Raiza Biza know’s he’s on the cusp of something big with his music. It can be felt off the back of his last album Dream Something, which collected new followers and new cities to tour- including the South Island of New Zealand which Raiza sees as new ground to break.
“You know, there’s a lot of people who might have heard the name or might have seen the name floating around here or there but they haven’t yet seen it first hand, those are the people that I want to try and reach. But it’s a step by step process and right now it feels like we did the hard yards and it’s almost downhill from now.”
When I meet with him Easter Monday in Kingsland, AK he’s literally running around on his grind. Having just caught a bus from Wellington after two shows and shooting his music video ‘They Told Me’ with Jay Knight – then back up to Auckland for an interview with me. Straight back to his Hamilton studio to release his album Summer, then back up to Auckland for a photo shoot with Illicit clothing- it would seem hard yards is not a term he uses lightly.
HH: What was happening in your world the day you decided you were going to start making rap music for the masses?
R: I knew I was always going to be making rap music. I think there came a moment at about 17 when I really started considering potentially doing it for a living, for the first few years after that it was still really a dream, but as I kept plugging away and releasing music I started to see that people were responding to it and it seemed more like a viable option.
HH: Where were you at that age?
R: I was living in Hamilton at that point. It was just before I moved to Wellington.
HH: Describe the kind of hip hop you make in your own words…
R: The type of hip hop I make is mid 90’s influenced, kind of that New York mid 90’s era with the Tallib Kweli, Mos Def and the likes of Common and such. It’s got a soulful edge and my lyrics are mainly introspective you know I like to look at things that have happened in my life or you know happened in the lives of people close to me and just try to describe it as well as I can.
…”As far as Africa goes I have home court advantage… I think people are just showing me love based on the strength, you know just seeing one of their brothers out there working hard and trying to get out there.”
HH: Is that because you’re introspective as a person?
R: I think so. I think I think too much. I’ve always been someone who thinks a lot, reflects a lot and tries to figure things out so [music] it’s quite a good platform for me because I get to flesh out my ideas and philosophies and then listen back to them.
HH: Personal growth on track?
R: It’s really therapy, sometimes I write stuff from a perspective that I didn’t know I had or felt so most of the time it’s quite therapeutic for me. It gives me an insight as to what’s going on in my head at that particular moment.
HH: Now, when you write music who are you writing for?
R: Well right now, my target audience is, I’d say, thoughtful hip hop fans-ones who know a little more about hip hop than your average hip hop fan. You know people who are fans of the golden era of hip hop, which in my opinion is kind of in the mid nineties to the late nineties. So basically people who are looking for hip hop that kind of has a little more of a thought process behind it.
HH: Is that an audience you’ve had to build up and find?
R: Yeah it’s an audience I had to really zone into. But you know I found because of the nature of my audience, you know if one person likes it you know they’re the type that will show it to their friends and post it up on the internet etc. Because they’ve got more love for it and they view it as a rare thing.
HH: How have you changed from your time rapping in Wellington?
R: I was rapping before that but at that point I was a lot different as an artist. I was still kind of trying to emulate popular artists at that point. I really hadn’t found myself as an artist. Back then I was also in the battle scene and I was still just trying to find out who I was as a musician and really who I was as a person.
HH: I ask because I wanted to know if you still make music for the people you started out with or have you moved along from there?
R: Well you know in the back of my mind I’m always making sure the music I make is, it’s really for me. First and foremost it’s really just an expression of what I feel, a snapshot of what I feel at that moment. I just hope that the relevant people will enjoy it too. I always make sure that I start off with that in mind. As a person I’ve grown and I’ve changed through time and I think that my music changed too. On one end of things I sometimes think I might be alienating my older audience but at the same time I think they’ll appreciate the honesty and the growth. You know, when you start to make music for specific people, you start to lose yourself in the process I think.
“I heard Pac and Bone Thugs and the Bone Thugs song I still remember was that, ‘paper, paper, money, money’ song and that’s when I fell in love with hip hop. I just liked the fact that you could just use words. That words were your weapons”.
HH: Describe being an African emcee in New Zealand:
R: It’s interesting, I mean the scene has embraced me. I haven’t had any issues along the way. At first playing to new audiences is always different from playing to people who are already familiar with my music, I mean I receive the same treatment as any new artist would. I think sometimes it even works to my advantage because people are intrigued, or curious because they’re like what’s the story like where you from and how did you end up here. So yeah I wouldn’t really know how to describe it because I’ve never really been able to step out of that and have a look in but it’s always been cool.
R: I mean that’s really humbling you know especially going before @Peace who absolutely killed it and these are artists that I look up to and I take a lot from their performance and you know I always try to learn from what they do so you know that’s very humbling… The show was probably the best show I’ve done in terms of the warmth of the crowd, the whole vibe and the atmosphere and I feel like I nailed my songs too which was good so I really enjoyed it.
HH: Where are you at now on your artist timeline?
R: I think I’m just slowly about to emerge out of the underground. You know I did my time doing my free shows, you know kind of losing money trying to travel to different cities to play and you know I put in years of that collaborating with as many people as I could and now I think my name is slowly starting to get around and develop a bit of a buzz so I think it’s just a case of me taking it to the next level. Starting to work with some more established artists and taking my place in the scene. So you know a few more months of work or maybe a year of work.
HH: What does that feel like?
R: It’s a scary feeling because it’s uncharted territory for me but this is what I asked for, this is what I wanted so I gotta just take it and take in stride.
HH: You’re apart of the Young Broke and Gifted umbrella, what does that entail for you?
R: Basically my affiliation with Young Gifted and Broke is that I’m apart of their creative collective so it’s not really a business relationship. It’s more of a family. Whenever I need help with production, mixing or just advice from the guys who have more experience they’re always happy to help me out and you know it’s got its perks like opening for @Peace and that sort of stuff.
HH: Now that you’re about to push out from the underground, what have you put most work in for people to perceive you the way you want to be perceived?
R: That’s a good question. I would say a big part of it would have been my live set, I really had to put a lot of work into that to get across that same energy that I was trying to portray in my music. Another part of it has been visuals, doing videos and being visible to people. Letting them connect visually as well as musically and just networking it’s a lot about the people you know. Being humble enough to treat people around you with respect and I think that’s the part that took me forward the most you know. I’ve built some strong relationships over my years doing my things and those relationships have really come back to benefit me now.
HH: So you’ve been in New Zealand the whole time you’ve been doing hip hop?
R: Yeah I was rapping when I was living there [South Africa] with my friends, that’s where I started rapping but as far as recording music, that began in NZ.
HH: Are you looking to cross over to Africa?
R: Yeah, I get a lot of love from the African hip hop blogs. You know as far as me crossing over there, I think it’s just a case of me continuing to build my brand here and because it’s home they will accept it you know. What I am more interested in doing is reaching out to the European markets and just trying to spread my music out there. But as far as Africa goes I have home court advantage… I think people are just showing me love based on the strength, you know just seeing one of their brothers out there working hard and trying to get out there.
HH: What’s the African Hip Hop scene like?
R: It’s very dope. There’s some game changing stuff coming out of there you know there’s some African artists that are able to tour the whole year in Europe and the US. So it’s big and people out there are making livings for themselves. So it’s growing and it’s a scene I definitely want to be apart of more. The scene over there is a little bit more hip hop linked with a live aspect, you know the live instrumentation aspect especially when it comes to African drums and African instrumentation so I think that’s really fresh and hopefully something that I can incorporate too. There’s a guy called Synik who just dropped last year I think one of the best African hip hop albums of all time. So it’s very strong right now.
“It’s coming back to the lyrics and intricate production and you know, the music- it’s coming back to that. So it’s an exciting time. Especially to be an artist in this new era and I think it will be around for a bit to come…” Raiza Biza on new Hip Hop.
HH: It’s a source of inspiration for you then?
R: Yeah some of my favorite emcees are African emcees a lot of the emcees I look up to as a kid are African emcees such as Tumi and the Volume, Forgotten Sons these are artists that kind of shaped my early stuff so it’s definitely influenced my work. But I think I’ve been more influenced by the stuff that’s happened overseas. I think people whether they be Kiwi, or African or Australian I think we always kind of have this…We always seem to want to look at overseas for answer… but through time I’ve really come to the conclusion that that’s not where the scene is based. It’s really not where hip hop as a genre is based. Hip Hop is a lot more international than that you know so now my influences range from European emcees to African emcees to Kiwi emcees I think there’s great hip hop all around the world.
HH: What of yourself do you put into your music that you hope people receive when they listen to you?
R: In terms of my personality or just like themes in the music?
R: I hope people can just see my growth as a human. Essentially my music is really just a timeline of the things that have happened in my life so I just hope that people can see and respect the growth and maybe even relate to it, you know the different things that have happened in my life and you now the things that I had to go through to get here. That’s really the story that I want to tell. The perspective of an immigrant kid living in a new country just trying to readjust to it, pick back up and create a life for himself.
HH: Yeah true, you represent the hip hop culture, but you also rep for immigrant kids too. I think I can relate to it moving here from Malaysia. Do you have strong followers in the immigrant community?
R: Yeah, I definitely do. A lot of my more passionate followers are kids who are now young adults, who you know came here from the Czech Republic to Asia to Europe you know even a lot of American immigrants relate to my music because I think we all share a common story you know even on a larger scale we all immigrants you know, and even if you’re not on an immigrant you might have moved from one town to another, left your home, left your friends and have to rebuild and I think that’s the core story, the rebuilding and the re-identifying yourself in society.
“That’s essentially my core story, you know, there’s a lot of other things I talk about outside of that but it’s essentially the story of a young man trying to re-adjust and find his place in a new society.”-Raiza Biza on his main message.
HH: When did you fall In love with hip hop?
R: When I was like nine. And I heard Pac and Bone Thugs and the Bone Thugs song I still remember was that, ‘paper, paper, money, money’ song and that’s when I fell in love with hip hop. I just liked the fact that you could just use words. That words were your weapons you know words were your instrument, your voice is your instrument and I think from that point on hip hop was what I was gonna represent. [At nine] Funny thing is I really didn’t know half of the stuff that Pac was talking about but it I think it was more kind of the energy that he put behind his words that told more of the story for me.
HH: What can listeners expect from your Summer album?
R: My Summer album is really a snapshot of this NZ summer that is coming to an end. During that time while I was writing that record it was at a time when I was busiest with performances, I had the opportunity to perform all over the country, more in the north island and I got to see some beautiful places out in Wellington, Raglan, you know I got to hit some beautiful spots and swim in some great places so really I was just soaking in the vibes and just kind of making a soundtrack to it. So I guess they [listeners] can expect a picture of the summer that I’ve experienced thus far and hopefully a picture of what a NZ summer normally entails”.
HH: Is that your first time being able to travel with your music like that?
R: To that extent yeah. I’ve had the opportunity to perform in different towns in my last project Caged Lion but this one was on a larger scale. I’m doing my first Dunedin gig at then end of this month and that’s a real big one for me because I’ve never performed that far out. It’ll be really weird if it has made that much of an impact that will be another pinnacle in my journey. I’m looking forward to that.
HH: What was the instance where you realized, okay, this music grind isn’t for nothing?
R: When I dropped Dream Something. Everything changed then. I did my release party in Auckland at Rakinos. I don’t know if we sold it out, but we got it to capacity and couldn’t allow anymore people in and when I was just about to go on and perform and I could hear people chanting Raiza, Raiza like this, and I was hella nervous like what is all of this… So that’s when I knew, oh shit, something’s changed and thought wow, I might be able to do this. Then we did Wellington with Dream Something we had a good turn out and people knew the lyrics and then Hamilton and had a great turn out and the fans were just spazzing and I hadn’t performed in a long time because the scene kind of fizzled out over there so it was kind of like my home coming and man the crowd showed me hella love and they knew the music which was a new phenomenon you know like seeing people mouthing your lyrics you don’t know how mind fucking that is ae. So that was the point when I was like this shit is getting serious, let me try and strategize things and add some sort of plan to it. That was late last year and everything’s just kind of been a whirlwind ever since.
HH: Are you keeping up?
R: I was struggling to keep up but I recently found a manager, her name is Rachel Watson she works for Spin33 so now I’m keeping up and back on top of things. I feel like it’s going to be a good year, I know it is. It’s a case about me staying cool, calm and collected and staying focused. Keeping the hunger and the passion and keeping on releasing music…things will fall into place and staying humble and down to earth…let things take care of themselves.
“It’s like an addiction now…Releasing a song or a video and just watching it get consumed . It’s amazing how much enjoyment music can give to people you know and just kind of knowing that I have a hand in that…It’s a good feeling” -Raiza on being too far in to quit.
HH: With performing music on a conscious kind of level, did you have to work out a medium in terms of energy in a live show and spitting conscious music?
R: Yeah I did. I just put as much energy as I can into my live sets. Sometimes it’s a bit funny because my songs are pretty chill but you might see me jumping around on stage. But the people feed off the energy and that was one thing I really had to learn how to do because I’d be performing with people making bangers and I’d go and do my set and it’s kind of spoken word-ish and just chill The crowd would still respond but it’d be more like oh, and listening. I flip that up just by having a lot of fun on stage, getting loose and just trying to show the people I’m just a dude that’s trying to have fun… Really I want to make some bangers now as soon as I finish this album [Summer] I want to go into the studio and make some bangers.
HH: Are you a perfectionist?
R: To an extent. I am a perfectionist in a strange way. I like my work to be not too perfect. I like for it to still have a human element to it. Sometimes I keep in the little mistakes or little mispronunciations so that it has that edge. But I have a very specific image of what I want for myself and if I put out a song and the chorus was a bit out of tune it was on purpose. So in a way I guess I am.
HH: Coming from the battle scene do you focus on things like multis and similes is that important?
R: I think it is. I think technique is important but not to the point where you start to change your message slightly so you can hit that multi, but yeah I mess with multis. If you listen to my music I have a lot of similes and I like to switch up the rhyme structure here and there.
HH: Is that the art of it for you?
R: For me yeah, that’s definitely the art and it’s something that I think a lot of people don’t directly pick up on but I think the emcees respect that, the producers respect that, the bloggers respect that and it shows that you’re serious and even the heavy hip hop fans. Like when I was opening for @Peace I did a rhyme structure from a new song of mine that was a choppy structure and I was surprised to hear people in the crowd react to that and I thought oh I probably need to give you fans a bit more credit… The whole game is changing I think hip hop and popular culture in general does laps and when you step outside and look at how people dress these days it’s almost like a snapshot from the late 80’s or something and the music is also following suit. And it’s like you said, it’s coming back to the lyrics and intricate production and you know the music- it’s coming back to that. So it’s an exiting time. Especially to be an artist in this new era and I think it will be around for a bit to come. It’s great because these youngsters now, they’re going to hear this stuff and that’s gonna be what shapes them in years to come. There’s a whole bunch of kids from that 50 cent era and they’re whole taste is messed up now because they came up on that stuff and they don’t really know how to call it because they came up on that stuff. But like all of these kids listening to Joey Badass and all of these more lyrical rappers, they’re going to know their hip hop by the time they’re older so that’s dope.It’s dope to see more underground, lyrical artists make a living like my Home Brew or @Peace…No more gimmicks it’s just about how good is your music. How good is your art. Yeah. It’s a good time to be in.