"I’ve been in South Auckland looking around and seeing what’s going on."
David Dallas is back with his first new record in four years, Hood Country Club.
Now one of the elders of the New Zealand hip hop scene, he’s been spending time working with some of the next generation of Kiwi rappers, some of whom appear on the track ‘R U’.
In a departure from previous releases, Dallas spends time throughout several tracks castigating the media (including a less than friendly shout-out to Mike Hosking in ‘Made A Name’), big business, and the government. Most of his criticisms are delivered with disdain, with moments of dejection.
Dallas sat down with RNZ Music’s Alex Behan for a deep dive interview on the state of hip hop in New Zealand, whether or not Drake can sing for real, and the convictions that informed his new album.
It has been a longer gap than usual for you, four years as opposed to two.
Yeah, too long, too long. Yeah, but the weird thing is, to myself it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, it’s only when I actually talk to fans and people like yourself that I realise it’s been ages.
But because I started working on it straight after the last record, I don’t really have a good explanation or excuse for why it took so long, it just did. I had a good chunk of the record done when I put out ‘Don’t Rate That’ at the end of 2015, but the last 10 percent of it took time.
Is that majority that was there still in the record?
Yeah, yeah, totally, that still forms the body of the record.
Because it’s not like anybody doubts your work ethic man, like ...
I doubt it sometimes, to be honest.
I presumed you’d been busy with other things, not just making verses. Look at your 64 Bars project, Shenanigan - you’ve maybe diversified yourself?
Yeah, it’s been cool. I guess that was other stuff that I wanted to do too.
With something like Shenanigan I was like, “Man it’d be cool if there was a regular day party that just played the sorta stuff that me and my friends like, because I’m sure there’s other people who like to hear it”.
Same thing with 64 Bars. I just felt like there’s a lot of rap talent here, and there should be a platform that’s focused on the craft of rapping.
Could you give me your perspective on the health of New Zealand hip hop?
I think it’s good. I feel like I say this all the time - after each record someone asks me about it and I say the same thing.
The growth, and the average standard across the board is high, like it’s higher than when I started. Which is natural, because there’s more people making it, people have access to better tools because of software and stuff, and there’s more avenues for people to release their music.
That stuff, it’s healthy, it’s very healthy in the sense that there’s a lot of people contributing to it, and of course, it’s that rising tide thing, it raises everyone up.
So, in that sense it’s good. Do I think there could be more mainstream acceptance of it in terms of coverage through radio and things like that? Absolutely. And I think there needs to be coverage of our artists, locally, who are doing their own thing, as opposed to having to try and fit into the format of what’s currently going on.
Otherwise we don’t continue to push our scene. Commercial radio has a format and they have to fit to it, so generally even if you’re a local artist and your song doesn’t sound like the new Ty Dolla Sign song, they’re like ‘oh nah’ and it might not necessarily get a chance. But it’s important for our scene that all avenues are working towards showcasing our sounds.
I’m going to quote you here, from one of your songs off your new album:
If it’s all top shelf instead of lager, would the hood still listen to me after?
Do you people still wanna hear me answer?
when everyone’s either Fetty Wap or a rasta
It’s like tomorrow can’t get here any faster
Times is changing, young rappers is ageing
Become an OG, can’t stay the same when I’m in a whole nother place.
You are becoming OG now, really aren’t you? For many of these young rappers, they heard you on the radio when they were young teenagers, when they were kids, and now they’re grown up and you’re helping them out. I think this is an awesome place that you’re in.
It really wasn’t until we did the 64 Bars thing that I started talking to some of them, and I started to realise that someone like Lukan or Abdul, y’know, these guys were kids when I did Not Many. Lukan would be like “Man, The Rose Tint was awesome,” and I’m not sure how old he was - like 13 or something.
And I’m like, that’s 2011, that doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but to someone like Lukan that’s ages ago, that’s formative years. So it’s interesting to hear that - you just never think of that happening in that vein.
But it’s happening to you now, and I like the fact that you’re accepting it and owning it. Also, it occurs to me that there’s no role model for longevity in a rap career in New Zealand, is there? You’re kinda carving that path bro.
And to be honest, prior to Jay Z, there was no role model for longevity in rap, period. It’s funny, dudes like Rakim and stuff aren’t even that much older than Jay Z is. But to someone that’s outside of it you’d be like “Oh Rakim, that’s like 80s stuff” but age wise, they’re actually super similar, they might actually be the same age, I’d need to actually go and have a look at that.
But it wasn’t until Jay Z, and now you’ve got like Kanye, and Eminem, and now Drake and stuff. You’re starting to see that you can have a career in rap - you don’t just have to just be doing a dance, as long as you stay true to the person you are.
And Drake’s changed the game again because he’s like “Oh yeah I rap, but I’m also a singer and I’m actually just on every streaming service, everywhere, every month”.
Yeah, well, he’s just the biggest artist in the world at the moment.
In the last 10 years, eh. Although I do notice with you man, you don’t just rap your verses, you also sing your choruses as well, and you can hold a tune. Have you ever thought about going full auto tune and trying to get into that Drake territory?
Nah. I mean, Drake can sing for real.
He’s not like Luther Vandross or something, you know what I mean, but I’m sure he can sing for real. Obviously, I know there’s tuning and stuff on his vocals but he’s legit man, he’s got a legit R&B mind.
But you carry all of your hooks, and there are melodies on those songs.
Yeah yeah, because I love melody, and I grew up like everyone else listening to Mai FM, listening to R&B singles on the radio, so my whole idea of melody is informed by R&B. I like that stuff.
Even the stuff that I’m not singing on, like on ‘Fit In’, the chorus for Laurent John, I wrote that. I love to write for people who can legit sing.
It’s clear when you listen to Hood Country Club that you’ve got a wide musical palette, and you’re a very gifted rhyme artist, David. You’ve always fired shots - sometimes at other rappers, sometimes at the music industry. But on this album, Hood Country Club, you get properly political on more than one song. You are addressing some serious social issues.
Yeah, I guess, it’s weird to even ...
Bro, you call out finance companies, the welfare state, immigration, foreign ownership, the media. You don’t pull too many punches, and look, I just think it takes serious self confidence to do that. I mean, it takes self confidence to be a rapper and say “I can do this” but to get up and then rap about serious opinions and try and fit that in to you art form, which is hip hop. That’s really courageous, I think.
The thing is, everyone can talk about that stuff around the dining table right. Politically, everyone's got an opinion on what we should be doing. That’s kinda the way I approach music - I definitely think about my convictions and what I’m trying to get across, but I don’t think about it too much in terms of having to be brave or anything like that.
At the end of the day, my music is my opinions. It wasn’t some conscious choice like “Oh, I need to be more political” or anything like that. It’s just a product of where your head is at that time. These are the sorts of things that I’ve been think about.
Especially after coming home from New York and spending the majority of my time back in New Zealand writing this record, I have been paying more attention to what’s going on here politically. I have been in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I’ve been in South Auckland looking around and seeing what’s going on, so I think it’s just natural that those are the things I’m going to talk about.