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May/June 2021

by Sam Smith

TS: The North Has Something To Say

by Sam Smith

TS: The North Has Something To Say

Hip hop is very much tied up in the geography of where it is made. In a NZ context, we tend to think of South Auckland, Avondale, Ponsonby, Christchurch, all places that have spurned burgeoning rap scenes over the years. In 2021 one new rapper is trying to create a scene in the far north, and his name is TS. Sam Smith discovered an artist of genuine talent and community commitment, every bit as confident as his music.

Born Trey Subritzky, TS reps the far north through and through. Based in smalltown Awanui with lineage in Muriwhenua, a group of five iwi based in and around Te Hiku o te Ika, the northern-most part of Aotearoa’s North Island, TS began making music 10 years ago, taking inspiration from his mates.

“A few of the boys were making music and I got curious as a result. One day I heard a friend of mine making a song, and I couldn’t believe it had come out of where we were making it [Kaitaia]. Something sparked me then that maybe we can do something of quality up here.”

Fast forward to 2021 and Subritzky has just released his first proper album. Inspired by the ’90s golden era of rap his style of hip hop that is determined and staunch enough to deserve street credit, while personal and socially meaningful. Obliquely titled ‘Original Without Name’ and recorded while the country was in Covid-enforced lockdown, the project features some big names in local hip hop.

“I had released music before but not to a quality I would like. This one came together organically, it was definitely my fastest project and my largest project. Things kind of just happened naturally, the beats came in and the songs came out naturally. From when I first started making the music it didn’t feel like I was just making songs, it felt like it was becoming a project and part of an album.”

With a sound inspired by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla, ‘Original Without Name’ features production contributions from the likes of Haz Beats, Frank Keys, and Brandon Haru. Meanwhile, Subritzky’s friend, Auckland-based producer and DJ Floyd Cribb was the mainstay, helping to realise his musical vision.

“Floyd is a friend of mine who I have worked with through my entirety of doing music. We recorded the first part of the album at his house, in his basement, because a studio wasn’t available. So you have got little nuances there in the recordings of the mates upstairs banging on the floor and laughing!”

Subritzky gets excited when talking about how he got such big names in Kiwi rap to feature on his record.

“The song that Haz’ and Frank Keys did, that was more just a cop off them! One random morning they jumped on Instagram Live and they were just playing all their beats. I heard one of them and I just needed it. So I reached out and I grabbed it off them, and once I got the stems and that I was just playing with the beat and I found a whole new life to it.”

With Brandon Haru and Haru’s brother Lo Key, it was more a personal connection.

“Lo Key is one of the OG DJs in the country and I just kept encouraging him to make beats. Every time I saw him I would get on him about making beats. Eventually, the brothers had a session, and I found myself in the middle of that and was lucky enough to create a couple of tracks with them that made the album. I’m pretty sure it is the first Haru brothers’ beat in NZ hip hop!”

The rapper certainly doesn’t shy away from his non-urban roots and is quick to centre ‘Original Without Name’ as being a far north album.

“I’m talking about what is going on up here, what it’s like, giving you the reality, giving you the good, giving you the bad. And that’s a heavy theme. This album for me was really trying to establish the far north in our national hip hop scope. So really trying to embrace our stories, our day to day struggles, our mindset, our mentality. That was a heavy theme for me for the album.”

You can tell this is an important part of his musical identity and the material he produces. It is also, as he says, part of a wider ambition he has to create a larger music scene in the far north.

“It is something I am really trying to push for. When I first started my goal was how do I get to Auckland, how do I get to Melbourne, how do I get somewhere else where you can do this. As you mature a bit and your skills grow it is more about the mental trap than where you are at. So that is what I am trying to encourage with young people trying to get into it, even just new musicians, regardless of age.”

In league with some of the biggest of hip hop names, Subritzky also runs a clothing brand, Tsug, which he started in 2013. Tsug allows young creatives in the far north region a platform and place to collaborate, whether it be in clothing, design, film, or music. His ambition for the creative community in the region is evident in his future plans for the brand.

“I’m definitely going to continue doing things in terms of trying to put on shows. We are already looking at putting on an event up here that we run. We want to put on far north talent that is coming up and try and start an annual event that we can grow each year. I am already doing stuff in the community like pop up shops and stuff, so we will probably keep that going as well.”

All that aside, Subritzky’s main focus remains his music, and rightly so given the attention it is winning well beyond any apparent geographical boundaries.

“I have been feeling a lot of positive energy from this album. I was sitting on it for a while and now I am already on the next stuff, eager for the next stuff. I am really excited about it – I already have songs demoed and stuff like that.”

This very admirable combination personal drive and community spirit will keep TS in good stead as he continues to raise the profile of a region now on the come up in terms of hip hop, an area and people that has long missed just such a charismatic flag-waving musical champion.