King of his castle

Date: March 12 2004

by Andrew Drever

New Zealand rapper King Kapisi has a new album, his own line of clothing, and is a role model to his community.

A year ago, New Zealand rapper/producer King Kapisi launched his own clothing label, Overstayer. The Auckland-based hip-hopper designed the range himself and named it after a derogatory term for Samoan New Zealanders, which is his heritage.

The label includes baggy jeans, T-shirts and hoodies in a suitably street style, and is now stocked by Farmers' department stores - the Kiwi equivalent of Myer.

Kapisi (real name Bill Urale) has had an interest in fashion since early in his music career, when he would design T-shirt logos for his first group, Gifted and Brown. So it's perhaps just a little unfair to ask him if he wants to become New Zealand's answer to P.Diddy, the American uber-rapper who now presides over an empire.

"You think my clothes are like P.Diddy's?" says the hulking Urale threateningly, completely misunderstanding the question and forcing a rapid back-up. "Well, I don't know about that," he growls, "but like P.Diddy, I'm starting to branch into other areas too. There's obviously the clothing range, but I've also done some music for some movies, and what I'm doing now is approaching big advertising companies to shoot their videos for them."

Urale is undoubtedly a hard man to say no to, so these other ventures are expected to yield good results and successfully complement his day gig as a successful hip-hop artist.

Urale, who turns 30 this month, released his second album, 2nd Round Testament, in October last year, consolidating on the success of his debut LP, Savage Thoughts, which came out in 2001.

As on Savage Thoughts, Urale has painstakingly assembled all of the backing tracks himself on his latest album, because unlike most hip-hop producers, he doesn't know his way around a sampler. He also plays nearly all the instruments, performs the lion's share of the singing/rapping and also creates all the beats from scratch.

2nd Round Testament is a significantly more confident and mature album than its predecessor and charts his growth and development as a producer in the preceding two years. It also possesses a noticeably chunkier sound - for evidence, check the powerful bass rumble of Soundsystem and the haunting strings-style synth and plink-plonk piano of Illa than You.

"Well dude," he explains, "I was just trying to stick to my rule again of never repeating myself. And you know, I want to be like Funkadelic, where later on someone samples my stuff for their music. I don't want to be like a sheep. I want people to be able to look back at my stuff and say 'hey, that guy was original'."

Highlights of the album include the aforementioned Illa than You, the hard bass, caustic lyrical attack (on pop-star culture) and Polynesian wireless voices of Elemental Forces, the heavy reggae skank of Problems and the wonderfully light jazzy groove of Back2Basiks.

The latter track, where Urale runs through his list of 10 things you should know about being a recording artist, ("watch for crooked managers", "remember this is a business, even though this is your life", "when you are on stage give it your all" and "freestyle your set if you can't remember your lyrics") is Urale's self-proclaimed "hitchhikers' guide to the music industry".

"That was a song that I originally wrote for my eight-year-old son Rakim (Urale has four children)," he says. "The line in it goes: 'I just want to be a jazz player/I just want to be a horn player/But in the meantime I'm just happy being me'.

This (being a musician and making albums) has been my dream forever, but things are not always so dreamy, so the latter half of the song takes you through 10 pointers and has a few things to watch out for. It's not just advice to my sons, though, bro. It's advice to anyone."

Because of his success, his identity as a Samoan (his family moved from Samoa to Wellington a month before he was born), his forthright views and his positive, conscious lyrics, Urale has "reluctantly" become somewhat of a community leader and role model among the islander community back home. Such a responsibility sits a little uneasily with him, however, as he usually prefers to let his music do all the talking.

"If that's how people see me," he says, "and that's what I'm perceived as, it doesn't really bother me, because I'm here to make music and have fun. But just because your face is out there a bit more in public doesn't mean you're a saint, and I do feel a little bit of pressure from that."

He laughs. "Shit bro, if you want to act up now and then, you should be allowed to!"

source: TheAge