One of the biggest names in Australian hip hop, WA MC Drapht is set to give back to the fans when his Uni-Verse national tour begins Tuesday, 26th February. The tour is priced with students in mind, turning the childhood rhyme on its head and allowing even those you can’t afford a bottle of rum to come.
But for Drapht, real name Paul Ridge, the Uni-Verse tour also represents a new phase in the rappers career. Set to open a holistic healing cafe this April in Mt Lawley, Perth, the new venture should allow Ridge to make music without concern of its earning potential.
It’s a newfound freedom that Ridge felt was a necessary step in order to recapture that intangible buzz that comes from making music. As Ridge explains, new songs 1990s, Tasty and now Salute are a representation of a Drapht no longer under the pressure of success.
Music Feeds: The Uni-Verse tour – sweet name – kicks off towards the end of the month. What was the motivation behind a tour that targets students?
Drapht: It stems from the fact that I’m in a different position at the moment where I am just about to open my own cafe here in Perth. It’s about stripping everything back and taking the pressure off my music to be my livelihood from this point onwards and use it as a source of enjoyment like I used to do and not as a source of income anymore.
So in regards to the tour it’s about stripping everything back and making it feasible for those students and people that don’t necessarily have $30 or $40 to spend on a ticket to come down and enjoy themselves. Because I’ve been in a similar position where I couldn’t afford $40 to see some of my favourite acts or an act I enjoy seeing live. And these people eat noodles three times a day. So it’s just about trying to make something that I really enjoy affordable for everyone else.
MF: And at the same time it allows your music to no longer be a necessity but rather just a form of creative expression?
Drapht: Ah, dude, that’s exactly what I’ve been focusing on, because after The Life Of Riley and after Jimmy Recard I somewhat lost it. And it did turn into a machine mentality where it’s like, “OK, what’s next? When am I going to release this single? Have I got another single to back that up?”
And I really had to step back after the success of the last record, regardless of the accolades. It was like, “Why am I putting myself under this much pressure? I’m not enjoying it!” I really had to redefine why I was doing music full stop – if it was for myself or was it for the ego stroke of the comments I was receiving day in and day out on social networks.
I don’t want that anymore. [It’s] not about feeding my ego, it’s about me expressing who I am and [using] my music as a venting process.
MF: Is this a point in your career that you even imagained? Where not only have you made a living off your music but you’ve become so successful that living off your music is now an option rather than a necessity.
Drapht: It’s a lifelong journey. There was a point where I felt like I learned so much over the last 10 years in regards to my music. And some people get addicted to that radio play and that income that comes in with that, as well. As I was seeing all of this formulate I was losing the passion for basically what brand my whole entire existence has been, being my music.
My first two records [2003’s Pales Rider & 2005’s Who I Am], I felt passionate about the music industry and passionate about my genre, passionate about making music full stop. I had a full-time job. I had a girlfriend – that was another full-time job. And then I have my music that I would come home to every day and spend eight hours on it, after my full-time job, basically because I loved it so much.
My mum would say to me, “Why do you keep doing it? You’re not getting money from it”. I never did it for the money, back then. I did it for the love. I did it because it fed my soul. It gave me shivers down my spine.
And then after the success of Jimmy Recard and in the making of The Life Of Riley I had to think to myself, “Where were those shivers down my spine that I used to get when I was 20, 25?” I somewhat lost that, so it’s about finding it again.
MF: Your recent track 1990s touches on a time before your debut album, but does a part of that song come from the idea of not wanting to go back to a positon where your music is a financial necessity?
Drapht: Totally, totally, and it’s about living in the time and reality that we have right now. And appreciating everything that we have right now, and not letting anyone or anything else mould the person that you are.
Especially with the hip-hop mentality; everyone is so focused on trying to emulate something in the 90s instead of being who they are and the person that they are right now. It’s about, ‘Ok, I want to take it back to fucking Nas or that Wu-Tang 36 Chambers sound.’
How about you strip everything back and be who you are and try to reflect that in your song. And not think what other people like. That was the entire mentality I went with 1990’s [and] Tasty…
MF: Tasty is a different sounding track for you, there’s a little more of a electronic feel to Ta-ku’s beat. Is that an example of you now being free to do what you want to do rather than what you have to do with music?
Drapht: Definitely, 100%. It’s about separating myself from the rest of the genre. I feel like it’s in somewhat of a detrimental place where everyone is getting really comfortable with one particular formula. And it’s like everyone’s sounding exactly the fucking same, over and over again.
Not to take any credibility away from any particular artist or the position that our genre is in, because our genre is in the strongest position it’s ever been, but it’s about finding who you are as a person and a particular artist and not being comfortable within a formula and writing for radio.
That track was like, “OK, what is no-one else doing in my genre in this country and how can I have fun?” That’s all I was thinking when I was writing that song – separate myself from everyone else and use it as a venting process.
MF: Tasty also sees you mess with your vocal timing and the delivery of your flow. Is that you deliberately experimenting or were you just taking what Ta-ku’s beat gave you?
Drapht: A bit of both. I actually wrote that song over two different instrumentals. So basically it just came to life over that track… And it just gave me freedom to play around with a pattern I had never delved into in the past.
It was something really refreshing for me. It was like, “Holy shit! I should be doing this in all my stuff!” Working so it’s just not the same 4/4 pattern that you’re used to, that’s really sleepy and people tend to get bored with. It’s about, “OK, here’s another new part, here’s another slap in the face.”
So it was really nice for me as an artist and it’s a track I’m super excited about playing live because it’s got so much energy and it just keeps changing up. So I really can’t wait to perform that one.
MF: So at this point experimentation is a necessary tool to motivate yourself?
Drapht: 100%. With the cafe I’m set to open in April, the thing that it’s given me is basically the freedom to do whatever I feel and to experiment as I wish with my music. I think that’s what any artist should be able to do and should put themselves in that position on a daily basis with their music, anyway.
I can see from somewhat of a perspective where someone’s just [able] to live off the music. It’s hard to experiment because then you’ve got everything to lose. But I’ve generated enough income to live off my music for a little while but also put it into this cafe, which will take the pressure off any future income. It’s a beautiful position now.
MF: What can you tell us about new song Same Story by Spit Syndicate (from LP Sunday Gentlemen) featuring yourself?
Drapht: What can I tell you about that? It’s a song that myself, Jimmy (Nice), Nick (Lupi) and Adit [from Horrorshow] have been working on for six months, or whatnot. They sent me a beat idea and their vocals and I was really vibing on it. It’s such a positive track. It sort of delves into our past lifestyles and the lessons that we’ve learned from our parents and just the journey of [life].
So they sent me their verses with the beat and I literally wrote my verse one night, I wrote a chorus and then sent it back. Then we had this track there. It’s something I’m really excited for other people to hear and I can’t wait to do that song live as well and share the stage with those boys.
MF: Is there less pressure guesting on a song where the idea’s already fleshed out?
Drapht: Yeah, literally, because I record all my own stuff, I write all my own stuff, I arrange all my own stuff, produce all my own stuff, it’s all done in my home studio. So when I do a guest verse I can literally just record it and say, “You do it, please. Take it away from me.” It’s awesome.
But with my own stuff I’m cutting up drums, I’m sampling instrumentation, I’m getting stuff recorded, I’m pressing record and running to the booth, recording all my own vocals. It’s a lengthy process, something that I really enjoy doing but in terms of features it’s like, “Here’s the verse. Will you make the song?”
Drapht: It is, it is somewhat of a strange feeling. And especially coming from Mr. Hill, he’s an amazing up-and-coming rapper. He’s one of the best rappers I’ve seen. He’s got a killer flow and is just himself, basically. And I’m excited about sharing the tour with Seven, Mr. Hill and N’fa as well. So it’s very humbling when I’m seen in that sort of light by someone that’s so talented in their own art…
MF: Assuming that you idolised musicians while you were growing up, has it changed your perspective on what it means to idolise someone now that you, yourself are looked at in that manner?
Drapht: I’ve always tried to not place people on too much of a pedestal. I’ve never wanted to meet someone that I’ve really idolised because you’ve got this perception of who they are and this childhood fantasy of what you would expect them to be.
And as soon as you meet them, depending on a particular day, they could be having a terrible day, but they could take all of that away from you in a blink of a eye. And I don’t want to give them that opportunity. I like to separate myself and just look at the people that I idolise as why I idolise them and I want to keep that to myself and not give them the opportunity to take that away, if that makes sense.
I’ve done shows with Redman and Method Man and other support acts would bust through the door and want photos. But I want to be out there watching that show. These are people that have really moulded who I am as an artist. I don’t need to meet them on a personal level because their music means more than that.
MF: I know what you mean, especially in this line of work.
Drapht: Ah, dude, you would have it all the time! Imagine meeting someone or interviewing someone that is just an absolute wanker. Hopefully I’m not that dude right now! (laughs)
And it could be the fact that they just had a terrible day. You know, they just got a fucking tax bill in the morning and then they’ve had to do the interview. And that’s not who they really are but in that particular time and space it’s just a reflection on [the moment]. But you’d see it as that’s how they are all the time.
MF: I try to be mindful of those factors but I’m lucky to do this in this country because all Australian musicians seem super laid-back and unaffected by their stardom or their notoriety. It’s a great place to practice music journalism.
Drapht: That’s emulated in the backstage of all the big festivals that I’ve done. I love that mentality and everyone is so grounded. From the perspective of people that I’ve grown up looking up to, you know, with the Hilltop Hoods – those guys are the nicest dudes in the scene and in the Australian music industry and they’re at the pinnacle of the Australian music industry, the absolute top of the pyramid. And they’re the nicest dudes, so that says a lot in itself.
MF: Will the Uni-Verse tour be a chance to try out previously unheard material?
Drapht: Not so much unheard, it’s just revamping the last 10 years of my life in regards to [my] back catalogue… And then some new songs that have released like Tasty, 90s and then there will be another song which I’m set to release early next week that will be thrown into the works, as well. [Salute featuring Suffa from Hilltop Hoods – out now]
So it’s one of those things, I’ve got nearly 5 albums worth of songs here. It’s like, what to choose, what do people like… I need to enjoy it for other people to enjoy it. So it’s about moulding something that will reflect who I am and the songs that I really enjoy doing live.
And not necessarily just radio song after radio song, after radio song it’s about revamping… Whether it is songs like Who I Am or Inspiration Island [both from 2005 Who Am I] putting a brand-new spin on it with a live band, it’s something that I’m super proud of and really looking forward to getting out there and perform.
MF: So your newfound freedom for experimentation impacts older material as well?
Drapht: Totally, totally. Well, I think that’s the beauty of playing with a live band. I can test the waters of a new sound, I can put a new spin on stuff and it’s not just a backing track just playing beats. It’s literally stripping everything back and recreating something that I worked on six years prior and putting a fresh new outlook on it [to better] emulate the position I’m in right now.