Josiah Wise, also known as serpentwithfeet, is one of the most diverse and fluid artists working today. He is a performance artist that fuses R&B, gospel, classical, and electronic music to design his own unique, niche sound.
Last month, he released his sophomore album, DEACON, a collection of songs that act as love letters that speak on the topics of intimacy, relationships, and romance. The standout on the album is track two: “Same Size Shoe, which is also a single accompanied by a stunning music video.
“Same Shoe Size” is a visual representation of a day in the life of a Black queer couple at home. The video bounces between a mix of digital and camcorder clips, giving the story a documentary feel. “Same Shoe Size” only features serpentwithfeet and his cast mate — who he labels “my boo” in the lyrics — enjoying a romantic day of intimate activities like eating breakfast together, choreographing dance moves, and reminiscing on Black gay icons.
The imagery within the video, unfortunately, is uncommon among the music industry as Black queer stories are often shunned or erased from the public eye. R&B is known for its sultry romantic storytelling, but these tropes tend to fall under a cisgender, heterosexual gaze.
We had the opportunity to speak with serpentwithfeet about these direct scenes, and how they represent a larger narrative of the Black gay experience.
I saw imagery of the iconic Noah’s Arc scene where Wade & Noah kiss for the first time in the show. Talk to me about that moment and the other easter eggs in the video.
The first offering of thanks is to Jonte’ Moaning who was [on] the cereal box. I’m a huge fan of his. He is a brilliant dancer, choreographer, and performance artist that I discovered online at 18. Instantly became a fan. The next offering is the Noah’s Arc clip that you mention, and then after that, is a clip of Tongues Untied, which is a film by Marlon Riggs. Next, we give thanks to Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill, and Marlon Riggs, who I guess could be considered this Black gay art trinity. My creative director, Rush Davis, and I have been talking about the visuals for months. I’ve been writing this album since 2018, and I didn’t know what other songs would be on the project, but I knew once I wrote it, this would be the single. I knew I wanted the video to show Black gay love, Black gay joy, Black gay effervescence. Davis and I wanted the video to have depth, and we thought it was important that in our joy that we express how we are able to experience this joy. It’s because of the legends before us. These legends developed these beautiful secret texts. I’m able to be Black and gay within my career because my joy has been paid.
“My auntie’s right, don’t fuck a man. If his shoes are two times the size of your hand. Now that I’m grown, I understand.” Can you give me insight into what this particular verse means?
Well first, I will say, my aunty has never said that. I’m carrying. It’s kind of salacious. You know what people say about shoe size, and I was thinking a person who has a shoe two times as big as your hand, that’s a pretty big shoe. And your aunt is trying to warn you, and I will leave it there. I know older Black folks — especially Black women who crack jokes like this — and I was thinking about them.
What are some non-musical inspirations that aided in forming DEACON?
To be honest, Nature was a huge impact for me during this project. Hyacinth (a fragrant flower), which is the title of the first track on the album. Hiking, the breeze, and hummingbirds. In LA we see a lot of hummingbirds. I love watching them flutter around.
My favorite track on the album is “Heart Storm” featuring Nao. How was it working alongside her?
I’m still really excited about it. I always tell her how thrilled I am to be making music with her. It’s funny because we’ve known each other for some years now, and always hinted at working together for a long time. In 2019, I was in London and we started working on a song for her album. It went really well, and she was like, “I like singing with you,” and I responded, “I like singing with you too.” At the end I asked her to see if she could spare some vocals on my album and she said of course. So, we did both. It’s really great that we’re both dropping albums. I’m really excited because I’ve also been a fan for years. This really meant alot to me. She is also so great to work with, and so much fun. We spent a lot of times laughing.
Seven years ago you spoke with Karas Lamb at Okayplayer about the reveal of your current alias, serpentwithfeet. What inspired this particular name?
Well it’s funny because that interview is what turned it into an artist name. While speaking with Lamb, my social media name was “SerpentWithFeet.” I wasn’t really thinking about it being an artist’s name originally, but she came up with that title. I went with it. At that time, I was exploring what it means for Black men to tap into their feminine intelligence, and to tap into their serpentine qualities. Moving in the world in a way that perhaps some us haven’t been groomed to move in the world. I was thinking a lot about serpents during that time. That was the meditation; reimagining masculinity and maleness for myself. It just sort of stuck at a name.
In that same interview, you spoke about your sound and how it was a mix between Kirk Franklin & Bjork. Do you still embody this mash up of very distinct vibes, or has it changed over these past seven years?
I’m still a huge fan of Bjork and Kirk Franklin. I think their impact on my life will always be there. I got the opportunity to perform with Bjork in 2019 for her residency in New York. That was fantastic. I got to do “Blissing Me” with her. Her and Kirk Franklin are always going to be a huge part of my story and inspiration. I don’t think I can talk about my music and not say thank you to Kirk Franklin and Richard Smallwood. Those are two gospel composers that have really transformed the way I think about sounds and lyricism. I think it’s important to study, research, and acknowledge the people that inspire you.
How important is it to you to show and tell non-monolithic black love?
That’s a big question. I just try to be honest. People get to respond how they want to respond, and the music will reach who it reaches. I don’t see myself being the representation of anyone. That’s definitely not my role. I just try to express the way Serpent feels. I try to express my experience, and articulate that as elegantly as I can.
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