By Jake Ebdale
PNC, or Sam Hansen to his mates, has three studio albums and a highly regarded mix tape under his belt. For many rappers, it's a slippery slope after your sophomore drops - longevity isn't exactly local hip hop's strong point, whilst maintaining quality material is another conversation entirely. Unsurprisingly, the hard working Hansen shows no sign of slowing down, with a brand new record, entitled The Codes, just around the corner. Through frequent collaborations with big name NZ artists like P-Money, David Dallas and State of Mind, the PNC name is at an all time high, especially coming off the back of the P-Diggs featuring smash ‘Ride'.
Representing Palmerston North (it's in the name, you know), Hansen has carved an eclectic, party centric niche in Kiwi hip hop that welcomes any genre, all stamped with a trademark flow that gets better with every release - the YouTube views are growing, the rep is increasing, and The Codes is sure to put those three letters in bold from here on in.
Record number four ‘The Codes' comes out end of June. Judging from the singles (Ride, Love Jones, 100 Cups, When I Fall Asleep), it's going to be quite soulful, quite upbeat. How would you describe the album personally?
It's definitely both of those things, man. It's quite high energy. Pat from State of Mind mixed, engineered and co produced it, which really reflects on the sound. It's quite diverse in a lot of ways, but a cohesive sound as well.
Was there anything you wanted to accomplish specifically with this album? Matt Miller (collaborator on mixtape ‘Under the Influence') is on board again?
Yeah, (Miller's) on board - he made all of the beats; Fire & Ice and 41 are also on the record. When we set out to make it, we wanted to make a pure hip hop record, but also wanted it to have this booming electronic sound that when you play it in a club, it sounds absolutely massive, so that's why I got Pat on board too. I thought it would be a cool thing to be able to do hip hop shows, but also be able to perform at dance parties like Deep, Hard and Funky or Rhythm and Vines.
I think a lot of PNC fans are into both hip hop and electronic, whereas before there was a separation of the genres. Now they're coming together. In the PNC camp, we're all fans of different styles, so with The Codes, we wanted to make something that had a unique buzz within New Zealand.
(Latest single) ‘Ride' really caught my attention - a perfect mix between both the PNC and Shapeshifter styles. How did that collaboration come about?
Matt Miller originally made that beat for that song. He made it on his own accord and from that original demo, it's changed a bit - but we thought P Diggs would be mean on the chorus so we got him involved. How the song ended up, it was really a reflection of the sounds we were listening to at the time, especially Flume. Ride really set the album down that new path.
I don't know if you're playing any particular festivals this summer, but for your already high energy set, ‘Ride' is going to set your show over the edge. It's an amazing song.
Over the last five years I've been dabbling with that higher energy sound. I opened for Dizzee Rascal, collaborated with Bulletproof and State of Mind, I'd rap over Shapeshifter in my performances; it all just kind of worked and never sounded forced. Performing that style felt like a natural process, so I'm really looking forward to performing the material. It's tailor made for that festival audience.
Tell me about ‘100 Cups'.
With a lot of first drops from an album, Cups is like: "Here I am, I'm back. I'm doing this again." Just putting the skills on show and making it a party record at the club, but also being the best you can be. It was also an opportunity to work with producer 41 again - he produced a lot of my biggest songs, ‘PN'Whoa', ‘That Kinda Guy', ‘Tonight' - he did all of them. I hadn't had a single like that since (2010 album) Man on Wire, so it was awesome working with him again. We're filming the video at the moment.
So a return to form, but bigger and better than before?
And who chooses the girls in your videos?
(laughs) I choose them. I never had girls in my early videos, but I think these last few songs just needed girls.
What I've found with a lot of your work is that it's very eclectic and you showcase different styles, especially in the songs you'vechosen to release as singles, I mean even since ‘Day in the Life' and the bFM days. How involved are you in the creative process and the production?
I'm fully involved in the process - even if I don't have a clear direction of where things are going at times (laughs). A lot of rappers work like this - we get sent the beats and then mould it into a song. I've always grown up liking different genres and trying different things, and I might not always land it or be perfect first time...but I'd rather do that than stay stagnant. If I hear a style that I like, regardless if it's the kind of music that I've previously made, I'm always down to try new things. It's always good for longevity as an artist to be innovating and switching up your style.
So there's PNC the artist, but when you get home and you pop on a record, what does Sam generally listen to?
I definitely listen to current hip hop that's on the chart now, but I play a lot of old mix-tapes too. A lot of 80s, 90s soul and R&B. I don't care too much, really - I listen to everything.
I talked to David Dallas last year and he said that he and his band love playing D'Angelo; I can see the ties between both of your styles and how soul music informs a lot of it. ‘Love Jones' samples Jackson 5 doesn't it?
I know J Dilla sampled the Jackson 5 record (All I Do is Think of You), but we got the sample from a band called Troop in the 90s that also covered them. So it's sort of like this three step history of soul music within a song.
Everyone has those groups or artists that change their life growing up, that makes them want to do music for a living. Who was it for you growing up in Palmy?
The artist that influenced me the most was Jay Z, mainly the early stuff. I got into him when I was 13, and picked up Reasonable Doubt and Hard Knock Life. A lot of Biggie, Tupac, Outkast and Nas too. I'm a big fan of Jay's ability to have this mainstream sound, to make big pop records but also have this core of great lyricism. His style of writing was something I was always into. Eminem as well. They can do both do bravado on one song, then an introspective song straight after. It's like an autobiography, following their life through their raps. I've structured a lot of my raps through Jay's style.
This is quite a funny question, but one I think I should ask. Once you were so far into your music career, were there certain things that you thought - hey, this isn't what it's cracked up to be?
I think when you do anything in the creative realm, it' always gonna be a lot of hard work, to have the ability to stick at it. You don't have that security in certain areas of life, but I think I've been lucky in that I can maintain the lifestyle to do this.
You just need to have that passion to do music, just like anything. It can be really hard at times, but the flip side of that is, if what you do is the thing you're passionate about, then you're not really working. Other people have nine 'til fives and financial security, but they don't enjoy what they do - I still love this as much as when I started out as a teenager. I'd still want to do this instead of being fifty and regretting not giving it a go, not giving it the proper push that I should've. That's how I truly feel about this.
The Codes is out on Friday, 27th of June. PNC plans to tour the album later in the year.