Under the rapper pseudonym of Name UL, Emanuel Psathas recently released his debut album. The honest and confrontational album focuses on our youth drinking culture, doubling as a love letter-of sorts to the capital city. He talked about ‘Choice(s)’ with Jack Woodbury.
Dixon Street’s Flight Coffee Hangar is a bustling little concrete box at 9:30am. Emanuel Psathas appears right at home in the small café. Loud, vibrant and full of coffee aromas, it seems pertinent to meet Wellington’s latest hip hop export here.
Under the pseudonym Name UL, 20-year old Psathas recently released his debut album, a 12-track effort titled ‘Choice(s)’. The album, he says, is for (and by) Wellington. Debuting at #1 on the NZ iTunes Hip-Hop charts, the album follows the ‘4pm to 4am’ story of a Saturday night out. Focused on youth drinking culture, it’s a challenging statement that critiques both its author and target audience.
“The whole concept is so challenging, so confrontational of our culture, and especially youth culture. It’s something that I’m a part of, so I was really nervous…
“I’ve always been the one to question things that are directly in front of me. I don’t care about the momentary discomfort of confronting something… If there’s something I think is wrong, then I have to address that. For my first album, I want to show people that I’m willing to say what needs to be said.”
‘Choice(s)’ tells Psathas’ own journey through this youth culture.
“That was my life at that point. Just this cycle of going out every weekend. 4pm to 4am… I’m not saying this from an outsider’s perspective. I really was in that, and I still am to some extent.”
On My Side he outlines this central criticism while referencing Nas’ iconic N.Y. State of Mind. ‘So we show up / pour up / throw up / ‘til we grow up or we die / I swear it’s just that Welly state of mind.’
Psathas justifies the allusion.
“There’s no other way to put it, it’s a genuine state of mind.”
Recording began in 2014 though the album only really began to take shape two years later. Coincidentally alcohol was the biggest impediment to progress.
“I don’t think I got it sorted until the final stages of the album… I was writing it from a place of frustration… I sorted out a bunch of stuff with myself and my habits, and it meant the album got done.”
Notably absent from the 12 tracks is Name UL’s 2015 single Only 16.
“It’s kind’a weird with Only 16, cause it’s like the early stages of me moving into the concept, just confronting the culture and being young… It’s the start of pressing deeper into the culture.”
Mixed by Lee Prebble and mastered by Mike Gibson, ‘Choice(s)’ features production from Whiterose, C-Sick and Psathas himself, among others. Indicative of both his instrumental and lyrical talents, standout We Talk Too Much benefits from self-production in collaboration with Eno and Frank Eliesa. Its unquantized boom-bap drumbeat and sweet piano loop give Name UL plenty of room to exercise his lyrical chops. Tracks like this are where the album truly shines. Its greatest achievements come in the quietest moments when he’s given enough room to let his voice take the lead.
The album’s narrative is also driven by a selection of recordings bookending particular tracks. On title-track Choice(s) Name UL includes a brief skit outside a petrol station, coincidentally scored by Frankie Valli’s Sherry.
“All those were secret recordings of me and my homies hanging out. There was about four hours of stuff that we went through for that album.We cut down so much.”
Except for the phone call interlude in the center of Waiting, Psathas is quick to correct, “I’m not that much of a dick in real life!”
Assisted almost exclusively by fellow Wellington musicians, the album’s credits double as a love letter to the capital city. In reference to his involvement in the mixing process, Psathas details: ‘…me and Lee [Prebble] really bonded over this project. We knew we had this sound really ‘Wellington’… we made the whole thing in Newtown.’ However, in a change of pace, Name UL will be working in the US for Warner Music for the first few months of 2017.
“Name UL remains the priority,” he specifies.
Though he naturally sports a NZ accent, his Name UL rapping features a recognisable American twang. Psathas seems confident in his justification.
“I learned the instrument from America, in an American style… If that’s what you hear when you’re listening to the music, then maybe you’re missing the point.”
He echoes a similar nonchalance when quizzed about comparisons to Drake.
“People who aren’t avid listeners are really gonna be hindered in how they listen to my content. If they’re the type of person who [goes in] with a preconceived judgement in listening to it, that’s a negative for me.
“I think [it’s a] positive though, depending on what rap you get compared to, it’s an endorsement.”
Most importantly, Psathas stresses autonomy from his father John Psathas, the internationally successful Greek/Kiwi composer and NZ School of Music lecturer.
“People tend to put you in the same sentence. The biggest negative is that people just assume that I have an easy ride, like he does heaps of stuff for me. I don’t want to defend that, it’s not my job to prove I did it. I just kind of shut off if people ask if he’s helped me.
“Literally, just talk to him, he mentors me as a dad, he just tells me what to do as a dad. I’ll play my music for him, but he’s not in the studio with me, he’s not writing my raps.”
There’s plans to release a ‘Choice(s)’ vinyl and a video for Falling, the album’s second single. And Psathas is already recording again.
“Falling is my chance to visually capture everything I was trying to say on the album, because I know now that people engage with the concept… I’m making it with all Wellington people. I haven’t been more excited about making a video.
“I was in the studio the day the album dropped. We’re working all the time. I don’t know what I’ll be rapping about when I’m 25, but it’s gonna be the same kind of thing. It’ll be so honest, it’ll be what’s on my mind… I hope it doesn’t take another two years before my next one.