Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

How David Dallas became a heavy hitter with his new album, Hood Country Club

David Dallas is wiping the floor with his competition. His next target? A Herald reporter.

"Do you play a bit? You got a table?"

David Dallas is holding a paddle bat in his right hand, a ping pong ball in his left. He's standing at the opposite end of a table tennis table, hood up over his head, staring at me, waiting for an answer.

David Dallas schools the Herald on the art of winning. Photo/Greg Bowker
David Dallas schools the Herald on the art of winning. Photo/Greg Bowker

The truth is, no, I haven't played for years. But I don't tell him that. Dallas obviously means business, and as we bat the ball back and forth, rallying for service, I realise we're not here for fun.

Dallas is bringing his A-game. A quiet but slightly intimidating presence in person, he's watching that ball bouncing back and forth with laser focus. He's here to win.

David Dallas plays some ping pong. Photo/Greg Bowker
David Dallas plays some ping pong. Photo/Greg Bowker

Within five minutes, and despite a short-lived comeback, that's exactly what he does, quietly accumulating the score under his breath then slamming home a forehand to take the game 21-16.

It's just the latest win of an incredible hot streak for the 34-year-old, who, after 14 years, is entering the veteran phase of his career.

He has been working towards this moment for several years, toiling away in the shadows, occasional venturing out to remind everyone just how dominant he can be.

"A lot of time people paint music like there's this moment of inspiration," he'll later explain to me. "There are moments of inspiration, but generally ... you spend four hours coming up with f*** all."

That work's been paying off. First came his fiery 2015 single Don't Rate That, a blast against racism, the media, internet trolls and "finance companies in the hood ... trying to trick us outta cash".

Dallas' lyrics were so vicious the song caught many by surprise.

Then came the Papatoetoe rapper's late 2016 entry in 64 Bars, an occasional, self-curated series showcasing rising rappers who are required to spit three minutes of rhymes in one take. It is, says Dallas, the ultimate test of an MC. His is an absolute stunner.

Now he's gearing up for the release of what he calls his best album yet, one that might throw fans yet again.

Hood Country Club, his fourth solo record, is full of influences, from the light-footed two-step of Fit In to the road trip cruise of Are You Down, the G-funk wooze of Get Off to the aggressive grind of Life is Part 2.

But Dallas owns it all, thanks to his dense, twisted lyrics. He's got something to say. "To me, lyrically, this is my best effort. This is the one," he says. That's why the follow-up to 2013's Falling Into Place has taken so long to finish. "I thought I'd have this out a lot earlier. It's just the way it was. I was polishing things. It's how it happened," he says, shrugging his shoulders.

Dallas admits he used to make sure his lyrics just fitted the mood of his song. Now, "I analyse those verses more ... I wanted the verses to be f***ing hard." It's obvious. No word is spared, no line is wasted, any everything lands on or near its intended target.

"I still feel hungry," he raps over the opening horn blast of Probably. "Got a lot on my plate right now / Appetite like I never ate right now."

That raises the question: Why so serious?

"I tried to be more topical," he says. "This feels like the most politically charged time of my lifetime. Even five years ago, no one was talking about housing in Auckland, no one was talking about xenophobic attitudes. It wasn't even on the radar. It's not just where my head is at, but it's at the forefront of everyone's thinking."

Thanks to Don't Rate, Dallas knows people are going to be listening to his lyrics, analysing what he's saying.

"I've never really had a reaction that was like that. The sole focus was about the lyrics and what I said ... people were doing articles just about the lyrics. It's surprising."

Earlier in his career, Dallas says he "wanted to be the best rapper, write ill raps, write cool lines". Then he realised that didn't necessarily make for a good song. So he started honing his songwriting skills. The results are all over Hood Country Club, and Dallas admits its release comes as a relief. He's ready to move on from its hard-hitting tone.

"There's a sense of relief. I need to put it out to move on. If you stay with a project for so long, it can just constantly morph into something else that you didn't intend in the start. The next things I make won't fit this theme."

Not that he's over it. "I'm super proud of it. That's why I'm glad to get it out. Because I've been sitting on it."

Kiwi rapper David Dallas is preparing for the release of his fourth album, Hood Country Club. Photo/Greg Bowker
Kiwi rapper David Dallas is preparing for the release of his fourth album, Hood Country Club. Photo/Greg Bowker

Back at the table tennis table, Dallas puts down his paddle.

After calmly slotting home the winner, there are no celebrations or mock theatrics. Not a word is spoken. Instead, Dallas simply nods, pulls his hoodie up over his head, tugs the strings a little tighter, quietly turns and leaves the room.

The result, it seems, was never in doubt.

* David Dallas releases Hood Country Club on Friday. Visit www.daviddallas.co.nz for updates on live shows.

- NZ Herald

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