Wellingtonian Hip Hop artist Name UL says, “I feel when I’m rapping I’m contributing to the culture of hip hop. I’m rapping with a beat and people were doing it 10 years ago; people are doing it right now in New York, LA, Europe, Asia – and I’m in Wellington, New Zealand.”
“We’re all just contributing to this beautiful thing called hip hop. It’s so cheesy man, but it’s like my religion. Think about it, you do, you say your prayers like you’re rapping.”
Having just returned from travels in New York, Japan and Europe, Name re-wrote an EP had all ready to go before he left. “It gave me a whole new perspective and motivated me to create more challenging material.” With some big opening acts already under his belt like Six60, Home Brew, @Peace, Pharcyde, Action Bronson and more, one would think Name lucky. But he insists he gets these spots through resilient emailing and seizing an opportunity, mostly from working hard.
For his next EP he says, “I’m trying to not just dissect myself and what’s around me, I want to dissect the world from my point of view and the whole. Like everything I believe that’s going on. Not necessarily be right… just like a point of view. What I’m aiming for is – you sit down and listen to my music, and it’s like, you’re essentially picking up glasses and looking at the world from a different lens.”
HH: Where Are You From?
N: I am from Wellington, New Zealand. My ancestry lies in Greece though. My dad’s full Greek and my mum’s Danish and South African.
HH: How did you came up with ‘Name UL’?
N: Basically I was fumbling around with names for ages. I had weird names like Pre-Mad, one like Ill-Trill or something stupid. I don’t know. And then I landed on Name UL. I always thought it would be real funny if someone was called ‘Name’ like their name’s name. Also name backwards is E-Man, which is what people call me.
HH: Do you consider yourself an artist or an emcee?
N: I think that initially I considered myself a rapper, but as my music evolved and as I evolved as a person I felt that I wanted to be more of an artist because I thought there’s so much more room. If you close yourself in as a rapper then it ends up just you rapping over beats. I like creating art because I think it gives it a broader definition than just rap music.
HH: What school do you go to?
N: Wellington College.
HH: When did you start rapping?
N: I’ve always idolized rappers. I thought they were so cool. When I was about 12 I started listening to heaps of Madlib and Jay Dilla. It was real weird, I slow transitioned from like Nelly and Kanye West into Mos Def and then I started really liking Biggie and Wu-Tang. I liked rapping at first because it was real rebellious. I was getting into that and then heaps of stuff from Stones Throw…I started wondering who made the beats for the rappers, found out it was Madlib then started listening to him. I thought it was so cool and was like, ‘I could try rap’. It was just atrocious but I liked the idea of it so I kept doing it.
“I like DJ Premier but when I hear him I just want to rap on his beats. With Madlib and J Dilla I just feel like they just need to be left untouched.”
HH: You mentioned that people have their three favorite artists, who are yours?
N: Definitely one is Mos Def like without a doubt – Black On Both Sides is one of the greatest albums ever. Kanye like, Late Registration and probably also Nas is definitely up there. I mean influentially, Illmatic hard out and the one he just put out, Life Is Good, I thought that was dope as.
HH: Do you remember your first rap, can you do it?
N: Yeah I remember just one line. It was like, ‘I wrap up meat like I’m a butcher and it never ends, dishing out my rhymes like I’m dishing out M & M’s’. It was so weird man, it was like, I have no idea man. I was real little like 11 or 12.
HH: Do you ever feel intimidated because of your age, in terms of the people who you work with?
N: Yeah, sometimes. I feel – not in a cocky way – that my music is at a level that’s kind of good enough, that I don’t need to feel intimidated. I kind of put it on the table. I’m not embarrassed about it or anything, I don’t feel like it’s immature, I feel like some of the stuff that I do is actually quite mature in the sense of ‘for my age’.
HH: How do you get into clubs?
N: My parents sometimes have to come with me. It’s got a bit looser recently. I used to stay around for the whole show, but these days I don’t. I come for mine and I know it’s a bit rude to other artists but it’s kind of how I have to do it otherwise I can’t come in. If I stick around then it’s a bit complicated.
HH: Have your parents always been supportive of you wanting to be a rapper?
N: They’ve just kind of recently realised, ‘Oh he want’s to do this with his life’, and I think they kind of maybe panicked initially. I think my dad’s real supportive, hard-out. My mum, she’s so supportive, but like she obviously is a mum and thinks I should go to university and do that which obviously is so smart to have a back up and all that stuff… I just feel like our communication isn’t real on point because we’re in different perspectives of how much I want it and how much they think it will benefit me. I feel like if I’m 20 and I’m still doing it and I’m still at this stage, they’re going to be like,’you need to start focussing on your life’. At the end of the day I want it to be my career.
HH: Have you always been really focussed as a person?
N: Yeah that’s like my personality. I feel like my life is real focussed. That’s real important like if you’re focussed as a person then you can really progress. I think I wasn’t initially, I was influenced by other people. You can’t do well if you’re not disciplined in everything.
“I can’t be slack at school, in my home or with relationships and stuff and then expect to be disciplined with my music. I think it all goes hand in hand. It’s so hard to master.”
HH: What’s you game plan?
N: My game plan’s making music. I can’t predict how stuff’s going to go. I have no idea. I want to just make music, and there’s heaps of steps involved, making that your job. But I got to get out of school and I think next year when I am out I ‘m going to make that my full-time job.
HH: What are you working on at the moment musically?
N: My EP. That’s what I’m working on with Loui the Zu, he’s a rapper whose 18 years old. I’ve just been going up to Auckland to his house and making beats. Then working with a band called the Shocking And Stunning from Wellington. I’m trying to break away from the whole age being associated to me. I want it to be a real. Not a 16-year-old rapper, but a rapper who happens to be 16 or a musician who happens to be 16.
HH: Do you have a beat maker who you work with one-on-one?
N: Yip, Loui The Zu and Thallus from Switzerland who did ‘End of The Sky’ and ‘The Moon’.
HH: So you said you’d been introduced to Kanye and all of that first, but when you heard Madlib, hip hop really began to resonate with you?
N: Yeah that’s when I truly, truly fell in love with hip hop. It was beautiful, like amazing. It really stuck to me.
HH: What is it about J Dilla, because you’re obviously hearing a certain quality in the production?
N: Yeah, I’ve actually thought about this heaps and I think it’s because I feel like the beats, they’re not like other producers. I like DJ Premier but when I hear him I just want to rap on his beats. With Madlib and J Dilla I just feel like they just need to be left untouched. When I listen to the beats nothing comes to me in terms of rapping. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I think it’s like a really good thing. I’m just so in the zone, like the beats are just beautiful and simple by themselves.
HH: What music did your parents listen to when you were little, do you think it’s had an influence?
N: Definitely. Mum listened to a lot of Genesis, Doobie Brothers and then my dad listened to everything, like everything. The whole CD row had Wu-Tang, Tribe Called Quest, classical music, jazz, world music and that’s rubbed off on me. Now, I barely listen to rap… I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff like jazz, experimental, I literally listen to everything like classical music, opera, house, whatever, religious music.
HH: Are you religious?
N: No I’m not but I love religion, I think it’s so amazing. Not necessarily right for me personally, but I think some aspects of it are amazing and how people are so dedicated just blows my mind. My dad’s got this tape of just the Koran like just a guy reciting the whole thing and I’ve only got four tracks. I don’t know what any of it means but I reckon it’s real beautiful listening to it.
“In my head the whole time. I’m my best friend hard out. I used to go to parties heaps and be a hard out social bloomer. But now, Saturday nights man, you’ll just find me in my room eating cookies and drinking chocolate milk, rapping.”
HH: You’ve played some pretty big gigs, how did that happen , did promoters hear you or…
N: Yeah. But heaps of people have hit me up like, ‘I’m not getting any gigs bro, no one’s hitting me up. But it’s real weird cause you can’t just wait and expect people to just find you on SoundCloud. Me personally, I hit up so many promoters, like everyone, like please give me a chance I’ll do 10 minutes at the beginning of the show, I’ll do anything. And it was kind of like nah, 16, like they didn’t really know and that’s before I’d even put out a tape so people just heard little raps I’d done. And then Blink who does Camp A Low Hum and runs Puppies was like, ‘I’ll give you a 20 minute slot at this Mighty Mighty show’ and I was like, ‘oh cool, sweet as’.
HH: So would you say he gave you your break?
N: Definitely in terms of live shows. And I did that show and then Tim Brown saw me who’s in the Wellington Phoenix and he owns 2B. He loved my stuff and I ended up going to them, he hooked me up with some shoes and stuff. He put me on to Marek whose like a promoter and then I begged Marek to put me on the Home Brew line up and he was like okay, I’ll put you on at like five in the evening. I played to like four people and the bar staff – one of those four people was Josh Mossman who does La De Da. What happened from there was I got put on to, cause I asked to do the Pharcyde show in Wellington, I hit up the promoter down south and was like is there any chance to do a show down there and then he’s like, ‘if you get yourself here, pay for everything, you can do the national tour’. I was like, ‘yeah bro’ and I was also doing little shows at Zeal just to get experience on stage and stuff and they were real helpful – I thank them heaps. Then I moved on to the Pharcyde tour. It took a lot out of my pocket but it was so worth it. I didn’t do the Auckland show but I did Christchurch, Wellington, Queenstown and Wanaka. Pharcyde gave me so much advice just talking to them, their DJ -Vick One works on Hot 97 in Los Angeles and I was like, ‘oh my god’. He gave me so much advice and just helped me with everything. Then I came back and was just getting booked like crazy. Everyone thought I did real good, I ended up booking Smoke DZA, Action Bronson, @Peace Showcase, it was cool.
HH: What was your favorite gig to date?
N: Hilltop Hoods because the atmosphere was just buzz and I got the crowd pumping and then I did an a capella. I was feeling it so much. Then I did Camp A Low Hum and that was crazy, like in a forest out in Wainuiomata. Then I did Six60 at St James and that was crazy man. That was 2000 people, like insane.
“If you want to listen to my music it takes a bit of patience. It’s not easy listening, it’s not like you’re just going to get it straight away. You will have to think about stuff.”
HH: What’s the buzz like playing in front of that many people?
N: It’s insane like I can’t even describe it. Seeing people’s face light up or dance to a song like, ‘oh my god, I’m generating this right now’. Even at Six60 I couldn’t see anything because the lights were on me and it was just all black. I did my first song and then just stopped and heard like 2000 people screaming. I had goosebumps, it was just insane.
HH: Whose your DJ?
N: Bucks A Pop, yeah he’s awesome.
HH: Describe your sound…
N: I don’t know my sound is just so varied at the moment. This EP is so different. Like way, way different. I would describe it as, like, Flying Lotus meets Lupe Fiasco beats with – this is going to sound real weird, but like a Mackelmore meets Kendrick Lamar and like Mos Def flow. That’s like my flow yeah, it’s real weird, the beats are real varied.
HH: You’re very focussed for your age, do you have other people tell you that?
N: I feel like I’m kind of aware of it. I have some people who really inspire me like my friends. I choose to surround myself hard-out with people who really inspire me. I used to hang with guys and girls and just talk about getting pissed and getting fucked up – I just found it so boring after a while. Now, my friend Braiden for example, is an amazing dancer and he’s like me just trying to have this plan and stay focussed and my DJ as well, we just have these deep talks not even about music, like just about everything it’s so interesting.
HH: How did you meet Bucks A Pop?
N: It’s actually a real funny story like I was going to La De Da and my DJ couldn’t do it and I was looking for a DJ real last-minute and this guy who paints my house tweeted me and was like, ‘bro I’m going to DJ for you, I’m talking to your mum’. I was like: ‘What? Who are you? Why are you in my house?’. Then yeah we just linked up and he played me some tunes, came to La De Da and just vibed hard out. Now he’s my DJ and mentor as well.