Talking to Eno and Dirty – Eden Jouavel and Manu Walters – I got the overwhelming feeling that New Zealand hip hop has finally come of age. Obviously this is totally subjective and probably partly to do with me being old as fuck, but looking around the musical landscape there are countless rappers and producers turning out quality music in a myriad of styles.
Dirty and Eden are some of the frontrunners in the current scene, their sound managing to be both new and so familiar you swear you’ve had it on your iTunes for years. Eden’s beats create minimal soundtracks for Manu’s tales of sex, drugs, and life in central Auckland. Both artists are producing music beyond their 22 years.
Dominic: What’s the earliest hip hop you guys remember being into?
Eden: There’s so much of it. That’s a hard one for me. [to Manu] I know you could probably say.
Manu: Yeah, it was “Fuck You” by Dr Dre on 2001. I would’ve been like 7 or something ‘cos that’s what my cousins were listening to and my older brothers and that were playing when we were all up north. I remember them telling someones’ bro, you got to hear this, it’s the best beat I ever heard’ and I remember hearing it and being like, ‘holy shit!’ He had a burned CD with all of 2001 on it and Bone Thugs shit and Tupac. A massive dose of West Coast hip hop.
D: When did you start rapping?
M: Probably when I was 15 or 16, like freestyling at parties with Liam and my older brother. But writing raps, probably 16, 17.
D: Do people still freestyle? Is it popular again now?
E: It’s like a party trick now, not many people can actually freestyle.
M: Or choose to.
D: It’s cool that it’s come back a bit.
E: Yeah, the battle element not so much, but cyphering, for sure.
D: Cyphering is so much better.
E: Yeah, ‘cos you go off each other.
D: And people are always like, ‘it’s cool, if you battle me I won’t take it personally’, and then you do and it’s never the same afterwards.
M: Hard out! Like you battle your mates and then someone says something about their ex or something or their girlfriend and it ruins the cyphering.
D: How about you, Eden, what was your spark into producing?
E: My dad, he used to own Kejuhia and then he left there and he opened Galatos. So I’ve just been surrounded by music and DJs like Manuel Bundy and Submarina for years, and he has a huge record collection too. And he used to listen to the hip hop I was into and be like, ‘do you know this was taken from this?” Then I watched Hustle and Flow, and I saw the MPC, ‘cos I didn’t know how they make all this shit, and I saw the MPC and I was like, ‘I want that’. So I worked my arse and bought one off the cats from Jafa Mafia and then taught everything myself.
D: Hip hop has been around for so long now that for you guys it was already there when you discovered it, like when I got into it apart from something like Grandmaster Flash there was nothing really before what I was into. How does that impact on what you do, having that lineage of dope shit behind you?
E: Yeah, I take from everything, I’m not one of those hip hop heads that only listens to the golden era. I listen to all that, Migos and Future. It’s dope to see how far it has come and how much it has changed. It’s influenced us heavily. We’ve taken little things from everywhere and tried to incorporate it.
D: And what about non hip hop influences?
E: Yeah, heaps. People like Grace Jones in terms of her image, and other music, like the soul and the funk and jazz for me as a producer. I get a lot of ideas for samples. I don’t know about you, Manu.
M: Ninety percent of the new shit I listen to is mostly hip hop. I still listen to heaps of old stuff from different genres. I like Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. But if you looked in my iPod it’s mostly hip hop.
D: What about your lyrics? Your words are quite dense and lyrical.
M: I reckon that’s hip hop inspired and conversation inspired. Encounters with people and remembering weird things. It’s come from everywhere, mates, relatives, and you incorporate your slang into it.
D: A lot of that stuff is Grey Lynn influenced.
M: Yeah, hard out.
D: What’s your relationship with the suburb?
M: We lived in London till I was 2 and then moved to Titirangi, and my dad knew that Grey Lynn was a massive cultural hub so eventually we moved there. I played for Richmond for like 10 years, went to Richmond Road Primary. For the majority of my childhood, everywhere I went was like Grey Lynn. I’m still hanging around here.
E: All the homies are still around here.
D: People managing to hang on?
E: Yeah, even with all the gentrification you still find the odd house, or one of the bros’ houses where they’re the only Polynesian family on the street. The club rooms are still there. A lot of people have moved out and still come back.
M: All the tinnie houses are gone. [laughs]
D: Where are you guys thinking you want to take this?
M: [singing] To the world!
E: Yeah, to the world.
D: Are you worried about that trap of getting stuck here?
M: Our own individual plan was to get out of the country. I think to do this you got to go to the States, you got to go to London, Germany, at least to make connections and have a base there.
E: You need to get out of here to get that grind mentally. I think that’s quite important to be surrounded by it.
Text by Dominic Hoey
Photography by Tim Dee
Video by Eddy Fifield