Frontline transcending stereotypes

By Rebecca Barry Hill

New Zealand has a hot new Samoan rap star - Con Psy is just not sure you know it yet. "I'm walking that fine line between the underground and being on prime time, between being Pacific Island over a white guy," raps the guy also known as David Dallas, on the Frontline track, Screwloose.

Being a little on the light side, few realised he was Samoan-European when he supported Scribe in Australia.

"I've come across a European person who will be like, 'You're cool because you're a white rapper'. Then I'll encounter Samoan people who are like, 'Oh that makes sense - you're Samoan because you're a rapper'. As if what I do validates my ethnicity to them," he scoffs. "That's kind of retarded."

Not that Dallas or Frontline producer 41, aka Nick Maclaren, really have an axe to grind. They're not complaining that their label manager P-Money is calling them "the most important rap group in New Zealand".

When they joined P-Money's Magic City tour and the hip-hop behemoth that was the Hook-Up Tour 2004, they were treated like stars. Now they're stepping up what is looking increasingly like a professional music-video-cameo career, embarking on their first headlining tour with special guests P-Money, PNC and D-Form.

The tour is to support their official debut album, Borrowed Time, a release their major label distributor is quietly hoping will go gold.

"We've stayed in the flash hotels," says Maclaren. "But now we're doing it ourselves and staying in the motels."

The downsized accommodation won't be an issue for this modest pair - before they met, Dallas was your typical South Auckland kid who "hung out and played Street Fighter at the takeaways". His foray into hip-hop wasn't what you'd call gangsta - in 2002 he completed a computer science degree and went to work in an IT firm.

MacLaren, meanwhile, grew up on the North Shore in a predominantly white neighbourhood, where the kids were more into punk than Public Enemy. That didn't stop him from buying turntables and DJ battles. With the title of ITF battle champ soon tucked under his belt, he started producing tracks for Unique, Cyphanetik and Deceptikonz.

The pair got to know each other five years ago when MacLaren was working at a skate-clothing shop in High St and Dallas was a regular customer killing time between lectures.

Despite the fact they regularly chatted about music, it wasn't until mutual friend Cyphanetik introduced them that Dallas realised who Maclaren was.

"Nick offered to do the production for a track with me. At first I was like, 'Eh? I thought you were a skater'. Then I was like, 'Choice. Do I have to pay?' "

Maclaren also encouraged Dallas, a virgin at live performance, to have a crack at the MC battle scene. The night he won the MC Battle for Supremacy in 2003 was his first time on stage.

Like cats who got the cream, Frontline took their track Come and Get Me to P-Money. "He was like, yeah, so what?" Maclaren recalls. "What do you wanna do with it? So he steered us in the direction of a street release."

After their independent full-length What You Expect sold 1000 copies, despite no formal means of distribution, and the bNet radio stations picked up on several Frontline tracks, P-Money asked Con Psy to add his bit to Scribe's Not Many remix. Frontline also pop up in a music video for the DawnRaid hit, If You Love Savage. Since P-Money signed them to his Dirty label, Frontline have felt they are on "borrowed time".

"You don't necessarily know if you'll get another chance to make an album," Dallas explains. "I tried to write everything I wanted to say."

Whether that's an intensely personal account of his relationship with his deaf brother, to comical references to his South Auckland upbringing where you "pay the Sky bill before you pay the rent", his rhymes are as tough as the beats behind them. Rather than forcing pre-written rhymes to fit the beat, Con Psy holds his tongue until he's listened to the tracks. "The first few songs on the album are just hard. I just wanted real high-impact songs because that's just what I like. Boom! The beat is aggressive so you've got to come up with content to match that."

Maclaren finds it funny he's been described as "high drama". "I'm pretty mellow. Maybe I take it all out in my music."

Breathe With Me acknowledges the competitive nature of hip-hop, the cocky wannabes who approach Dallas at shows.

"I have a good idea of who I am and who we are as a group. Same goes for a track like Screwloose. It's just an observation of the stupidity of people who try to stereotype us."


Who
: Frontline, featuring MC Con Psy and producer 41


Releases
: What You Expect, Borrowed Time (2005). See also the Not Many - The Remix featuring Con Psy, P-Money's Magic City 321 remix, Get Back and Get Up Slow. 41 has produced tracks for The Deceptikonz Stop, Drop n Roll remix and Savage.


Tour dates
: Subculture, Queenstown, October 23; Rising Sun, Auckland, October 29; Babalv, Whangaparaoa, October 28; Home, Christchurch, October 21; Refuel, Dunedin, October 22; Sandwiches, Wellington, November 11.

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