meet brockhampton’s favorite kiwi rap duo
Watch the video for Church & AP's 'Ready or Not'.
Photography Sylvia Louis-Marie
Polynesian hip-hop has a rich history, yet very few hip-hop artists from the South Pacific have made a name for themselves here in the US. The only exceptions are OMC, whose song “How Bizarre” topped Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 Chart in 1997, and South Auckland rapper Savage, whose hit single “Swing”(feat. Soulja Boy) peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008 after it featured in the movie Knocked Up.
But Church & AP aren’t about to let history hold them back. On the phone from Auckland, the two teenage rappers (Church is 18, AP is 19) make their intentions clear; they want to be the next Kiwi rappers to have a hit in the Hot 100. Though they know it’s not going to be easy; the biggest New Zealand rapper of all time didn’t even crack the US market. “It’s interesting to note that there has never been a bigger rapper than Scribe. In the 20 odd years that New Zealand hip-hop has been a prominent thing, we still haven’t reached that apex again,” explains Church. “It’s something we’re trying to do, we’re trying to reach that level.” Scribe, in case you don’t know, is a Christchurch rapper whose 2003 album The Crusader has been certified 5x platinum in New Zealand. He’s a local legend. If you have any Kiwi friends, you might have heard them belting out a few bars from his hit single “Not Many.” It goes a bit like this: “How many dudes you know roll like this / how many dudes you know flow like this / not many, if any.”
“A New Zealand rapper going 5x platinum today would be unheard of,” says Church, “but it’s possible, so that’s something we’re gunning for. To get that same respect.”
With its hook, “we stay ready / we stay ready / ready or not”, the duo’s first single, “Ready Or Not,” has already made moves in their homeland. Over the holiday season it became the most Shazamed song in the country, and right now it’s climbing up the NZ Singles Chart (it’s currently #9). It’s about to get a whole lot more attention, because today the duo is releasing an official music video that shows them hanging out at some of the locations they rap about in the song – by a pool, in church, in the back seat of a car. “We were trying to really bring to life what we were saying [in the song],” Church says of the visual. “So when [AP] talks about being in a car with his mates, we just thought we’d put him in a car with his mate.”
“The shot of us in the car – that’s actually my mate’s car that I mention in the song,” explains AP. “‘In the Carib with Daz and Dula’ — we were actually in a Carib with my mate Daz. My other mate couldn’t make it.”
The duo attended the same high school and became friends after Church overheard AP talking to a friend about Chance The Rapper. “This guy came up to me on our first day of school and was like, ‘’yo, you listen to that Acid Rap tape?’ I was talking about it with one of my other homies and this guy just came out of nowhere, and I was like, ‘eh, who are you?’”, says AP of their first interaction. A short time later, AP invited Church to record at a community center near his house that hosted a community outreach program for local youth. “The program doesn’t exist anymore, which is unfortunate,” says Church, “but when we started there were a lot of kids making music like us. We were around 16 at the time.”
“We’re really a testament to the success of community outreach programs,” he continues. “A lot of people think they are for troubled youth and that it leads nowhere, but ‘Ready Or Not’ was made in a community center. It was made in a room probably no bigger than your bathroom.”
On “Ready Or Not” and on Church & AP’s debut EP Thorough Bread, which was released last summer, you can hear the influence of American rap music (Mac Miller, Kid Cudi and Clipse are some of their favorite artists), but the duo also worked hard to retain elements of their own culture. Church points out AP’s Kiwi accent, and says, “A lot of people, when they make music, they try and make it American, and they talk like they’re American. But we don’t say those words, we just want it to be authentic.” References, like the one to Daz’s Toyota Carib (a cheap Japanese vehicle that’s popular in New Zealand) and Sauvignon Blanc (produced in New Zealand and exported globally), are distinctly Kiwi. They also happen to sound cool in a rap song. Dom McLennon, of the rap group Brockhampton, told Church that the Sauvignon Blanc line on “Ready Or Not” is his favorite. “That was a small win,” Church admits.
They had the opportunity to hang out with Brockhampton last September, when the group was in New Zealand to promote their feature-length documentary, The Longest Summer in America. They interviewed the group for VICE and gained some valuable wisdom to apply to their own careers. “Their whole ethos of creating a community and really maintaining the organic aspect of creating music, that was something big that we took [away],” says Church. “And if you have a feeling and you don’t know how to define it, hold on to it and develop it a bit more.” Church also made note of Brockhampton’s business plan. He says, “making sure you know your worth, that whole thing has been important because you get a lot of eyes that come on you when you have a song that does well.” Right now, Church & AP are following that advice and allowing their instincts to dictate their future. It’s worked for Brockhampton, and with Dom being only one short email away, further advice from one of the US’s most successful rap groups might just shape the careers of these two ambitious Kiwis.