Is it a comeback? Perth rapper Drapht – otherwise known as Paul Reid – recently dropped Seven Mirrors, ending a five-year album fast.
The sometime roof carpenter premiered as a solo MC with his track Misunderstood on a 2003 Culture Of Kings comp. That year he also aired his full-length debut, Pale Rider. Reid enjoyed incremental success as Aussie hip-hop surged. His third outing, Brothers Grimm, on Obese Records, contained the hooky Jimmy Recard – which placed at #10 on the triple j Hottest 100 for 2008.
But Reid’s career really blew up with 2011’s The Life Of Riley – the first album on his label The Ayems, distributed through Sony. It topped the charts. The Life Of Riley spawned Reid’s biggest track – Rapunzel. He received a host of ARIA noms – scooping Best Urban Album.
However, Reid stepped away from the spotlight to open a health food diner in Perth called Solomon’s Café. Many assumed he’d quit music. Still, Reid did make cameos – most weirdly on Kate Miller-Heidke’s single Drama. In 2014, The Ayems issued the bold Black + White Noise by his old homie, and 1200 Techniques frontman, N’fa Jones. It had early input from Remi’s hotshot producers Sensible J & Dutch. Alas, the industry – and triple j – slept on it.
In mid-2015 Reid himself resurfaced with the single Dancin’ John Doe ahead of a fifth album, Seven Mirrors. He even toured with the Funkoars. But then Reid was determined to cut fresh material, forcing the album’s delay. Meanwhile, he closed Solomon’s Café in March.
Seven Mirrors is Reid’s most cerebral work. Its concept is derived from the Seven Essene Mirrors, which theorises that our relationships reflect back on us. The MC is joined by guests like songstress Katie Noonan, old mates Hilltop Hoods, and, in a comic role, Briggs. Among the producers is 360’s guy Styalz Fuego.
Now Reid is on the road for an epic tour with a fully-fledged band. He bashfully admits to indulging in a holiday during the rehearsal period. “I went to Bali just to have a bit of downtime and read and eat good food and surf and write some new music,” Reid laughs. That he is writing again so soon after Seven Mirrors is auspicious. “I usually take a six-month break. But, this time around, I feel like I’m in a really good space and I just want to take advantage of that and keep writing when I feel like writing.”
And Reid is relaxed. “I feel pretty good about it all. I’m looking forward to doing the new songs. I know them already like the back of my hand obviously because I’ve been listening to them for the last two years.”
Reid can look forward to a big summer, with festival dates including Southbound and the 30th anniversary of the auto extravaganza Summernats in Canberra.
Music Feeds: I was reading about your venture Solomon’s Café, which you had with your sister. It was such an innovative concept. And it seemed to have real support. Why did you decide to give that up? Was it just that the music was pulling you back – or were you over it?
Drapht: Well, I suppose both things were happening at the same time. It was just a matter of not being able to do both things simultaneously. I knew that in the back of my mind. When I’d decided to release another album, I realised that I had to sell the business – which was totally fine, because the stresses of hospitality were just becoming a little bit too much.
Within the music industry, there’s a lot of pros. You can travel constantly and you get to see your family and friends. [But] within the hospitality industry, it’s just very relentless. You don’t get many holidays and you have to worry about managing 20 staff that are very transient staff members as well within [the] Australian hospitality industry. They’re not there for careers – it’s them there just to pay uni fees and whatnot. So not having to think about paying tax and super and people’s holidays is an absolute bonus, being in the music industry.
MF: People spoke of you having retired from hip-hop. What was your headspace when you started Solomon’s?
D: I was super-passionate about my health and the holistic industry, just because I’d struggled from my own heath issues over the last 10 years. Using food as medicine and medicine as food has always been at the forefront of my mind and I wanted to be able to create something that people saw as sort of a meeting place for that. But I don’t know if I ‘retired’. I don’t think I ever said the word ‘retirement’ at all through that whole process – it was just, “I’m taking a break and I don’t know if I’m gonna release another album.” But then, as soon as I got into the thick of Solomon’s and I was there for six months to a year, I just started writing furiously and more passionately than I’ve ever written for the last five years – so it was an amazing process.
I had this realisation that I needed a nine-to-five to take away from the pressure of my creative outlet and not just use that as my sole livelihood – because that’s not why I started writing music in the first place.
MF: In the five years between albums hip-hop has changed. But the one thing I’ve noticed is that today mental health is a really strong theme. You seem to be delving deeper on this record as well. How conscious are you of these shifts? And where do you fit into this new Australian and global hip-hop?
D: I sort of always felt like I was a little bit of an anomaly. It’s never been a case of me fitting into the confinements of hip-hop or the spur that is hip-hop. For me, it’s about being an individual and just speaking my authenticity and trying to live through my music and use it more as a cathartic process, and a venting process, rather than trying to tick the boxes of what people are looking for. So I don’t know if I fit into hip-hop in this day and age, so to say. It’s never been about that for me. It’s always just been about writing what I believe in and using it as a tool to get through my day-to-day, basically.
MF: I was researching the concept behind Seven Mirrors, the Seven Essene Mirrors, and I found myself immersed in Judaism and theology. It’s quite deep! I wondered how you came by this – and how people have interpreted it?
D: My Mum brought the four of my siblings and I up in a very open-minded household, and a very spiritually-minded household. This record comes from the Essene Mirrors and it’s like a loosely-based conceptual record delving into how important our relationships are on a day-to-day [basis]. I’ve always thought that was super-fascinating and it’s somewhat how I live my life. I’m very aware of the people who are around me and who I let into my life – and I do believe you choose those relationships and you are the maker of your happiness. So the album is based on learning through those relationships, and those seven specific relationships, and how important they are – from introspective issues to past relationships with partners to present relationships with partners to parental relationships, from the relationship I had with the restaurant, with my friends, with the customers, with employees, with my family… so the list just goes on. I just think it’s so fascinating to be able to pick those relationships apart and really try to understand what they’re telling you and how you can be a better person through knowing those people in question.
MF: You’ve previously alluded to the fact that you had to run a song, Rapunzel, by an ex. That was nice of you to do it because I don’t think Taylor Swift does that.
D: Ha, ha, ha. Don’t let me off that easily… It’s funny you say that, ’cause we’re talking about the next single and selecting the next single at the moment, and I was speaking to a friend of mine. He’s like, “Oh, have you heard from so-and-so?” – my ex-girlfriend who I had written a song about. I was like, “No! But it’s been at the forefront of my mind of late to be able to reach out to her – ’cause she lives in London. I wanted to just say ‘no hard feelings’.” He laughed – he was like, “I don’t know if she’s going to be so open to hearing that.”
Tracks like Rapunzel in the past and whatnot, I’ve sort of reached out to my ex – and all my ex-girlfriends, I’ve never parted ways with bad blood, so we still do have pretty good relationships, because obviously, they were people who meant a lot to me at that particular moment in time. It’s important for me that I don’t hurt them, but it’s also important for me to be able to speak my truth and use the creative outlet that it’s there for – and use it properly. It’s a tough one because, again, it is hard for me to be able to take that step back and think, “Fuck – this could potentially really hurt this person.” You might not be naming names and telling [people] specifics about the person but, at the same time, there’s gonna be thousands of people listening to that piece of music and you don’t really know how that’s going to affect the person it’s about. So, yeah, it’s a tough one.
MF: This is an easier question! What is happening with your label now? Were you disappointed that album by N’fa didn’t get more traction? It came out just before Remi’s debut, Raw X Infinity, but it seemed that the media focussed on one over the other.
D: Yeah, look, N’fa’s an amazing artist – whether it’s music or his acting or just anything within the creative value. He is an absolute gun. The difference between him and Rem – like N’fa had an amazing career in the late ’90s, early 2000s, with 1200 Techniques and, Remi coming up, he was just fresh blood. I think it was just his turn for that particular period. I’m stoked that Remi has gone from strength to strength with each release. He deserves it really more than anyone in the industry at the moment. It’s super-inspiring that he’s just coming out and being who he is as an individual and being honest within that and getting the play that he probably wouldn’t have got maybe six years ago, ’cause it was a totally different scene. He’s somewhat changing how radio view what commercial hip-hop is deemed as.
So it’s great – it’s great to have an underground artist get so much shine within radio in this day-and-age. So I’m stoked for Remi… But, in terms of The Ayems, it’s always just been a platform for me to be able to release my music. It was never going to be a case of me sourcing other artists. But N’fa was just a good friend of mine and he needed a label to go through, so that’s how that came about.
MF: What can we look forward to on this tour? I guess it’s fun getting back on the road.
D: Yeah, definitely. I’m bringing a whole bunch of good mates. I’ve really tried to bring the people who in my eyes have the best energy within our scene at the moment. These people are the likes of Dylan Joel, who is an upcoming artist who I just love to death. Then there’s Trials, who we all know from the Funkoars and AB Original. He’s been one of my best mates for the last 10 years and we’ve written two albums together. It’s just great to have him out on the road so we can do songs that we’ve collaborated on in the past. And then I’ve got all my mates from Perth who I’ve grown up with – Bitter Belief, who is another MC, Dazastah from Downsyde, who’s on the drums for me now… [Singer/songwriter] Morgan Bain, who I did the Like A Version with, is coming out. He plays keys [and] guitar and sings a bit of vocal as well, so we’ll be doing [The Avalanches cover] Frankie Sinatra in the set. So it’s just shaping up to a real fun one.
MF: I see that Trials is ‘hosting’ this tour…
D: He’s an absolute legend! He’s so much fun to be around. Another reason for him being on the road is just so we can write – start writing a whole bunch of new stuff together as soon as possible, because our schedules just never really meet otherwise. Because he’s got all the AB [Original] stuff coming up, he’s writing for other people, and he’s doing the stuff with the Funkoars. Yeah, it’s gonna be great just to have him on the road so we can write some new music together.