"If I wasn't doing my music I would be hustling drugs to the baldheads down the South Island"
It's been five years since Ermehn released the under-appreciated Samoans Part 11 on the adventurous Deep Grooves label, it has since proved to be a prescient work. Influential on future artists like Deceptikonz, Scribe and the whole so called "Polynesian hip hop renaissance", next to Feelstyle's Break it to Pieces and Dam Native's Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted, arguably one of our culture's greatest achievements.
Now it's Ermehn's second time to prove why he's the MC with fire in his belly and more skills than Stott's Correspondence College. His Matai name, his family name, is Lealaialoto, meaning, 'To walk the path of blood' from which he takes the title of his new album out in July called The Path of Blood (Sony/ BMG), an interesting confluence of history's echoes and our troubled present.
He's had a vibrant, if not violent time since the last album, drug business and gang membership in the King Cobras; he calls it "hustling times". He makes no concessions to all of this, its just what happens, unlike many he can call himself a gangsta, straight up gangsta and no qualms about it. He told me this album was funded on drug money, on his hustle, and what flows is our first real hardcore work, our first gangsta creation. Perhaps also the most sustained work of Aotearoan street realism ever, you hear talk from "music experts" that now our music is too American, that we have no "drivebys", no history of cultural violence. These people know nothing about life.
Yes, the life, this is exactly what Ermehn wants to portray, certainly not directed at these cultural and musical arbiters but as he told me. "To never rap or write about what you haven't done...That this is for the bro's, what they want to hear, Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters, a voice for their life styles." He calls himself a few things on this album, "Your motherfucker from the city of sails" and "Otara O.G" being a couple, always emphasising the geography and pulse of South Auckland, Otara is where he came up and throughout it remains as the alpha and omega of it all. Maybe the hardest track here is 'Otara Street'.
Where he states "I was running these streets" and details events of a criminal lifestyle, of a young life falling. Extremely tough lines like "stick my cock up your arse like I'm loving it" and "need drugs not hugs" fly out like knives. The hardest line comes in the form of retribution, the result of some rift between equals. Yes, he attacks Dawnraid, or rather Brotha D with a few inflammatory lines like "Bring your guns, bring your money". Jesus Christ! Ermehn and Brotha D go way back to the glory days of the Proud tour and he assures me that all is well between them now. This is Ermehn as alpha dog running the pack.
Otara appears in numerous other tracks, as the dangerous existence of 'Snake City', the violent hallucinations that hang in 'Red Lights' and as an image in 'Savage Waters'. The latter is a track of extremes, concerning his time in the King Cobras, tough as iron and totally without sentimentality or any irony. It is as it is.
First track is 'Bank Job' and concerns hood economics where there is a dream of salvation in the act of robbery, that money will bring all. "I'm gonna buy me respect, buy me a car, buy me some kicks, fuck the benefit/ Plenty of money all around Showgirls here we come/We live like rich men, We smoke drugs in the kitchen." However this is a track with consequences, things do not go well, families become shattered. The bravado and warm desires of "Put another steak on the grill, mum and dad I've got the bills, I'm about to pay the rent" go the way of smoke, floating away. The acoustic styled 'Silver and Gold' is the antidote, a wonderful coming together, and a healing.
Certainly an unflinching portrait, punches are thrown and leave marks, however this is a work of redemption, interconnecting interludes - taken from actual media reports that Ermehn may or may not have anything to do with - build with intensity and tell a story, a journey that ends in reflection. Certain tracks cut into the social upheaval and portray differing approaches to life, as in 'Mama A Way', a celebration of Ermehn's early life in the "Pacific way" and 'Better Place' finds Ermehn wishing for "a place for the kids to play, where the dogs don't slay". These look back at youthful nostalgia and forward towards a comfortable existence, hem his life like bookends. Which way will he go?
Samoans Part 11 is a fantastic album that is raw and direct in subject matter and presentation, raw and real. Of course this wouldn't mean shit if it wasn't good in a musical sense, thankfully it's hot from beginning to end. His flow is old school, years of Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and finding his own voice, riding rhymes with authority. Several crew tracks also add variety with guests from Mareko, Two-Face, Mr. Slick and Savage Poets. Production comes from Rob London, a name I don't know, and his style is open and deep giving great background to the vocals, nice Tina Cross sample as well.
Gangsta life and times in Aotearoa. Partly a celebration, partly a warning but essentially a truthful depiction that hurts and hopefully heals.
-Kerry Buchanan, writing in Real Groove magazine (2005). Copyright belongs to them folks.