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December/January 2020

by Silke Hartung

Q & A: And$um

by Silke Hartung

Q & A: And$um

Well evidenced by the regular additions to playlists of the ChC and DND student radio stations, there are a number of South Island acts doing incredibly well locally, but yet to find support from programmers and fans further north. With three EPs in 2019 alone, and nearing 100k Spotify streams, prolific rapper Sam Dunlay, aka And$um, is one such artist. Silke Hartung asked about his local scene, musicality in hip hop and his opinion on various other matters.

You’ve released three EPs this year! How do you find the energy (and money) to do that?

I really enjoy being creative and I feel music is the best outlet for that. So I tend to find it as something I look forward to rather than a chore!

Depending on how I’m feeling I can have a pretty solid draft of a song done pretty quickly. I’m always looking for an excuse to write as well. When work gets quiet or I’m on a break I’ll be writing then, sometimes I’ll even sneak off to the bathroom to get an idea down, haha! It’s kind of just become as natural to me as breathing. The notes on my phone are just full of hundreds of ideas that didn’t quite make it, I just love it too much to stop.

The money can be a tough thing. I work full time to support my music-making habit, so pretty much all of my earnings go into music. A lot of the time I’ll get beats from friends, but there’s always the mix, the master and promo to pay for. I’ve learnt that you really need to be smart with your money and your time.

Hip hop has become one of the strongest genres all over the world. What do you think sets NZ hip hop apart?

It’s a tough one. As a New Zealander listening to NZ music, it feels more authentic to me than something coming out of the States. I feel like there’s also a lot more freedom to be creative here, and people aren’t afraid to work with each other. So you get all these really cool sounds coming out that you can’t hear anywhere else. Because everything is done DIY here, I feel like there’s a lot more soul in the music.

New Zealand punches above its weight in everything, and I feel like music is another great example of that.

Is there something you feel is typical to hip hop from Christchurch?

Everyone will mention Scribe haha. He’s the guy that kind of did it for the city. When I was first coming through battle rap was pretty much the only scene here, which really isn’t me. But lately there’s been a whole new wave of people coming through with new sounds and pushing the boundary. I feel like a lot of artists here have a chip on their shoulder, myself included because there’s just not as much opportunity here as in Auckland or Wellington. So we have to work a lot harder to get heard. But there’s some real talent here.

Jack White praised modern hip hop in an interview, going so far as to call it the “new punk rock”. What do you think of that statement?

I love hip hop because it’s so authentic. You can rip a beat off Youtube, buy a $20 mic and pour your heart out. That’s how I got started.

Hip hop is such a broad category in itself so you get so many different sounds out of it as well. I guess because you aren’t limited by needing to know all this recording tech or how to play all these instruments, any kid can say what they want. Which is super powerful and raw, kind of the same punk-rock energy as back in the day.

Who’s part of your Canterbury scene? Any artists we should be looking out for?

Too many to name, haha! I don’t want to forget about someone. There’s a really tight-knit community here and some incredible artists. I’ve been working with a lot more local artists recently which has been really fun. I feel like as soon as one person kind of breaks that threshold a whole lot of other people will as well. I didn’t even have my songs on Spotify until the start of the year, and now I’m hitting close to 100k streams. So people can just appear out of nowhere, and I feel like that’s what could happen here. We just need the opportunity.

What gear and software are essential to your recording set up?

I use Logic Pro for all my recording! I do a rough mix myself as a demo, and then send it off for the final mix and master. My dad works in radio and has a wee shed that he uses to record ads and vocals. So I bought myself a Sennheiser mic last year and moved into that space, haha. Before that, it was just recording where I could and when I could.

Our playlists are full of great local RnB/hip hop crossover collabs right now. If you could pick a team  to record with, who would you choose ?

Oh, that’s a tough one. My last two projects I didn’t have any features at all. So one big goal I’ve set for myself is to collaborate more, especially with singers. I think crossing genres and trying new things is super exciting, and can produce some amazing sounds. I’d love to work with Bailey Wiley or Villette. I’ve been flying up to Auckland a bit lately to make some music up there with Bobandii and Fable. Who are some cool cool cats. We’ve got a couple of songs in the works which is a bit different from the usual hip hop. But I’m always down to work with new people and try new things.

Hip hop is a genre where you can theoretically get away with relatively low traditional musicality, as long as you’ve got rhythm, great phrasing and good lyrics. What instruments are you able to play?

I played the drums for about five or so years growing up. I’ve taught myself a little bit of piano and I had singing lessons for a while. So I’ve got a reasonable grasp of melody and rhythm. But I feel like that’s a beautiful part of it. It’s a trial and error sort of thing, it takes time, but you just learn what works and what doesn’t. So you’re really only limited by your work ethic. I’m sure a lot of the greats wouldn’t be able to give you a lecture on music theory, it just comes with time.

Any themes that you seem to circle back to naturally in your lyrics?

My music takes on a lot of shapes depending on how I feel. I’ve had some troubles with depression over the years so I draw a lot of inspiration from that. But on the flip side, I’ve got songs about having fun and drinking and just playing around. I really want my music to be a reflection of myself. So if I’m feeling sad I’ll write a sad song, if I’m feeling confident I’ll write a more up-tempo fun track.

I kind of make my songs in the moment, which can be hard because often I’ll be writing something and then look back on it weeks later and not like it. Because I’m not feeling that way anymore I can be quite critical, so a lot of songs end up getting scrapped. But I feel if my songs represent a certain moment in time, it may not be as relevant to me now, but when I wrote it that was how I was feeling. Which is kind of cool listening back and seeing how things change.

What’s up next?

I want to try and do an album. I’ve released three full-length projects this year and it’s super draining, haha. Plus with the age of streaming people hardly listen to the whole thing, so there have been a few great tracks that I feel haven’t got the attention they deserved. I think I might go down the single route, but invest in the songs a bit more. Treat every release as a major project, shoot a video and try and make a big deal out of it. Which is hard because at any point in time I’m always working on multiple tracks, so I just want to get them out there…

One thing I’ve learned this year is that you need to invest in yourself and your art, there’s always a big, ‘Oh you’re a rapper’ stigma, so I never really did any promo or shared my stuff out that much. After I got a bit more success and heard people actually dig my music, it kind of made me a bit more confident in myself. And not be afraid to share out a song and talk about it.