Rock Mics, Crush Stereotypes
When you visualise the Auckland Town Hall, it’s unlikely Diggy Dupé on stage is the first thing that comes to your mind.
It certainly isn't for the man himself.
“When you think about rap and hip hop, you wouldn’t think about the Town Hall, right? You’d think symphony or orchestra. You wouldn’t think this little subculture of music could take it all the way to somewhere that’s prestigious in the art world.
“For us to be there - it’s quite a big deal. I’m just coming to grips with it now.”
You can sense just by talking to Dupé that his upcoming performance as part of a stacked Elemental Nights line-up - Diggy Dupé and Friends Present The Panthers on 28 July at the 111 year-old venue - is far more than just a gig.
Dupé takes great pride in standing up to stereotypes or assumed attitudes and smashing them to pieces - like a Central Auckland-raised ‘rapper’ headlining at the home of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
The talented creative force has won plenty of plaudits for his distinctive style - a modern take on some of the genre’s great storytellers. With beats and lyrics that take up residency inside your head, Dupé writes of what he knows and what he lives.
Authenticity is something that comes natural to him - you feel what’s real.
It’s earned him recognition with nominations for some of Aotearoa hip hop’s highly regarded awards - including being a current finalist for Best Male Artist, Best Music Video, Best Producer and Best Album at next month’s Pacific Music Awards for both his solo work with WEON and his collaboration with choicevaughan & P. Smith on acclaimed TV series The Panthers soundtrack.
But it doesn’t stop him needing to constantly rally against being pigeonholed.
“I fucking hate it, it still happens to this day,” Dupé tells The Big Idea.
“I go out with my partner and they ask what I do, she tells them I’m a rapper. You know that word ‘rapper’ - once you say that, they give you that look. Automatically, there’s all these presumptions that come into someone’s mind when you say that word.
“That’s not our fault that they feel that way. When hip hop dominated mainstream back in the 90s, that’s what sold. NWA sold rather than A Tribe Called Quest because the media didn’t want to hear about that positive stuff.”
So if you think you know Dupé from his cited profession - you’re wildly off base.
“Bro, I’m an artist,” he declares.
“I studied Visual Arts first, I got my degree from Unitec. All I did was apply my visual arts practical knowledge and just turned it into music.”
His creative talents complement one another. His time studying has had a lasting impact on his process - with his expression being the common denominator.
“I was in a studio painting (during his Unitec days) - we had 24 hour access, it was mean. I guess that’s where the artistry in my writing flourished because I was painting physically and I’d just transfer it into my writing. Painting pictures on canvas and painting pictures in song.
“Visuals always play a part in my writing process because as songwriters we tend to have to try to pluck things out of thin air - make something out of nothing so I have to visualise everything I write about.
“I’m working on this new project and the thing I’ve been exploring has been colour - and how we attach it to emotion.
“I’m writing these raps at the moment that hopefully gives someone a kind of feel - like how it feels like a cold winter's morning - I’m just trying to paint visual colours in their head with song.
“I’ve been thinking about the (album) art work, maybe I’ll do that as well.”
Hip hop's best era?
Dupé is part of a growing collective forging a strong argument that the current generation of Aotearoa hip hop is as talented as any that came before them.
While the glory days of Scribe, Savage and the Dawn Raid era can be pointed to for their domination of the charts and airplay - Dupé believes that the barometers of success have shifted.
“People have to realise that was years ago and the world has changed so much in a decade. The way that people put out music has changed - but a lot of bigwigs still keep that same blueprint with the numbers, the roll out and what they expect in return from the output from musicians.
“Some people still look at success as being on the radio 24 hours a day or having your music videos being played on TV screens as a measuring tool.
“But nowadays - look at Church & AP, their producer Dera Meelan has a million streams on a song that’s never been played on any mainstream radio.
“What’s cool is we have such a good handle on technology now we can speak directly to our audience. It means we can feel better about not focusing on the majority, we can focus on our fans and think ‘well, I’m just going to keep doing me’.
“I think it’s great because people aren’t folding to those old norms - ‘you have to make this’, ‘it has to sound like that’, ‘do what those guys are doing over there’ - whereas we can be more ourselves which is why in this day and age - in this era of NZ hip hop - it’s way more diverse and complex. Everyone’s not doing the same thing.
“My stuff is completely different to Church & AP, which is completely different to SWIDT. You’ve got all the underground stuff, you’ve got Polly Hill over there doing this crazy, spooky rap, LGBTQ stuff, it’s more diverse than ever I’d say.”
Diggy in his element
So for those ready to find out more about Dupé and to experience him live later this month - he promises you’re in for a show.
“For someone who’s never seen me perform before - I lay my heart out there on the stage, I don’t give two fucks. I’m just an open book.
“It’s going to be such a crazy ride. I save all my energy for the stage, so there’s a lot of energy that goes on there, you can definitely feel it.”
Dupé is also hyped about performing live with a band for the first time.
“It’s going to be such a vibe. It’s quite a rollercoaster of emotions, like with the songs we’ll be performing there’s the good times - the happy energetic times - but we’ve also got a few deep and meaningfuls in there - it’s a bit of a journey.
“So when you come to this performance - come in with your ears ready to listen and your heart open.”
Don't let them put you in a box
Not one to hold back on his emotions or his opinions - Dupé has a direct message for those creatives who feel trapped in a genre by others expectations or limitations.
“You can be whoever the fuck you want to be - it’s not other people who put labels on you, whatever you call yourself is the only label that matters."
He points to a seminar he attended as a student - with a guest speaker making a real impression on Dupé.
“The first slide he showed us said ‘I am a mother fucking artist’ - he took back the power from what other people told him he was.
“If you have a little itch that needs scratching, just try it - what’s the worst that can happen?”