Wesley Joseph's 'Beautiful Chemistry' Of Audio And Visual Language

The British artist's new album 'Glow' is only half the story. The rest is told in his gripping visuals

A stylish eye for cinematic detail matched with an ear steeped in both contemporary trends and the past sums up West Midlands-born Brit Wesley Joseph. Growing up hearing his father play Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson, he embraced everything from Lupe Fiasco to Madlib and Gorillaz, a surprising mix of influences that would lay the foundation for the genre-blending alternative hip-hop sound he’s since coined. By the time Joseph turned 13, he was ripping beats from Bandcamp and YouTube to record on his laptop.

“Those moments allowed me to learn how to use my voice,” Joseph tells MTV News. “I got to the point where the music that I wanted to make, I couldn’t because the beats weren’t good enough or I couldn’t structure the songs how I wanted to structure them. I just realized I had to learn how to produce.”

Joseph’s entire journey has led to new album Glow, an accumulation of his experimental musicality and eye for high-art visuals. Released Friday (February 17) through Secretly Canadian, the album is a complete artistic expression of everything the shapeshifting musician and storyteller has to offer.

“It’s the visuals, the textures, the colors, the references, the photography, the artistic visual language of it all that just ties together,” Joseph explains. “There’s so much that goes into it, and it’s not about being super modernized or contemporary. It’s also about pulling from the right places in the past without it feeling dated.”

Joseph served as a founding member of the OG Horse collective, a group of rappers, producers, singers, designers, and photographers that featured a young Jorja Smith and developed a cult following. Looking to expand his creativity, he left for England’s capital in 2016, where he studied film at the London College of Communication. According to Joseph, his musical and visual development happened concurrently.

“It’s kind of a beautiful chemistry because whenever I develop as an artist musically and I have a whole new world of sounds straight away, they’re inspiring a new world of visuals,” Joseph says. “Whenever I grow as a musician, my visuals tend to grow as well because I’ve been working at them for the same amount of time at the same time. Like music, I get to make whatever film I want without boundaries.”

Building his fan base with captivating music filled with moody raps and stunning videos to back them up, his 2021 debut project, Ultramarine earned him a Best Independent Video Award at the AIM Independent Music Awards in 2021 for “Thrilla.” The clip, alongside others he’s directed, features a uniquely personal style that feels tailored to his complete vision from the music itself to the video. In an interview with i-D, Joseph mentioned learning the art of “decoding emotions” in film school by watching the work of legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock. He began understanding how emotions translate on screen and the language required to express them.

He poured all of that into Ultramarine. But despite the accolades and positive reception from listeners, Joseph still felt Ultramarine’s overall reception wasn’t enough at the time. All he wanted was to be respected as an artist and to become a reference point in the conversations of his contemporaries.

“I think we were in a place where I was proud of Ultramarine but it hadn’t started doing what I wanted it to do at that point,” he explains. “I was OK with that because I was really confident in the art, but I was kind of just like this fire in my belly could just prove myself again.”

Utilizing that newfound sense of ambition, Joseph began laying the early foundations for his follow-up to Ultramarine through the appropriately titled Glow. Its debut single, released at the top of 2022, was “Cold Summer,” which he co-produced alongside British electronic maestro Leon Vynehall. “Cold Summer” blends the interpersonal with bold rap bravado over thumping yet haunting production through bars like, “Grandma movin' strong, told me carry on / Dippin' overseas, readin' Socrates / 'Til it's time to leave, somethin' up my sleeve / If you still asleep, no apologies, just don't holla me.”

The accompanying music video that Joseph directed was a dark comedy about a prison break and was shot in Kazakhstan. He explained that filming the concept, where he inhabits a crime boss named Fredrick, in the United Kingdom felt unrealistic for him. That’s mainly due to a few beautiful wide shots in the desert that clearly couldn’t be done at home. According to Joseph, “Cold Summer” was the first song made for the project and set the tone for his re-emergence.

“I was like, this needs to be the supervillain theme song music for the return of the new chapter,” Joseph says. “Then the video was basically the feeling of that put into a video. It was kind of just the entry point emotionally of where I was when I first started Glow. The rest of the project was a natural, emotionally led journey from there.”

Monsoon,” a bouncy single that drips with funk, is about self-discovery about his own personal strengths and weaknesses with lyrics like, “And all the bad and good that’s in my blood / Is just an overview to making sense of all I am / I’m feeling closer / To blacken out the sun again before the day is over / Stood up in the rain / Staring at the face of phobia.” The self-assurance is reflected in the hazy video adaptation that was released last November. According to Joseph, that new understanding about his dichotomy is represented in the video as well as the song itself.

“Let's just strip it back to basics in terms of raw iconography, characters, color, texture, and metaphoric powerful images that could stand alone as photos,” Joseph says of the visual. “For that video, it's kind of like I want to create every scene to be able to be put in a picture frame in a gallery. I wanted it to where you could just stare at it and take your own [meaning] from it.”

Joseph’s appreciation for creatives spans multi-hyphenate Donald Glover, elusive singer-songwriter Frank Ocean, and film director icon Steven Spielberg. Most recently, he’s been inspired by Spielberg’s memoir-adjacent film, The Fablemans, calling the five-time Oscar-nominated film a fire coming-of-age story told exceptionally well. His videos are highly conceptual like that of Glover and Ocean while maintaining the classic cinematic language of Spielberg. Now, Joseph has even bigger ambitions for both musical and visual aspects of his art.

“At some point, I will do a series that I’ll write with some people and I’ll direct it,” Joseph says. He’s already directed a short film called Pandomony, which he also penned and scored. “Once the Grammys are there, once the renowned timeless records are done and I’ve got all of this off my chest, I’ll do films if I can get the funding and stuff. I just know that right now, the music is what I’m chasing.”

Latest News