NameUL. It’s a name you will hear about very soon, if you haven’t already. And my suggestion is to turn the young rapper up – because you’re in for a reality check.
I’m staring at my phone screen still smiling after speaking with NameUL, who seemed to fit a whole lifetime of social issues into an epic 30-minute interview.
There is so much to this guy, I can barely type fast enough to get my thoughts down. I had a bunch of carefully crafted questions to interrogate him with, which seemed to slip away as we spoke about his new album, his influences and what fuels his passions.
NameUL is a Wellington-based rapper and you can almost feel the Wellingtonian in his music – you know, the one sitting outside a book shop, mulling over the latest political scandal with a cup of artisan coffee. He said it was the way Wellington’s culture made him feel that gave him confidence: “I knew I could do what I wanted to do and as a result, put [myself] out there… It’s had such a big impact on me, something that pushes me more than holds me back.”
New Zealand has certainly not held him back. At the tender age of 15, while other kids were off getting fake IDs and engaging in our drinking culture; he was starting his own label, K.W.O.E. – Kids with Open Ears. He says that this venture was all about starting conversations, encouraging others to “ask questions about things that maybe you felt you couldn’t. We always want to promote the culture that anything is cool, nothing is weird, you do you.”
It’s the ‘you do you’ attitude that’s taken him this far. The hip-hop culture is notoriously bad for promoting a shallow, hard-and-fast lifestyle – we see it everyday in the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am pre-packaged bullshit fed to us from the US. But NameUL goes against that grain. It’s unfortunate that he’s almost writing for a niche market of people – but as NameUL put, “The thing to remember is, that the niche is the people who in ten, twenty years are the people who are going to have positive influence on our culture and our community.” In his lyrics, he tackles issues near and dear to our feminist hearts – the blatant sexualisation of women in media, alcoholism in our youth, being shut down by others for your beliefs. And he does this with the grace and precision one would expect from a guy influenced by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashard.
When I asked him how he felt about feminism in the hip-hop culture, he responded, “In my life, the greatest, most inspiring people have been female, bar my dad of course. I hate talking about this separation [between male and female] but it needs to be addressed. I think women have so much to offer, they are very emotionally intelligent; that is something that guys lack… guys are all about women being successful, up to the point where [women’s] success crosses theirs, right? It’s one thing to believe in a girl’s ideas, but do I believe in them when they’re better than my ideas? In music, I felt like rap was somewhere where women didn’t have a voice, like, a guy gets on a track and calls his girlfriend a “bitch” and a “slut”, and I was like, ‘yo, where is the understanding?’”
NameUL hasn’t has the smoothest ride in expressing these issues in his music either. “How interesting is it, that the moment you bring that up, there’s instantly a label you get, a box put around you? ‘Oh, she’s a feminist, so she’s crazy’ It’s the same with my music [and its focus on social issues]. I get ‘Oh, you’re just a square, you just need to get on the piss, you need to loosen up,’ It’s sad….I think that it’s frustrating to not be taken seriously with these issues. I respect anyone who has a cause that they feel passionate about – you’ve got to listen to them, man. The thing I would say to anyone out there is that, no one will believe what you’re saying unless you believe it yourself. If you’re going to go for it, and if you’re going to tell someone what you believe in, you gotta give it everything. You can’t be afraid of them judging you, calling you a loser, a square. Nah man, call me what you want. I never go 90%. ‘Oh, I kind of disagree with this’. It’s like, no. I completely disagree with it, like, for real. Because that’s how you start a discussion.”
The nail’s head has been well and truly struck. And there are many more hard-hitting takes on his new album, Choice(s), which dropped on Thursday. If you’re not listening to him now, what are you really doing with your life? Give it a spin.
Oh, and his quote to live by:
‘Knowledge is the process, not the product.’
Thanks for speaking with us, NameUL. You have delivered a much needed wakeup call.