Taught classical piano by Gisborne tutor Coralie Hunter, former Boys' High student Mustafa Sheikh later developed a taste for rap.
Better known as Mussie, and as founder of the Bread Charity, a cause that aims to support the dreams of children living in poverty, Sheikh has now released a single titled How About You?
The song talks about a commitment to giving, of community-building, and of judgement by others.
The nature of rap is story-telling, says Lil Mussie (his rap name).
"It's all about rhythm, flow and the lyrics. I had no plan when I sat down to write the lyrics. The beat speaks to you. Rather than forcing the lyrics, the beat creates the song. The only thing I have before I write a song is intention."
Lil Mussie even references a visit to his home town with two New Zealand rugby stars.
"I pick up Nehe, pick up Sione/ And we go back to the city/ Go back to Gissie/ Give to the kids who don't have nothing".
In fact, the Auckland-based entrepreneur and charity founder's exploration of rap music began in science class at Gisborne Boys' High.
"At school, we'd sit at the back of Mr Suttor's class and write rap songs. I got kicked out I don't know how many times. Writing a song has always been on my bucket list. I thought I should write a song that tells my story."
The song might show kids that anything is possible, he says.
"I just had a goal — to make a song and stay focused until it was done. One isn't confined to just doing one thing in life, it's all about having a mindset to fuel the pursuit of goals."
As a teen, he and his mates' goal was fuelled by standard unleaded 91. The young rappers' dream was to own a Subaru Forester with 15 inch (38cm) subwoofer speakers. Now, the Auckland-based founder's charity Bread holds supercar rallies with a smorgasbord of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and McLarens to help raise funds. So, alongside a deep sense of altruism — every cent raised by the Bread Charity goes to helping those who need it — Lil Mussie is entrepreneurially minded.
"I saw a cool car up the street one day and I pretty much did a sales pitch to the owner on the side of the road," he told The Gisborne Herald last year.
"And it worked really well. It's all about the hustle. If you have a vision, make sure it happens. It's that entrepreneur mindset. It's not a career, it's a way of thinking. I am someone who is open to opportunity and just pursues it."
His big hope is the song raises awareness about child poverty and the Bread Charity's hard work to end it. The recording is catching people's attention. On SoundCloud, the song has been streamed 220,000 times and this week topped 20,000 streams on Spotify.
The artwork for the song depicts the Bread Charity founder burning a coveted Supreme T-shirt in front of a Ferrari.
"Burning the shirt was my way of emphasising my move away from materialistic thinking. Yes, some say it's ironic because of our supercar events which revolve around the theme of expensive vehicles. But that's just how we make money for the charity — people want to see supercars and this boosts donations at events".
If part of him gets frustrated with those who criticise him for doing well while he is driven to eradicate child poverty, another part of him gets frustrated at people's lack of giving to others.
"It doesn't matter how much the difference it makes is — it makes a difference."
And this is the simple message in his song's chorus.
"How about you?/ How about you?/ I gave to my city/ How about you?/ How about you?/ I handle my business/ How about you?"
The song How About You? challenges the listener to help those in need, to make a difference, and addresses the tall poppy syndrome.
"I wanted to make it more than just something people can listen to. The song encourages people to look after each other. There are a lot of people in need of a lot of hope."
"I live for the people/ You live for yourself/ We ain't the same/ I do it for love/ I'm not even the same skin colour as you/ looking after these kids that belong to you/ What more can I do?/ I just wanna donate a million by June."
The reason behind the reference to his skin colour is that even though he is a New Zealander of Pakistani parents, and grew up on the East Coast, he gives back.
"And if a kid of a different ethnicity can give back, what can you do?
"I have such love for Ngati Porou iwi, I feel like I owe responsibility to my people. That started that chain of thought to start the charity.
"I'm raised on the east man/ I'm trying to make peace man/ Trying to be a decent man/ I ain't no beast man".
•How About You?
www.soundcloud.com/lil_mussie/how-about-you-lil-mussie or https://tinyurl.com/yckcn9uj
- Gisborne Herald