Beats, Collab Dreams, and The Hawaiian Shirt Mafia – An interview with Jamal of SWIDT

SWIDT
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SWIDT (See What I Did There) is on the rise. A 5 man Hip-Hop collective from Onehunga, Auckland, they enjoyed huge success with their début album ‘SmokeyGotBeatz Presents “SWIDT vs EVERYBODY”’ which was nominated for the “Critic’s Choice Award” and won the “Best Urban/Hip Hop” Album of the year at last year’s VNZMA.

They have just released ‘Close One’, the third instalment in a new 4 Part series focusing on the guys teenage years growing up in Onehunga.

The first instalment, Alfred & Church was produced by Tae Beast of Digi+Phonics (Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q). At the time of the interview, part 2 “Little Did She Know” was their latest release, a reflection of the trouble they would get up to behind their mothers’ backs.

In my first interview for Will Not Fade, I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with Jamal, a rapper/producer in the group that also includes producer SmokeyGotBeatz, rap duo SPYCC & INF and Boomer-Tha-GOD.

After connecting on how relatable “Little Did She Know” was (and reminiscing on the punishment when we got caught) we talked about SWIDT’s process for choosing a beat and theme for each track.

Jamal: We just sit there and go through each beat, and we only use the beats that everyone likes. Because we like to have a feeling, if one person’s not feeling it for a reason, then we don’t [use it], it’s not the one. Our main process is just getting together and vibing out, and the subject always come from how we’re feeling at the time.

Jayden: It must be so easy for you guys.

Jamal: I think it is, because we’re talking about ourselves, we’re not trying to be something else.

Jayden: You guys came up together right?

Jamal: Yeah, all of us grew up in the same hood. I met these guys later on down the track. These guys have known each other since the age of 4 or 5, and I met them when i was 16, we all went to the same school, all knew the same people. It was a connection that was too easy to not work with, we just banded together so easily. We weren’t even meant to be proper artists, but that’s how everything fell into place, and it just worked really well. We’ve been making music for years, it’s an organic thing that’s happened and we’re riding with it.

Jayden: Does it feel surreal, how fast you guys are blowing up?

Jamal: BRO. Hard out man. I’m still living normally, and I get family and friends coming up to me saying “You’re doing so well” and I’m like “Are we?” it just feels normal, we’re just trying to make music. Because we’ve been putting out music for so long, but we’re doing it as a crew now, and it’s getting a lot more recognition. We always sit back like “Man, this is cool!”

We talk about the 4 part series, and I compare it to drip feeding the mixtape that always comes before the album. He agrees, suggesting that it may be a first in New Zealand rap.

I grew up around music and wanting to do music, and like any budding artist I would dream about people I’d like to work with. So I’m always curious if already established artists feel the same way. The answer is obvious for Jamal: Kendrick Lamar.

Jamal: He’s at the pinnacle of his career right now, to work with him would be an experience.

Jayden: Imagine writing with him, just being in the studio, understanding his process.

Jamal: The way his music works, it’s not normal, it’s an actually well thought out process, there’s a reason why he’s making every song.

We discuss Kendrick’s new album Damn, and it’s ranking against his other albums. Jamal puts Damn in at 2nd, behind Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, which I strongly agree with.

Jamal: I’m a producer, and I put beats first, I’m not that great at understanding lyrics, and when I heard Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, I could listen to it from start to finish and not skip a song. That’s rare in albums these days.

Other dream collaborations were Prince and Andre 3000 (of Outkast). I though Andre 3000 was an interesting choice so I asked him to elaborate.

Jamal: Growing up, we really listened to music in the 2000’s, because we were born in the 90’s, Outkast and Dipset (The Diplomats). And it was cool because Outkast was a duo of rappers, and Dipset had rappers and producers, and we connected with that so well. Even to this day we still look at things the way they would. Like fashion, Dipset had the whole New York swagger, and we have the Hawaiian Shirts.

Remembering that they sometimes refer to themselves as The Hawaiian Shirt Mafia, I asked him about the colourful Pacific Island shirts they are often seen wearing.

Jamal: We’re pacific people, so why not show off pacific visuals to an audience that don’t understand why Islander people wear Hawaiian shirts. They’re mean colours, mean to wear, and I think they popping now. I’ve seen people releasing Hawaiian patterned clothing in popular stores like Hallensteins, and it’s crazy, we didn’t think they would pop, we just wanted to wear them because that was us.

But it’s true, pacific printed clothing is starting to trend again, and I commend him on the timely fashion choice.


SWIDT links:

Website: http://www.swidt.co.nz/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swidtmusic/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/swidtmusic

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFAaZ0SEDdG7QW9hyE436ZQ

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swidtmusic/

Vice feature: https://www.vice.com/en_nz/article/rappers-swidt-are-repping-a-fast-disappearing-suburban-auckland

Album Review: David Dallas – Hood Country Club

Hood Country Club David Dallas
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David Dallas: From South Auckland to the world

Hip hop artists often follow the same narrative arc. You’ll recognise it: the rise from living in the projects to a bling adorned superstar. 50 Cent summed it up: Get rich or die trying. Extra gangsta kudos if you served jail time, got shot, or dealt drugs along the way.

I feel that Auckland rapper David Dallas has followed a similar, albeit more realistic path. The term “rags to riches” is an exaggeration, but DDot is undoubtedly an underdog. In the past he has discussed growing up in South Auckland, trying to pick up girls, please his dad, getting told off by mum. He has always foretold that he would make it big, but in the meantime he’s just a regular South Auckland Pasifika Kiwi trying to get by.

Dallas arguably has made it. Scribe tapped him on the shoulder to feature in  the “Not Many Remix” back in 2004, and things have been on the rise ever since. He signed to US record label Duck Down, toured the world, and befriended rap heavyweights like Freddie Gangsta Gibbs. Eminem and Run The Jewels.. His last album, Falling Into Place won two Tuis at the NZ Music awards, with lead single “Runnin” going platinum. And after a long wait, we now have a new album, Hood Country Club.


Don’t Rate That

I’ll give Dallas top points for lead single “Don’t Rate That” based on the topic alone. The song tackles racist discourse and rips into loan sharks that prey on people from low socio economic backgrounds – the likes you may find in an area like Dallas’ home of South Auckland.

The dude has balls for calling out Rugby League players who would likely flatten him in a second. Maybe that’s why the song resonates so well with me – because he’s flipping the power balance and attacking those who use intimidation tactics. In this Spinoff interview Dallas boasts that one such lending company pulled their ads from an RnB radio station Mai FM that cater to largely the same target demographic as the loan shark parasites. And that’s why Dallas is such a hero in this underdog narrative – because he worked his way up from a nobody to being a somebody using his influence to fight evil.


Fit In

Follow up single “Fit In” dropped almost an entire year after “Don’t Rate That”. Musically, I love it. The hook roots itself in my head like a stubborn earworm, and I often catch myself humming the tune throughout the day. The message of the track seems redundant, with Dallas trying to prove how little he cares about fitting into the scene. If you don’t care, then why dedicate the effort to writing a song about it? However, despite this, the track is a banger.


Musical evolution

I first discovered Dallas in 2011, with his album The Rose Tint. The key reasons that it stood out to me were the laid back style and the musical tracks. I’m not a huge fan of hip-hop based around rigid DJ beats but this really ticked the right boxes for me. The music found on The Rose Tint featured Dallas’ backing band The Daylight Robbery, which added that extra element that elevated it above the rest. The following release, Buffalo Man EP , featured remixed Jamiroquai songs, which continued the trend of using great music to rap over.

2013’s Falling Into Place stepped away from the full band sound, but still achieved great success due in part to the beatmakers Fire & Ice helping with production. The more musical tracks were the ones that sold. Pop singer Ruby Frost lent her voice to two hit tracks, and “Runnin” dominated the airways due to gospel sample of a nun singing.

On first impressions I’m less enthusiastic about Hood Country Club . Dallas still has mad talent as a rapper, but without the band or vibrant backing beats his sound has lost a huge boost. He even re-appropriates Supergroove’s “Can’t Get Enough”, but manages to lose the vibrancy of the song he’s name checking. “Fit In” stands as my album highlight for the time being, purely because of the catchy vocal hook.

Hood Country Club

David Dallas Hood Country Club Back Cover

I saw Dallas play an O-week event at Victoria University last year, where he previewed a few of these tracks live. I especially remember “Get Off” for it’s venomous content. It’s caustic, direct and PNC’s guest verse on the studio track is downright vulgar – worlds away from the laid back Dallas from a few albums ago.

I’m not saying the aggression is necessarily bad. As you read above, I applaud the righteous anger of “Don’t Rate That”. The way I read it, Dallas has come to a point where he wants to address issues head-on, paving the way to this more urgent tone found on some of these tracks.

He challenges the glorification of materialism and celebrity. He rips through peer pressure and mob mentality. “Don’t Flinch” explores the ingrained Kiwi mindset of “harden up and be a man”. David Dallas no longer has any time for your shit and he’s gonna call it as it is.

Wealth and status are major themes that threads through Hood Country Club. Years ago we heard Dallas rap “My mentality is money orientated”. Now he is batting his ego down and re-evaluating what is important in life. Money lenders and financial élite come under fire, suggesting that Dallas no longer subscribes to the goal of getting rich and famous to fit a stereotype.

The verdict

If Falling Into Place was a teenager, then Hood Country Club is the adult – more serious and not as fun, but still a progression. Dallas is more informed, experienced and confident now. These days he raps about life realities, rather than wishful dreams.

My criticisms about the backing tracks and aggression don’t apply to the entire album. Many do use samples to keep the songs musical and we still hear Dallas’ trademark chilled out flow, it’s just not as prevalent as found in his previous works. Musically, I don’t enjoy it as much. But lyrically and thematically Dallas is at his prime.

David Dallas made global but realised that the value lies in taking it local and keeping his content relatable. He is a hero for becoming a success without selling out. And his music, as always, is outstanding. Lyrically and thematically, Dallas still shines. Hood Country Club won’t receive regular play on my stereo to the same degree as his earlier albums, but it’s still a worthwhile addition to my collection.


David Dallas links:

Buy or stream Hood Country Club: https://umusicnz.lnk.to/HCCFP

Website: http://www.daviddallas.co.nz/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DavidDallasMusic/

Twitter:https://twitter.com/DdotDallas

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ddotdallas

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/davidkdallas

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Body Count – Bloodlust

Body Count Bloodlust
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These days Ice-T is likely best known for his acting career, and then his solo rapping career. But his metal side-project Body Count deserves as much recognition – especially after having just released their intense sixth album Bloodlust.

Body Count started as a group of friends interested in heavy music at high school. And they sound mean. They combine gangsta rap mentality with heavy rock and metal music to create an aggressive sound verging on hardcore.

If my description doesn’t sum it up well enough for your liking, then try Ice-T’s explanation, taking from the vocal intro to their cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”

” Body Count is a band I put together just to let one of my best friends, Ernie C play his guitar. He’s always been playing guitar, we all went to Crenshaw High School together in South Central Los Angeles. And I had the idea of let’s make a metal band, let’s make a rock band, ’cause I had been to Europe and I noticed that the kids would mosh off of hip-hop. So we put the band together and I used the three bands that were my favourites at the time to set the tone. We used the impending doom of a group like Black Sabbath, who pretty much invented metal; the punk sensibility of somebody like Suicidal, who basically put that gangbanger style from Venice, California into the game; and the speed and the precision of Slayer – one of my favourite groups and always will be. “

Body Count Bloodlust Promo Shot

Not only do Body Count take inspiration from some of the big names in metal, but they also collaborate with a few of them on this album, including Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Sepultura’s Max Cavalera and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe.

As you would expect from that explanation, the music is in-your-face. Tight, fast drums, distorted riffs, squealing solos, and punk-meets-thrash delivered vocals.

The lyrical and thematically content seems contradictory within the album, with Ice-T bragging about criminal activities on one track, whilst protesting black stereotypes on another. I acknowledge that maintaining a tough guy persona is an integral aspect of the band’s image, but I would argue that singing about violence would further perpetuate negative stereotypes. Ice-T tackles issues like racism, poverty, street violence and police brutality, but also paints himself in an intimidating light.

Sure Black Lives Matter is worth acknowledging, but singing that you “gotta get paid the ski mask way” and discussing your thirst for bloodshed is a surefire way to become another statistic at the hands of a trigger happy cop.

Not that this criticism is exclusive to Body Count. Many political charged rappers walk that line between voicing out against injustice and playing to clichéd hiphop conventions of being a drug dealing gang banger.

Body Count use voice to add variety to the tracks. The opening passage on the album features Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine taking on the role of the broadcaster who delivers a faux broadcast from a dystopian president announcing martial law, before delving into a blistering guitar solo. Samples from news clips in “No Lives Matter” paint a picture of how it many young black men are being shot and killed by police in America. Ice-T also switches up his own style, providing monologues to preface a few songs, aping Tom Araya’s bark in the cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”, and acting out a bank hold up during the break down of “The Ski Mask Way”.

Bloodlust is a great introduction for those uninitiated to Body Count’s work. The slick production sounds great – especially when compared against the band’s early work from the ’90s. Ice-T gives a few explanations at the start of some tracks, which give insight into how the band came about and what drives them. The music is energetic and tight, and the topics touch on some issues that need to be addressed.

It is a real shame that the braggadocio attitude dilutes the genuine attempts to raise awareness for social issues, but the music and delivery on Bloodlust is killer. Mean metal with real gangsta swagger, loaded with memorable hooks and filled with intensity.


Body Count links:

Website: http://bodycountband.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bodycountofficial/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BodyCountBand

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bodycountofficial/

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Ty Dolla $ign at Shed 6, Wellington

Ty Dolla $ign Campaign Tour NZ poster
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Ty Dolla $ign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

Ty Dolla $ign

w/ DJ Sir-Vere, TeeCee 4800 and DJ Dre Sinatra

Shed 6, Wellington

Tuesday 31 January 2017

Ty Dolla $ign began the NZ leg of his Campaign tour in Wellington off the back of his mixtape of the same name,

This show excited me for two reasons. Firstly (and more obviously) I am a fan of his and what better way to experience his music then performed live. Secondly, I was excited to contribute to Will Not Fade by writing about Hip Hop/RnB – a genre that may not get as much coverage on this site.

First coming into the spotlight on the track “Toot It and Boot It” by YG back in 2010, Ty Dolla $ign has since release 2 EP’s, 9 mixtapes and 2 albums, and founded a music production team (D.R.U.G.S). He has also contributed his song writing skills to hits like “FourFiveSeconds” (Kanye West/Rihanna/Paul McCartney), “Loyal” (Chris Brown/Lil Wayne/French Montana/Too Short/Tyga) and “Post to Be” (Omarion/Chris Brown/Jhene Aiko).

A standout in the ever-growing category of singer-rapper (think Drake, Future etc.),Ty Dolla $ign’s sound has elements of Hip-Hop, RnB and Soul. Among his influences are 2Pac, Prince and Stevie Wonder. Music production plays a big part in his artistry, being a multi-instrumentalist.

Ty Dolla $ign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

We arrived at Shed 6 to see it roughly half full. Shed 6 is an underutilized venue that I would like to see more acts play. It reminds me of the now-defunct James Cabaret, although is twice as large. A DJ was walking around on stage trying to amp up the crowd.

Teecee 4800 Ty Dolla Sign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

Ty Dolla $ign’s cousin Teecee 4800 succeeded in elevating the mood. The audience notably perked up in response to the live performance after having listened to prerecorded tracks through the PA for the past few hours.

Ty Dolla Sign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

And as much as they loved Teecee, it was nothing compared to the star attraction. Ty Dolla $ign arrived onstage larger than life. He wore a Hawaiian styled jacket atop a black Gucci t-shirt – both of which were removed before long. His dreadlocked hair was tied back under a cap, and he wore round sunglasses to protect his eyes from the harsh red stage lights.

He was clearly excited to be in New Zealand. He commented on how much he had enjoyed Wellington since landing at the airport and complimented us on our potent strains of marijuana before lighting up a large blunt and taking a big drag before throwing it into the crowd. A risky move considering that it was an all-ages show, but I get the impression that this didn’t concern him too much.

It was a real buzz to run around in the photographers pit taking photos from all angles. It’s a shame that red lights – the bane of the photographer – dominated the entire show. Steam cannons lined the front edge of the stage to shoot geysers of steam into the air at certain moments.

Crowd Shot Ty Dolla Sign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

Ty Dolla $ign treated us by playing all manner of tracks from his varied career, showcasing his strength as a collaborator. It’s a shame that autotune is so prevalent in many of his songs because he has great singing talent. It was terribly fun and it was clear that everyone in the building was having a blast.

It was interesting trying to figure out who the true Ty was. A large, heavily tattooed rapper drinking gin out of the bottle. A talented musician with illustrious credits to his name. He proudly brought his daughter and sister onstage, but then later let his DJ stop the set to pull girls up onstage to dance. Is it possible to be both a family man and womanizer? He brought TeeCee 4800 back out to tag team on some tracks with him.

Ty Dolla $ign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour Crowd Surf

The once-fun set got derailed and lost all momentum as DJ Dre Sinatra spent five minutes beckoning girls up onstage to dance for the final track before taking them backstage for the “after party”. As lame as it was halting the show to seek out groupies, Ty Dolla $ign did end on a fun note, with Fifth Harmony’s “Work“, and ventured into the audience to do a spot of crowd surfing.

Overall it was a fantastically fun gig – certainly worth staying up late on a Tuesday night for.

Ty Dolla $ign Shed 6 Wellington Campaign Tour

Words by Jayden Sulufaiga and Joseph James

Photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Keith Ape at San Fran, Wellington

Keith Ape San Fran Wellington
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Keith Ape and Bryan Cha$e (The Cohort)
w/ KVKA, Beach Boy, Jay Knight & FAR TOO KIND.
San Fran, Wellington
Friday November 11 2016

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

I’ll start by admitting a few things. I don’t know the first thing about trap music. I don’t speak Korean. And I hadn’t even heard of Keith Ape before yesterday. But I could tell that this show was going to be a banger, even if it was out of my comfort zone.

I rate Guitar Wolf as one of the best live acts I’ve seen. I don’t understand most of what they’re saying, and I don’t usually listen to that kind of music. But when an artist puts that much energy into a performance, than you can begin to understand how they have managed to build a diehard underground following. I figure Keith Ape must be similar. He manged to sell out this NZ tour, and hasn’t even released an album yet! I guess an album isn’t even required when you’ve already managed to clock up over 30 million views on YouTube…

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

Arriving at San Fran, the place was already packed. A handful of people throughout the crowd wore surgical masks over their faces – one of Ape’s trademarks. The general vibe was jovial, with people dancing and singing along to the songs that the DJ’s were playing. Things started to ramp up when KVKA took to the stage. He worked hard to hype up the crowd, offering free merch to those who went nuts during sections of his set. It made me think of a recent interview with Emanual Psathas (aka Name UL), in which Psathas was discussing how artists from our local scene should be able to  perform just as well as international acts they open for.  I think KVKA proved that point well, providing enough energy and talent to claim the stage as his own.

By the time Keith Ape and Bryan Cha$e came on for their set the place was humming. San Fran is my favourite Wellington venue and I’ve seen plenty of sold out shows here, but none quite on this scale. The sea of bodies was pulsating just in front of the stage, as you would expect. People were dancing and jumping and spilling their drinks as they mashed their sweaty bodies against each other. But what was different is that rather being contained to the front, this was also happening further back near the bar.

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

As well as this, people were also standing on any higher space they could find – atop a shelf along the side of the wall, dancing on the tables at the bar area, one girl was even dancing on the end of the bar itself. I was watching the tables move and sway under the weight of dancing bodies and wondering if they would hold up under the added stress. One goth-looking figure even fell off at one point, but just climbed back up to continue the dancing.

Ape and Cha$e had a good partnership going, tagging off each other as they worked the stage. The crowd was already going before they came on, but their extra input of energy served as a catalyst to set the place ablaze. Many bottles of water were opened and thrown out over the front few rows of the pit just to give people some respite from the heat.

Keith Ape Bryan Chase San Fran Wellington Will Not Fade

Despite having no album to draw material from, Ape’s set lasted long enough. He’s had his share of hits, as well as collaborating with other big name American rappers like Waka Flocka Flame and A$AP Ferg, so it was clear that many people in the crowd were familiar with his material. One track had been written during the tour in Japan just a week earlier, and was received just as well, but the biggest hit of the night was predictably “It G Ma” – the big YouTube hit that Ape can attribute much of his success to.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on trap music. I can’t pretend that I understood much of what Keith Ape was rapping about. But I can testify that he lifted the roof in Wellington last night. There was a lot of hype around this sold-out show, and Keith Ape more than lived up to it and proved to himself that even a self-confessed “outsider” can be successful on an international stage.

 

Joseph James

Interview: Name UL [Emanuel Psathas]

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Name UL [real name Emanuel Psathas] is brimming with positive energy. He exudes enthusiasm, excitement and confidence. He actively fights the national mantra of tall poppy syndrome and attempts to prove that a small-time Wellington boy can bring his A-game and punch with the international heavyweights.

It has been almost a month since he dropped his debut album Choice(s) and held a sensational album release show with help from his friends in the band Drax Project. [Read my review of the album release show here]

I begin the interview with asking him if he if stoked on the final result of the album. He wholeheartedly agrees with the term.

Psathas: “I am stoked. I think stoked is a good way to put it. It’s definitely been a learning curve for me, putting it into a package so that it is recognisable and something that people associate with Wellington in mind when they hear it – it’s pretty awesome”

Psathas talks fast. You can almost hear his brain whirring as he speaks, trying to pump out the thoughts fast enough to keep up with his mouth. But he’s not just shooting his mouth off . I can tell that he is trying to communicate something worthwhile – which probably explains why he started rapping in the first place.

I think that Choice(s) is a good starting point for people wanting to hear my work, because I feel that this is where I really developed my voice. It’s the first time that I feel that I’ve really put something into my thoughts and specifically divided them to put into tracks, if that makes sense? Usually, with my past tracks I’d talk about girls, issues with drinking and depression, other issues, my parents, my friends… I’d try to fit it all into one track and it wouldn’t be so cohesive – it’d be a whole bunch of different thoughts and a stream of consciousness. So I feel like Choice(s) is a good place to start because everything is kind of divided up and there’s certain feels, and it means that I was able to create … like if I’m writing about a girl I’m able to create the mood and the music around what I’m talking about in the lyrics, so yeah – definitely a good place to start.”

It’s clear that Psathas has spent a lot of time in and around recording studios. His album release was a great combination of live and pre-recorded music, and he tells me about how he tries to achieve this sound in the studio.

“I like DJ-ing and the electronic side of things because it’s really crisp and you can really get things quite precise with your performance and in the studio it’s easier to make things more calculated. But in saying that, I think a lot of the really unique flavour that gives a track its energy and its heart and, you know, everything about it is from that stuff you can’t plan for. So I think it’s really good to have a balance of the two. And that’s why I like using live artists as well –because they bring that whole dimension and things that you can’t really plan for, but are really beautiful. So definitely has that touch to it. Also, playing off things that are actually from the earth (do you know what I mean?) … like playing off drums that are made of wood from the tree, and animal skin… there’s a whole bunch of things which add to it – There’s elements to it that you wouldn’t really think about, but I reckon they do have a bit of a play into how we listen to it and how we digest it.

And Psathas doesn’t just collab with talented musos, he plays some music himself. He laughs when I ask if he played any instruments on the album.

“Just the violins”, he grins, scratching his head to think if he played anything else. “Yeah, violins. But all the atmospheric sounds we made in the studio. All interludes, all the sounds of the town. The bottles smashing, phone calls – That was all made within a room with a few people.”

Name UL Choice(s).jpg

And, of course, there is more than just the music when it comes to releasing an album. I ask if others from KWOE (Kids With Open Ears, his collective) have also contributed to the album, noting that photographer Jeremy Hooper shot the pic on the album cover.

“ Yeah… Hoops with the visual stuff. Ben Murdock – Heist Beats – he’s had a lot to play with it in terms of the visuals on all of our platforms across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all of that… All of the core graphics that we put out, announcements of things we put together, some cool little posters or little photos – that’s all Ben, and he’s taken it under his belt, which is awesome. And he’s also been in the studio with me for all of the final recordings. I conceptualised everything on my own, but when it came to actually piecing it together in the studio, he had a big part in helping me with that. Also David Argue did that video for “Belong” the day of the drop, and he did a lot in supporting me in the making of the album, and filming me and documenting it.”

As well as the KWOE crew, Psathas also teamed up with his father, renown composer John Psathas. He seemed to really enjoy the process.

“It was pretty awesome, but it’s weird. My dad obviously works with a lot of people, but I’m his son, first and foremost. When we make music, it’s like, with your dad – like a go to play cricket on a Sunday, or kick a ball around at the park, or we got to make a table for your mum ‘let’s sit in the workshop and work on it together’ – kind of thing. It’s not like we’re going to make this table and sell it and make lots of money off it. It like that, you just do it because that just the way that you spend quality time together, and that’s what it’s like when my dad and I make music together. We’re not expecting some kind of outcome. We just do it because it’s a way to spend time that we both enjoy. It’s nothing like working with other artists. And dad loves it. Biggest fan, biggest supporter.”

name-ul-and-drax-project-san-fran-wellington-2

Image: Will Not Fade

It’s nice to see that someone experience a taste of success is keen to acknowledge his team – those who inspired and influenced him and helped him bring his goals to fruition.

“My previous DJ Denny Fackney. He was the person who made me want to rap about other stuff, and not just being cool and to blow up and all that. I remember we had a very big chat about two years ago (just before I started this album) about the whole thing. I vividly remember it – it was one of the more important conversations I’ve had ever. It was about two hours and we just sat and he just schooled me on why I should rap about this stuff. He remembers that and we reference that when we talk about this album as a reflection of understanding that conversation. Make your mark, I think he was the person who really taught me how to do that and how to harness the uniqueness of where I’m from as something that could help me more than I think. He has been a very, very big, significant impact on my musical life.

“Also my manager Pritesh had a massive impact on everything that I do with my work ethic and all of that.

“But, honestly man, the biggest person is just myself. I’m always keeping myself in check with just everything. I’ll always push myself and try new things.”

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (8)

Image: Will Not Fade

 

And this theme of confident, but not cocky, shines through what Psathas is saying. He knows that he has the skills to carry him, and he’s not afraid to say that. He discusses the differences between working a support slot and headlining his own gig, noting that he carries the same passion for each, despite the different pressures of each scenario. I ask him how he tries to win over people who may not be interested in seeing him when he opens for big international acts.

“I don’t really but much thought into winning them over. I just have confidence in my set and I know that people like it, so that’s what I do, and I just play the best that I can, and I can’t put thought into anything else. If I started to think in those terms it would freak me out, and could affect it. They’ve obviously chosen me for a reason, so I come out here and I do what I do. I’ve been to shows, I’ve seen opening acts. I’ve seen what to do and what not to do from the crowd’s perspective. I understand that not trying to be too big out of your boots straight out of the gate, and letting your music speak for itself before you try and get the crowd to think that you’re really good. Let them decide, and just put it out there and understand that they might not like it because obviously they didn’t come to see you. But I have the confidence in our music that people really will like it and know that our sets are really, really on point. So I don’t get scared or nervous, I’m very understanding of the process from the audience’s point of view.”

“Headlining has more responsibility because people have paid money to come and see you. The ticket is not from the support act. Sometimes it is – but most of the time it’s not why people buy it. People didn’t pay to see Name UL, they came to see Action Bronson. So at the end of the day, I can be a shitty supporter, but it’s not going to leave people saying that it was a bad show – it’s only if the headliner was really bad that people would say that. It comes back to what we were talking about before in terms of confidence. Exact same show in terms of entertainment value, musical value, in terms of an overall night – we can bring all of that just as well as any other American artist you can think of. Whether that be… uh… anyone! Anyone I’ve opened for, I genuinely believe that our live set is just as good – if not better – than theirs, it’s just that we lack the money and the fanbase. But those two things will come. I feel that in terms of headlining – I have no doubts in our ability. Looking back we killed it. We did kill it, and it was great! In terms of an experience or a show, sure you could put Kendrick Lamar aside, next to me on that stage right? But if we stripped back people knowing those songs –if it was a completely fresh thing –I genuinely believe that we could perform just as good a show. I want people to see that when they come to the show. I want them to see that we have international class acts in Wellington that will perform Wellington. Just because we’re from Wellington, and we’re in Wellington doesn’t mean that people have to see anything less in terms of production value, performance value – and that’s what we’re bringing, what we’re trying to push and get people to understand.”

 

This ethic has opened doors for Psathas, leading him to  Los Angeles to record, and undertake an internship writing for Warner Music. He explains that as incredible as traveling to America to  work within the music scene sounds, he still needs to stay grounded.

“It’s pretty awesome. I think that prior to doing a lot of the work it felt like something that would be pretty surreal, but it’s interesting, because once you get onto the other side of the work and you get there, it feels like it’s pretty much what should be happening. It doesn’t feel weird, it feels like it’s part of the plan. If you work hard enough, you get to a certain place, you have a bunch of product or content or something underneath you, there’s certain things that you have to do. And when you rub shoulders with people in The States, you might think back in the day, like back when I was younger I was like ‘oh, imagine meeting up with a publicist in LA! How exciting would that be?’ But  on the day you have a folder full of notes, you’ve got a plan, you’ve got everything. It’s very serious and it’s a big deal, but it feels like it’s part of the plan – it’s what is supposed to happen if you work a certain way, and you do things a certain way.

“It is weird, because there hasn’t been a rapper from Wellington who has done that yet. But I’m not trying to be someone who hits a ceiling. I don’t put a limit on what I’m gonna do, and in order to be someone like a Kendrick Lamar, or a Kanye West, or a Drake or whatever – this is what they were doing when they were 20 as well. It’s just because I’m from Wellington that it seems really obscure, because we’re not known for being in the hip-hop community overseas. It feels stranger, but it also feels good.”

I’m especially interested to hear about one figure that Psathas met overseas: eccentric

Name UL Nardwuar.jpg

Image: Name UL

Canadian radio host Nardwuar the Human Serviette, who is famous for his quirky mannerisms and in-depth research into the backgrounds of every artists he interviews. I ask if Psathas if he had learnt any crazy facts him.

“I didn’t! I wish I’d had longer to speak to him. It was a pretty brief encounter, but he was a pretty awesome dude, and he was actually super similar to what he’s like on camera. He’s pretty much exactly the same so I respect him for that.”

One thing that I believe sets Name UL apart from many other rappers is that he touches on issues that are deeper than the stereotypical “pussy, money, weed” culture than can sometimes be prevalent in hip-hop. He’d already shared about being asked to reflect on his message by previous DJ Denny Fackney, so I asked him what key message he wants his listeners to take from his music.

“To stay inspired I just read the news every day. I wake up, and I read the news every morning. It’s important to me to know what’s happening in the world. And if other people my age don’t, then that’s fine –that’s up to them. But I always found that the way I wanted to do that I saw a friend reading the news every day, and I saw how cool it was to know about what’s happening in the world. And it didn’t take someone telling me to do that, it took me seeing another young person. Because if my dad tells me to do that than it’s like, ‘of course my dad would say that!’ If I see one of my friends doing that, who is my age and is actively aware of what is happening in the world, who can read about it and talk about what is happening with adults, then that inspires me to do it. So if I can be that to other people, than that’s great. I can be a source of inspiration.

“But people are more lenient to be like ‘I want to change the world’, than ‘I want to inspire the world’. To say ‘inspire’ sounds like you’re being cocky, but if you say “change” than it’s like you understand that you have to take something under your belt. It’s like it’s harder than it is. If you say ‘I just want to inspire people’ than it sounds like you’re putting yourself on a pedestal, but it’s real. That’s how. I want people to be like ‘yo! That dude’s reading the news, that’s what it’s about! Cool dude! I want to do that’.

“I’m trying to say that you don’t need a big-ass chain to cool in the hip-hop world, I want to show that you need a big-ass brain. ” – Name UL

 

And as for the future? He’s a bit coy.

“It’s always a big surprise, but we’ve got some stuff going. More content, more shows. Just more music, but I can’t get specific about the whole thing, but a lot of exciting stuff.”

I bet!

I find Name UL instantly likable. A rapper that wants to inspire kids to read the news, who wants to put Wellington on the map and make fantastic music with skilled people. Maybe he will become the next Kendrick. He’s got talent, contacts and material. He’s got attitude and confidence. Something makes me think that is he keeps forging this path he’s on he may actually get there someday.

Joseph James

Live Review: Name UL and Drax Project – Choice(s) Release Show

Name Ul Choices Album Launch San Fran Wellington
Standard

Name UL featuring Drax Project

w/ Eastern Bloc and Maxwell Young

San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington

Friday 2 September 2016

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (2)

Image: Will Not Fade

Name UL (real name Emanuel Psathas) has been making waves in the local hip hop scene for years now, which is all the more impressive considering his young age. He has opened for some of the more notable hip hop acts to arrive on these shores for years now, including the likes of Jurassic 5, Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt. And his work within the scene has paid off, landing him a song writing job in LA to start next year.

Thursday saw the release of Psathas’ first  full length, Choice(s), and Friday saw the album come to life at the San Francisco Bathhouse in Wellington.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (3)

Image: Will Not Fade

This was it: two years of writing and recording finally coming to fruition. Sure, some of the songs were from older EPs, but most of this material was new. Was it going to measure up?

Short answer: yes. Yes, yes, and then some. Psathas actually admitted that he was quite nervous, but he needn’t have worried. Choice(s) debuted at number one one the iTunes NZ hip hop charts, and number seven overall. And it translated just as successfully live.  The audience lapped it all up with vigour – both new and old material. There was no mistaking that the new material hit the spot, judging from how enthusiastically everyone was dancing and grooving along to the music.

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Image: Will Not Fade

The set started with Name UL on the mic and DJ Heist Beats on the decks. People were singing along to the familiar songs like “My Side”. It sounded great. And then it got better. Matt Beachen from Drax Project joined in on drums, and then the rest of the Drax crew joined during the following song. The extra live instrumentation really added to the mix. How often do you hear someone ripping it up on a sax at a rap show?

I’ve only seen a few hip hop acts with live bands (The Roots, David Dallas with The Daylight Robbery), but I think that hip hop within a live band context is far superior to having a DJ or laptop providing the beats. With more happening onstage, there is more to watch and take in, as well as the extra layers of music building upon each other.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (7)

Image: Will Not Fade

I saw Immortal Technique – one of my more highly rated rappers -play San Fran years ago and his sound was horrendous. By contrast, last night Name UL was slaying the crowd with the most incredible sound and energy. It was also nice to hear Drax Project back on form under a different setting, after poor sound mixing marred their own otherwise-untouchable album release three months ago. They’re a diverse group of musicians who know how to adapt to different settings- progressing from crowd-drawing buskers to the next big thing, and casually adding hip-hop backing band to their résumé along the way.

I’ve only seen Name UL play support sets to dates. And he did well, but in those situations people had paid to see international headliners, not a kid from Wellington. The reception tonight was exponentially better than the lukewarm reaction I’d seen during those early instances. For this show, people were excited to be there – bouncing around and loving the atmosphere. And fair enough too – the sound was great, the tunes were fresh, and the addition of Drax Project helped to make the show even better.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (8)

Image: Will Not Fade

Two years of writing and recording, finally realised in a live context. I can see why Psathas would have been nervous playing a lot of untested new material. But all that work paid off, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the show was a complete success. Everywhere I looked during the set people were dancing, bouncing, singing and generally enjoying themselves – both on and off stage.

Do yourself a favour and check out Choice(s). And if you get the chance, catch Name UL live. Because if you don’t, the next opportunity may be when he’s selling out shows in LA.

Joseph James


NAME UL – CHOICE(S) OUT NOW  

iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/choice-s/id1148581235?at=10lrHH&app=itunes

Apple Music – https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/choice-s/id1148581235?ls=1

Deezer – http://www.deezer.com/album/13916774

Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Name_UL_Choice_s?id=Bjfxqeus6hxt2rm6efrhjwxcqdi

Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/album/3C0O00SagxGcr4KFnCCuvj