Josiah Wise, also known as musician “serpentwithfeet," exists in an afro and queer-centric sector of Black rhythm and blues (R&B) music. His second album, “DEACON,” combines much of the honesty and unnerving elements of his earlier work but is repackaged in a lighter and brighter tone.
The atmosphere created is much more joyful, and it feels like a purposeful declaration of emotion rather than being vapid or ignoring the negatives of everyday life. Within society, Black love is almost always accompanied by trauma, and Wise breaks those categorizations with honesty in his confessional lyrics and production style.
Throughout Wise's career, he has been able to combine Black imagery with a type of honest vulnerability that most artists can't do. Instead of continuing the archetype of the Black youth obsessing over flowers in their hair and defying traditional norms of masculinity, he uses raw lyricism to introduce himself as a romantic.
As a Black artist who primarily writes about his emotions, it feels refreshing to see someone who can't be categorized so easily and is not one-dimensional. The authentic nature in his music is intrinsic, stemming from his Blackness and unique artistic direction. In fact, it's this lack of simple categorization that makes him so captivating.
This joy in simple pleasures isn't seen in his earlier work, which tended to focus on the more violent and tragedy-driven aspects of life. Additionally, the music video consists of Wise and his partner hugging while wearing white, symbolizing his change in mindset and purity toward the ordinary. It feels honest and genuine, and his transition and perspective change shows in his lyricism and visual identity.
The album is full of notable quotes like these, and they feel like extensions of his identity instead of him trying to pander to a specific group of people. In describing Black love in this way, he reverses the stereotype of the trauma that is commonly associated with Black stories and art.
Sonically, the album combines the production style and themes of classic 90s R&B while maintaining the improvisation and spirit of Black gospel music. His choir-like harmonies and gospel influences are a prominent part of his musicianship, and Wise reinforces this influence in his sound selection and songwriting.
His lyrics have always been a mixture of specific and dark, but “DEACON” strips away the complexities commonly associated with love and heartbreak. And although this simplifies his message, it doesn't make it any less effective.
Wise is similar to contemporary Black R&B artists like Giveon and tobi lou in his confessional lyrics and artistic style, but he's unique in his subject matter toward queer love and the Black experience. This type of honest representation is rare for an artist to have without it feeling like pandering, and "DEACON" is a genuine representation of what Black queer love looks that.
Having his musicianship and his message stand on its own is a testament to Wise's artistry, and his latest album is an exploration of his mind and perspective without giving us excess or preachy information.
In his latest artistic statement, he further reinforces his identity in a way that combines visual imagery and subverts Black trauma, and these artistic choices make serpentwithfeet one of the most exciting artists to come out of the Black R&B music scene today.