Photo: Rush Photography
Hau Latukefu demonstrated a strong return to the game with the release of his debut solo album, The No End Theory. Really, he hasn't gone anywhere, though this record has been a long time in the making for fans waiting for the Koolism legend to drop a full batch of new material. Most Australian fans have spent each Thursday evening with Hau as he hosts Triple J's Hip-Hop Show but with the release of 2014's Football, Feasts & Funerals mixtape, the MC got us excited for what was still to come from one of the country's best.
As we chat this week, it's been roughly two weeks since the release of The No End Theory. The album, featuring his adorable son Aki as the cover artwork, has seen Hau work with Sensible J and Dutch, launching the LP through J and Remi's House of Beige label. With The No End Theory being the first official release from the label, Hau worked with some brilliantly talented artists from different realms of music and the arts. Connecting and establishing networks with artists including LTC, Rochelle D'Sylva and Che Fu had been a creative direction Hau was concentrated on exploring, as he describes the process behind the production of the record.
"Being with Koolism, we rarely collaborated with people." he says. "It wasn’t by choice, it was because I felt like we just handled everything that needed to be handled and if there was someone who we collaborated with, it was because we really, really admired them as people and as artists. With this album, I was working with Sensible J and Dutch and it was a very awesome experience. I felt like this was my chance to also work with so many other people because I wasn’t with Koolism, it allowed me to open up. I wanted so many different styles and different flavours in there, especially working with a lot of females too. That was a very conscious effort, I really wanted to balance it out and have the different shades and emotions and textures, rather than just hearing the same old - not only my voice, but just a guy’s voice."
"It was awesome to be able to work with Rochelle D’Sylva, who is a poet," Hau continues. "Omar Musa put me on to her, because I really wanted a female to introduce the song "If I Was the Sun". I approached her and she was really cool; she came to Sensible J’s house and did her piece, then Sensible J worked around that and added his drums and bass. She got that track back and she was blown away, couldn’t believe how it turned out. "If I Was the Sun" features Syreney from Melbourne [too], a dope vocalist - she was part of the team with J and Dutch. She was actually the first out of all of them I met, then she introduced me to all those guys. Oddisee is on there [too], who is one of my favourite modern MCs. He’s a great producer, a great lyricist."
Pooling together such a wide range of guest vocalists and fellow artists in on the project while still holding the reigns on radio, popping up for live sets around the country and more importantly, holding it down as a dad to two young children, there's a lot to be said for Hau's multi-tasking skills at this point. The result is a fine album of lyricism and music however, one that has been reaping in deserved acclaim since its release.
"I was just thinking about it this morning, actually." he says of the album's release. "The thought of it actually being out after working on it for so long. You know, you put a lot of effort and a lot of heart and soul and all those sorts of things then once you put it out, it’s like, ‘Okay universe, it’s up to you now’. It’s been an awesome sense of achievement, a sense of relief."
As to whether there was any sense of apprehension surrounding the weight and gravitas this album held for him personally, as well as for Aussie hip-hop fans and those who may be introduced to his music via the debut, Hau acknowledges those nerves but is happy to have them rear their head.
"It’s like when people ask, ‘Do you still get nervous before getting on stage?’ You’re always going to have those nerves. I feel like if you stop feeling nervous or apprehensive before releasing something or getting on stage, you’ve lost the excitement or the love for doing what you do. You want to do so well, so you’re always going to feel like, ‘Oh man, is anyone going to listen to this?!’ or if anyone is going to hear what you want them to hear. I definitely felt like this was my best foot forward, but the nerves and everything else are right next to that as well."
The No End Theory, for those not around it yet, features more special guests for hip-hop fans joining on the ride than meets the eye. Another conscious effort by Hau in making the record, he notes the guest appearances of some other talented crew who have laid down their vocals by aren't necessarily featured in the track title.
"Sky’High’s on there," he lists. "Remi lends his voice, Jade MacRae...a lot of people on there are credited in the booklet, if you get the physical copy. They won’t say on the track, but that was something I loved about The Roots; when you hear someone’s voice, but they’re not credited on the track title. You’re like, ‘That sounds like Talib Kweli,’ and then you read up and it’s like, ‘That is Talib!’. So Suffa’s in there, Jade MacRae and Maundz...David Pocock from the Wallabies is in there too! There are lots of different voices from different walks of life in there that I feel like, after you have a few listens, you’re like, ‘Oh that was so and so. I never noticed that before.’ It definitely took a long time to get everyone’s bit but for me, it was well worth it. I’ve got to say as well, working with Che Fu...I mean, he’s a god! After working with him, knock on wood, if I was to pass away tomorrow I’d be like, 'I made a song with Che Fu man, I’m cool. Thank you!'"
Describing partnering up with Sensible J, Dutch and the House of Beige family as a whole, Hau notes a shift in momentum with the way Australian hip-hop is being not only made, but curated and introduced to more audiences out from the underground and the close-knit circles one would normally only roll in. The music is, more than ever, making the public think about the messages behind each rhyme and it's no longer being used as an avenue for crowds to get nonsensically riled up to and shift the blame upon.
"Bold is very accurate [a term]," Hau agrees. "I feel that the musical climate in Australia is slowly changing and I feel like House of Beige is definitely needed and also Bad Apples with Briggs is definitely needed as well. It feels like things are shifting a bit and people are being a bit more open minded about different movements within locally made hip-hop. It’s a great thing to be part of."
His relationship with Sensible J and Remi recently saw the group link up on Remi's last Australia club tour and if you were able to catch any of those show before the latter two headed back overseas, you'll remember that fired up and spirited connection these artists and music lovers shared on the tour was undeniable. It's a special little dual journey for both Hau and the Sensible J/Remi partnership, with House of Beige and The No End Theory launching within a short period of time, one Hau's stoked to be on.
"You know, Rem’s like a little brother." Hau says. "He’s a peer as well, but J’s around my age, so we grew up to the same things. Remi’s like the ADHD young kid, it’s awesome, it’s what I really like about Rem and J. Different generations but very much the same, they balance each other out. It’s awesome to be part of that whole dynamic of House of Beige. It makes sense, because J and Dutch were heavily involved in this album and going down to Melbourne to record with them has allowed me to become closer with Remi and a lot of the other crew. It’s a beautiful, close-knit family; they’re not only great human beings, but very talented musicians. To be part of that is awesome. I’ve always been drawn to creative minds and it really does feel like we’ve grown up since high school, but we’ve only really known each other for roughly four years at the most. We’ve just grown so close and it’s a beautiful thing to be part of."
"For those two, it goes both ways," he says of J and Remi's work together. "J knows a lot and is very vocal about things, but Remi is also very open to a lot of things. He’s sponging it all up. He likes what he likes and obviously doesn’t like what he doesn’t like, but the fact that he’s open minded to be able to listen to things he wouldn’t normally listen to, or came a few generations before him, is great. That’s why they have this beautiful working relationship, they just balance each other out."
When it comes to his own personal influences and the way his music has continued to develop over the years as the music climate he's paved a career through has also changed dramatically, Hau opens up about his own background and how being a Polynesian-Australian has offered a different perspective.
"Everything that I’ve done and put out has been influenced by being a Tongan-Australian." he says. "You have so many things you can draw from from Tongan culture, but I was also born in Australia and I am an Australian. It’s a great mix of both. When I began, it automatically gave me a point of difference, compared to a lot of MCs. I was able to draw on playing football or going to funerals or all those cultural differences. Not only content-wise, but musically as well. Growing up in a Tongan household, you had your church hymns and my dad loved country music and we obviously listened to reggae and R&B. A lot of that went into me finding my feet and where I wanted to take things. When I was starting, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh you listen to R&B?’, but that’s what I listened to. A lot of staunch hip-hop heads couldn’t comprehend that I would listen to slow jams instead of the latest N.W.A song or whatever. It’s definitely all very inspiring and influential."
"I definitely think that Australia, culturally, has changed." he explains. "Growing up in the early 90s when I was really hard into that kind of music and there was only a handful of people who would also be listening to it. Now, you can’t even walk into a store without someone playing Chris Brown or Miguel or something like that, that’s just the norm now. I think that when people moved in from overseas as well, they would tend to migrate to a suburb where they felt most comfortable, which is understandable. You would have Tongans move to a certain suburb, or maybe people from different parts of Africa were moving to certain suburbs because there were more people from where they came from and understood their culture. Now there are people moving around everywhere. You have Tongans living in parts of Europe that you’d never think they’d be living in and even myself, living in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, I laugh because I rarely see an islander out there unless they’re bouncing at a club, you know? I look at my kids, they’re eastern suburbs born and bred, and I chuckle to myself. They’re so far removed from how I was brought up, but that’s how it is now - you just find your spot in society and you just be."
For Hau, as we've seen, The No End Theory is reflective of the music and artists he's admired and has continued to admire. He own unique flow stands on its own and the structure of this 15 track effort produces a result reminiscent of hip-hop releases that have the ability to really cement themselves in your brain. The No End Theory shows itself off as a well-defined menu as opposed to a smorgasbord of beats and potential single hits and it's a quality the MC is proud of.
"I grew up listening to a lot of albums by the likes of Public Enemy and Ice Cube," Hau says. "I really admired how their albums flowed. Like you say, they take you on a journey and you have to listen from front to back, as opposed to an album that’s full of singles or bangers or anthems. It’s ambitious nowadays to do an album like that. Kendrick did it. When you’re an artist, you’ve got to do what you’re feeling and love. Whether it falls on deaf ears or not, you want to be able to listen back in twenty years time and go, 'You know what? That was a really dope record, I’m glad I did that.'"
The No End Theory is out now through House of Beige.
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