New Zealand hip hop has always been less ambivalent about its American roots than its Australian cousin has; happier to embrace not just the accent but the subject matter and style of their common ancestor.

DJ and producer P-Money, AKA Peter Wadams, is a perfect example. His own path into hip hop came via the live track on DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, where two turntables and a crossfader are made to sound like Transformers transforming and a bird tweeting.

From battle DJing to producing NZ rappers like Scribe (he was responsible for the neck-snapping beat on hit single ‘Not Many’) and David Dallas, Wadams has channelled that American sound and style. Now, years later, he’s signed to US label Duck Down and is living in Manhattan, where that DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince track was recorded.

Gratitude is Wadams first album for Duck Down, and it kicks off with ‘Welcome To America’ where Skyzoo and Havoc from Mobb Deep spit commentary on what their home is like and what a newbie should watch out for on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.

“I came up with the concept before I introduced it to them,” Wadams says. “It was the first piece of music I made on arriving in New York last year and I thought of that ‘Welcome To America’ concept, of the MCs rhyming as if they were meeting a resident of the city for the first time and giving them the lowdown on what the neighbourhood is like.”

Wadams isn’t a straight-off-the-boat rube though, having visited the city several times in the last decade. “I’ve always been drawn to this place,” he says, “its music and culture. But yeah, that was really the gist of the song, an introduction, seeing as it was the first record off the album that I put out there. Kind of like the hip hop community welcoming this guy from New Zealand who makes beats. Roll with us, welcome to the city and the country.”

Gratitude is an old-fashioned rap album, with big-name guests like Talib Kweli and Buckshot. Freddie Gibbs and Fashawn feature on ‘Break It Down’ alongside a horn section and funk guitars, sounding like the theme song to a 1970s cop show. Wadams agrees that it’s a very ’70s sound, but, “it’s not Love Boat ’70s, it’s a bit more street.”

These kind of comparisons make for a big break from his last album, Everything, which was mostly club pop with very little rapping, and an R&B title track featuring Vince Harder. Making that album gave P-Money a chance to step back from the boom-bap beats he’d been making for rappers and try something different.

“It was like a vacation,” he says, “an opportunity to put yourself in a different headspace or a different environment with different rules. And I did learn a lot – tricks with sound and things I can incorporate – which subtly have made their way into this record. The casual listener might not pick it up, maybe a production nerd might draw some connections between the two records, but yes it was definitely that – a vacation. A chance to come back refreshed and excited about making rap music again, which is exactly where I’m at, at the moment.”

The dynamics of dance music, the build-ups and breakdowns, do sneak into and influence parts of Gratitude, but for the most part it’s a straightforward East Coast hip hop album, even though it’s produced by a guy from the North Island.

“Definitely for this album there was a conscious decision to stay within the confines of the genre and explore that,” he says. “To showcase my hip hop beats and do an album that was in that one vein. With the Everything record, that last project which was 2010 now, that was a period of time when I wanted to get away from hip hop for the most part. I felt like I wanted to try my hand at different genres and tempos and feels, and I really had fun making the album, but the last couple of years I’ve come right back round to square one where I started, which is just making straight-up rap music. That’s what this album represents.”

His live show is also about getting back to his roots, with David Dallas joining him for a two-man show in the vein of He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. “There will be a couple of special guests at certain dates which are yet to be confirmed, but for the most part it’s gonna be me and Dave. The show’s gonna be centred around me as the DJ and my turntablist, battle side of things, which I incorporate into my DJ sets. I like to showcase scratching and cuts.

“We’re gonna have some visual aspects as well, which is really cool. With the technology now it makes it really easy to incorporate video mixing into the show so we’re going to do a bit of that. And Dave’s gonna be showcasing some of the new material that he’s preparing for his next album, as well as doing a lot of tracks that we’ve done together in the past. Should make for a pretty fun night of entertainment, I think.”

BY JODY MACGREGOR

P-Money plays The Basement Saturday, June 8. Gratitude is out now through Dirty Records/Dawn Raid Entertainment/Duck Down Music Inc.

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