April/May 2017

by Jack Woodbury

David Dallas: Under The Hood

by Jack Woodbury

David Dallas: Under The Hood

Running hard off the back of his Platinum-selling single Runnin’ and its Gold-charting follow up The Wire, David Dallas had a 2014 to remember. His third album ‘Falling Into Place’ earned him three accolades at the Pacific Music Awards, including Best Male Artist. Following that he got to open the NZ Music Awards ceremony, where he also won two Tuis, one for being judged Best Male Solo Artist and another for the Best Urban / Hip Hop Album. In the years since though he has kept an unusually low profile. Jack Woodbury talked with Dallas about his next step, the newly released ‘Hood Country Club’ album.

“Obviously to the public I’ve been gone for ages. But, in my head, I’m like, ‘Nah, I’ve been doing heaps of shit’. It’s just no one’s heard it!’’ laughs David Dallas.

“Once ‘Falling Into Place’ was done, I didn’t take much time to stop. I sort of went back into it as far as writing, and then, obviously no one heard that stuff… I think a lot of it is moodier, darker.”

Dallas’ latest labour of love, ‘Hood Country Club’ was finally liberated late-April. It’s been four years since the Papatoetoe-raised rapper released his last project, and a lot has happened since.

“I got married in 2015, and not long after we put out ‘Falling Into Place’ my father passed away. To be honest, that’s not why it took that long, it just did… A good portion of the album would have been coming out sort of around the time I put out Don’t Rate That, which was late 2015. The album wasn’t far off then, but just the rest of the stuff. It took a long time to put out the last 10%.”

‘Hood Country Club’ sports three singles including Fit In, which sees the Auckland-based rapper condemn peers who sacrifice their authenticity for commercial success. Production for the single was by Melbourne-based Styalz Fuego and Nic M, with added vocals from British newcomer Laurent John. Over a summery beat and catchy dance hook, Dallas blends warm rhythms and timbres with a cold delivery. ‘Sitting on Pitchfork tryn’a figure out / what’s good, what’s hot / showing off to your friends like you’re top notch / last year man you were into pop rock / saying that Drake is a soft-cock / now you at his show with a top-knot.’

Don’t Flinch analyses this sentiment from an alternate angle, focused on a character who criticises Dallas for his pursuit of artistry: ‘Fuck this underground shit, start selling out / fuck this money ‘cause you never know what’s round the corner / fuck being cool, cool doesn’t feed your daughter.’

Don’t Flinch has kind of amalgamated three stories into one… the majority of that is conversations I’ve had with my friends,” Dallas explains. “Prior to me doing ‘The Rose Tint’ and Runnin’, and having commercial success, they’d be like, ‘Yo man, you’re a good rapper man, who gives a fuck about trying to be cool… like fuck, you need to be on the radio man, make a Pitbull song.’

“My friends with regular jobs, who have got regular lives, they’re just like, ‘Man, you’re struggling out here… To people who don’t care so much, or people who have real life issues like putting food on the table or paying the rent, with the artistic side of music they’re like, ‘Who cares?’’’

Don’t Rate That also shows up on the new album, alongside the previously released Life Is Pt. 2. While Fit In features potently-danceable steel drums, Don’t Rate That is all hardened trap, with skittering hi-hats and sub-bass. It’s demonstrative of the album’s varied sound, more centred on Dallas’ vocals than instrumental consistency. In Don’t Rate That Dallas is also at his most political: ‘Sick of hearing how you hate that / they buying everything that ain’t tax / blame it on the Chinese / say it’s foreign buyers / but if a Brit buys up / you don’t bat an eyelid.’

“The Don’t Rate That that people hear is like, the second or third iteration of that song,’ Dallas admits reinforcing that the recording of ‘Hood Country Club’ in Auckland’s Red Bull Studios over the past few years has been a taxing process. Among other personal challenges reflected in the 13-track effort, Dallas aimed to sharpen his rapping.

“I think I put more focus on the verses. Not to say that I was fucking around with my verses in the past… but you go through phases where you just want to be the best rapper, and you don’t really care about much else. It wasn’t necessarily just about kicking the hardest bars, or having a cool flow. With this one, after the last album, I’ve got my head around songwriting… even with the verses I wanted that same focus that I had when I started.”

The album title is also a departure.

“With my previous albums I had the album title before I started the record. This one I didn’t have a title, it was gonna be something else until super late in the piece. My friend was talking about starting a clothing company. He’s pretty much my best mate. And he was describing what he wanted to do with his clothing company… I was like, ‘What sort of shit are you tryn’a make?’ And he was like, ‘You know.’ And I was like ‘You wanna make stuff that’s kind’a like country club-ish, but hood, still street?’

And he was just like, ‘Yeah!’ And I was like, ‘hood country club stuff.’ And I remember when I said that I thought that’d be a cool title for a song.”

Soon after Dallas had a new track recorded.

“When I played my wife the song… she was like, ‘Yeah, cool song… it has to go on the album.’ And then she was like, ‘What’s the album title?’ And it was something else, something more generic. She was like, ‘That should be your album title!’”

Not only instrumental in that decision, wife Lani is now a crucial part of his quality control.

“She’s pretty much my first sounding board for anything. I’d play it to her and see what she thinks… If I was to play it to my boys or something, I feel like they’re still gonna try and sugar coat it, they don’t wanna say shit. Whereas, my wife is gonna be like, ‘Nah, this is wack!’… I can generally gauge how something is from her.”

Following the album’s completion, Dallas took a Chinese vacation, visiting Beijing and Shanghai.

“I’ve never seen scale like in China… you go to a residential area and see the biggest residential block you’ve seen in your life. It’s another one that put things into perspective.

“I took a trip to Japan in 2007, with my mate Nick [Maclaren], he was the other half of Frontline… that was my first trip where I realised I enjoyed travel, and that trip – spending two weeks in Tokyo – kind of opened my eyes to, ‘Oh, you don’t necessarily have to be Adele or something to have a career in music.’”

Despite being arguably less popular than Adele, Dallas is generally regarded as one of this country’s premium hip hop exports. As someone who has gained a genuine commercial foothold overseas he’s a rarity.

“The world’s smaller than ever now, because of the internet. Everyone can see anything. The distribution barrier’s gone, but now it’s just tryn’a overcome… there’s just so much noise, so much content out there.”

In acknowledging his own success Dallas is swift to point to the general quality of NZ music.

“There’s so much music in this country that I’m like, ‘If this was made by an American artist this would be fucking huge.’ All it comes down to, when you’re from a place like this, is tryn’a align yourselves with the right people… You make stuff that’s outstanding, or stands out some way. Whether it’s the music, whether it’s your story, whether it’s the visual. Preferably, it’s all of those things.’

Made A Name ends his fourth album with the lyrics, ‘Made the people back home proud / sold a couple shows out / we ain’t gonna change up a bit / just being famous for nothing ain’t shit / man we made a name off of this!’

Runnin’ has by now been viewed close to four million times on Youtube. Though it’s been a long four years, David Dallas is back.

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