Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
Callum Rei McDougall, better known simply as Rei, may be that most feared and sinister thing – a Wellington rapper – but we mustn’t hold that against him. The Chief’s Speech is the second single from his soon to be released debut album, A Place To Stand, and with its cool reverse video, sleek production and McDougall’s quick-fire delivery, he and director Alex Hoyles took away the gong for best video at the Waiata Māori Music Awards just this month. Katie Parker and Hussein Moses weigh in.
Katie: So I had never heard of Rei until last Thursday when my university tutor Alan showed us this video in class. Alan is sweet, quiet man with soft white hair, a modest fluffy beard and a dulcet British accent. He’s not your typical rap fan, yet last week, at the end of another hour in which I failed to master the intricacies of InDesign, he put The Chief’s Speech video on for us and beamed with pride.
Rei is his nephew, he explained, and The Chief’s Speech just won best video at the Waiata Māori Music Awards. Isn’t this video clever? It’s backwards! He had to learn all his own lyrics in reverse!
Not only am I all about unconditional nephew support, I agree with Alan. It is very clever. Which is why I wanted to discuss it. What do you think of Rei?
Hussein: I’m all in on Rei. He’s a choirboy-turned-rapper who spent five years singing as part of the Wellington College Chorale before forming up a career in rap. He’s also got a degree in Marketing and Te Reo Māori, both of which he’s put to good use with his music. He’s ultra-savvy when it comes to social media and it’s obvious that cultural identity plays a big role in his approach to everything.
Back in May – for NZ Music Month, ugh – Rei did this cool thing for us where he talked about five New Zealand songs that inspire his own music. We ran something like 20 of them and his was definitely one of the best and most interesting. My favourite part is when he tells the story about how a Stan Walker song reminds him of being 16 and thinking he got his girlfriend pregnant.
Also, I have to mention this: the trophy things you get when you win a Waiata Māori Music Award look way meaner than the Tuis at the NZ Music Awards.
Katie: Choirboy-turned-rapper? Love it. Also good on him for having a conjoint degree and rap career at just 22! As they say, get you a man who can do both.
I’m in on this whole thing, too. Both the track and the video are slick and confident and he’s got a lot of presence. And not to bang on about it, but the reverse video thing is really cool and my tiny pea brain can’t even quite wrap itself around the logistics of the whole thing. I don’t totally get the narrative here, but it’s nice and stylised and never comes close to the bad Coldplay homage it could have been.
Hussein: For this one, Rei and director Alex Hoyles actually took inspiration from The Pharcyde’s iconic video for Drop, which was directed by Spike Jonze back in 1995. That clip will forever stand as one of the most innovative rap videos ever, so it’s cool to see someone local lift from it without totally ripping it off. In this behind the scenes look at The Chief’s Speech, which they shot in an old abandoned prison, Rei talks about the four dancers in the clip representing what he refers to as “they” (*major key alert*).
I wonder what your tutor Alan thinks about DJ Khaled.
Katie: Oh that’s a much better reference than Coldplay! The “they” thing is interesting (though I honestly don’t know how you manage to work bloody DJ Khaled into everything) and it goes well with the theme of overcoming negativity etc. I mean, ultimately it’s a pretty classic talk-yourself-up track, but I think there’s enough going on here to make it more interesting than that.
Hussein: Yeah, it’s not super deep, but I have a soft spot for this sort of pop-rap thing he’s doing. Hundy Club, the other single from his forthcoming album also has something going for it, but it’s definitely the lesser of the two songs.
It’s hard to say exactly where he fits into the landscape of New Zealand hip hop at the moment, which feels like it’s in an equally weird place as NZ pop music is, but maybe that will work in his favour. Sometimes it’s easier to stand out when you don’t fit in anyway.