Wordplay caught up with local duo Poet’s Laureate (Jake McAlister and Henry Dove) recently to talk about hip hop, growing up in Perth and their upcoming release.
So how long have you guys been in the hip-hop game for?
J: I’ve been writing music for about nine years, but I’ve been really in to it for four.
H: I’ve always listened to hip hop and all different kinds of music, I’d just find myself bored on school holidays walking around the house listening to what ever and just get rapping over it. It’s like a couple of years down the track you meet someone else that raps as well and get talking. So probably about six years.
And what made you want to get in to it originally?
H: I had an older brother who was always listening to different kinds of music but hip hop I guess was just that rebelliousness, at a young age you’re like sick, this is cool, and it just sort of took off. It was something to pass the time, growing up my house wasn’t a very entertaining place so I had to make it entertaining for myself.
Do you think growing up in Perth has influenced your style?
H: I think definitely so, and just lifestyle you know. Jake and I have both had different childhoods and that reflects, it gives you a broader view. Perth is a smaller place and that comes with its positives and its negatives.
J: You kind of get all of it at once but that’s all you ever get.
H: And if you do get the good, you get the good, but if you get the bad you get it pretty, pretty bad.
As in opportunities?
H: Yeah opportunities and like lifestyle you know what I mean, there’s like a big split. It depends where you’re from; lots of areas aren’t the best you know and you’ll see someone like smacked out, standing in the middle of the street naked and dancing because they’re off their head having an episode. You grow up seeing that and you don’t see it when you’re young as being anything bad as such, it’s just how it is, but when you get older you start to see why those things have come about and why it’s a problem and different things in society that have no benefit.
Is that something you find as a big motivation for writing lyrics? Something to really get vocal about?
J: Yeah I found I grew up and my family was sort of like that and I found it a way to vent. I started writing hip hop when I had to do poetry for an assignment in year six I think it was, and what I wrote, the teacher was like that’s a rap song you need to write something different, and I was like oh yeah I can do this, and I found it as a way to let go of everything I was seeing. What I was seeing inspired me to actually write some shit.
H: I find that as a source of inspiration if I’m having trouble writing, I can definitely pick out a lot of things in society that could be better.
Do you think that’s a common theme for emcees throughout Perth?
H: I think everyone sort of has their own style. It depends where you’re from, like you’ll get a lot of people that are from the J-line (Joondalup), and because there’s a lot of English [residents] there, their flow and style will be a lot more suited to UK hip hop. I think now it’s moved away from so much arrogant rap, which there’s nothing wrong with whatsoever, arrogant rap’s brilliant, Eminem made a whole career out of it [laughs], but I think the younger generations are starting to see that’s all been done, you need to start branching out to more open ideas.
J: I find for such a small scene that we are as well, ‘cause in Perth every emcee has heard or knows another emcee, there’s a lot of different tracks. You go from Bitter Belief with the real arrogant sort of shit to like Drapht with the real nice spoken word, singing kind of stuff. In the underground you’ll find it branches off from the bigger names when people take their own spin on it.
H: You don’t want to be known as the guy that raps like Bitter or that raps like Drapht, so it can be hard to be your own individual without making some out there kind of music that has no grounding. And you do need to be a bit arrogant ‘cause at the end of the day being humble will only get you so far. If you have put in a lot of effort you should be able to say that you’re good because, you are [laughs].
If you had to describe your sound without using musical terms, what kind of things do you think would sum it up?
J: Using imagery.
H: Yeah we definitely use a lot of imagery. Opening the mind and not keeping entirely within the constraints of reality I guess. Jake’s the king of that sort of shit.
J: I can say stuff that doesn’t make any sense but you’ll love it anyway [both laugh].
H: Where we come together is saying stuff in a roundabout way but it still makes sense if you think about it. Like, ‘cauldrons filled with snow breathe deep when combined with heat’, most people think oh yeah, but if you’ve ever known heaps of crack heads … just stuff like that. Jake’s got heaps.
So what do you think sets you apart from other artists?
J: We find a lot of artists say stuff too plainly and that’s the song and it’s all there. We’re different in the way we approach our concepts. We did a song called Fire and Ice, where we were both having our sort of girl problems, so I took it as writing about a princess who was burning but in a passionate way and I had to approach it by breaking through the flames in a certain way. Henry did the same but about an ice queen that he had to struggle with.
H: I was in love with her but she was just cold, like wouldn’t show anything back but you still can’t get away from her.
J: We depicted it in such a way that it didn’t come across as my girlfriend and his girlfriend, it came across as these two illustrious royalty sort of figures that we had to face.
So it sort of takes you in to the realm of fantasy?
H: That’s what we’re pushing for and I think over time we’ll be able to get it down-pat a bit more and refine it. That’s where Jake and I came together, just to do that one rack and now we’ve got a mixtape down and an EP on the way.
Where and when can we expect to see those emerge?
J: The mixtape [called The Madhouse] is coming out on the 30th of April. We’re doing it ourselves so it’ll just be free; we’ll have it at all the hip hop shops sitting on the counter. You go to [the Butcher Shop] it’ll be there.
H: There’s some original beats, there’s some jack beats, it’ll be like 21 to 23 tracks all up, including interludes and intro’s and stuff. For the EP we’ll hopefully get a couple of tracks a month done, properly produced and mastered, hopefully by Dazastah, so that should be out by the end of the year.
And just out of curiosity, how did you come up with the name Poet’s Laureate?
J: Poet’s Laureate, what it is, is back in the ancient times in Egypt when they believed in warlocks and all that, there were people who they thought of as psychics who could see the future, and they would write the future as poems. And that’s how they would live their life, believing these poems would come true.
Interview by Lyndon Kidman