SHI WISDOM with LION BABE and KJ as part of THE KNOWN UNKNOWN & THE MAIN INGREDIENT at Revival (783 College), Friday (May 24). $20-$25. EB, PDR, SS. See listing.
The Billboard charts are full of superstars who started out writing hits for other people: Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Lady Gaga. We perceive their transition into the spotlight as a promotion, and the end goal. But Toronto neo-soul singer Shi Wisdom sees it differently.
"For me, becoming an established writer is more of a priority than becoming a performer," says Wisdom, born Renee Wisdom. "I will always perform and sing. But that in itself [doesn't guarantee] longevity. It's not easy to stay relevant in the scene for many years as a performer, whereas writing is a gift that stays with you."
So far, she's doing okay. As well as penning her own songs, Wisdom co-wrote Roc Nation star Rita Ora's debut single, R.I.P., with fellow Torontonian Drake.
But it's her rich, versatile singing - part laid-back Erykah Badu, part rolling Beyoncé trill (two artists she's covered), part edgy je ne sais quoi in her lower register - that's made her a sought-after headliner.
Wisdom was first an opener at The Known Unknown, a music series started five years ago in the small Bloor and Ossington club Lambadina by Tika Simone. Recognizing the need to spotlight local urban artists, Simone originally called it Intimate & Interactive and intended to perform herself before realizing her calling was showcasing others.
Friday's concert is the first time Wisdom will headline, supported by New York soul-R&B duo Lion Babe and local emcee KJ, who did a verse on Wisdom's 2011 hit LoveSpeak.
Wisdom has sung on KJ songs, too, and has been getting myriad feature offers from rappers. But while she adores KJ, works often with Kardinal Offishall (who lives 15 minutes away from her) and has collaborated with JD Era, beyond that, she's selective.
"I don't want to be known as the hook girl. I'm a singer. I want to sing with singers," she says. "I rarely put features on my songs, because I'm showcasing myself. I want to write the song and sing the song."
Appropriately, Wisdom's debut album will be almost all Shi . Intervention (independent), dropping later this year, has just one guest spot (on the first single, Monster). She also adds production credits to her resumé, on a deeply personal song called The Mirror.
"I'm excited to share it," she says.
Not as excited as we are to hear it.