By Poppy Tohill
Move aside America, New Zealand has arrived and Diaz Grimm is on his way.
With a fresh track Foreigners released on July 7th, and the only kiwi sitting (comfortably at #5) on the Top 40 Heatseekers Single Chart, the Cambridge rapper talks to us about his early days in hip-hop, who inspires him and the significance of the number 7.
What are your earliest memories of Hip Hop/rapping and how did you get started?
Back in 2008 before I knew this was my career choice, I took some demo CDs to the Big Day Out and threw them on stage at Scribe, trying to get him to pay attention, which of course he didn’t because he was performing [laughs]. But I did run into DJ Sir Vere and P-Money and they became the first people I really connected with, allowing me to email them questions and offering me feedback.
Growing up in Cambridge there wasn’t really a music scene there let alone a hip-hop scene so I started hosting events and parties at the bar I was working at. So I got David Dallas, Homebrew, PNC, P-Money and a lot of those guys to come along and play which was sort of my introduction to hip-hop.
When I first started putting music out in 2012 I was influenced by the likes of A$AP ROCKY, whereas most other acts were following David Dallas and that old school Deceptikonz style, so people didn’t quite know what to think of me. I was also overly confident which I don’t think they could handle [laughs]. I feel like often we New Zealander’s can be too humble and people confuse that confidence with ego. To me, ego is when you think you’re better than others, but confidence is just believing in yourself and I believe that everyone is equal, so that was a barrier I had to deal with early on.
Who else influenced you when you started creating your own music?
I look up to people who have done the crazy shit that no one has matched yet – Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Kanye West. I probably have more idols outside of rap to be honest. I just want to aim for the top so kids can watch me do those things and come to understand that they can too. We’re so stuck in our ways and people fear trying new things, especially money wise. Being broke is scary and we make it out that you can’t live without a job, but we need to change that perception because things will work out.
So Foreigners was created at the recent SongHubs event in Auckland.. Can you tell us about that experience?
SongHubs was absolutely surreal. I grew up listening to all of the music Mike Elizondo has worked on, I’m a big fan of his and a big believer in the law of attraction. So the first thing I said before we went into the studio to work on anything, was, ‘lets listen to 50 Cent and The Game, How We Do as loud as we can’ [laughs]. I credit the sound of Foreigners coming from us listening to that track before we made anything.
Originally I was trying to be likeKanye’s early College Drop Out days with Iva’s vocal samples, but the rest just fell into place pretty naturally and Mike was great as far as he played a guide rather than telling me what to do or how to do it. He’s really open and I felt like he treated me the way he would anyone. He’s worked with everyone from Gwen Stefani to Avenged Sevenfold, Eminem, Dr Dre, 50 Cent, The Game, Kimbra and Gin Wigmore, it’s mind-blowing. He’s one of the top A&Rs at Warner Music in LA too.
How did the songwriting process work?
I always have to hear the music first, because the music tells me the theme and what I should be talking about. So I knew I wanted that early 2000’s era of ignorant hip-hop when I went in with Mike on Foreigners. I’ve never really made that sound of hip-hop yet but it’s what I grew up on so I was stoked to be able to make it sound like that era.
What’s the lyrical inspiration behind the track?
The whole song is an announcement of New Zealand hip-hop arriving in America’s turf. It’s a bit of a taunt at the same time, because as I rap, “Ain’t got nothing but love,” I’m letting them know that I’m not trying to start any beef, I want to be friends [laughs].
No musician has ever survived only in New Zealand, you need to go overseas and I feel like I’ve done a lot of what I wanted to do here and all of my goals are over there now, so I just felt like making something to do with being there and also on the other side of things, I’ve always felt like a bit of a foreigner in NZ. I feel like I fit in now, but I think originally I was just ahead of my generation. I was too old to be one of these new young kids coming through, but I was too young to be one of David Dallas’ era, so I was kind of stuck in the middle.
Speaking of America, you were the first ever self-managed & unsigned artist to play SXSW in Austin last year.. How did that come about and what was it like?
It was so cool! I knew I wanted to play SXSW back in the day watching David Dallas go over and do it. I remember googling ‘how do I play at SXSW,’ and then I started to find people in NZ who had been before and asked them questions. Then one thing led to another and I got accepted! At the time I found out the head of SXSW was also a kiwi so whenever a New Zealander would apply he would get told about it, so I made an effort of putting myself on his radar. It’s all about creating your own luck and I feel a lot of the time people are so set on thinking, ‘that’s a big deal, I don’t know if I can do that,’ whereas I have always thought, if someone from NZ has been there and done that then I can do it too.
And you’re about to make a move to the US soon..
I’m moving to Toronto which is about an hour and a half from New York, flight wise. I’ve always been aiming for the States, because being from Cambridge where there’s no hip-hop scene, I never had peers to understand where I should realistically be aiming for, so America was always what my thoughts were heading towards and because I always listened to American hip-hop I felt like I knew most of those cities better than I did Auckland.
I lived in Auckland for two years, but I’ve just left knowing that I don’t want to be here anymore. I moved there for more opportunities but as soon as I went to the States I realised that Auckland is equal to Cambridge in comparison to this [laughs].
The number 7 is very prominent throughout a lot of your release dates and titles, can you fill us in on its significance to you?
When I first started out I was really getting into the theories of laws of attraction and that believing something makes it more likely to happen, so any time I would see the number 7 I would instantly remind myself that I was on the right track. That soon became so easy I decided to make it ’77’ so it would be a bit harder and unreal stuff happened.
My mum lives in Vanuatu helping the villages figure out how to get tourists to visit and bring in money, so I went to visit her early this year and take part in one of the new tours. I’d only just got the ’77’ tattooed on my face, so when I arrived this guy asked me in very broken english, ‘what’s that on your face?’ and then went on to say that he has the same tattoo on his back [laughs].
I told my mum to ask him what he meant, because he obviously had no idea what he was saying and it turns out that some missionaries took on Vanuatu way back in the day and they got so into christianity that one of the villages was named after Matthew, Seven- verse-seven (’77’ for short) and it means ‘ask and you shall receive.’
Following the release of Foreigners, can we expect more music to come?
I have some albums I want to release, but they’re in the future. I don’t think anyone has taken this approach in New Zealand, but rather than just releasing one project, album or EP I’m going to do a season, like how clothing brands and shops have seasons. Attention spans are hard these days and unless your album is incredible, you’re only getting one or two plays. Spotify is now worth more than the entire American music industry. If you put out an album you may get one or two songs onto playlists, but if you put out single after single, then every song will get on a playlist. Plus there’s no real set sound for this season either, so it wouldn’t really be a cohesive project if I put all the songs together on an album.
Who have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to JAYZ’s new album, he just talks about being worth a billion dollars which you can’t deny [laughs]. Vince Staples new album is really good too, it’s very experimental sound wise. Flume produced a track on it, but he’s still talking about very consciously aware things which I find quite cool. I was really into Migos and Playboi Carti until one of my mates ruined it for me by saying it all sounds the same. I’m a big Lil Yachty fan, but basically right now I just have Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug & JAYZ’s albums on repeat.