Exclusive: South Auckland's David Dallas notes the significance of getting an album premiere via "Billboard" and shares a few New Zealand Hip Hop classics.
Seeing what David Dallas has been able to accomplish in the year since releasing 2012’s Jamiroquai-inspired (and sampled) Buffalo Man EP, a few lines from opening track “Ever Get the Feeling” sound almost prophetic. As he struts along picturesque, snow-covered Mount Ruapehu in the video, he confidently maintains, “They could never stop or destroy / What we built right here from the ground up / When the whole world didn't want to count us / Had to regulate, had to mount up / Had to go back, switch the sound up / Put the whole country and the town up, and they found us.”
Thanks to loyalty not just to his key collaborators (who he maintains are friends first) but to pushing a sound that's authentically his, Dallas is reaching worldwide levels in 2013 because of a new influential musical avenue: video games. If you were struck by the song in the Madden 25 trailer or have played FIFA 14 recently, chances are you're already familiar with the left-field sonics of “Runnin',” the lead single from his latest full-length Falling Into Place. Starting with the sample, Sister Gertrude Morgan's “I Got The New World In My View,” Dallas builds his most defining musical moment yet, mixing effort and nonchalance with a warning shot that sounds, “They ain't got no muscle, no hustle / No backbone, I stand alone / I'm not trippin, I'm just saying / I'm different.”
Domestically, Dallas has continued to build a partnership with legendary Hip Hop label Duck Down since linking up with them to help release 2011's The Rose Tint stateside. After spreading the buzz by first releasing the album as a free download, he has continued to build the “Tint Squad” with striking visuals and beats courtesy of long-time producers Fire & Ice and Nick “41” Maclaren.
Stick to what, and who, you love, the reasoning seems to go, and the rest will fall into place. With a top 10 single and album in his native country, along with the global reach of two marquee EA franchises, the effort seems to be paying off.
Speaking from the other side of the globe, D Dot Dallas caught up with HipHopDX recently to discuss how “Runnin'” got featured in Madden 25 and FIFA 14, open up about the significance of gaining notoriety in America, and recall the very strange feeling of seeing kids rapping your lyrics back to you in a town you've never heard of.
How David Dallas Launched A Rap Career From A Hobby
HipHopDX: Do you remember the first time you were exposed to Hip Hop growing up?
David Dallas: My older brother was huge into Public Enemy and N.W.A. Hip Hop music's always been played in my house. The only music I can remember listening to earlier than Rap is maybe Michael Jackson.
The first song I ever knew the words to was a Rap song. It was Digital Underground's “The Humpty Dance.” That wasn't really appropriate listening for a kid that was in infirmary school, but I'm of that generation where I grew up listening to Hip Hop music.
DX: How mainstream is Hip Hop in New Zealand?
David Dallas: It's not as mainstream as it is in America. After touring America, I realized that the mainstream appreciation and knowledge of Hip Hop music is greater [over there]. If you can imagine, the New Zealand music scene is very similar to the American music scene. If you could shrink the whole American music scene down in exactly the same proportions, you'd probably end up with the same thing here.
DX: What was the moment that made you really decide to jump into the music thing after you'd received your Bachelor's in Computer Science? Was it time to just dive in and see what would happen? Walk me through that.
David Dallas: When I started making music, I didn't have any aspirations to be a musician. While I was at university, I downloaded cracked recording software, decided to get a microphone and record myself with some instrumentals just as a hobby.
During my final year, a few things happened for me. I got asked to feature on a Scribe's “Not Many” record, which was a huge song in New Zealand and Australia. I had only been rapping for maybe 10 months at the time. It was the first time I had been in a studio and been in a music video. They put the song out and it became this huge thing. It made Scribe a star. That was my first exposure to everything, and that was the point when I thought, “Wow, this is something you can actually viably do as a career here.”
Up until that point, I'd never thought about it. Growing up, I didn't know anyone who rapped. I didn't know anyone who was a producer. I didn't see anyone from here that was a successful Hip Hop musician from New Zealand, so it just wasn't something that I thought would be viable for me to do.
DX: Did that verse pre-date your music with producer Nick “41” Maclaren and your work together as the duo Frontline?
David Dallas: It's all around the same time. I met 41 a few months before that, and we had just started working. We had some demos. P-Money, who started the label [Dirty Records] that signed me, produced all the Scribe stuff and knew 41. Basically, they were just giving us some advice, because he was like, “Yo, your demos are really good. You have potential.” Around that time was the opportunity to jump on the “Not Many” remix.
DX: Speaking of P-Money and Dirty Records, it's been about 11 years since the label was founded. What is it like to be a part of that legacy and to have seen Dirty Records grow into what it's become?
David Dallas: It's an amazing thing. When I met them, before they were the mainstream phenomenons that they've become, P-Money and Scribe were already big stars from New Zealand to me. I'd seen them on TV, and as a dude who listened to Hip Hop, I'd see them at shows and think they were a big deal.
When I started, the extent of my ambitions was to get my song played on Radio 1. To think that I still make music now, and that my single and my album are top 10 [in New Zealand], that's really cool. Things keep happening,
DX: Furthering that point, what's the next immediate goal for you?
David Dallas: I've always just wanted to progress and make better shit, to keep making the music that I want to hear. Obviously, you want to make stuff that's really true to your tastes and see it continue to grow and get to more ears. That's my thing: I just want to get the music to as many ears as possible, because the more things happen for me, the more you realize, “Wow, there actually are other people who like the shit that I like, and maybe if just given a chance, it can go further.” Every time, I'm just trying to find ways to get my music to more people.
How Streaming Services Impacted “Falling Into Place”
DX: One of the ways that you had done that, to expand to a greater international audience, was with your previous full-length, The Rose Tint, which was initially offered as a free download.
David Dallas: Yeah, absolutely.
DX: I asked you about why you did that a few years back, and you said you wanted to expand your reach in a way that a retail model wouldn't have been able to do. With Falling Into Place, which has just been released, you decided to go the retail route. In the States, it's been released electronically via iTunes and Amazon. Why did you feel now was the time to go with that retail release instead of continuing with another free release?
David Dallas: I just wanted to do it for people who wanted to buy it. I feel like people are more open to these streaming models that are more effective now. People are now more accustomed to checking out new artists on Soundcloud and then saying, “I'll buy this.” Before, if you didn't put it up for free, a lot of the time people weren't going to go see it on most streaming sites to hear your music.
I know that I've expanded my fan base enough now that there are people out there who are going to support me. Hopefully, if word spreads and I've done a good enough job, and the people who bought it are hype enough on it, it'll go further.
DX: Speaking on the streaming model, it was neat seeing you get a premiere via Billboard. What did it mean to you to get that kind of look?
David Dallas: That look's huge, especially to people where we're from. When people I grew up with, or just people in New Zealand, [hear that], they go “Billboard…the American thing that we're not even supposed to be on? That's crazy!” It's a little victory for the people like us that grew up out here.
It's hard for American artists to really imagine how isolated and far away American things feel if you grew up out here. The first time MTV played one of my videos, the people who grew up out here were just like “What the fuck? That's crazy shit [Laughs].”
There was a point where we didn't even get artists touring here. When I was growing up, we didn't have anyone, ever. No American rapper ever came. We might get Bone Thugs-n-Harmony six years after they're big, if we're lucky, and we'll only get two of them, you know? [Laughs] There are more artists that are actually touring out here now, but when we were growing up, I never saw anyone ever.
David Dallas On Lorde & The Difficulty Of Crossing Over In America
DX: With you touching on how big of a deal it is for people from New Zealand to see their artists making a mark in the US, I feel like I have to ask about Lorde's recent success. How big of a deal is it to see her topping Billboard?
David Dallas: It's the craziest thing ever. [Laughs] It's beyond anything I've seen in my lifetime, and I don't know if there will be another thing like that again. It's completely unprecedented. We've never had anyone like that. It's phenomenal. If you're from here, it's incredible.
DX: Her success seems to come at the perfect time for you, considering Falling Into Place just dropped and you recently secured spots in the Madden 25 trailer and in FIFA 14. Have you felt pressure from other Kiwis about the timing being right for you to get a similar look in the Hip Hop realm stateside?
David Dallas: Not really. Obviously, everyone talks about Lorde. It's a huge thing. It's something worth talking about because it's wicked, but I don't feel any sort of pressure [because of it]. Hip Hop is not supposed to be for everyone. That's kind of what makes Hip Hop cool a lot of the time. I feel that's where a lot of Hip Hop goes wrong, when people try to make it for everyone. It shouldn't be.
I think it's cool if what she's done can put a spotlight on the quality of music that's actually being generated down here. Outside of Lorde, there's been great bands and great music being made here for years and years. There's artists that I feel would've been huge had they come from another place.
DX: As someone here in the States, it's hard for me to see that perspective, but to hear it from you first-hand, it makes me better understand the significance of what it meant to you to be able to tour the U.S.
David Dallas: I didn't even understand it at first. You kind of get this inferiority complex. [You think], “This band was great and from New Zealand. Why couldn't they play overseas?” It's not until you get older that you realize how prohibitive it is. The cost of flying six people over to America [is ridiculous]. On top of that, you have to try and get visas at $4,000 each. Then you've got to try and keep your band together while you're in another country away from any support. Then if you have a bad show, you think. “Shit, we lost money.” All those are things you don't think about. You don't think of how prohibitive it is to come from the other side of the world to try and go somewhere where you know no one to crack a territory. When I understood that, it all made a lot more sense.
DX: Talk me through the significance of St. Gabriel's Cathedral, the location of your video for single “Runnin'.”
David Dallas: That area is in the Far North of New Zealand, and that particular church is where the first Christian missionaries settled when they first came over. That was actually the first church they built in that area. On top of that, the location itself is stunning. We wanted a small, rural feel [for the video]. When Tom Gould, the director, heard “Runnin',” he said “It's got this rustic feel. I want to take the religious iconography that's in the sample, but I want to put it in a New Zealand context.”
DX: Other artists from New Zealand feature heavily on the album, including PNC and Ruby Frost. With your profile growing, did you see this as an opportunity to spread the word about other great artists from your backyard?
David Dallas: I feel like great music is being made here, but I always want to showcase people from here if I can. These are the people that I work with, that I know and have access to, so they are the people that I'm going to try and use.
I've never felt any pressure to get whoever the hot American producer is. [With production duo Fire & Ice], we've established our thing. They're so responsible for the sound that is David Dallas. I feel like that's the only way it's gonna happen for me—I've got to make the shit that I make.
DX: Are Fire & Ice basically your in-house production crew at this point? They produced all but two songs on Falling Into Place, produced the bulk of work on The Rose Tint, and handled Buffalo Man in its entirety.
David Dallas: Yeah, absolutely. We've got a great friendship as well, but our creative relationship works because we've got the same tastes for the most part. At the end of the day, that's all music is—an expression of your tastes and influences. I'm fortunate with those guys that we're very much on the same page.
DX: Compared to American sample preferences, you and Fire & Ice take from music that Hip Hop doesn't normally pull from. I think back to your single “Take A Picture,” which sampled “Saturate” by the Chemical Brothers. I also think back to the heavy use of Jamiroquai samples in setting the mood for your Buffalo Man EP. Are you coming to them with ideas? What's that creative process like?
David Dallas: The Buffalo Man idea was my thing, because I grew up listening to Jamiroquai and was huge on them. I feel like a lot of people just thought they were a disco revival band and that's all they did. Knowing the scope of what Jamiroquai did musically, I knew from their projects that they've got way more jazz-leaning stuff, they've got stuff that's like almost ballads, and then they've got disco funk. I knew there was enough scope there for Fire & Ice to build something that could be a full project.
As far as samples, I don't know where they come up with some of the stuff. When I heard “Runnin',” I was like “Yo, what's this?” [Laughs] It was just a bizarre thing. That came through in the eleventh hour of the album. That was the last song we did. From the moment they played me the beat, they were like, “Yo, this is gonna be your first single, man. For real. Honestly.” I [believed them] because we've done enough work together that I had faith in them on that. And they were right.
David Dallas Talks Organic Partnerships With Madden & Freddie Gibbs
DX: Walk me through securing “Runnin'” as part of the Madden 25 trailer. When were you told that was going to happen, and what did it mean to you getting that opportunity to get heard by a completely new audience?
David Dallas: That was massive. That came through Duck Down. I think they pitched that to Madden when I sent them the first demo of the song. When they heard “Runnin'” and a couple of the other tracks, they said, “We're meeting with the EA people. Would you mind if we pitch this?” I was like “Of course not. Go ahead. Fucking wicked.”
I think they were the most excited when they heard it was gonna be on Madden. Obviously, I know it's this huge thing. For me, the best one was when I found I was going to be added to the soundtrack for FIFA 14, because I grew up playing it.
DX: Let's talk a bit about “My Mentality.” That song sees you reuniting with Freddie Gibbs, who you had previously collaborated with on “Caught In A Daze.” What was it like getting a chance to work with Gangsta Gibbs again?
David Dallas: Because I did the entire album here in New Zealand, this time I was sending the track over to him. Fire & Ice had the beat, and I really liked the music. It's obviously got these gritty drums, but the sample on it is this ethereal, pretty-sounding thing. They said, “Because of that backdrop, we want the rapping to be hard. We should send this to Gibbs and see what he comes with.”
I feel like on paper, it looks strange—a rapper from New Zealand and a gangsta rapper from America—but I feel like our chemistry on “Caught in a Daze,” the way we contrast, works really well. The contrast between me and Gibbs in our voice and our style, and the content and way the rapping is against the sonic backdrop, it's a cool thing.
DX: What's the largest audience you've ever played in front of in New Zealand?
David Dallas: We have a day called Waitangi Day in New Zealand. It celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, when the indigenous Maori of New Zealand signed a treaty with the European settlers. There's this big celebration out on my side of town in South Auckland, and there were 40,000 people there. I wasn't expecting that, because it was just down the road from where I grew up.
We had another festival the next day, and I was actually telling my band, “I know how these free Waitangi Day events are. It's usually quite low key, so this will be a good warm up for the people we're playing for tomorrow.” It turned out it was the biggest thing we've ever played [laughs].
DX: What was it like for you touring the States recently, where you shifted from being a headliner to performing as an opening act for people who had no idea who you were?
David Dallas: It's a challenge. You've got to go try and win people over again. It's interesting to see the reactions of people hearing your music for the first time. I actually enjoyed it. One thing I can say for American crowds is I feel like they were really open to hear new Hip Hop music. They see more shows so they're more into it. I was cool with it.
DX: Where was the wildest place on tour in America where you saw people rapping your lyrics back to you?
David Dallas: The one that tripped me out was Omaha, Nebraska. I'd never even heard of it. When you go to a place that you've never heard of and there's people that know who you are, especially coming from the other side of the planet, it's fucking weird. It was a wicked feeling.
When I went to Omaha, Nebraska, there were these six kids that had all come together and had only come to see me. They knew everything, and they were tripping me out. [They told me] “Man, we never thought we'd see you in our lives! It's crazy.” [Laughs] I was like, “Shit, you're telling me?”
DX: If people wanted to give other New Zealand Hip Hop tracks a shot, what would you say are some essentials?
David Dallas: [First, there's] “Not Many.” There's a group called Dam Native. They have these two songs—one is called “Horrified One,” and they had this other one called “Behold My Kool Style,” which was in the ‘90s. Historically, those really put me onto New Zealand Hip Hop. There's a song by a guy named King Kapisi called “Subcranium Feeling,” which was real big.
Later on, in my era, my boy PNC had a song called “Who Betta Than This,” which is a New Zealand classic. Young Sid did a song called “Take It To The Streets,” which is South Auckland shit.
DX: Do you think any of your tracks or any of Frontline's material has reached classic status yet?
David Dallas: Yeah, man. All of them. [Laughs] Every David Dallas song is a classic. They're all good. I think “Take a Picture,” “Caught in a Daze,” “Indulge Me,” and “Big Time” are gonna stay in the lexicon of New Zealand Hip Hop.
DX: I'll get you out of here on this: are you the biggest rapper in New Zealand?
David Dallas: [Laughs] At the moment, yes. I'd say so.
DX: Who are you trying to catch?
David Dallas: No one, really. I'm trying to get more people from other places to listen to the music. As of today, I've got a top 10 single and a top 10 album. Right now, I'm doing alright.