Meet Name UL: The Rapper Pushing Boundaries Down Under

Written by Rahoul Naik

New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, is know to be a pool of talent from the ikea of Russell Crowe to Peter Jackson and former All Blacks captain, Tana Umaga. Well the talent doesn’t seem to be stopping in the coastal city with their newest young talent, Emanuel John Psathas, who goes as Name UL on stage. (It’s pronounced Name Yoo-Ell). Hot off his debut LP, Choice(s) and his first show in London at Kamio, we got to chat to the Kiwi about his music and what he hopes to do in the future. Check it all out below.

Q: How did you first get into music and then rapping specifically?

“I grew up in a very musical household. I was having all these feelings and experiences with these types of music and so it really shaped my childhood and how I grew up and I really wanted to have that impact in some way and I thought that the platform to do that was music; it was what I was most drawn to.”

“I have always had a creative mind and really enjoyed using my creativity and so music came really naturally to me. In terms of rapping, I’ve always loved rap music, I couldn’t say exactly what it was but I’ve always loved it the most. I felt like it was the best way for me to hear stories, you can fit a lot of words into a rap song so I felt I was learning a lot from artists around the world.”

Q: You list the likes of A$AP Rocky, Odd Future, Mos Def and Toro y Moi as your influences. Does your list stop there or is it more far reaching?

“It’s definitely expanded, especially in the last year or two. I’ve been exploring a lot more with House, Jazz, Funk and Soul music. I’ve come to understand how much doing that really helps me when I’m in the studio and when it comes to rap. Initially I was listening to heaps of rap music but now I like to listen to stuff that doesn’t have too much rap in it, these things have an influence on you, it’s good to keep the balance.”

Q: What’s the rap scene like in New Zealand? We hear a lot about the US and the UK but we hear a lot less from other parts of the world.

“It’s pretty awesome; there is some really good music out there. It’s never really broken out, there has never been a super significant impact on the world and it’s partly because a lot of New Zealand rap is about New Zealand and it doesn’t expand outwards from that. The scene is really strong out there; people love rap and local rappers. I’ve noticed since coming out to the UK that nobody really knows about New Zealand rappers, which is fair enough and it’s fair away but the scene is good and there are always gigs on.”

Q:  Let’s move on to your music and your debut LP, Choice(s). Tell us more about the project, it’s origins, it’s purpose and your process around making it all,

“I really wanted to make a project for a long time and I had a bunch of tracks and I found that the ones I really liked, really organic, were about things that were happening to me all the time, things that I didn’t think people would find interesting and I never really paid attention to some of the tracks because it’s just about things that happen to me in Wellington.

“I soon realised that all the songs that had some substance, that were actually from somewhere, were these tracks. It felt a lot more real and that all worked together to make this project, which is essentially about, being a young person in Wellington and growing up. It felt quite special because I didn’t feel like the story had been told and I wanted to make it like a soundtrack to the last couple of years for my friends and I. When I listen to it now, it really reminds me of Wellington and that’s what I want people to hear. It was all made with Wellington musicians and studios and I really wanted it to be authentic. Everything and everyone involved are from Wellington and it is something special.”

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Q: How would you say the reception has been from it so far?

“I feel like it’s done what I really want it to do, be a little piece of hip-hop and be our bit to say in the world. It has done really well and it has something that people can identify to and represent and show where they come from and this is what we have. We did a show the day after it was released and it was out of this world, packed with Wellington people and so special, such a good feeling.”

Q: You released a couple of singles in 2016 too, namely ‘Nice Guys Finish Thirst’. I saw the video has racked up a bunch of views on Youtube and even been dubbed ‘the most awkward music video in New Zealand’s history’. Tell us a little bit behind the thinking of the video.

“I wrote that song a while ago, it was the first record I wrote for the album. I wrote it from the point of just being a young man, being awkward and young and full of sex. I know a lot of hip-hop is about your favourite rappers just being so cool with the ladies and this is the whole thing about never embarrassing ourselves and that’s really not me. So I thought it would be way more relatable if we had a super awkward video that would make people uncomfortable and be funny and it definitely had that effect. When people bring up the video, they give me this face *squirms* and it’s good, its what I wanted to do.”

Q: You’ve had the pleasure of supporting various MCs out in Wellington from Schoolboy Q to Earl Sweatshirt and more recently Vince Staples and G-Eazy. What is that whole experience like?

“I think the best thing I have taken from it was more about being able to see the standard that these guys work at and the level you need to be at to tour overseas. Schoolboy Q, seeing how his team works and being professional and having a ton of coordination. I started playing shows from the age of 15 and so it was good to see what was required from me and where I need to go to be successful. Playing to a pack crowd who didn’t come to see you is a really good way to get your experience and a good place to start, because for the last 5 years we’ve spent a long time trying to win over crowds and this was a good way to start doing shows and learning to win over crowds.”

Q: You’re currently on tour and did a stop in London’s Kamio Bar in Shorditch, one of London’s more hipster areas. What’s touring been like and what was it like performing in London?

“It was a great show; there were some really good acts. I was blown away by the standard of the acts, its really high in the UK. In NZ, the music is great but there is a large element of booze culture and so you can get away with a lot more on stage but last night it felt like everyone was really paying attention and really interested. It was a little scary but I really appreciated it. There was a mutual respect in the room and that’s always good. I’ve had some connections out here with Koder for quite a while and then I’ve always wanted to come here and there are a lot of Kiwis out here too.”

“London has always been one of the top cities for listening to Name UL and I felt it was justice to the people who’ve been listening to me. It was really cool, I was standing at the back of the room and there were people coming up to me saying they had come down to watch me play. It’s incredible that we write these songs in little Old Wellington and the music travels and that is where the success lies for me. Just being able to give the music to different parts of the world is where my goals are.”

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Q: You tend to veer away from the more ‘traditional’ image and even topics of hip-hop that people are used to. Is this something that is intentional or just a case of you doing you?

“I think every type of Hip-Hop has good and bad things about it but it’s definitely a reflection of me, I can’t do that because it’s not me and I’m not into that and I can’t fake it. For me, I’ve always loved artists for the feeling they gave me and the connection in the music and for me, my motto is that music is going to be my number 1 thing. It would never going to be about anything superficial but people enjoyed the music. I think it’s so important to be relatable, it’s not about showing how much ‘better’ I am than everyone, it’s much more about having a mutual understanding and being approachable and be chill. I’m just a normal guy. At the same time, I don’t mind money but I’m not going to flaunt it, my role models don’t do that.”

Q: Would you ever consider collaborating with artists in the UK? Are there any you’re listening to right now? I’ve been told you’ve been played on Rinse FM a fair amount in recent months.

“One of my absolutely favourite rappers is a rapper from the UK called Onoe Caponoe. He is so good and one of my friends introduced me to him and he’s quite low key and he now has a little bit of a following in Wellington now too. Faze Miyaki is another producer that is really dope (and on Rinse FM).

“There are heaps and all the Grime music, I’m a huge fan and as a young kid, I was a huge Dizzee Rascal Fan. When I was younger, I had convinced my parents to drop me off to this festival because Dizzee was playing and I got to meet him and I have a photo with him too. I was such a little kid but he really influenced me, I always forget, but I used to listen to him a lot. When I was younger my dream would be to come to London and just rap, because I would watch the Tim Westwood Fire In The Booth and freestyle videos and people like P Money would be huge inspirations. I love the art of rap and in the UK it’s more important than an image or anything and I found that last night on stage too. I love UK music and I think the culture here in general is fantastic and I prefer some stuff than in America too.”

Q: You seem to have made a lot of yourself by working hard, what advice would you give young musicians who are trying to make it?

“I would say, don’t rush it and learn how to be happy first before you try to pursue musical success because no amount of musical success will not outlive the day-to-day happiness and enjoy growing up. I always think my biggest mistake was being in a rush to grow up and now I’m getting a bit older, it’s all starting to happen at the right time and it’s about focussing on the music and allow yourself to be influenced and go out of your comfort zone and don’t try be something you’re not. I used to think that if people overseas are going to listen to my music then I have to look and dress and act like the people who were big, but it’s always more about finding your own voice because that is what will get people’s attention.”

Q: If you could be a cocktail, what would it be and why?

“Hmm, let me think. I would probably say a Mojito. I am all about that summer time and chilling by the pool and cooling out. I am all about taking a moment to stop and smell the roses, there’s no rush to work your ass off. That’s definitely what I’m about.”

Name UL is currently back in New Zealand finishing off his tour. His music is best described as old-skool hip-hop sound with tons of Kiwi flair. You can find Name UL on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud and Instagram.

Check out the video for Nice Guys Finish Thirst below.

Credit: Name UL

Photo Credit: Jeremy Hooper

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