Frontline - Making Good Time
Author: Andrew Hughes (photography by Stephen Tilley)
While you may know 41 from his recent collaboration with Savage on the single If You Love Savage, and Con Psy from the classic Not Many (Remix) off Scribe's landmark album, you might have missed the fact that they have put in some arduous groundwork to arrive at this debut. So let us rewind to late 2002, when the duo (known otherwise as Nicholas Maclaren - 41 and David Dallas - Con Psy) initially united.
"I know a dude from Breakin Wreckwords called Cyphanetic," describes Con Psy of the meeting, "and he'd heard some of my stuff over the internet which I'd sent to him. He was in Aussie at the time but said that when he got back we should do a collaboration over this 4130 beat. I already knew Nick because he used to work at One Project on High St. I'd go in there all the time, but I didn't rap back then, we would just talk. Then we figured we had similar music tastes, so it just made sense to keep working together."
"Then we made Come and Get Me, which we put out to bNets, and we didn't actually have a name," 41 continues. "We put it out, and for a couple of days they were like 'Who's this?' So we were like, 'What are we gonna call ourselves?'!"
Simultaneous with that early song exposure Con Psy had entered the Auckland regional MC Battle for Supremacy, which he would go on to win. I was at Centro that night, and the talent from this unknown MC astounded the crowd as he dismantled each opponent with witty punchlines and an unmatched confidence.
After heeding advice from Dirty Records' heads Callum August and P-Money, the two-some agreed to utilise and capitalise on the hype they had created. A limited production street album titled 'What You Expect?' was pressed for exposure and circulation purposes, especially in smaller centres, while on the Boost Mobile Hook Up Tour. The disc featured eye-opening joints such as How It Is and Do or Die which, in turn, received solid airplay and announced a new standard for up and coming groups to meet. In the liner notes they modestly stated, "We're just getting started", and in due time all 1000 copies were sold.
'Borrowed Time' is the album which will be released on October 31 by Dirty Records through FMR. Given Dirty's track record, and with the first single Breathe With Me debuting at #16 on the charts, the album is set to deliver.
The Breathe With Me video features director Marcus Ringrose of Heat Creative who has been busy recently with the likes of Blindspott and Elemeno P, but was also the original director of Che Fu's hit Chains.
The majority of the album was recorded at 41's house, but the duo also recorded at Auckland studios The Lab and York St, where it was mixed by 41 and Steve 'Neve' Roberts.
Featuring a varied accompaniment of guests, 41 decided to move 'Borrowed Time' in a different direction to your average hip hop release. Besides close affiliate PNC, there are no other MCs showing on the album - strange when you consider Scribe is also signed to Dirty Records. The fact is, Frontline were after a more musical approach to the album.
"As far as our songwriting, I feel we learnt a lot from 'What You Expect'. We learnt about making songs, rather than just putting raps on beats, ya know? I mean there's a big difference between being a skilled rapper, and being a good songwriter. So that's what I really tried to focus on, giving people something that they could relate to," says Con Psy of the more mature approach.
This makes 'Borrowed Time' decidedly different from any New Zealand hip hop release I've heard. Taking into account the emphasis on composition, the album is not blatantly aimed at chart success. It is also distinctly disparate from their street album and 41's beats compliment Con Psy's deeply personal rhymes neatly. On Lost In Translation he expresses the difficulties of growing up with a deaf sibling, while touching on topics such as manipulative relationships, alcohol abuse and negative stereotyping throughout the rest of the album.
Hold 'Em is one track that had my spine tingling on first listen. This aggressively rapid beat houses a crispy drum track which is marinated in synthy sounds, meanwhile creating space for Con Psy to narrate strongly.
It seems that 41's beats have changed dramatically since that street album. Moving from traditional syncopated, percussive samples and solid MPC crafted beats with clean drums, they have now become somewhat of a boggling soundscape to the untuned ear, which may take warming to as they seem so thick in layers.
"I've now got a few more tools and stuff, like Genelec monitor speakers. It's one of the most important things man, getting good sounds. One thing that (P) Money's put me onto as well, is making your sounds good from the start, rather than trying to clean them up later in the studio. Also the beauty of Pro Tools! I can have the beat and everything layed up, and as we go through and record, I'll change stuff around or add stuff in as it goes, rather than structuring the song out before it's written."
And interestingly enough, the two actually produce their music together.
"The two of us will sit down and produce the song," continues 41. "You know, dudes say 'I produced this song', when really he might have just made the beat and a dude's rapped on it; where as I write the music, he writes the lyrics and we produce the song together. Of course sometimes I'll do more than him and vice-versa, but that goes right down to the lyrics as well, we might have finished the song and we'll think we need a bridge or something."
While all is in place for the Frontline invasion, I think it's fair to say that the boys are happy in their position at Dirty Records, as 41 finishes. "Some people say they've got creative control or whatever, but I think with Dirty, we totally made the album we wanted to make."