCP: You said you came up as a battle rapper. What are the differences between battle rapping and being an actual artist?
BW: I think the one similarity is that it’s still competition, just a different form of competition, but it’s a more polished and overall picture, as opposed to battle rapping. Hip-hop is a sport, so it’s almost like battle rapping is almost like basketball. You can play somebody one-on-one, but that doesn’t mean you can get four other guys on a court and actually win a championship. You may be able to dog somebody one-on-one, that’s kind of the difference between battle rapping. The only thing that I miss about battle rapping is it’s the only time when groupies, cosigns, smoke and mirrors can’t help you. It’s just you and another person face to face, so who’s better is clearly visible. It’s not about who’s on your team. It’s not about who you run with, who’s your feature, what kind of beats you got, it’s not about any of that. When you’re battle rapping, it’s just your talent and that’s it. You’re just butt naked in the ring with another person.
Whereas commercially, there’s a lot of other things that go into it. As you see, talent doesn’t do it. The streets are littered with some of the most talented people that are nameless. You have your other artists that are ruling the airwaves right now—-not all of them, but a lot—-that are very lacking, in my opinion. They are very lacking in the talent department, but they have everything else. They have the team behind them, they have the right production behind them, they have the entire organization.
WCP: What kind of sound is on the EP?
BW: It’s a little bit of everything. The sound is actually a mix. It’s an EP because there’s only 10 tracks on it—-all of them are not full songs, some are just verses. It’s about half original, half instrumental. The album that’s coming out is gonna be all original music, but with this, I did a few original records to show ’em a more personal side, as opposed to the “I can rap better than you”-type of songs. The freestyles are just that, they’re just a display of talent over industry beats, but I tried to pick classic beats that haven’t been touched. I went back and pulled some classic records that people will definitely recognize when they hear it, but can’t say they’ve heard anyone rap over them. I try to stay away from what everyone else is doing.
WCP: So do you have a full-length album coming out in the near future?
BW: Yes. BEwARe is the forthcoming album, coming out sometime around March or early April. The single that I have right now is called “I’m A Hustler,” and that’s really a buzz single. I got over 300 spins between all the markets, with the majority of the spins on WKYS. They’ve been rocking that song since July. It’s beginning to tail down a little bit, but that song ran strong for a good four or five months.
WCP: What’s going to be the sound of BEwARe?
BW: The question I’ve never been able to answer is when people ask who I am or what is my sound. I don’t really have a definitive sound because I’m an artist in the purest sense of the word. I don’t just rap, I’m an artist. The feel is big. Everything is big, everything is epic. I want an epic feel. I want everything to feel like a moment, an event. But as far as a definitive sound, I’ve got a little bit of everything. I’ve got some sample-based production and I’ve got some original production. I’ve got some R & B singers on the album. I’ve got the hip-hop feel. It’s a little bit of everything. I truly consider myself a well-rounded artist, and the closest person that I could really compare myself to artistically is a Jay-Z. I feel like whatever I do, honesty and integrity is most important. I try to be completely honest in my music, even if it makes me the goat. In some situations, everything is not beautiful, so I don’t tell stories where I sold a million keys and rode off into the sunset. It doesn’t work that way. I try to present life as it really is.
WCP: What kind of personal struggles have you gone through, and how does that influence your art?
BW: I believe that everything a person goes through develops their character. It either can make you, or it can break you, but it develops your character regardless. I don’t want to say I’ve been through a lot, because for everybody that has a sob story, there’s a person who has it worse than you do. I’ve done it all. My father left was I was about 12 or 13. I kind of got lost a little bit, trying to find guidance in the wrong places. I’ve done the drug thing, and I was quite successful in it. I was never arrested, I made a lot of money off of it, so God blessed me with that. God also blessed me with the opportunity of making it out without having to snitch on anybody. I never had to hurt anybody doing what I did.
The only reason I actually started doing that in the first place was to fund my music. I got tired of waiting on people. I wanted to have the funds to walk into the studio, throw a couple thousand dollars on the table and say “Gimme this beat, no talking, I want the studio time, we’re gonna press this album up.” Unfortunately, when you get into it full-time on the underworld side, it kinda takes you over and I lost sight of what I was supposed to be doing. I squandered a lot of that money on clothes, girls, cars, jewels and all that type of stuff.
WCP: You put all that on your records?
BW: Yeah. I don’t do that every song. It’s a soundbite society, so a lot of times, people don’t listen to what you’re saying. I try not to talk about it on every song, because I don’t want people to classify me as that type of artist like, “Aw, all he talk about is street stuff” because my life is raw. I try to talk about everything—-the ups and downs of relationships and all forms of relationships from a pimp-hoe scenario to a husband-wife scenario. I talk about everything, you know what I mean? Social, political, I’m a well rounded artist. I try to touch on everything there is to talk about.
WCP: What makes you stand out from everybody else?
BW: My patience, first and foremost, because most of the people that were rapping when I first started aren’t anymore. I think the balance of other raw talent, mixed with the integrity, the honesty, the voice. I think I have one of the most powerful voices, not only in the DMV, but in the world. It just needs to be heard more in other states, so people can hear it, and say “Oh, that’s Bear.” I’m passionate about what I do. I love what I do and I think that’s the difference between me and a lot of people. They do it because they can, and because it’s cool, but they don’t really care.
WCP: What do you think is missing from the DMV hip-hop scene?
BW: Truth be told, opportunity. I believe that the DMV hip-hop scene is the most talent-rich scene in the world. And I’m saying that from a biased standpoint. I listen, I study other areas, and it’s not offense to any other area. It’s truly a melting pot, all these different people from so many different places. D.C. doesn’t have one definitive sound if you step outside of go-go. And truth be told, go-go doesn’t really belong in this round because it’s a separate music in itself. But when you talk about the actual hip-hop scene, you got people who go to college—-from all over the country—-that rap. They’re bringing their flavor.
D.C. artists, outside of Wale, never had a set of artists to look up to musically, so you had to look to other regions. I believe once we get the opportunity, once the door is completely open, we’re not letting it go. It’s ours, because we’ve got so much talent and so many different types. If you look at the top 25 artists here, they’re all completely different, but we’re all from the same place. We’re missing opportunity and we’re missing a leader. There has to be that galvanizing force that everyone can look forward to and say “this is how you’re supposed to do it.”
WCP: Aside from yourself, do you see anybody who can be that leader you just spoke of?
BW: It’s tough to say, cause there’s definitely a lot of talent here. Maybe I’m just selfish, maybe I’m just completely biased, but I truly believe that I’m that person. I don’t think there’s anyone else here that’s more qualified. I’m not saying I’m the best rapper. I honestly believe that top to bottom, everything that’s being brought to the table, that there’s nobody that’s doing what I’m doing and there’s nobody that’s capable of doing what I’m doing right now. Not saying there’s not some kids right now eating Cheerios, writing at the table that’s ready. But as of right now, there’s other people I would put on my level that I respect as a peer, but even then I feel like they’re missing something that I’m not.
Bear’s Witnez Winter project dropped Feb. 1. Go here to download it.