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Hau Latukefu: 'You try not to alienate your listener, but you have faith that they appreciate you trying new things...'

14 Dec 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill
Hau Latukefu: 'You try not to alienate your listener, but you have faith that they appreciate you trying new things...'

Pioneer, rapper, radio show host, taste maker - all those things apply to Hau Latukefu. In the social media sphere he has even been dubbed as 'best dressed Australian Hip Hop artist'.

Hau has a lot to show for himself, including an ARIA award, his appointment as the host of the biggest Hip Hop radio show in the country and a musical career that is well into its second decade.

Since signing to Remi and Sensible J's label House Of Beige, Hau has been visiting Melbourne more frequently. Reason enough to catch up with the man and talk music, radio, Koolism and the future.

You grew up in Queanbeyan?

Hau: Yeah. I was born in Canberra but grew up in Queanbeyan. It's a town of New South Wales but we grew up feeling like it was just another suburb of Canberra.

Roos or Blues, who's your team?

Hau: Ayyyy... Roos! I played for Roos one year, but Rugby Union was my first love. I played for a team called Queanbeyan Whites, but one year I played for both, Whites and Roos. So, yeah, Roos - good question.

Lets start at the beginning. I want to go all the way back and ask you about ‘Bedroom Shit’, a very early project you did with Danielsan. I feel we are so spoilt these days, all you really need is a computer and the right software and you can make professional sounding music. How did that bedroom shit get recorded and produced in those days?

Hau: Bro, the one thing that kept us afloat was Daniel's vast knowledge of electronics. When I first met him, he actually wanted to make music for video games. I met him at a community centre through a mutual friend who said he knew this guy who makes awesome music. At the time, I kinda felt that no one was really making awesome beats in Australia. This friend brought a tape and I was like, "Whaaat, this guy is from here?" You could hear his influences: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and a touch of Public Enemy. So, when I first went to his room, he had an Amiga.

That was the one that was all-keyboard, with the floppy drive on the side of it and that was the whole thing, right?

Hau: Yeah, yeah, exactly. He had some programs on it that could loop and sample. I had never seen anything like it. Because when we recorded demos it would be on a four-track. I would loop stuff - you know - with the pause button. I thought I was quite clever [laughs]. You know, it was pretty clever, actually. I was just making the most of what I had.

Dan also had mics. Funny thing about the microphones: I remember this particular one, there were wires and tape everywhere. I'll never forget this - the first time we tried to use it, it wasn't working. So Dan suddenly breaks out his soldering iron. I was like, "What the hell is going on?" I was really intrigued.

So, yeah, we had the Amiga, that mic and a tape deck. ‘Bedroom Shit’ was made on that. It was all one-take songs because we were recording straight to tape. You will hear little mistakes in it. It was very primitive, but at the same time it was a lot of fun. That way of doing things forced you to really learn your craft. You couldn't rely on punch-ins.

It's funny, Danielsan is like this mythical creature here in Melbourne. When you come into this this scene from the outside, like I did, you don't see him anywhere. Then you get to know a few people and suddenly it's like "Danielsan mixed this, Danielsan mastered that. Danielsan fixed my MPC..." It's like, if you were to take Danielsan out of here, the whole place would just cave in on itself.

Hau: [laughs] I remember sitting in with him while he mixed our album and he would turn around occasionally, "What do you reckon?" He was very meticulous, very anal about everything.

Annoying but good, right?

Hau: Maaan, it was mad annoying. Sometimes with albums, it would all take so long. "Sounds good bro, come on..." But then you listen to the result; it's all worth it in the end.

You both moved away from Canberra. Do you still have connections to what's going on there now?

Hau: Yeah definitely. Especially with working on the radio show, I have to. But at the same time, I would anyway. Being like an O.G. from there, I feel it's my responsibility to try and encourage and inspire artists from that city. Actually, the last couple of years have been really popping off there. LTC from there, Citizen Kay, Hayds - Hayds is doing some awesome music at the moment - and Nix...

You know, when you go to a Canberra gig and you see the people that rock up and you're like "Wow, this is happening here?" It's a beautiful thing.

So, you did your Koolism thing with Danielsan, and it ended up winning you two an ARIA award, where Dan infamously took the opportunity during the acceptance speech to call on Australian artists to find their own identity and stop imitating people.

Hau: [laughs] Yeah... You know, I think that is actually the perfect way to put his words. Because a lot of people went, "He told people about American accents,” and this and that... And, in a way he did. But the message behind it all was that you don't have to copy anyone else in order to be successful.

Now, I've watched that clip a few times and you don't  exactly look like you knew he was going to come out with that. Did you talk about it beforehand or were you as surprised as you looked?

Hau: Well, we weren't even gonna go to the awards. For Hip Hop artists now that award is kind of in scope, but for us back then, we never thought Hip Hop would be in the house. You have to pay for your own ticket as well - so we weren't gonna go at first. Then we changed our minds because we thought it might be the last time we'd get this chance.

My aunty told me to write something in case we win. But yeah, that came out of nowhere [laughs]. Which was good, though, because it really made a statement and it made it memorable. I mean we're still talking about it now, twelve years later.

Do you feel the argument is still valid today? It seems a lot of young artists don't seem to care all that much any more. I get both sides. I get the thing about identity, but I also feel like when you start telling people how to do things, you're just setting these artificial boundaries and locking artists in.

Hau: Yeah, and it’s kind of what we made Hip Hop for in the first place, isn't it? Not having to conform to any kind of rules? I have personally definitely eased up on it all. If you had asked me 10 years or so ago, I would have had a pretty firm position. But these days, especially with the radio show, I try to stay neutral.

There's a very logical argument, which is that the American market is huge and if you want to break into that, you need to rap in a way that appeals to people there.

Hau: I feel like, for an Australian to break out in American market, it would have to be something so different from what they are doing. I mean, look at Skepta, Stormzy, MIA, Dizzy Rascal - the reason they're made [in the states], is that it's purely British. So, Americans are like "Wow, this is some crazy shit..." It would be interesting to see which Australian artist, if any, will be the Skepta.

You've had some beef with Pauline Hanson in the past. She made an appearance in your track "Can't Stand It", where you were questioning the fact that she had said all these racists things, then appeared on 'Dancing with the Stars' and got a lot of praise, despite all her controversial political escapades. Now she's back. How do you feel about that? "Can't Stand It Part II" in the works?

Hau: You know what the sad thing is? The things we were talking about in "Can't Stand It" happened a few years before the track came out. But it was still relevant then and it is still relevant now. Maaan, sometimes I feel like Australia is a very progressive country. Suddenly, you read something in a newspaper and you’re like, "Nah, we aren't going anywhere, or even backwards." I feel like Pauline Hanson and her team have made right-wingers and racists brave enough to come out and speak their opinions. 

In a way it’s good, I guess, that it’s all coming out. Because we’re not being fooled by people who are just not saying anything. Now people are talking and I think that’s a good step for Australia.

You mentioned Skepta and Stormzy, who were at the forefront of the resurrection of Grime, not just in Britain but globally. A few years back, Joey Bada$$ brought back Boom Bap in a big way.  I’m interested to know what you think the next big thing will be? Or maybe, what will come back next?

Hau: One thing that has been creeping up in the background is lyricism in the mainstream. Being a rapper myself, it’s awesome to see people like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and even Mac Miller to some extent, really exploring topics.

I remember hitting the clubs in my younger years, especially around the time when Dancehall and Ragga had a big surge, with Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Red Rat pushing out all these Jamaican-flavoured club bangers.

Hau: Yeah, now that you said it, I loved all that.

I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. I had just started getting into Conscious Hip Hop and just wanted to listen to that all the time. But, yeah, I think if that were to come back, I’d love it, because I feel like I would actually appreciate it this time around.

Hau: Yeah, I’d like to hear that too. Might bring it back right now.

Well, it’s in your hands, Sir. You just have to start playing a little bit of that on your show every week.

Hau: [laughs] That’s it. Taste makers!

There was an announcement going around a while back about you signing to a New Zealand record label. But you have since signed to Remi and Sensible J’s label House of Beige. What happened with the New Zealand deal?

Hau: I was very excited to sign to Frequency, because they looked after a lot of the artists I listen to. That label folded. I was really bummed. Because it was my debut album and we were getting the roll on and then it was like, "The label is not happening." Remi and J always wanted to do a label, and I was like, "Let’s do it now and put my album out on it!"

House of Beige seems like a really good environment. It’s so incredibly diverse, musically and culturally. Is it an inspiring place for you?

Hau: Definitely. It’s a very loving environment. Very creative. And very funny.

That’s what it looks like from the outside. It’s probably a good thing that it’s a fairly new enterprise still and everyone is still excited and hungry.

Hau: That’s why I feel inspired and revitalised when I hang out with people like Remi and LTC, the guy I mentioned before – younger guys that are still hungry and I just feed off their energy. I see a lot of artists I came up with still kind of in the Boom Bap zone. Which is cool - you like what you like, you know. But for me, it just gets a bit boring.

When you work on your own music, do you still have to negotiate between being innovative but at the same time not losing the essence of what Hip Hop once was to you?

Hau: Always. With Koolism, we obviously grew up in the 90’s and drew a lot of inspiration from the Hip Hop that was around then. But we also listened to Reggae, Jungle, Breakbeats, and got inspiration from that. Then we experimented with drugs and started going to raves, and took inspiration from there too – the basslines, the drops, climaxes - and we brought that into Hip Hop, into our Hip Hop.

It was funny, I remember this one guy saying, “Your new music is sounding kinda…techy,” as in Techno. And I was like, “Really? Is that what you’re getting from our music?” We were always trying to push on.

A lot of people seem to struggle with change in the sound, especially since new styles like cloud rap and mumble rap are so popular, probably more popular than our idols ever were.

Hau: Some Hip Hop fans can be very obsessive, protective. You know, you gotta at least appreciate that this kind of music, that style of music, is not for you.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not Hip Hop, right?

Hau: Exactly! To the 15, 16-year old kid, that’s maybe their Pete Rock.

What’s coming up for you musically? What are you working on?

Hau: I’m working on another album. Originally, I was going to work with [Sensible] J. again. But for the last year or so he was so heavily involved in his projects with Remi. I always knew that that was his priority. So, I reached out to this guy in Sydney, Miracle, and I’ve been working with him. He’s very contemporary sounding and, for me, that’s very exciting. I’ve never wanted make an album that sounds like the songs on it could have been on the last album. I need to be excited by the music. You always try not to alienate your listener, but you have faith in your fans and that they appreciate you trying new things.

Indeed. Thanks so much for your time, Hau. And all the best with your music and the radio show.

Hau: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Hau will be premiering his new single 'Everything' ft. Footsie tomorrow. Check Hau's Facebook Page to stay in the loop.