Photo Credit:   Cornell Tukiri

Photo Credit: Cornell Tukiri

VSB’s frontman, Dharmarat, has already taken Hip-Hop to outer galaxies of style, sound and resonance with every project he has released. The multifaceted music artist kicks off the year with his newly released album, He Said; Still Running, after a successful 2018 year. NAH ZONE caught up with Dharmarat to talk about the importance of opening up about your mental health, how the album came about and what territory Dharmarat plans to dominate next.

Firstly, congrats on the release of He Said; Still Running.

Thank you, appreciate it.

How have you been feeling with the response to the album?

Aw, I was overwhelmed. When I first saw it dropped, I was speechless. I was tearing up from looking at all the responses from the first five minutes of being awake on release day. It was crazy.

How long has this album been in the making?

Since 2Graceful dropped, that’s like March 2018

Sheesh. That’s a long time ago.

Yeah it’s been a while. I started right after 2GRACEFUL wrapped up and during VSB Vol.2. I had done Away first, it was the first song that made the album. I got Rizzy’s verse back and I was waiting on that one forever

It’s clear there’s a strong concept behind the album, how did it come about?

I just had a weird dream about the end of the world and like it was a weird and real emotional one. It felt like I had an hour to live or something so when I woke up I was like ‘F*ck. If I actually did have an hour, what would I say? What would be going through my head and stuff?’

And the artwork...

So I drew a picture of what I saw in the dream, sent it to the bro Tanis who created the cover art and that was exactly how it looked in my dream.

It’s no secret the album is very personal. Are you scared the album is out now for the world to see or is it more of a relief?

Bit of both. I’m giving a lot into it but the real hearty stuff that is close to home, I say it in a cryptic way. 1 Number is my deepest song on the album but you actually got to piece together what I’m talking about.

Ahh, it’s intentional so you aren’t giving too much of yourself away?

There’s things that are just way too painful to talk about. I know if I put it out in a song, people are gonna be talking about it to me. Certain things are just too hard to talk about but I gotta let it out some way cause it’s my therapy but I do it cryptically so people won’t hit me up about the sad things I do talk about.

We see via your instagram stories how you often write/record in the comfort of your own bedroom. Was that the same process for this album?

Haha, yeah.

That’s dope!

I wrote it all over the place though. The Adam Kitto verse in Hollywood Act was written in Rarotonga. It was basically a poem because I had no beat or any access to music while I was there. I was sitting by the pool and just started writing how I felt about everything.

Can you tell us how this heavy line up of producers on your album came about?

Almac, Hor and I are always making music. Every week we’re making something new so that was bound to happen. Dera randomly sent me the funeral beat after we collaborated a while back. He told me the beat wasn’t finished yet and I was like well it’s done and on my album. I don’t know if he wanted it but it was definitely not one for Soundcloud.

So where did Smokeygotbeatz fit into this?

Smokey had been meaning to send me something for ages. One day he sent me a beat pack and there was two that I felt meshed together real well. By then the album was done but the medley song he did, I wanted it to paint the idea of the credits rolling.

That’s exactly how I felt when listening to Medley. It was like the end of a movie.

Yeah. Sometimes is definitely the closer and Medley is like the credits rolling as well as giving people what they want and I guess hinting at whatever’s next.

Church Leon features in this album in a way we wouldn’t expect. Did you specifically ask him to do the skit?

Yeah I did. I wrote out basically what I wanted him to talk about and improvise it because I didn’t want it to feel like he was reading word for word. He said he did so many takes and was going to be mad if I didn’t like it. It turned out so well.

Mental Health isn’t a trendy topic in Hip Hop/Rap. Why was it so important for you to be so open about it on this album?

Well, when I started on the album it was basically going to be just that -  trying to help whoever I could by putting my story out there with my mental health issues. Then I had the dream and it all sort of made sense in helping paint the bigger picture. I wouldn’t be who I am without having those mental issues so I guess bringing it up and letting people know yeah I get sad and all that. It’s just being real to myself. I felt like I needed to do it and let it all out. And people appreciated it.

In one of your tracks you say, “No one to guide me but rappers”. What did you mean by that?

Well, my parents split when I was a baby like I was 1, I think. So like I had my step dad who was a hearty guy - didn’t really look up to him. My dad was definitely there but I didn’t live with him - went to his house every second weekend though. I didn’t really have a solid father figure. But the music I listened to at the time - Eminem, Tupac etc they had songs about their daughters. They had songs that were real life guidelines so I looked up to them.

We read a tweet you made about how the production of Lines was based on Kim Possible’s theme song?

Yeah the beat switch at the end! I was playing around with synths, I wanted a buzzy breakdown towards the tail end and so I kept going with it and it reminded me of spy music. I thought of Kim Possible and it kept me going to finish it. Cause the music on that show was fire. Christina Milian was fire.

I didn’t think you would’ve knew that

Haha, yeah it’s Christina Milian. I know that voice.

I know it’s like choosing your favourite child but which track is the most personal to you?

There’s three that are real personal - away, 1number and some time.

What do you hope the listeners gain from listening to He Said; Still Running?

Making the album, I learnt a lot about myself - the way I learn, the way I think, the way my brain sort of works. I guess I hope the listener can hear me learning about myself and sort of encourage them to discover who they are as well.

Being a leading figure of VSB, what’s your focus right now?

My focus at the moment is getting the boys [VSB] out there. We’ve been working on each member’s solo tapes which have a few verses from me. I really enjoy doing other people’s music, it’s less taxing on my brain.

So what’s the next step for Dharmarat?

Dharmarat will definitely be off the map but no one is going to notice because I have heaps of music backed up. I’m going to be chilling. I’m not trying to dive into something again for a while like I did with this album.

Right. I guess pouring yourself into something takes its toll.

It’s just real emotionally draining. Like imagine having the pressure of having to finish up a song about your dead homie, it’s not really exciting to do it like that so much because it takes so much out of you.

Is there anything else you want to leave with us and your supporters?

Don’t be shy to tell me if you like what I’m creating or not cause you know how NZ is, they’re ashamed to admit if they like something when nobody is speaking up about it. So don’t be a afraid, I’m not gonna judge you. Let it be known if you like it, I want to hear it.

Take our word for it and check out Dharmarat’s album below. Be sure to catch him at the RedBull Music 64 Bars Live on February 9 at Ponsonby Social Club. Grab your tickets here.

Nah Zone