The Orator (The Remix)

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
In this ‘b-side’ with Savage, the New Zealand rapper discusses his collaborations and influences.

Late one night, driving to his South Auckland home from a meeting with Missouri rapper Spawnbreezie, Savage pulled over to the side of the road to take a follow-up Skype interview from me. The hardworking, big-hearted rapper talked collaborations (and influences): from DMX and Akon to Che Fu and DJ Sir-vere. Photography by Tiffani Amo.

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ALEXANDER BISLEY: On touring with DMX, 98’s king of rap?

SAVAGE: I toured with DMX[1], the Australian and New Zealand tour. He’s got some crazy tunes. He’s got those tunes that will make you feel like you’re on class A drugs, man. Remember, I’ve never touched those kind of drugs in my life, but the music that he does is so energetic, it’s crazy. You know, when you go to a concert and you see those speakers that are tied up with chains that go all the way to the ceiling? He climbed all the way to the top of one of those. That’s at least five stories high. I was just looking at him going, you’re crazy bro. But the crowd just loved it. He’s an awesome performer. How he is on stage is how he is in person, even when you’re talking to him he’s got a lot of energy. He’s got a few mood swings in there as well, but who doesn’t? He was an awesome dude, he was really good to me. He brought out one of his best friends, this dude named Brooklyn, and for some reason he clicked really well with me, Alphrisk, and Mareko. We’d roll, play pool table, play basketball.

AB: On Akon?

S: This was all hooked up through Kirk Harding, he is the bridge. He is the one that made the US seem a lot closer to us than we ever imagined. When Mareko went over to record White Sunday, his first solo album, that was all connected through Kirk. Kirk was scouting Akon. Akon had given him the demo and he was looking at it. I think Mareko had been there at the perfect time for Kirk to say, hey, what do you think of this guy? So he gives him a copy of Akon’s album. When Mareko came back, I was in Brotha D’s car. Brotha D got out at the gas station, and I quickly slipped the Akon CD into my pocket. So, when I got home, I listened to the whole album, Trouble, start to finish. Man, that album was amazing. Had songs like ‘Locked Up’, ‘Ghetto’, ‘Lonely’. It was so refreshing to hear so much good song writing and such a unique voice.

AB: On choosing Akon for Moonshine’s lead single ‘Moonshine’, when you could have had Fat Joe, someone from Wu Tang clan, or Mobb Deep?

S: I told Kirk, “I wanna work with Akon.” Kirk tells Akon, “Yo, we just gave this dude a whole list of rappers that are in the industry right now and guess who he chose for his lead single?” And Akon’s like, “Who?” He’s like, “He chose you.” And Akon was blown away. I remember him getting on the phone like, “Man, you like my music?” I was like, ‘Man, I love your music bro. Me and my boys are all listening to it.” Kirk said let’s do a song that has a double meaning. And then Akon was like, “Hey, I can do that.” And then I get an email, not two weeks later and he sent me the ‘Moonshine’ beat with the ‘Moonshine’ chorus. So all I had to do was the verses and that’s why that song had a double meaning. We made everyone believe it was about a girl, but really it was about alcohol. It was the love we had for alcohol. When he did ‘Locked Up’, Akon reached out to me for the international remix.

AB: On Tupac?

S: He was educated, smart, bro. When he released his first album, that song called ‘Brenda Had a Baby’, man, the pictures he painted with his words was powerful, you knew what was going on. Tupac, he was really vivid with the pictures he painted, the messages behind his words. When he signed to Death Row, that’s when you saw more of the aggressive Tupac. The Tupac that I grew up with on songs like ‘Dear Mama’, he was more in tune with his fans where it comes to caring about them. His last, great album, he still kept it real on there as well, ‘All Eyes on Me’, ‘I Ain’t Mad At Cha’.

AB: On ‘Hit Em Up’?

S: That’s the most direct song I’ve ever heard, where the first opening line is the big shut down straight away. That one line there alone will shut your whole career down. I was a big fan of both Biggie and Tupac. They were both extraordinary in their own way.

AB: On Che Fu, the don of New Zealand hip hop?

S: We’re very close friends. I liked ‘Chains’ a lot. He asked me if I played poker and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I dabble.’ So he invited me to a game and I really enjoyed the company, all the boys there. I got to know them well and then they made me a part of the club. I’ve been part of the crew for the last six years.  It’s not even about poker really, we’re all very tight and close friends.

AB: On hitting the gym with Che Fu?

S: Che Fu’s lost quite a bit of weight. I was like, “I need to get back to the gym.”  So he was telling me he goes at night time because there’s no one there.  He goes, “Man, it’s awesome, it’s like your own personal gym.” I’m enjoying it man, there was a time, before I signed to Universal, that I really got into training. There’s always that pain barrier when you first hit the gym. I’ve got past the pain barrier, so I’m really getting into it now, cardio, the cross trainer.

AB: On DJ Sir-vere?

S: I’ve been following him since I was a kid, since I was in high school. When he first approached me to be his MC, I was like, hell yeah. So he gave me the opportunity to travel the country with him.  Even though I was with the D-konz and we were touring, I got to see more places with Sir-vere and I got to travel to those places more frequently. Because we’re such a good team and we put on a good show, the demand for us to come back was regularly. It was an awesome experience and I will always give my hat off and feel that side of respect that he put me on. First plug I ever got was his Major Flavours plug for a freestyle of mine, I was honoured to get that. I toured for like two or three years with Sir-vere, till the point when ‘Not Many: The Remix’ and ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ came out.

© Tiffani Amo 2013. All Rights Reserved. More images at

Alexander Bisley is marking eight years as a Lumière Reader editor-at-large with this feature; the first part is here. You can follow him on Twitter. He interviewed hiphop notables Lil B, DJ Sir-vere, and Pania of the Streets earlier this year. This conversation has been edited. Thanks to Alix Campbell for transcription assistance.

[1] DMX has some greatly entertaining tunes, but he made a fool of himself in a classic hip hop interview.

Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.