Grey Lynn looms large in the life of Diggy Dupé, including a feature in the opening shots of the video for single That’s Team, which features fellow rapper AP and a cast of quite evidently proud friends and colleagues dancing among the celebratory confetti. It’s a quite deliberate reflection of an idea that’s core for the Niuean/Grey Lynn rapper, that he’s part of something bigger – not so much the PM’s ‘Team of 5M’, but a team nonetheless – his collaborators individually name-checked in the closing track of his widely relevant yet personally reflective debut album. Keen to be talking about his next stuff, Kirsten Marsh wrangled the conversation back to ‘That’s Me, That’s Team’, the writing, production, the intent and his journey with Vagahau Niue.
Just home from a recording session with Melodownz and Diggy Dupé is buzzing about working with him. He’s stoked that the Auckland scene has grown so much that such a diversity of talented people have been able to carve out their own space.
“You have JessB doing like uplifting vibes, and Melodownz, he’s like a hippie gangster. I can’t be Melo, Melo can’t be me, I can’t be Jess, you know? Everyone is on different paths, but we all have the same end goal. Which is mean. That’s how your community builds.”
Diggy has long been vocal about the history of his family and community in central Auckland, so the answer to my, ‘What’s the end goal?’ question is no surprise.
“For me, the end goal is community-based. Musically, it’s never really ending, it’s that itch you can’t scratch, you just have to do it. Even when my time is up I’ll still have that urge to jot something down or let something out.
“The end goal for me and my people is to change our actual situations, our real lives. There’s no point in doing all this and then the next generation comes through and has to go through the same shit… like generational stuff you know, generational trauma.”
Diggy knew he would be working towards something else after the release of his 2018 EP ‘Island Time’, but ‘That’s Me, That’s Team’ was still a long time in the making – as he observes in the intro to That’s Me (over a sample from a VHS of his first birthday), “…we finally made it.”
“I was going through the motions like, what’s my next move? And it’s just been building up from there. It’s the start of my music career, my official outing, so why not have a soundbite from my first birthday – the beginning, you know? Metaphorically it’s like, here’s my first birthday, and this is my first album.
“With it being the first proper album, it meant I had to take my time. I’ve always taken my time with stuff, I’m not fussed or in a rush to put things out if it doesn’t feel right. I knew this had to be a statement for everyone to see, not just for my peers, or for the industry and my colleagues. I felt like l had to bring the same essence and same hunger from my first project, again.”
Taking time over the album allowed him the space to grow, and an outlet to tell the story of that growth.
“I grew as a person, like on some real-life shit, not just musically. And I guess that translated into stories.”
Taking time also meant he could work on his own terms, with his own people. Fans of his earlier work will see familiar faces in the credits and the album is full of world-class beats. It’s an eclectic mix; understated chill songs like 5:35, the samples in mmmULA and CT&T giving off those lo-fi hip hop vibes, upbeat bangers like That’s Team and the “pretty dark” New Devils. He leans heavily on team metaphors to talk about his boys, the album tied together with his characteristic themes of family and social commentary.
The whole album was recorded and mixed by Rizván, with a handful of guest producers like SmokeyGotBeatz (SWIDT) and Haz Beats.
“Rizván recorded and mixed everything at his house, with his baby on his lap, with a $200 USB Rode microphone. Nothing fancy, no fancy room, no foam walls or anything. Just real authentic, how we’ve always done it.
“I’m glad we did it that way for the first album. It might not be the best quality but it’s ours, you can’t take that away from us. We made it in my bro’s spare room, we didn’t make it at Red Bull or another random studio that has to stamp their label on it. Rizván just took it to Chris Chetland at Kog Studios to master it, and that took it to an industry level.”
Although artists and producers send him beats, Diggy prefers to go it on his own when writing.
“I’m never in studio spaces, with people. I do all my writing when I walk my dog, or when I’m at work, or running – so it’s always been a personal thing. That’s why when you hear it, it’s all personal stories.
“I have a few different ways of writing – one is like, the real deep thinking, go off on my own and put my headphones on, and construct a story, shape it all out, have a solid structure, and really talk about a set theme. Like Cup of Tea and Toast (CT&T), stuff like that. Another way is kind’a like a training buzz, where I just write whatever and I just vibe, whatever comes to me, subconsciously, like on some impressionistic shit. Just see where it takes me.
“Smokey and Rizván were the only two I got to physically be in the studio with, so they were the only ones who had any creative input musically. But there were a lot of people involved in it. Like yeah I did all the writing, but there were so many people behind the scenes. All the producers making the beats, even all the featured artists like the SWIDT boys, AP (That’s Team), my cousin Ness (Youngness Ikinofo, One Day), my other cousin Red (ReddxRozaay, 5:35). Even getting Josie Campbell on board, she’s been with us all the way, back since the start of the campaign.”
As with his past work, Diggy throws in a few shout outs to his cultural roots. The start of Keke Boy has a sample of Cook Island drums, courtesy of Smokey, and Vagahau Niue features in the lyrics. He’s been working on connecting back in with his roots and talks about how there haven’t always been opportunities to do so.
“Samoans, and Tongans and Cook Islanders, there’s always stuff for the older men to do like sasa (Samoan dance), or to gather and be Samoan, or be Tongan. But for Niueans, there’s never really anything, besides church, or birthdays.”
Because of the number of Niuean children at his primary school, his aunty stepped up and taught language classes. He also heard the language at home.
“But maybe because every time I was exposed to it, it was yelled, like I was getting told off… maybe subconsciously I’ve learned to not hear it or selectively block it out,” he laughs. “Lately I’ve been trying to get back into it. I’m in a Niuean cultural group, too.
We have our practice tonight. One of the older boys got everyone together and decided to make a cultural group. Just to tap in with everybody, like-minded Niuean men on the same journey learning their mother tongue and their roots.”
Using certain words in his lyric writing is just another way to work in the language he uses every day, and keep doing it until it’s the norm.
“It’s invigorating hearing the language being spoken so casually, and it’s mean because for the next generation, it will be normal for them to go to a cultural group, or to hear their language spoken among their boys.”
Earlier in the year, Diggy performed at Tautai, an art gallery – a very different kind of audience in a quite different setting to his usual.
“I was like obviously, ‘I’m not gonna rap some ignorant shit.’ I did my research and studied the audience, the venue, who’s the promoter and what’s their code of ethics, what do these people care about? I knew it was Tautai, art people, a lot of people there who would never come to a show at Whammy.
“So I was like okay sweet, I’m gonna hit them with some deep meaningful shit, some political stuff, and a spoken word. And from there it was like boom, won them over. It was mean, you know, it did what it was supposed to do!
“I take this shit seriously, I don’t fuck around eh. I feel like that’s what’s gonna separate you from the rest. It’s the work ethic. People just see that little bit, they don’t see all the work.
“That’s how I treat this whole thing, that’s why there’s all the sports-related connotations – like about teammates. Me and my boys are all on the same page with how we treat our work, we really respect it. If we have shows, we rehearse – we don’t just wing it. When I go out there, I really perform, I treat it like I’m on the field.”
He coyly hints that the next single he drops will be going down a different route to what he’s done for the last few years.
“This next single, I’m trying to push out as soon as possible. I’ll always be doing features, but for my solo stuff I’m trying to clock something else… That’s all I can say!
“Other artists want the big hit or to feature on a massive ad, like that’s the goal and they’ll find ways to attain that goal. Whereas my main goal is to build something that’ll stand the test of time – and that’s more meaningful and enjoyable.”