Hau Latukefu is a true pioneer of the Hip Hop scene in Australia. Along with DJ/Producer Danielsan he is a member of Koolism one of the most respected groups in this country releasing 5 critically acclaimed albums and in 2004 and winning the ARIA Award for Best Urban Act. Hau also hosts the only national weekly Hip Hop radio show on JJJ playing a mixture of artists from both here and overseas.
Having contributed more than 20 years towards the culture in this country its only right we caught up to get to know about growing up in Canberra, the formation of Koolism, his thoughts on Australian Hip Hop and much more.
Who were your musical Influences growing up?
As with every Tongan, or Islander for that matter, I grew up going to church. The choirs were amazing. All the harmonies and tonality – crazy. I took a lot of that in and that has come out in a lot of the work I do now.
Obviously hip hop is where my heart was at. Although I did listen to a lot of reggae, pop and even heavy metal. The usual suspects could be found in the tape deck – Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Public Enemy etc. But it wasn’t til De La SOul came out that I was really and truly blown away. In fact, the whole Native Tongues crew – Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest – I was in awe. Then of course Hieroglyphics came along and they too were quite inspirational.
What got you into Hip Hop and what was the scene like in Canberra coming up?
My sister and older cousins got me into the hip hop culture as a whole. My sister did outlines and my cousins were b-boys, so I sat back and watched. I remember the first time one of my cousins played me NWA it was ‘Gangsta, Gangsta’. I had heard Ice-T and a bit of Schoolly D by that time, but still. I. I shat my dacks man. Haha. I was like, what the hell is this??? Amazing.
As for the hip hop scene in Canberra… it was really small. I mean, you pretty much knew everyone in the ‘scene’. I came into it between the original crews and the new school. So it was a great time. Seeing what the pioneers did as a spectator to then being a pioneer, myself, for the next wave that came through. Big up DJ Easy Money aka Goldfinger. Don of the Canberra scene.
How did you and Danielsan first meet and when did you guys form Koolism?
We met through a mutual friend. At that time, I was rapping with an older cousin of mine; Sione. Boy, that guy was the baddest. I actually owe a lot of my style to him. Very funky and stylish. Well, we were looking for someone to make music with and a friend of ours knew of Daniel (DJ Rampage, at that time); a skinny white kid who loved skateboarding and electronics. It’s funny because I actually knew of him from around the traps and even battling him and the MCs he was working with previously. And yeah, we beat them. Haha. This mutual friend played the beat tape Daniel gave him and I was surprised how funky and highly technical it was. It sounded so professional and it sounded like Daniel was listening to the same hip hop as we were at that time. We arranged to meet up, Daniel showed us what type of gear he was working with and from then it was on like Donkey Kong.
Was it hard being a Hip Hop group from Canberra and getting accepted from the wider Hip Hop community in Australia?
Funnily enough, it wasn’t. I feel it was because we were outsiders and we had developed our own unique sound. Plus we were just good at what we did. I also feel, as being outsiders, we skipped all that inner city politics that went on around the country. We made friends with everyone in each city and got mad respect for our work because we were respectful to the local crews, to the culture and to the music.
What was the first big break for Koolism?
I’d say it was when we were still called ‘Tribe Ledda L’. That was myself, my cousin, Sione, and Daniel. We released an ACT-only released cassette tape that was funded by the ACT government. That whole experience of jumping into a real studio, recording then actually releasing the product was an amazing feeling. I passed that tape around and people dug it. One of the first people I gave it to was Blaze. I think he was genuinely shocked of how good it was. Haha…
In those early stages of Koolism how was the Hip Hop scene in Australia then compared to what it is now?
Maaan… so much has changed. Especially with the introduction of the internet. We didn’t have those great tools to get in touch with potential supporters by using that medium to get our music out. We did it the old way of putting it out there and hope someone listens to it! Haha.
Local made hip hop is definitely now acknowledged as a credible genre and a lot of that is due to it being recognised and supported by triple j radio. You won’t see a festival in Australia without at least one local hip hop act on the board. In the early ’90s you’d be happy just to get one gig a year and have 15 people come to it. Now you have number one artists who are selling out tours, headlining festivals and have gold and platinum status albums and singles. I’m very proud of the fact we help build that.
There has been one element I’m really disappointed with that now exist in the scen. It’s this redneck mentality. Ignorant pricks who only listen to Australian hip hop and use that as the soundtrack to their nationalistic pride bullshit. It’s horrible. They should piss off and listen to some racist punk music.
In 2004 Koolism won an ARIA Award for ‘Best Urban Release’ what are you memories from the night were you genuinely surprised by the win?
Yeah man… genuinely surprised. We weren’t even going to go to the event because we were so adamant we were not going to win. Even catching the taxi into Homebush we were like, “you know we’re not going to win, right? Let’s just go and have some fun”. Man, I’m glad we did go. I would have been speeewing if we didn’t. Obviously winning was a great feeling, but I the highlight was meeting DJ Kool Herc. Such a humbling experience.
That same year you also lost a whole heap of material after a car was broken into and a computer was taken. How was demoralizing was that and were you ever able to recreate the music that went missing?
Bro, we’re still trying to find replacement records lost in that break-in. It was devastating. We did re-create some of the music but you know, sometimes it just doesn’t live up to the original.
After the ARIA win both you and Danielsan moved out of Canberra was that mainly for your careers and did it help? Also how hard has it been working as Koolism with you based in Sydney and Danielsan in Melbourne?
Well, for me it was to be with my girl who is now my wife. So yeah… it definitely was worth the move. Haha. Plus, I scored the job of presenting the Hip Hop Show on triple j. That definitely would not have happened if I didn’t live in Sydney. So yeah… I’ve been very fortunate with my move to Sydney. Very lucky.
As for Daniel and I being in different states, yeah, it is hard. We do what we can do and make the best of it.
What has been the most enjoyable Koolism project to make thus far and why?
That’s hard to answer because a lot of the albums we’ve made has had a very hard and painful process. Haha. But i do feel our first CD album, ‘Part One’, was probably the most enjoyable. Possibly because it was done out of fun. No stress and no expectations. Just a couple of guys getting together to make whatever hip hop music we felt at the time and just ran with it.
When you started your career did you ever think Australian Hip Hop would be as big as it is right now? What are your views on the current success it is seeing?
Nah, no way. Because it was a new movement here, we didn’t have a scope or anything to compare it to. In those days, you jusy did it because you loved it and appreciated the culture for what it was and for what it represented. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised because we were producing some great acts and it was only time before the mainstream caught onto it. Then suddenly…. bam! Hilltop Hoods came in and smashed it. So proud of those boys. Success is great as long as it comes from a good place. Like your heart or soul. Making music for the sake of making money or because you want to get recognised when you buy your coffee is just sad. If you make the music you genuinely love making and you become successful, I salute you.
What’s one thing Australian Hip Hop needs?
Sometimes, a smack in the head. Everyone does once in a while. Keeps you grounded.
If a person wanted to get into Australian Hip Hop name 5 artists for them to check out?
Hilltop Hoods, Mnemonic Ascent, Muph & Pluto, Mantra and Mama’s Funkstikools.
After working with one producer for so long have you ever thought about embarking on a solo career?
Definitely. I’ve done a lot of collaborations over the years. From Katalyst to Hilltop Hoods to Hermitude to A-Love… I’ve enjoyed it all. Gives me not only the chance to work with artists I admire and respect, but the chance to do something different with myself that I couldn’t do with Koolism.
Being one of the few Pacific Islander artists in the Australian Hip Hop scene how important is it to represent your heritage through your music?
Very, very important. I think that was my main point of difference when Koolism came onto the scene. There wasn’t a widely recognised Islander rapping. We had a lot of DJs – big up Leeroy Brown & Mayhem in particular.
I just had different things to rhyme about because of my upbringing and music I was into. I feel like it was a breath of fresh air and that’s why, along with Daniel’s great understanding of music, we got people’s attnetion.
What’s one verse you wish you wrote and one beat you wished you rhymed over?
Ahhh… OK. It would have to be a Nas verse. Any verse from Illmatic. There was not one crap rhyme on that album. It was perfect.
As for the beat… I’d say something like Public Enemy’s ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’. Bomb Squad are my all-time favourite hip hop producers. Incredible.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
At the moment, I’d like to work with Diesel and/ or Vika & Linda Bull. I just highly rate them as singers and musicians. But if I had to stay in the realm of hip hop, I’d say Mos Def and/ or Roots Manuva. They are dons. Never fail to impress me man. True poets and MCs.
In 2008 you took over as the host of Triple J radio’s weekly Hip Hop Show what do you most enjoy about doing the radio?
Playing the genre I love and getting paid for it. Haha. Essentially. But it is such a great job. From the people I work with to the people I meet. I’m very lucky to have this gig. I often compare it to when rugby players retire and move into commentating. It’s the same thing. The job is the next best thing to actually making and performing music.
How was the transition been to playing other artists music and from being asked the questions to asking them?
Great. As an artists who has been asked many, many questions throughout his career, I now know what questions to and not to ask the artist I’m interviewing. See I like this interview because it’s different and you obviously know your shit. As an artists, you can tell when somebody has done their research or has even listened to your music. To me, as an artist, that’s almost offensive. Like, you didn’t care enough to ask deeper questions than the usual, “where does your name come from?”.
What advice would you give to young aspiring artists making music and wanting to make a career out of it?
Think long and hard about pursuing this career. Like my mate, Urthboy, told me once; it’s all about expectations. If you make hard, raw underground hip hop, that’s fine. But just know that it may not get play on radio and may not reach the wider audience. If you don’t care about that, than that’s absolutely cool. But if you’re kicking & screaming about why you’re not getting love, then you’re making the wrong music.
In saying that, that brings me to my next point. Be yourself. No-one can do you better than you can. If you enjoy making pop music, good on ya. If you like making hardcore, good on ya too. Don’t make music that your heart is not into. It comes across as contrived. Be true to yourself and nothing else will matter.
What does the future hold for Hau Latukefu?
Music, family and food. Oh, and rugby.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
“I don’t see nothing wroooong… with a little bump n griiiiind” – R. Kelly