June 2012, Auckland: It’s around 11pm on a Friday night and Tom Scott, front man to Homebrew and a member of @Peace, is working the turntables at Rakinos Cafe and Bar on High St. Classic ’90s rap music pumps through the speakers. The lights are dim and the room is fast filling out with a mixture of slickly dressed hipsters, hip hop hoodrats and a splattering of suited civilians.
I’m standing next to one, bobbing my head while talking to two basketball singlet rocking bros, Lucky Lance from Team Dynamite and Lui Tuiasau from @Peace. Both members of Scott’s extended Young, Gifted and Broke artist collective, they’re buzzing from a team meeting the whole crew had earlier that day. Tuiasau is especially excited, particularly about the work he has been doing alongside Scott and others as @Peace.
“You have to understand, all people know about @Peace is nine songs,” he says. “We’ve already made 30 new demos, and we’re writing new music every day. I can’t wait until people hear what we’ve been doing.”
Fast forwarding things eight months to the middle of January, I’ve just received an advance download link to the new @Peace EP ‘Girl Songs’, due for release on Valentine’s Day. Forty three minutes (or 10 songs) long, the record might as well be a film. Essentially a soul-drenched and hip hop-rooted exploration of love found, love lost and the emotional baggage associated, each song represents a scene from the movie.
Several weeks after first listening to the record, I connect with Scott by phone on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
“‘Girl Songs’ is just heartbreak viewed through different lenses and the different thoughts you have on it,” he explains. “One day I’m saying sorry. The next day I’m saying how it is. The next day I’m ending the relationship, the day after that I’m regretting it. I thought it would be cool to have the different thoughts you have each day play out like different colours; all driven from the same instinct.”
A musical aesthetic informed by classic soul, funk, jazz, hip hop and even spoken word (a la Gil Scott-Heron), ‘Girl Songs’ sees Scott rapping, singing and talking alongside rapper/singer Tuiasau and beatmakers and musicians Christoph El Truento, Hayden ‘Dandruff’ Dicky and Brandon Haru. Around that core cast they drew on the musical assistance of friends from across NZ, inside and outside of the Young, Gifted and Broke collective. Alongside the work of fellow Auckland rapper Tourettes, ‘Girl Songs’ represents some of the most genuinely vulnerable and emotional hip hop music to have ever been released locally. Additionally, it’s an impressively sophisticated step up from @Peace’s strong 2011 debut album. Moving beyond beat loops and standard hip hop song structure they’ve floated into a space which, while more experimental, has deeper undertones of emotional resonance.
“I’ve been rebelling against overly masculine music,” Scott admits. “Perhaps if we were saturated with overly emotional music I would have rebelled in a different way. I’m always trying to rebel against myself artistically to see what is on the other side. A good essay has two opposing arguments and works through them to make a point. I do that with music as well.
“I also think seeing [American and Canadian hip hop artists like] Kendrick Lamar and Drake become successful has made it easier to talk about your emotions in hip hop. People listening to hip hop haven’t heard people talk real shit in a while. For the last while there has been a lot of ignorant rap music, which was in turn a rebellion against what came before it.”
Coupled with this, for Scott and the rest of @Peace, the development of their sound has also been about personal growth realised amidst an evolving society.
“I like to think society has grown,” he says. “We’re for gay marriage now. There is no segregation. We’re coming to grips with things in a whole other way that our parents weren’t. When my mum was growing up, her dad hated The Beatles because they had long hair. What the f^#k even is that? I think I am learning to accept myself a bit more as well. Every album I make I learn to accept myself a bit more.”
Over the last year, between a makeshift recording studio set-up in a bach in Taranaki and the Red Bull studio in Auckland, Scott and the rest of @Peace worked through ‘Girl Songs’, and recording for another future @Peace album. Scott says he found himself expressing himself in ways beyond just rapping, such as singing and spoken word poetry. In the process Scott followed the footsteps of Gil Scott-Heron, one of his personal heroes.
“It’s cool how if Gil wanted to go off on a spoken word rant for three minutes, he would just do that,” he enthuses. “I think being a vocalist is about being able to learn to use those different weapons and then you will have more in your arsenal to express yourself with.”
With Tuiasau employing a similar approach, and @Peace’s production team free from any allegiance to any specific style of music, their record, gloomy at points, happy at others, rolls out with a sincere sense of musical freedom. Between @Peace, Homebrew, Team Dynamite and solo work from Christoph El Truento and others, you could argue that the Young, Gifted and Broke collective are steadily approaching a possible watershed moment.
“I think if we keep it up it could happen,” Scott admits. “I think we have about a year left before we’re really in our prime. Once we’re there then we can start creating some things that will last. When we do, we can really challenge the world. I need to believe that. I think that isn’t arrogance, but more something that is necessary for the development of our whole collective. We have to be able to see it to believe it.”