Following Kiwi hip-hop artist Savage's mega success in the US, he talks to Scott Kara about his new Polynesian powered album and what the future holds.

New Zealand's most successful hip-hop export has an admission to make. He's been watching the likes of David Dallas, and that lippy and loud hip-hop crew Home Brew gaining prominence recently, and reckons, "I can't compete with those guys".

"And," continues Savage, sitting at the head of the boardroom table at his record company, "it can either make you second-guess yourself and think, 'Oh, should I go their way,' or else stick with what you do."

Not that the big man, whose song Swing was a mega hit in America, is backing down, or relinquishing his standing in the ranks of Aotearoa hip-hop, but when it came time to do his third solo album, Mayhem and Miracles, he stayed true to his roots.

And besides, he believes his music - that's as banging as it is barking - is very different from the smooth beats and flow of David Dallas, or the bratty, socially conscious rhymes of Home Brew.


"We're all in very different lanes," he says, before pausing to ponder how he came to find his unique voice (or bark, as the case may be).

"When a rapper first starts writing, it takes a long time for him to get his chemistry right, in order to say, 'I'm in this lane, this is my style of rapping, these are my influences, and I'm going this way.

"So I've been moulded to the point where I know exactly what kind of music I like and what my fans like. I can honestly say I have really found my craft [on this album]."

Recorded in Los Angeles at the studio of DJ Quik ("the notorious West Coast rapper I've looked up to all my life," says Savage), it was the easiest record he's ever made, with the rhymes coming effortlessly.

"For some reason I was in the zone. Just throw me in the booth and I'll just spit it, then I'll come back and tidy it up."

Mayhem & Miracles is also more revealing than previous album Savage Island from 2009 and his 2005 solo debut Moonshine. It takes in everything from his violent upbringing at the hands of his late father (the "Mayhem") through to the "Miracles", like living his dream in America and being a dad himself.

It's a mix of heartfelt songs like Because of You, a thank you to everyone who has helped him along the way ("I've always wanted to do a thank you song," he laughs), party songs such as I Promise, which is more dancefloor pop than hip-hop, and tougher, more uncompromising tracks including Wrath of a Meance and the fiery I'm a Polynesian.

One of the most striking elements of the album is this heavy Polynesian influence, and it features guest spots from Californian Samoan hip-hoppers the Boo Yaa Tribe and Monsta G, among others.

"I wanted it to be a super-Polynesian hip-hop album," he says.

The song, I'm A Polynesian, is inspired by the never-ending push to get the music of Pacific Islanders into the US.

"We are well respected in sports but when it comes to music they are a bit clueless. But if we just keep banging at those barriers then hopefully one day we will have our own version of Lil Wayne, or Drake, or people like that."

The thing is, it wasn't too long ago that Savage very nearly was a Polynesian Lil Wayne. The success story of Swing is well known - and the fact it has sold more than two million units around the world remains quite an achievement.

"I was definitely in a position no one [from New Zealand] has ever been in," he says. But he never quite broke into the tough American music mainstream, and looking back now he realises why.

"I got to see how hard it was to market me because I was such a different kid. They couldn't put me in the BET [The Black Entertainment] realm, or the Latino area ... but I do have to say that I did some damage being the first Polynesian to go platinum, and then double platinum. To me that's a good mark to reach."

And now, with the release of Mayhem & Miracles, the family man with three kids is also at a point of transition.

"I can't be a rapper all my life," he smiles. "I've spent the past 10 years as an artist and now it's time to get into business and start my own machine. I'm looking at other ideas."

Which, he says, will also leave him more time to get to his son's league games.

"He plays for the Mangere Hawks. I've just switched him over to league from rugby. He's loving it."

Who: Savage
Touring: In August on a 10-date nationwide tour. Dates and venues tbc.
New album: Mayhem & Miracles, out now
Past albums: Moonshine (2005); Savage Island (2009)

- TimeOut