Joyce Wrice
Photo: Logan Williamson / Press

Joyce Wrice Is Overgrown in Life’s Garden

Throughout our Google Meet video call, Joyce Wrice was throwing back a bottle of Pedialyte to recover from a hangover from the previous evening’s listening party for her debut album Overgrown. She said about the experience, “It was really wholesome and cute. Everybody was sitting on the grass listening to the album from start to finish. A lot of the people who were there were people who’ve known me for six years so they’ve seen my growth.” 

Through what she calls not “the best speakers, to be honest, but they still did the album justice,” her close community that surrounds her heard the result of what has been quite the journey of musical and emotional development. Wrice has had a variety of experiences in those six years that she grew through and beyond. 

“We decided to come up with a song about how all our fears and anxieties have overgrown,” she said of the album’s title track, which spurred the project’s name. “That it was time for us to just let go, get out of our own way, and shine our light.” As that song is the conclusion of the album, in order to get to that place of enlightenment, Wrice had to toil with a variety of conundrums and necessities for elevation.

To mature past something, you must start with troublesome conflict. Thus, Overgrown centers on what many would call a toxic relationship. One that is built on unhealthy yet inherently human fixation. 

“I was dickmatized and obsessed,” Wrice said of one of the standout tracks, “Addicted.” 

“I could not stop thinking about this person. I could not be open to the possibility of being involved with other people because this person just consumed me.” This is a very forthcoming admission, which lets you into the honest experience of youthful love and lust that Wrice went through. She doesn’t hold back from admitting her flawed desires in conversation or on record, which makes you feel less ashamed about your own. 

Wrice even allows space for other perspectives on problematic love like a flagrant interlude by Buffalo, NY-bred rapper Westside Gunn. He seems to represent the attitude of the partner she’s conflicted about. “I had to cut shit out because it was too much,” she shared about his contribution to the album. “I didn’t give him any instructions. I just said, ‘I love your music and what you do. Do your thing.’ I wish I would’ve given him a little context before he did it, but we made it work and I love what he’s saying.” Wrice is a craftswoman with her sequencing but allows continued space for a well-rounded unshielded truth about complex yearning and manipulating. 

Joyce Wrice
Photo: Breyona Holt / Press

Wrice delves into another side of her journey on the enticing track “Losing,” where she explores the further processing of her thoughts and feelings. “I could see [her lover’s] potential and liked the idea of that, but I realized that it was unhealthy for me and I could do better,” she shared. “I had to be OK with losing this person because I was gonna get to the point where I was losing sight of myself.” 

Yet, cleverly, next there is an outro called “You” that displays Wrice reneging on her choice to separate. “Then the outro comes and I’m like, ‘Actually if you can really get it together then maybe we can make this work.’ It was really a back and forth, but that’s life. That’s love. Shit is complicated.” 

Wrice’s acknowledgement that her own growth isn’t permanent and has potential for backtracking breathes pure humanity into Overgrown overall. She seems unafraid to express that mistakes are necessary steps toward awakening.

To reach an all encompassing expression like Overgrown, Wrice had to explore not just complicated experiences with intimacy, but a lifelong sonic passage. From her youth, riding in her father’s car singing along to the likes of Brandy, Mariah Carey, and Tamia, Wrice found an element of escapism to that era of R&B which she channels in all her music. 

“I’m my mom’s only daughter, so I mostly stayed at home,” she said. “Music was my best friend and my first love. It brought me into a whole other world that I had never experienced. I could really feel the essence and emotions behind it. It’s so powerful that the voice can have that impact. So I wanted to have that impact on people.”

With a song like “Falling in Love” featuring Lucky Daye toward the beginning of Overgrown, you can hear and feel Wrice combining her own real-life experiences with the nostalgic essence of her childhood musical memories. As she sings, “Nobody comes before you, there’s no way that you’d need more if I give you all of me,” over writhing synths, both worlds collide in harmony.

Another song from her youth Wrice remembers specifically singing with her father was “Only You Remix” by 112 feat. Notorious B.I.G. This specific mid-’90s singer-rapper style translated into tracks on Overgrown like her standout single “On One” featuring Freddie Gibbs. However, Wrice said her first LA recording sessions also had an impact. “My first studio experience was with Polyester The Saint, a rapper and producer who also worked with Dom Kennedy. For me, that’s just what I knew at the time. I think because I grew up listening to those types of collaborations I’m really just a product of that.”

Wrice also blossomed with huge assistance from producers who’ve helped formulate her compositions. She recalled, “I met MNDSGN in 2013 and his sound changed my life. It introduced me to the style of music I want to do. When I was working over the beats he sent me, it was the first time I could effortlessly write or come up with melodies.” 

Producer MNDSGN is a member of the crew of legendary producers from Stones Throw Records (J Dilla, Madlib, Alchemist, Knxwledge). Wrice expressed that their “special world” of sounds MNDSGN introduced her to helped her to specify her own. MNDSGN still appears on the Overgrown track “Hot Minute Interlude,” also featuring Devin Morrison, but much of the album is produced by R&B production legend D’Mile, who just took home a Grammy for Song of the Year for his production on H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe.” 

“D’Mile is a silent killer,” Wrice shared. “He’s so quiet and humble it blows my mind. I go into the studio. He asks me how I’ve been and what’s been on my mind, and I’ll share it with him because he creates such a safe space. Then he just starts creating the beat from that and it’s exactly how I would like for the song to sound. He’s inspired and motivated me to get better because I’m trying to keep up with his production.” D’Mile also produced for some of Wrice’s inspirations she mentioned, like Usher and Janet Jackson, which makes their tones blend like a perfectly sweet fruit smoothie.  

The final element necessary to complete Overgrown was a long-time-coming cross pollination of Wrice’s music and her Japanese heritage. Wrice practices Nichiren Buddhism and her daily practice has heavily informed her ability to find clarity in her mindstate and musicianship. She said, “My practice has helped me stay on track. My practice helps me remind myself of my purpose. I chant morning and night and that helps me be grounded in gratitude. So whenever I’m giving into my insecurities, which could be being on social media and comparing myself to other people, constantly creating but not really liking what I’m making, or (anticipating) some type of obstacle coming up, I never give up on myself.” 

That practice seemed to also result in a fate-like song creation of the Overgrown track “That’s On You Remix” featuring UMI during the pandemic. Wrice said about it, “I’ve always in the back of my mind wanted to incorporate Japanese lyrics into my music. But it just had to be the right song. I just had an epiphany listening to “That’s On You” and I felt like I could incorporate Japanese lyrics into it. Then how much more special would it be if I could have UMI, who’s also half Black and half Japanese like me get involved. She also speaks Japanese way better than me.” 

The track became the first time Wrice sang in Japanese on her own song. It’s even keenly sequenced on the album toward the end, signifying its special place in her journey of enlightenment right before the previously mentioned title track.

Wrice’s wildly craveable hook on “Addicted” and “On One” video choreography to the potently specific lyricism on “Losing” and her “embracing the process and journey” throughout the album, prove Overgrown is quite the culmination of her odyssey and potential. Wrice’s catalyst to synchronize all of these elements simply came from life itself. 

“We’re not always gonna be prepared for what’s to come, but if you are persistent and consistent with the work that you’re putting in there’s no doubt that you’ll reap the benefits,” she shared. “In addition to the heartache I was going through overall, the album is really a vulnerable side of me talking about what I struggle with. It’s the reason why it took me so long to create. I felt like it was so fitting to title the album Overgrown to encourage people to tend their garden. Do the gardening they need to do to fully blossom and become the best version of themselves.”