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Interview with Kwasi, the originator of Thrashy R'n'B Hip Hop

13 Oct 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill
Interview with Kwasi, the originator of Thrashy R'n'B Hip Hop

Kwasi has a lot to show for himself. He has toured with the likes of 360, released an EP and has shared stages that other artists can only dream of.

But his biggest achievement yet might still be in the making - the creation of a new style of music "Thrashy R'n'B Hip Hop".

Kwasi caught my eye on social media first, a long time before I heard any of his music. The thing with Kwasi is that everything he does seems to be different from what he did before, but at the same time, it's always consistent - it still looks and sounds like Kwasi.

I met Kwasi over a chicken parma at a pub in Port Melbourne to talk Dre, HFNR and Thrash.

It says in your bio that "2001" [Dr. Dre's album] was one of those releases for you that made you want to get into it. I had this record at home and thought you might appreciate this song. [I played Kwasi a snippet from David McCallum's "The Edge"] Do remember listening to this?

Kwasi: 2001? Yeah, flat out man. Actually, my mates went over to China - we were super young, probably grade 6 or something. And they came back with a bunch of CD’s that they got super-cheap when they were overseas. They had an Outkast album, Dre’s "2001" and some Chinese album. We used to have these little house parties and we used to listen to Dre flat out. I remember, the lyrical content was just like “What? You can say that?” I enjoyed it, man.

When you find new music are you someone who digs and goes searching for older material of the same artist or what else they've done? Or do you just go, "That was nice, but whatever - on to the next"?

Kwasi: Nah, I find out. If I find an artist that I really like, I go to their back-catalog, see what they started out doing’, what sample’s they’re using. I’m into it, bro.

Did you listen to the new Dre album?

Kwasi: Yeah, I gave it a good go.

What did you think?

Kwasi: I think sonically it’s a good piece of music. It’s good... good sonic quality. And I like that he takes new stuff that’s current and still ties it in with the old Dre. Obviously it didn’t hit like "2001". I don’t really know where he could have taken it. But it got me excited, because it introduced me to Anderson Paak, which is sick. It was cool just hearing from Dre again. What did you think?

Same, I think it was a solid album, but it wasn’t a game changer this time.

Kwasi: But you can’t be mad. I think the movie that he put out was sick.

I didn’t even watch it.

Kwasi: Ahh, you haven’t seen it? It was cool. It painted a cool picture of the whole rapper movement. That rock star shit, you know? Young kids are gonna watch that and be like, “Hip Hop’s the shit. That’s the shit right there.”

The only reason I didn’t watch it, was because they made it. I thought, you know, I know what you’re gonna tell me. You’re gonna tell me you were the sickest dudes around.

Kwasi: Awww man, and they did. It would probably get you angry. You could tell straight away that Dre wrote it. He’s just like the superhero in it, man.

You grew up in country Victoria. How country are we talking?

Kwasi: It's not like hillbilly super-super-country country. It’s about two hours away from Melbourne. It’s pretty small… it was pretty dead.

Were there any other people there who were messing around with Hip Hop? Did you know then, that that's what you wanted to do?

Kwasi: I had a mate who was close to me and we would write raps and freestyle in English class, all the time. But I think, before I moved back up to Melbourne, the idea of actually doing rap seriously never came to my mind. I wasn’t until I came here in ’09 when I realised there’s venues to play shows at here, there’s other people doing it. All that opened my mind to it a little bit more.

So you were rapping but never saw yourself as a Hip Hop artist until you came to Melbourne?

Kwasi: I've always felt like an entertainer. But I wasn’t sure whether that was going to be acting or film, or if that was going to be through music.

I think your music is hard to pigeonhole. Do you sometimes feel like you are put in categories where you don’t even want to be?

Kwasi: Yeah, easy man. Ever since I started I’ve always been a melody driven kind of person. But I also like the way you can express yourself with raps. It’s a bit more confrontational - in your face. There were other people I used to rap with and they were either really "rappy" or they were singers. Or they were either on that throw-back stuff, or on the new school stuff. But I was like, I like a bit of this and a bit of this - mix stuff, go with the feeling.

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?

Kwasi: I call it Thrashy R'n'B Hip Hop. That’s the vibe. So it’s like, the nice melodies of R'n'B music with the energy and distortion of thrash kind-of-sounds and also some lyrical content and rapping in there. That’s kind of the style. Especially the last few tracks that I released with this producer I work with HFNR, are definitely the style that we want to take it in. You know, R'n'B music is just so beautiful and nice, but we want to be able to present that on a live scale, with energy, where people want to move. That’s where our focus is.

How did you connect with HFNR?

Kwasi: I was looking for a DJ for a while, and there was this dude I worked with, I would tell him I’m into music and that I was looking for a DJ. And he just went “...uhm, my mate djs and makes beats and stuff. He’s alright check him out”. So I called him up. And straight away, from the first session, we got along. Every session that we do is just good.

On your last release "The Golden Voyager" EP you worked with Lotek. Did he produce it?

Kwasi: I produced the whole release. He did co-production on it and engineered it. He also helped me with some drum programming here and there, and got some musos in and stuff. So yeah, co-produced and engineered it.

Are you still affiliated with Midnight Green?

Kwasi: It’s a collective. We haven’t done too much work as of lately, but I still catch up with them. That whole connection started as homies. That was the first crew I met and and had a chance to write songs with and collaborate with. I think style-wise it’s a bit of a different kind of avenue to where I want to take the stuff that I’m doing with HFNR.

I see Gzutek when I’m out occasionally. He’s a cool cat.

Kwasi: Yeah man, such a nice dude.

It’s funny, I reckon he’s got a mad, unique rapping style, but visually he’s often got a bit of a 90’s grunge vibe going. If you just saw him in the street you just wouldn’t pick him for a Hip Hop dude. Then there is Lucas Miller, the other artist from the Midnight Green roster. The most soulful goosebumps kinda voice - then you find out he beats up chumps in the boxing ring in his spare time. What’s your secret? Do you have anything that people wouldn’t pick about you?

Kwasi: [Laughs] I used to skateboard flat-out… but I kinda look like a skater, so no surprises there.

I haven't managed to catch you play live yet. But people who have, have been raving about your live sets. I’m told you use two mics to perform, a normal one and one that your run through Autotune? Is that a new thing for you?

Kwasi: I’ve been doing it for a while. To me, live is the perfect environment to test things out. I don’t know what it’s like for the big artists, but I feel like if you ever want to see an artist put their best foot forward or trying out new styles, a gig is where you’re gonna see it. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

There is a new sound emerging from a bunch of very young artist. And with that, I’ve seen a lot of hate against everything "old" in Hip Hop being vocalised all over social media. It's basically like they want to burn everything down to the ground and start from scratch, without all that old stigma of what people think Hip Hop should sound like. Do you feel like that sometimes?

Kwasi: Within Melbourne I would definitely say that there is a lot of that [old stigma] here. When I go in to write a song I might have that mentality, but it’s almost like a competitive "let's try and push it to the best that I can" kind of thing. At the end of the day, the good stuff will rise to the top, so you always gotta make sure you got the goods. I noticed as well, there’s a lot of people who are really good a talking and it gets them some buzz, but you’ve also gotta be able to back that up with your music. But yeah, I think there is definitely a new sound.

I watched the "Fast Lane" clip for the first time the other day and was pretty blown away by the production. It looks like a major effort. None of that “I’ve got a mate who has a camera” kind of vibe.

Kwasi: You know what’s cool? It actually started off as “I’ve got a mate who has a camera”. It’s just a mate who does that as his profession. That clip turned out real good. This is the best work yet - visually - that we’ve done. So we’ve just gotta try to outdo that shit now, man.

How much involvement did you have in the clip. Did you hit him [the videographer] with a concept or did you just go “here’s the song, do something”?

Kwasi: Nah, I’m super-involved. If you look back at all the artwork for it, the basic visual concept started with a colour scheme, just red and blue. So the whole clip was developed on that idea of red and blue lights. Then we just took it from there, looked at how we can build energy of that. I went to him with an idea - his name is Daniel Dunn - and we just keep throwing ideas at each other until we find one that we are both equally hyped about. We had a crazy elaborate concept for it, though, that didn’t really turn out the way we wanted it. So we decided to cut the fat and just go with what was best, you know.

Lastly, what's planned for you in the near future? Was "Fast Lane" the beginning of a bigger project? Or are there maybe no more bigger projects, just individual songs for now?

Kwasi: That was the first taste of this energy-thrashy sound we are going for. In terms of big projects, the idea of that isn’t getting me all that excited right now. I did enjoy doing a big project, but right now I just want to release music, you know what I mean? And sometimes that whole “big project” thing can get in the way of that. Down the track I will do a debut album, but not for a little while.