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Coming off a 2018 that’s seen them release an iconic-in-the-underground debut EP, grace stages as varied as The Others Way festival and SWIDT’s era-defining Studio showcase, and pick up co-signs from essentially every local rapper worth listening to, to say that the rise of Church & AP has been swifter than most feels like a comically profound understatement.
Having kicked off their collaboration a little over a year ago under the mentorship of artists like Melodownz, Dirty, and Avantdale Bowling Club’s Tom Scott in the community centres of Central and West Auckland, they’ve quickly learned not to put a cap on their aspirations. As Elijah ‘Church’ Manu puts it, “Goals we had for five years, we can do next year … it’s like, once you’re going, why would you stop?”
True to that reasoning, the duo’s trajectory shows no signs of slowing—with new single ‘Ready Or Not’ already in high rotation at national radio stations ahead of its official release this Friday, and with the pair themselves set to grace stages at our very own VICE Christmas parties this month in both Auckland and Wellington, now seemed like the perfect time to catch up on where they’re at.
VICE: Since you guys started like a year ago, David Dallas has tapped you for his 64 Bars series and SWIDT got you to play their show at the Studio; do you feel like you’ve benefited from a greater sense of collectivism in the local scene at the moment?
Church: I think because we came up under a lot of people, a lot of people feel like a part of what we’ve been doing so far. And whether it’s in a minor or significant way, a lot of people feel attached to us. It’s cool, because we’ve got a lot of opportunities from that, but other things have happened more randomly. Like we didn’t really know David, it was more just that AP tagged him in a video of ours (for Introvert). He just posted it to his page and was like “Hey man, look at this, look at these raps.” Then Abdul Kay shared it with him and he was like, “OK, good work guys.” That’s all he said, like “Good work guys” or “Keep up the good work.” And we just thought “Oh yep, that’s cool from David Dallas, we’ll probably never see him again.”
The way I actually found out about you guys was after Church did 64 Bars, through guys like Dirty, D.Dot, Sid Diamond talking about it.
Church: It’s so weird, like, when you think people don’t know who you are. Like I met PNC at Ponsonby Social Club after a show once and he was like, “Hey man, we really dig your sound.” And we were just like, “What the hell?”
And obviously there’s a lot of respect there for those older guys, but do you feel like there’s any difference in what you’re doing, or in the ways you’re moving?
Church: I think our approach is different. This year we were pretty selective with the gigs we wanted to take, we didn’t just do like a hundred rap gigs, we made sure to be seen in different types of scenes—we made sure to do gigs like Others Way.
AP: And Whammyfest.
Church: There were no other rappers on Whammyfest outside us and Randa, who again is not making the type of music that we’re making. So we made sure to kind of put our faces everywhere, but also just make good music, not just good rap. We’re not afraid to just try things out. Like, “Let’s do a show with Maxwell Young and Leaping Tiger.” We’ve never really looked at it like we’re the only rappers in the scene, you know?
Do you have any particular inspiration in working that way? Is there anyone you hold up as the ideal?
Church: For me, I think certain artists who, like, work in silence…
AP: Like Earl Sweatshirt.
Church: Yeah, or Frank Ocean, Isaiah Rashad. All those TDE guys who just drop an album every two years, but you know the music is quality. Also guys like Pharrell who are just genre-defying. Like if you listen to ‘Clones’, the Neptunes album, they have like rock songs, then real gritty hip hop songs, then they have their pop rap songs, then like an ODB song, but the sound’s still so universal—just trying to have something that’s unique but still universal, that’s always been a goal for me.
And now ‘Ready Or Not’ is quite a different sound for you guys, right?
Church: I feel like, it’s actually not a sound that’s foreign to us, it’s just a sound we haven’t released to the world. We always try to do as much as we can in a song.
AP: Without it being too much.
Church: We were like, “What if we were singing on the song?” So it’s very reminiscent of like, early 2000s rap and R&B crossovers.
AP: Pharrell, Missy Elliott.
Church: Like early Clipse. I sent AP a video for that song ‘When The Last Time’ because there’s just something about that sound that’s just so hard, but you’ve got this skinny dude with a trucker hat on telling you like, “These are the most gangsta dudes in the world,” then at the end you’ve got, like, Kelis humming. It’s just all these different elements creating one solid picture, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do right now, in our own way. Like have all these different elements that might not make any sense, but when you hear it you won’t be able to deny it.
Do you have a roadmap for what happens next? Like do you leave New Zealand, or…
Church: I don’t think we’ll leave New Zealand, I think we’ll clock New Zealand.
Church: Like the goal is not to leave, the goal is to have our sound outside of where we are. I mean it’s very hard for, like, artists outside of America to get their sound into America.
AP: Without actually going there.
Church: And without changing who you are. Like, millions of people listen to ‘More Life’, the Drake album, but there’s probably millions more who listen to it without the Giggs and Skepta features. Who just don’t wanna hear it. So we have to figure out, if we want to hit those markets, how do we do it? We can’t just do it blindly, like 'let’s go to South By Southwest and then see what happens.' So let’s focus on what we’re doing here, but have intentions. I mean, the second that you don’t know what you’re doing is the second that you kind of just say OK to whatever. We have plans, and we’re setting big goals.
Church & AP play our VICE Christmas Parties this month, presented by Vype. See them on December 6th at Whammy Bar in Auckland, or December 15th at Meow in Wellington – click here for the full details and lineups, and RSVP to secure your free spot on the guest list here!