P-Money has delivered big time on the promise that saw him gracing the cover of NZ Musician a dozen years ago, back in early 2001. Even so, the various successes Pete Wadams has achieved in his own career are in many ways overshadowed by his role as a catalyst to the establishment of others’ hip hop credentials. There’s Scribe of course, and plenty of others, such as Vince Harder, Tyna and David Dallas, whose reputations he has been instrumental in cementing. Having seemed to have been flirting with a move to NYC for several years, 2013 sees the release of his first seriously outta New York album, entitled ‘Gratitude’. Not exactly hip hop staunch by name, but as he tells Martyn Pepperell, the times they have been changing.
“There is no requirement for New Zealanders to enjoy NZ music if they don’t like it,” laughs well-known hip hop DJ and producer P-Money (real name: Peter Wadams). “It’s not a mandate. You can’t pass a Government mandate. NZ On Air have to spend money on something, but the NZ public doesn’t have to listen to it if they don’t like it. Run that quote in bold bro.”
It’s close to 6pm and P-Money is relaxing in his apartment in New York city, if you can call doing Skype interviews with NZ media about his new album ‘Gratitude’ relaxing. Having recently arrived back in the big apple from a trip to Toronto in Canada, he’s been reflecting on the correlation between the energy in the air of that city, and the vibes that were happening in NZ in the mid 2000s after Christchurch rapper Scribe blew up.
“The success of Drake and The Weeknd has everyone there enthused about the movement. They all think there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s motivating. They’re all trying to make it, and that makes for some good results.”
And P-Money would know. As a turntable battle star, DJ, producer, label owner, mentor and musician he has been a lead player in the NZ hip hop scene through more than a decade of its rises and falls, stumbles and successes.
Circa 2013, with the mainstream local success of Auckland’s Young, Gifted & Broke crew affiliates Homebrew and @Peace, the second post-Frontline rise of David Dallas and the bubbling up of underground rappers like Raiza Biza, Spycc and Diaz Grimm, you could make an argument that that same energy is back in the air again locally, and Wadams doesn’t disagree.
“It takes someone to make the change, then everyone can fall in line and see the opportunities,” he muses. “Sometimes it takes a dreamer, someone like Tom [Scott, from Homebrew and @Peace) or Scribe to go for it. Then everyone else can join in the momentum. Again, New Zealander’s don’t have to listen to NZ music. So it is fucking cool they do.”
When we talk in early May, Wadams has been spending his New York days making music, handling his social media, catching the beginnings of an American summer, and preparing for the release of his sixth studio album. Perhaps his most sophisticated work to date, ‘Gratitude’ sees Wadams bouncing back from the conceptual and aesthetic nightmare that was his last album, 2010’s ‘Everything’. Stepping away from those house, disco and UK funky-informed urges, he’s crafted a cycle of soul-drenched, funk-fuelled hip hop instrumentals which sit perfectly within the traditions of ’90s East Coast rap formalism, while also urging things forward.
He has made what feels like a New York hip hop album, that was mostly created in New York, to the extent where the fact the central architect is a New Zealander seems like an incidental detail. The cycle of 15 tracks find him teaming up with a roster of classic (and future classic) hip hop and RnB vocalists which includes Havoc (of Mobb Deep), M.O.P, Talib Kweli, Nicole Wray, Buckshot, Freddie Gibbs, Fashawn and Skyzoo amongst others. Fellow New Zealanders Aaradhana and @Peace feature as well, and ‘Gratitude’ is a clear step up from the NZ-meets-New York vibes of his 2004 third album, ‘Magic City’.
“Half of the album, maybe more, was made in New York,” he confirms. “Even the stuff that wasn’t technically put together here was all directly influenced by the experience of living here. I’ve been back and forth though, the whole time I’ve been here.”
Wadams has been coming to the Big Apple on a semi-regular basis for close to a decade, reckoning he has visited the city nearly 50 times.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve always prioritised travelling, he says. “I make money from my New Zealand shows and I usually spend that money on airfares. I’ve visited numerous times since the outset of my career, in fact the first real money I made off music went towards visiting New York.
Since then he’s seen the city go from as he puts it “…a hip hop city” where it seemed like hip hop was the dominant culture of the city, to more of an independent space.
“The marketing of music isn’t getting millions of dollars thrown at every act like it was 10 years ago. It’s still there, but it’s more underground now, which is kind of cool.”
Under this climate, several years ago now, Wadams headed over to New York on a more permanent basis, representing his own Dirty Records (and in turn Auckland composite music business FMG) to help cement a deal for David Dallas with smart New York hip hop label Duck Down Music Inc.
“We did Dave’s thing first, which is what they were interested in, but I always had a plan in mind to get my music out through the same channels,” he now admits.
With the relationship established and everyone happy, he floated the idea of doing his record through Duck Down, and in August last year they came to a verbal agreement to make it happen.
Picking out 20 so of his beats he thought fitted together well, Wadams started shopping them around to different rappers and singers, and thinking about who would suit what beat, getting the conversations happening. Comparing it to the process he went through making ‘Magic City’, with American artists like Akon, Aasim, Capone, Sauce Money, Roc Raida and Bobby Creekwater, he says this was smoother in general, sometimes quicker, sometimes not.
“Times have changed for everyone. We were doing different types of transactions this time around.”
Divided between songs recorded in the studio with vocalists and trading files online, something the process underscored was the difference between working with Kiwi and U.S. rappers, which for Wadams mostly comes down to punctuality.
“Our guys tend to drag their heels a bit more. We’re on a laidback, ‘I’ll get it down when I feel the vibes,’ vibe. Over here they’re like, ‘Oh right, when do you need it?’ They are really professional in the sense that they can deliver on time and to a quality without sacrificing the artistic side of things.”
One of the more memorable moments was when he got to record with hardcore Brownsville Brooklyn hip hop duo M.O.P, towards their song The Hardest.
“We booked a four hour session in a studio in Soho and they were only 45 minutes late, which is pretty much dead on time by a rappers’ clock,” he laughs. “M.O.P music is not the most light or friendly music. It’s very aggressive and in your face, but as individuals they were cool guys, very chill, cracking jokes. They were really feeling the music as well. It was a positive experience and great to be in the studio.”
Released as a single at the end of April, The Hardest has since release, seen Wadams’ pull of the online version of New York graffiti writers used to call going ‘all city’ – ‘all internets’. Extremely well received within the American rap internet, it’s been placed on crucial sites like egotripland.com, complex.com, nahright.com, 2dopeboys.com and xxlmag.com. Having completely embraced the blog landscape in recent years, Wadams says he’s been super happy about the response.
“It’s encouraging and rewarding. You have a checklist of things you want to achieve. Going into this record that was obviously all part of the puzzle. I want to be on blog x, y and z that I read on a regular basis. I want my stuff across all of them and it has happened. That is the audience I want to reach. That is where I see my music fitting in. Hopefully it does good things.
With ‘Gratitude’ due to be available locally and internationally (both online and in-stores) by the time of NZM publication, Wadams’ focus is on the forward looking side of promotion, which will see him touring Australasia with David Dallas during June, before heading back to New York to try connect some more dots, once America has a clearer idea of what he is about.
“I’ve been doing some turntablist showcase stuff with DMC USA the last while, but as far as club stuff, the DJing scene here is super competitive,” he admits. “I’m not really pushing to be one of the same 20 guys that play the same five songs. I’d rather do my own thing and play the music that I like. I’m not really pushing to get into the club scene.”
As he has done intermittently over the last decade, P-Money continues to immerse himself in New York’s hip hop culture.
“I always thought it was important to come live here, learn about the environment and see what is going on,” he enthuses. “It just gives you a whole different insight into where it [hip hop] comes from. The actual culture, not just the culture as interpreted by a bunch of foreigners who might not have ever actually touched it.”