Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DLT 96 interview

I've scanned and converted the text for a few old interviews with some important local hiphop figures, here's the first one. More soon. 

Musical Messenger: DLT

With arguably New Zealand's finest hiphop album under his belt, DLT is poised to deliver his musical message to the world.

By Ila Couch, photo by Stephen Langdon. Pavement magazine, Oct/Nov 1996

A lot has changed on the local hiphop scene over the last two years. Since Pavement featured a dozen local scts in its pages in December 1994, a number of hiphop artists included in the story have gone on to previously unheard of success in a genre of music which isn’t high on the agenda in this country.

As rugby prevails over art in New Zealand, rock prevails over rap. Previously, only Upper Hutt Posse and Three the Hard Way, who reached number one in the singles chart with Hiphop Holiday early in 1994, had shown the potential this music might have in the hands and hearts of local exponents of hiphop.

But the astronomical achievements of OMC’s Pauly Fuemana, who this year had a trans-Tasman number one and top five British hit with How Bizarre; Teremoana, who achieved a critical high with her cover of Nina Simone’s Four Women, and Dam Native, whose debut album is almost completed, have proven the potential of our homegrown talent.

DLT otherwise known as Darryl Thomson, a founding member of Upper Hutt Posse and DJ with Joint Force, has spent the past two years quietly and efficiently crafting what is arguably the finest hiphop album to be released by a local act. DLT’s debut album The True School has already spawned the number one single Chains, featuring former Supergroove soul man Che Ness on vocals, and has engendered the kind of critical praise rarely applied even to the cream of the international hiphop community.

DLT’s responses to the questions in Pavement’s hip- hop article two years ago revealed a man and musician with pride and a lot to prove – to himself, his peers, the public and to his long- term partner and mother of his children.

When I pass a copy of the article to DLT for an update, I’m relying on the strong possibility that his opinions have changed.

However, his partner of seven years, Natasha, laughs and says, “I’d say they probably haven’t.” If anyone should know, it’s her. Natasha has been DLT’s partner for seven of the 10 years he’s devoted himself to making hiphop his career. lt’s been a struggle for both of them because local hiphop, never a great revenue-spinner in New Zealand, has to provide for both them and their two children: two-year-old Arnia and five-year-old Reegan, who are cared for at home by Natasha. “I’d look back now and wonder how we did it,” she says.

“But I never said to Darryl, ‘stop this shit and go get a nine to five job so we can feed our kids’. It’s just understanding the love between two people, that you can decide I’m going to stay at home while you make the money.”

DLT admits though, that for a long time he felt bad about robbing Natasha of a career in modeling, a job Natasha insists she doesn’t miss at all. “I did it because I could but it was never my scene.” DLT laughs and says, “Nah, she was too cool, too human, with too much class.” “And besides,” adds Natasha, “I always told Darryl I was going to get paid back, that those were the hard times.”

In the previous story, DLT was asked, “Is New Zealand hiphop still growing and improving?” His answer then, I remind him, was, “No, because knowledge don’t get you laid or played or paid.” I ask him if having a number one single has changed his perspective. He knows I’m expecting him to say “yes’’ and laughs before he answers “no’’. But his response has more to do with the music industry itself than it does with the state of local hiphop.

"Chains so far is a one-off lt’s a fluke. And next week, that rank Brazilian song, Macarena, will be number one. Which is ironic because we’re on the same label.”

DLT is talking about music as a product, a commodity shopped around to music retailers, the press, television and radio. It’s all about hard selling, good timing and who has the best product that month.

“If there was something corny and tacky that was number one all over the world when Chains was about to be released, then [BMG] would have had to go with that. Radio stations follow what’s happening in the charts overseas which is exactly why Mai FM will follow white America and pick up that song which is number one over there.”

When Chains was in its fifth week at number one, DLT paid a visit to the offices of his label, BMG, where he says plenty of people were incredulous at how successful the single had become. “No one could believe Chains had made it to number one, let alone stayed in the charts for so long,” smiles DLT.

One of the most provocative questions in the earlier Pavement story - “Are there any race problems in the New Zealand hiphop scene?” - produced a strong and unequivocal response from DLT: “Yes. ‘Whites think they Have every right to rap and brown people hold it different it’s sacred. The only thing we have control over are our mouths and thought.”

DLT takes a minute before he gives his answer to the question now. “My views on white people and rap, and this is only my opinion, not what drives me but what I’ve been thinking about lately is, why do young white kids like negative, angry, black rap? Like, almost the harder it is, the more kids like it. They’re the ones that buy that shit. Public Enemy’s biggest buyers were the white kids of America. A collection of other great minds have come up with the idea that it’s a luxury, a bunk jump, a ride on a rollercoaster. You can control the fear. You can buy NWA's greatest hits and take it home and put it in your CD player and get ‘kill, whitey, nigger, fuckin’, suck a cock bitch, motherfucker’, and then you can turn it off. And that’s the luxury.”

In contrast to much of gangsta rap, consumed as it is by grown men exaggerating or blatantly lying about anything and everything, from how well hung to how incredibly dangerous they are, hiphop is sacred to DLT. He’s talking about his life, his reality, not fantasising about how many ‘bitches’ he’s scored or how much money he’s made.'

Underpinning his mission to tell the truth as he sees it are the 14 years he spent in Maraenui, Napier, a “ghetto” where “at ten-thirty, when it got dark, all you’d hear was women being beaten.” It was a life he didn’t have the luxury of being able to switch off or change the channel from to something better.

“My mother was a beautiful woman who really cared about life and living because she came from a loving family’’ he explains. “She got ripped off. My father got her pregnant. He scampered because he cared more about himself than anything he created or built. That’s the pain in my life, in my head. So I’ll never leave my kids; that’s not an issue.

"My mission on The Trueschool is to keep brothers like myself out of jail. And that ain’t no Baptist, Wesleyan or Anglican thing. It’s a bit of Islam, a bit of Buddha, a bit of Ratana, a bit of everything. You can jump on the bandwagon but it’s all just love; me giving props to young hiphop men in Aotearoa and slowly getting rid of the fear and ignorance.’’

At 16, unhappy with his mother’s choice of a new husband and disillusioned with school, DLT left Maraenui and walked to Wellington. He ended up spending the next couple of months in jail, not behind bars but with his cousin, a prison officer, who would take him to work every morning at six.

“Basically, in his nice brotherly way, he was saying, ‘Keep the fuck out of here’," says DLT. “He didn’t say, ‘Hey bro, come here. See that motherfucker over there? That’s going to be you in a couple of years’. He didn't do that shit to me.” In his own way, DLT is doing exactly the same thing through his music, pointing out the pitfalls in life.

“The only thing that fucks me off about home is that the government has turned my homeland into a ghetto. I don’t want to go home to ignorance and frustration. That scares me, going home to that shit. That’s where the core of the family is based. It’s painful; it’s a mental thing. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the hood but I just don’t trust myself not to get caught up in the trappings. And that’s not dissing my family, not dissing home. This is what hiphop is about, this is what The Trueschool about, knowing this shit. Once you know these things, then you do something about it inside.

“First of all, you stop blaming yourself, you stop blaming people around you, 'cause you’re all in the same fucking boat. And you start looking out; you start feeling for those people who are in the same position as you, rather than detesting them.”

Against the odds, the relative success of local hiphop acts like Upper Hutt Posse and Three the Hard Way and hiphop artists like DLT, Teremoana and Pauly Fuemana, suggest that New Zealand can sustain a healthy hiphop scene. Does DLT believe we can support our own hiphop industry? Yes, he says, and is adamant it could truly thrive in this country, particularly with easier access to computer equipment.

“It’s going to be that kids will be able to make their own albums at home,” he reasons. "People can already go down to Noel Leemings and buy the stuff they need. What we’ve got to do is get this equipment into garages in Otara, Maraenui, Riccarton and Porirua, instead of having to go through an industry that will cut off your arms, your head and leave you immobilised.”

And what about DLT’s own future in hiphop in Aotearoa? Despite the fact Chains hit the top spot for five weeks, DLT doesn’t believe the message got through. He says there are a lot of hidden messages in the song relating to life in New Zealand.

These include the obvious clever references to nuclear contamination: “...An extra eye for my son, another foot for my daughter”. But there’s also talk of self-esteem; the idea of money and love doing as much damage as they do good; and a few other gems that are discovered after a closer listening.

Despite making him and his family extremely proud, the success of Chains and True School hasn’t provided DLT with the unrestrained satisfaction one might expect. He’s still striving for perfection, still intent on taking the medium and the message on to higher levels.

“We’ll never make the perfect rap song,” he says, ‘’but Chains is moving in the right direction and will keep me making another 60 songs until I make another one like it.”

To say hiphop is a way of life for DLT sounds cliched and contrived. So it’s best if he has the last word on why he’s so dedicated to making music. “The real shit is to make life good for our women and children,” he says.

“That’s real hiphop in Aotearoa.”

RELATED: DLT talks about Deepgrooves and Auckland in the early 90s.

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