Why PNC's changing codes

By Chris Schulz

Local rapper PNC tells Chris Schulz why he’s decided it’s time to switch up his sound.

PNC believes in taking chances with music.
PNC believes in taking chances with music.

He's performed cartoon hip-hop while dancing with dinosaurs, recorded smooth 80s-indebted ballads under moonlit skies, and delivered killer flows over gruff gangster-indebted rap anthems.

But it's time to put what you know about PNC to one side, because the Kiwi rapper is taking on a new guise. Yep, this rap star's getting his dancing shoes on.

As you may have heard on his hard-hitting new single Hundred Cups, the new-look PNC is embracing hyped-up dance beats and brooding electronica on his new album - and he's well aware that he's taking some risks.

"I have always respected people who take chances with music - even if they miss," the softly spoken, slimmed-down rapper tells TimeOut over coffee in Epsom.

"I never want to be stagnant and make the same thing over and over. Some artists you want that - I'm just not that type of dude."

With that in mind, the Palmerston North-born rapper - real name Sam Hansen - has spent the past two years honing the 15 tracks that make up his fifth album, The Codes.

Due for release tomorrow, it's a hip-hop hybrid album that embraces current dance trends like drum 'n' bass, dubstep, house and trap, and is full of woozy synths and slurred bass grinds.

It's been a labour of love for Hansen, who, having split from his label, found he had the time and independence to craft the album's 15 tracks over two solid years.

He hopes The Codes is embraced by rap and dance music fans alike.

"We set out with the mindset thinking we could make a hip-hop album but have an electronic side to it," he says.

"It is quite different to anything I've done before, but there's a cohesiveness to it. I was comfortable working in that realm without thinking it was a complete departure."

Over the past 10 years, Hansen has become one of New Zealand's most well-known rappers and best MCs thanks to his commanding presence and versatility that's seen him release five of his own albums, as well as record with acts across the spectrum. He's guested on songs with rockers The Checks, drum 'n' bass act State of Mind, and former Midnight Youth front man Jeremy Redmore.

But Hansen admits he was initially "worried" about the change of direction. So he bought in experts from both sides: Under the Influence's hip-hop producer Matt Miller and State of Mind's Patrick Hawkins.

"I wanted that electronic booming sound that a lot of hip-hop engineers don't really go for as much," Hansen explains. "I think there's a shift worldwide where EDM and rap are closing the gap. There's not much in New Zealand hip-hop that's been like that, and those guys were on the same page as me."

Hansen says performing at dance orientated music festivals like Rhythm & Vines became a "big influence" on the album's direction.

"I'd do things like rap over Shapeshifter songs and they'd get huge reactions and it felt comfortable. We thought it would be amazing if I could play a grimy hip-hop show and get respect there, and then play at Deep, Hard and Funky [and get respect there]. I did that earlier this year, and everyone was into it.

"That's the way music is going - the youth don't see much difference between hip-hop and dance. They'll go see Kendrick Lamar and Flume."

It helps that each track on The Codes has its own distinct flavour, and they're matched by PNC's brash, bold, rapping style. There are still signs of the PNC of old - try the decadent 80s-style romp Like a Dream, or the grinding ballad Love Jones - but tracks like One Time and Spirit Song have the kind of woozy throb that Drake based his last album around, If It Wasn't For Love has a glitchy strut like Purity Ring, and Ride could be from the mad mind of dubstep producer Skrillex.

What's surprising about The Codes is just how personal it is. The album's centrepiece, a soothing track about lost love called When I Fall Asleep, was indirectly informed by the end of an eight-year relationship. It includes lyrics like: "We really had some potential, the sky was the limit, but I guess we got too high."

"I always try to put personal stuff into the music," Hansen says. "Anyone I've liked growing up has that combination of rapper bravado with insight and introspective thoughts. I've done it for so long you get more comfortable exposing yourself and putting yourself out there. The listeners have been with you for a while, so you've gotta give them more."

The basketball-mad rapper can't help but liken his career to that of a sports "veteran".

"I think sport and music go hand-in-hand. If you're really into both of them you can see the parallels. This is the album I'm most proud of. It's my fifth album in 10 years and if you equate it to sport, you're a veteran, you know your game and your strengths and weaknesses. There's a real high comfort level but I'm experimenting without going too far."

He's not concerned if fans don't pick up the ball and run with him.

"If fans want to take the journey and like how it's progressing, that's cool. If it's not the sound they like from me, I'm not too worried.

"I always stay true to my sound, even if it can seem like a departure at first."

What: Local rapper PNC
New album: The Codes, out tomorrow
Elsewhere: Rookie Card (2006), Bazooka Kid (2009), Man On Wire (2011), Under The Influence (2012)

- TimeOut

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