It’s not really possible for Tyesha Wilson to be more of a jawn.
She’s Philly to the core. The internet could see that clearly in a fancam video from a 2018 Sixers-Heat game. The rapper Freeway was in the arena, and some of the fans were rapping along to “What We Do,” word for word.
“Freeway was at the game, so it was a lot more for everybody to just show out,” recalled Wilson, 36, who grew up in North Philly not too far from Freeway. “We know the guy from in the neighborhood, so I got up and I pledged my allegiance, ‘cause, you know, that’s our anthem.”
The video took a new life during the November election. Memes signifying Philly pride came flying down the timeline, with Philadelphia taking center stage as votes were counted. The old fancam video got revived, much to Wilson’s surprise and delight. A quick video of her rapping in one popular tweet got more than one million views.
Wilson was one of many fans featured on the fancam that night, and she’s in the clip for only a matter of seconds. Still, the way she recited Freeway’s words stood out to people. Many memes can be fly-by-night, but the image of Wilson reciting lines at that game has become enduring.
“What We Do” is personal for Wilson. When Beanie Sigel raps, “Like my brother, like same mother different father. Any problems, dog know I got him,” she feels that, because she and her sister are the same way. When the two of them would go out, they’d play that song. The song represents the experience of so many in their neighborhood, she explained, but also, reminds her how much she loves her sis.
“It’s like a tattoo that I don’t have,” Wilson said of the song.
Her life is a lot different now than it was back then. She lives on a Pennsylvania farm but is quiet about sharing exactly where. Still, she comes home to Philly often. Before the pandemic, she said, she had attended every Sixers home game for the last six years. She and her partner are discussing making it to the away games, too, when it’s safe. In the meantime, she’s turned the meme into T-shirts, available through email and Instagram.
Wilson spoke to The Inquirer from the farm to discuss the fancam video and the reaction. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What did you think when people started to share the video during the election?
To be honest? I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it. The video is two years old. I had no idea and then I see it and it’s — I don’t know! My soul came out of my body.
Where are you from?
Oh my gosh, North Philadelphia. I lived all over. I can tell you when I first opened my eyes to the world I was at Third and Susquehanna. Then we moved down to Marshall and Thompson. Then we lived up 16th and York, 31st and Huntingdon, and so, you know.
I saw on your IG that you’re a heavy Philly sports fan.
Well, I was born into this. When you wake up, after you eat and you hear your mom screaming, “Go boy, go!! Go boy go!!” for the Eagles, and then my sister — she used to play ball in junior high school. ... Now, you know, my beau, we have season tickets [for the Sixers]. So we always at the games. And it’s just a passion.
It’s in here. (She pats her chest above her heart.) You gotta cut me open — it’s green. I’ll show you; I promise.
I feel you. How does it feel to know that you represent that Philly energy now?
I love it. Because in my opinion, I kind of represent people that I know that came from where I came from — my struggle. You can be from the hood and not be hood. Because that was me, but you know, I went to school, started doing my thing.
It gives me a sense of pride. I feel like a patriot for Philadelphia because we have our own little clique, our little thing.
How are you feeling about this season for the Sixers?
Girl! Oh my gosh, to be honest, I don’t want them to play because I want this stuff to clear out. I care about their safety.
I think everybody should just take a break, let it clear out, but American greed won’t stop, you know? They need they money. But yeah, I won’t go until it’s time to go. I hope everything get better so I can get back, so I can scream and root for my team.
What do you do for a living now?
Nothing. And I’ve been a student for so long. I’m on break.
What am I? I’m like a not-married housewife. I’ve been in a situation for about 10 years now. And I’ve been up here, we’ve been shacked up for six.
(Putting on a voice that sounds like actress Jackée Harry) We married, but we ain’t married.
I have to ask. Politically, what were you thinking during the election?
Can you bleep out the curse words?
(Screaming) F— YEEESS!!!!!
You said “What We Do” is like a tattoo that you don’t have. How do you mean?
When you see somebody that came up from where you came from and make it and still be positive.
I mean, it’s OK, to say things but these rappers [today] say stuff and talk about these lives that they don’t live. And Freeway never was that guy. … He wasn’t only rapping; he was selling bean pies. He was doing anything he could do.
Even to this day, he’s successful, and he ain’t gotta be no killer. I like that. And people want to aspire to be that because you either dead or you in jail. And nobody wants to stay there. Nobody wants to perpetuate that.
So yes, it’s inspiring, and it gives you hope you can make it. And I want to pass that to other people, too. Because I feel like I’m making it, too.