Never mind the spelling, rhyme Hiest with Feist, as Isiah Ngawaka evidently intended in adopting the name. Rhyming is his stronger suit, and convincingly what he does throughout his confident self-produced debut album, ‘Absence In Motion’. Intuitively blending that familiar cracking snare and driving tempo of drum’n’bass with broader electronica sounds and distinctive Kiwi hip hop sensibilities, Lucid Hiest announces himself as a rapper/producer with a real back story and plenty of promise. Jack Woodbury talked with him for NZM.
First impressions are important. Perhaps that’s why Napier-based musician Isiah Ngawaka, better known as Lucid Hiest, opens his debut album with the exclamation: ‘Fire!’ It’s a statement that reads as both promise and description.
Clocking in around an hour, with 14 tracks (including one bonus), ‘Absence In Motion’ is packed with Ngawaka’s influences and history, balancing itself between the often-polar sonic worlds of drum’n’bass and hip hop. It’s this same two-pronged sonic style that Hiest believes sets him apart from his contemporaries.
“There’s a big void. There’s a lot of movement in hip hop and a lot of artists only taking one angle at it. There’s so many sub-genres within hip hop that haven’t been touched yet in NZ. So for me, I feel comfortable in my own little room.”
This stylistic conception of his influences wasn’t as linear as it may appear, ‘Absence In Motion’ has taken several years to complete, has moved from studio to studio, and was even recorded as two entirely different projects – one in each genre – totalling 46 tracks.
“Then I guess I had to get serious,” Ngawaka reflects.“I decided to merge them.”
Almost entirely produced by himself – bar the final Major Lazer-sampling bonus track, included by fan request as a victory lap – the album has been a learning experience, inevitably it seems.
“I jumped on a drumkit for the first time at four years old. There was always a guitar around the house. Everything I know is self taught over the years.”
A lack of options of Napier-based producers forced Ngawaka to teach himself how to produce beats in FL Studio – added to which the album (originally titled ‘Rough Foundations’) was recorded on the roughest of gear.
“I guess that’s why the album took so long, the more I learned, I’d have to go back and apply what I’d learned. It was a constant back and forth. When I first started recording, we weren’t using a condenser mic, we were using an overhead mic, like they use for drums. It was a labour of love nonetheless.’
Under the Lucid Hiest cover Ngawaka paints a lyrical picture of his tough history, promising future and hopeful present.
“I guess it’s sort of a biography of myself. Try’na tell my story. Try’na tap into it with this album. But I haven’t covered everything, not even close… now I’m working on a new mixtape to put out maybe a few months after the album. It’s a much quicker process…”
In the album’s title-track Ngawaka sings, ‘It ain’t always gonna be this way forever, remember I’m only gone ’til November, hard times but I’m looking to the future, soon it’ll be a new day.’ It’s an insight into what was by any measure a tough childhood. Born to parents who met on stage, he was always destined to make music.
“They didn’t go on to make a life together, but they made me.”
His mum was diagnosed with brain damage that became worse in her early twenties.
“At that point I was three to four, and I was adopted out to her sister. I grew up with her sister and her partner. They had two kids who became my older brother and older sister. It was weird for me, I did feel like a bit of an outsider. It was a loving family, but things got messy as we grew older. The older brother moved out, for his own reasons, parents split, dad got abusive and alcoholic. It reached a breaking point, and I ran away at 16 and never came back…
“It is what it is. I don’t resent it as such because it definitely makes me who I am today, and maybe I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without it.”
Fifth track, 10-7, provides as a theatrical interlude, telling a hyperbolic story from Ngawaka’s childhood that is given a more humorously violent ending on the album.
“I was walking home from town and someone had broken into a school. This was at nighttime. A cop pulled up, and he knew me by name – he was like, ‘It’s Isiah isn’t it? – and I was like, ‘Woah!’ Ngawaka laughs before continuing. ‘He was like, ‘In the car mate,’ and I get in the car. Obviously it goes a bit differently in the skit, but that was there to ruffle some feathers.”
A number of his former bandmates are included, most notably improvisational trumpeter Matt ‘The Bandit’ Mear, who slots effortlessly into the drum’n’bass sound, adding rich flavour to four tracks. Also helping out are Jess Atkin, Professor Plum and Casey Peterson. Mixing and mastering was courtesy of Raice Hannay, of Voodoo Creation Records in Napier.
Despite having plenty of experience onstage with his previous band Blvd. Nights, Lucid Hiest will likely not tour for a while, at least not close to home.
“In Napier, unfortunately, the youth all get to a point and then shhoooo-, they’re off to university or overseas. It does affect the target market I guess.”
He‘s eyeing a move to Australia himself, but looking to his future the new mixtape takes pre-eminence.
“The hook always comes first. Then I’ll try and structure verses around that. The lyrics and messages are gonna be the same. Everything that makes me ‘me’, is gonna be heard on mixtapes and future things to come, even though the beats may evolve over time.”
Electronica single Dance With The Kush, which dates from early 2013, reached #5 on the NZ hip hop charts, making it clear Lucid Hiest is making a name for himself in the local scene. He’s hoping to release a single and video, with Tyree of Smashproof fame, preferably before ‘Absence In Motion’ is released, to help build anticipation and spread his name.
Bidding farewell, he adds a message to fans.
“Thanks for tuning into me. I plan on being real busy. Watch it. We gonna do it. We’re going all the way. I don’t plan on stopping. Expect to see it. Watch out, Lucid Hiest is coming.”