Arts on Friday
One is a drummer turned rapper who is studying music. The other plays in a hardcore-metal band and makes soul-inspired beats in his spare time. Jono Galuszka finds out how the duo started making hip-hop.
Tadhg Delany and Cam Wilkes do not fit the bill of typical hip-hop artists.
Delany is probably best known as the drummer from The Nerines and now-defunct Ricky Bobby, while Wilkes is one half of hardcore two-piece band Losses.
But Delany also raps under the pseudonym Splitting Atoms, while Wilkes crafts hip-hop beats from Motown-era soul tunes as Given Names.
The question has to be asked: How did that happen?
Delany says it all started with his introduction into rapping, which was educational, to say the least.
"When I was at high school, I made a couple of educational raps.
"They were pretty well received - I thought so at least.
"Who doesn't love an educational rap?"
Wilkes got involved after he heard them, Delany says.
"Cam had just written a couple of hip-hop songs and said I should freestyle over them.
"I heard the tracks once and just went for it.
"After that we just decided to make an album together."
Delany says the first album, released for free in 2011, was done in typical DIY fashion.
"The first record was done all in my bedroom in my flat on Ranfurly St.
"It was just a bit of fun."
For a bit of fun, it listens well. Delany's time as a drummer has helped him understand flow, while his lyrics are funny enough without heading the way of Flight of the Conchords.
Meanwhile, Wilkes' soul-inspired beats have just a hint of fellow New Zealand act Home Brew - the group that walked away with the Best Hip-Hop Album award at the New Zealand Music Awards last year.
Delany and Wilkes even managed to open for Home Brew when they came through Palmerston North for Massey University's Orientation Week last year.
Delany says that style of beat is quickly becoming the New Zealand hip-hop sound.
"New Zealand has got its vibe, that chilled-out jazzy stuff with heaps of samples.
"We like to keep it Kiwi."
Wilkes says finding his own take on that style was not hard.
"When I first started writing hip-hop, I wanted to make sample-based beats."
After hearing other producers, sample artists such as Nina Simone and Willie Hutch, Wilkes knew that was the way to go.
"Soul music is a little bit sad, but when you speed it up and rearrange it and change it, it's so different. It's what I love about it."
So while Wilkes makes the beats, Delany handles the lyrics.
The lyrical style between that first album and second record Walter White, released this week, is slightly different, Delany says.
"What those songs [on the first album] were about was quite important, but I was being light-hearted about it.
"With this one, I'm just being really light-hearted because it's just about normal day-to-day life."
That normal day-to-day life ranges from hanging out with the boys to drinking cider and developing insomnia.
Delany says it would just not make sense to write about the same topics as classic rappers such as Tupac or Eminem.
"It's a different element of hip-hop because we rap about different stuff."
"We can't have serious lyrics, because then it just becomes an unintentional joke."
So instead of the ego-explosion raps some artists put out or conscience raps, Delany says he just looks to have a laugh.
"I'm cracking up when I'm writing them.
"I wanted to do it like that because . . . I needed to have a bit of fun."
The second album was recorded at The Stomach, and its title gives an insight into how it listens, Delany says.
"Walter White is the lead character in television show Breaking Bad.
"Breaking Bad is pretty much one of my favourite shows.
"I've watched all five seasons twice and Walter has the most changes in a character in a TV series.
"He has huge change as a character and the album has huge changes; it's mixed between chilled and party."
Walter White features a few cameos from other Palmerston North musicians, including Benny Tipene and members of Us As Robots.
Delany says bringing friends in came out of both necessity and a desire to just have fun.
"On the song Benny sings on, I just thought it could do with a sung chorus.
"I just gave him the words and he nailed it."
The rhythm section of Us As Robots both contributed raps.
"Michael Lee [Us As Robots' bassist] is probably the biggest Splitting Atoms fan in the world. He said he has listened to the first album more than 200 times.
"And Josh Thomas is just a brilliant musician.
"It's cool to have other people on it, and it means I don't have to write as much; I can take a bit of a break."
While getting some other vocalists in helps to create a diverse record, Wilkes says getting the beats to have that mix is tricky.
"You've got to have diversity, but still keep it on the same vibe, which can be quite hard."
Making Walter White also had other challenges.
Delany is studying music in Wellington, while Wilkes works in Palmerston North.
Wilkes says sending beats to Delany is not hard, but hearing what they sound like with the raps is something else.
"I didn't know what some of the songs actually sounded like until we got into the studio," Wilkes says.
But Delany says he almost never has an issue with any of the beats.
"He just produces it and he's really good, so he just sends it and I'm like, ‘Yeah, bro'.
"Well, just a few times, I'm all, ‘Nah, bro'."
The album also took time because of the distance and Delany's studies.
"It's been about six months of work, but I've been at uni, so I couldn't do much," he says.
"The music I have to write for uni isn't the kind of music people would listen to."
Then add in the fact that Delany suffers from what is possibly the worst health condition for a rapper to have - asthma.
"After recording for a day, I pretty much just went home and collapsed," he says.
The pair are happy with the end result of Walter White, even if they previously had doubts.
"I thought ‘I don't even know if I would listen to it' to start with," Delany says.
But getting his mum's tick of approval helped.
The album also got more than 1000 listens and 100 downloads the first night it was released, reaching people as far away as the United States.
"That is way more than we ever thought we would get," he says.
Despite the good audience reception, Wilkes says you probably won't find the duo playing big shows any time soon.
"I'm not sure if you went to a gig and saw us playing if you would like it, but if you were at a house party and having a good time and heard us playing, it would be great."
* Splitting Atoms' album Walter White is a free download. To listen to it and their debut album, Walk the Walk, see splittingatoms. bandcamp.com.
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