Scribe - Canterbury Crusader
Friday, 12 October 2007
In 2007, fresh from touring alongside Talib Kweli, the Not Many star is back with his all-important sequel to The Crusader. Already Rhyme Book, with exalted sonic references to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, is bound for classic status.
Scribe has a passionate champion in Kweli. The pair recorded the Rhyme Book track Be Alright in New York. The New Zealander was careful not to over-populate his sophomore with guests, but Talib is a worthy choice.
“Talib is one of my idols,” Scribe says. “I’ve been listening to Talib since he first started. I hold him in such high regard, so it was a dream come true in itself for me to be able to record a song with him. I never would have foreseen that earlier on in my career. He’s just so well respected as an MC. He might not be the biggest, most commercial artist out there but, in the hip hop world, he is at the top of the game.”
As for the Brooklynite, he’s convinced that Scribe has a chance of breaking the US – but more on that later.
At any rate, Scribe, wearing Versace shades and all black while kicking back in a swish hotel room, is stunned by Kweli’s pronouncement. Indeed, if there’s a word that describes the Christchurch MC, it’s ‘modest’. Shy in phone conversations, he’s chattier in person – and funny in his candour. The self-proclaimed big kid lets slip that Disneyland is a favourite destination.
Scribe was “overawed” to be in Talib’s orbit – and more so when he played him his new material.
“I’ll never forget exactly what he said – he said, ‘You write really good fucking songs’,” the MC smiles bashfully. “I was just like, ‘Oh shit, wow!’ I felt like a big kid in front of him. It was funny, though, because that whole experience inspired me to finish the record. I came back from NY and wrote seven songs and finished the album just off the inspiration of that one trip.”
Needless to say, Scribe didn’t rush his follow-up to 2003’s debut. As such, Rhyme Book is a wholly different album to The Crusader – and unlike even the percussive lead single F.R.E.S.H., Rhyme Book carries a vintage soul feel and has cinematic scope. Curiously, Scribe spoke to DJ Premier about contributing, but the Gangstarr legend was preoccupied with producing Christina Aguilera. In truth, the beats on Rhyme Book are as good as anything Premo could provide.
“I’ve always wanted to try and make albums like I’m making a movie,” he says. “I believe an album should be a journey. It shouldn’t just be all one type of sound – it should have different moods and go in different places, but be cohesive at the same time.
“I really wanted to showcase variety. A lot of people boxed me into ‘the Not Many guy’ and that kind of thing, and so I wanted to take this album in a different direction – not just for the sound but to keep myself happy. I can do the old Crusader stuff all day, but I really wanted to push myself to progress and be better and work with different producers.
“One of the goals on this album was to have fun making it – and I achieved that, because I had a lot of fun making it, but I really wanted it to be quite a personal album as well.
“I felt I owed a lot to my fans for The Crusader, ’cause you wouldn’t be who you are without your fans,” he continues. “I wanted to give my fans a good insight into me, the way I think, and basically just me as a human being more than me as just the guy you see on TV.
“I do open up and throw a lot of personal things out there – but it’s always been the thing for me to be honest with my music. I think that’s one of the keys to my success – I am honest and I speak about real things. Everything you hear in my music is true to life.”
Scribe, a father at 19, strives to balance his music with parenthood – and, again, he’s hard on himself.
“I’ve been neglecting my family – and I tend to do that when I work,” he admits. “It’s hard because one half of me is so hungry for my career and so hungry to just be focused on that and to succeed, and I really wanna take it as far as I can, whereas the other half of me is pulling me back saying, ‘You’ve gotta be a family man.’”
Nevertheless, Luafutu’s partner has supported his hip hop dream from the outset. And these days her mother, once a sceptic, asks Scribe to sign autographs for friends.
Scribe was introduced to rap by his older brother and began to practice freestyling. He developed his confidence performing with a community theatre company, Pacific Underground, launched by his cousin (and television identity) Oscar Kightley – and it was Kightley who bestowed on him the name ‘Scribe’.
The MC came to prominence here cameo-ing on P-Money’s Big Things. The producer subsequently took Scribe under his wing. He then exploded with the rockin’ Stand Up. Scribe reaffirmed his presence with Not Many.
Along the way, Scribe relocated to Auckland, having outgrown Christchurch’s micro hip hop scene.
“I couldn’t go any further,” he says. “I felt like I was a big fish in a very small pond. I didn’t like that feeling. I realised that, in order for me to achieve the greatness that I wanted, I needed to put myself on the line and move to Auckland – which is like the Sydney of NZ.
“I moved there with everything I owned, which fit in a backpack and was like a pair of jeans, and I had one pair of shoes. I was sleeping on couches and doing stuff like that trying to get a record deal – and then I finally got a breakthrough.”
But, post-Crusader, Scribe returned to his hometown, now deeming it “viable”.
“I’m very patriotic about where I come from,” he says. “I love Christchurch and the South Island – I actually hate Auckland!”
With The Crusader, Scribe emerged as NZ’s hip hop emissary to Australia, but he didn’t reflect on his good fortune until long after. He also made inroads into the UK. Bizarrely, Scribe reveals that the people behind the infamous Crazy Frog wanted to sign him on the basis of Not Many. Wisely, he declined, wary of being marketed as a novelty. Not Many was aired on MTV Europe (the boss is a Kiwi) and embraced within Europe’s hip hop underground. At Big Day Out, Lily Allen gave Scribe props as the Not Many guy.
Scribe hopes to build on European interest with Rhyme Book. But, Talib’s comments aside, the MC has no expectation of American success – his humility mixed with equal parts pragmatism.
“I don’t care about America – America doesn’t care about me, either,” he says. “I feel like they don’t care about anyone outside of the US in a way – apart from Talib Kweli, who is such a good advocate for hip hop because he does care about hip hop world-wide.”
WHAT: Rhyme Book through Warner
WHEN: Out now