[Interview + Podcast] P.R talks Nujabes’ influence, hip-hop in Australia, and where Iggy Azalea fits in

Interview by: Martin Bauman

If jazzy hip-hop is your thing, look no further than P.R. The Sydney, Australia-based producer has the sound damn near perfected, drawing clear inspiration from the likes of Nujabes and meshing the jazzy, mellow vibes with the boom bap flavour of influences like DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, and J Dilla.

We first took notice of P.R when he sent his Moment In Time EP through last year, and it blew us away. Smooth production and stellar features from the likes of Substantial, Skyzoo, Blu, and Cise Starr combined to create one of the year’s most memorable EPs. It was only right that we eventually connected down the road to hear him tell his story.

We caught up with P.R to talk about Nujabes’ influence on him, the hip-hop scene in Australia, where Iggy Azalea fits in, and much more. Listen to the podcast above and read the interview below.

TCUS: What was your introduction to hip-hop?

P.R: I guess in terms of getting into hip-hop and listening to it, it was quite early in my school days. In high school, it was funny, because me (sic) and about two or three other people were the only people that listened to hip-hop like Wu-Tang and Onyx. Everyone else was kind of into really commercial hip-hop. I mean, there were people into Dr. Dre and all that kind of stuff, but no one really heard about Wu-Tang and Onyx at our school in Sydney. I think I was first introduced to Wu-Tang Forever and Onyx’s Shut ‘Em Down album.

In terms of getting into making music, I think that kind of [started] for fun. I was messing around with programs, and one of my friends was doing it, so I got the program off him and started messing with it. Back then, it was Hip Hop eJay, so I was playing with that. From there, it just kind of progressed. I think the first hip-hop track that I produced was probably around 2006 or ’07.

TCUS: Tell me about the significance of two albums to you: Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth and Little Brother’s The Listening.

P.R: Ah man! It’s funny, because those are probably two of my favourite hip-hop albums of all-time. Little Brother’s album is probably the most influential on me. I really got into 9th Wonder’s production through that album. I listened to that album a lot through high school – when I was studying, I was listening to that album. That album introduced me a lot to that side of hip-hop. That album probably sparked me getting into that production as well – sampling soul with hip-hop. So that album had a big impact on me.

P.R Interview on The Come Up Show

In terms of Gang Starr’s album, that’s the same thing as well with DJ Premier’s production. That Moment of Truth album is in my top five, for sure. That really got me into the way [Premier] was putting together his production and sound with Guru’s style of emceeing. So those albums are two of the albums that have had the most impact on me in hip-hop. Top twenty, for sure.

TCUS: Being from Canada, it’s kind of hard to see what sort of hip-hop goes on in Australia. What’s the hip-hop scene like in Sydney?

P.R: I think it’s definitely picking up. The problem with the music industry in Sydney is there’s not much of a backing, and the opportunities are very rare. Unfortunately, the scene is not as strong as it would be in the States or a lot of places, but I think it’s starting to get there. I think one of the main problems is the accent in rapping – the Australian accent has put up barriers in getting people out internationally. But it’s starting to pick up, and I’ve worked with a bunch of hip-hop artists in Sydney that are on the come up. It’s getting there, but we’re still behind, and we still need to push to get some artists out there. I see it definitely getting somewhere in the next two or three years.

TCUS: When you think about somebody like Iggy Azalea, is she a good ambassador for Australian hip-hop? How is she viewed from your perspective, being a part of the scene in Australia?

P.R: Well, I definitely respect that she’s out there internationally and making noise. She’s putting Australia on the map in terms of everyone [knowing] she’s an Australian artist. But I think one of the main problems with that is even though she’s Australian, she flipped the accent and she’s throwing on the American accent, and she’s out there in the States. If she was an Australian rapper with an Australian accent out in America, doing what she’s doing now, that would have had more of a positive impact for Australia for the music scene. But I definitely respect the level Iggy’s at right now. She’s doing her thing. Personally, I don’t listen to her much. I’ve heard the main tracks because of radio play, but I’m not that into her music. But yeah, she’s definitely doing her thing.

TCUS: Getting back to when you first got into production, when did you first get into digging and sampling?

P.R: When I started off, I wasn’t really sampling or digging or anything. I was just doing the usual: jumping online and grabbing random mp3s and chopping them up. Once I immersed myself more in the culture, [learned] how the production came about, and started reading and learning about hip-hop, I had the urge to start going out there to record stores, buying records, and sampling [records]. Once I started doing that, I really felt how effective it was, and how raw the sound was.

From there, I just kept going out and grabbing records all the time. Every week, I went to this one place that would have a section [offering] five records for $1. I’d go there every week and grab ten records, go through [them], and start sampling. A lot of the tracks I released are because of sampling and chopping records. So I started to get more into that and the traditional production side of hip-hop. I guess like any other producer, once you get into it, you get addicted.

TCUS: What’s your favourite record in your collection?

P.R: Well, I’ve got about 180 records. Man, that’s a tough one. I could pull out a random record right now, and I’d probably like it. [Pulls out record] I’ve got a Brazilian record called Guitar À Gogo, and it’s just heaps of Brazilian jazz stuff – I’ve actually used this a lot. It’s by someone called James Last. This is definitely a good record. But yeah, there’s a lot of records here that I could tell you something good about.

TCUS: Tell me about Sound Kamp.

P.R: Sound Kamp [is] me and a friend of mine named the Iron Ghost – he’s another producer and a close friend of mine out here in Sydney. We’ve been collaborating for awhile and showing each other music, and I guess we really came together properly in 2011. We put together a project with New York’s Ali Vegas called Bridging the Gap. The idea [for Sound Kamp at] first [was] we wanted to put together a label and bring on a couple of artists, get some beats out there, and push Sound Kamp. That’s when we decided to connect with Ali Vegas. We put together that EP, and it did really well. That’s one of the standout projects that I’ve been a part of.

At the moment, we’re not really as active [with Sound Kamp] as we were, but there’s definitely some new things happening that the Iron Ghost has taken on with Sound Kamp that he wants to turn into a production company – audio production, video production. We definitely still talk a lot, and I help when I can. We’ll be collaborating sometime soon, when we’re both not as busy.

TCUS: Speaking of standout projects you’ve been a part of, I think one that turned a lot of people onto you would have been the Introspection EP. Tell me about how that project came about and why it’s significant to you.

P.R: I think Introspection is definitely one of those projects where I put it together at the right time, and everything just came together perfectly. You’re right; I’d say it’s probably my standout release so far. It came together at a time where I started to really get into the fusion of jazz and hip-hop. I had come across a Japanese producer by the name of Nujabes, and I started listening to him a lot throughout 2010 and 2011. His music really grabbed my attention – everything about it inspired me and influenced me.

I started to get into that style of fusing jazz with hip-hop, and then I came across other producers like Dela. Basically, it was Nujabes and Dela that sparked my Introspection EP – that fusion of jazz and hip-hop. The first track I put together was my “Sunchild” song, where I got on board Substantial and Funky DL.

I just thought to myself, I’m going to put together a straight-up jazz hip-hop track and see what people think of it. I reached out to a dude called Bob, whose channel on YouTube is basically all dedicated to jazz hip-hop, and his listeners are all really into Nujabes and artists like Funky DL, Substantial, and Cise Starr. He dug the track and was like, “yeah, I definitely want to upload this.” It did really well. I think it was the first time that Funky DL and Substantial came together, so it was historic in that culture. From there, me and Bob were talking, and he was like, “I really want to release your EP through my label, Cult Classic Records.”

I started putting together Introspection, and at that time, I was really influenced by a lot of different sounds and emotions, and there were a lot of things happening throughout my life which inspired the [music] I produced. So yeah, a lot of the tracks on there, I don’t know how I’m going to create or produce something as good as that, because when I was making it, I had such a unique mind state. I was just so inspired by that sound, and it really came out how I wanted it to. But yeah, Introspection is something that I’ll always look back on and think, yeah, that EP opened up a lot of doors for me.

TCUS: You mentioned Nujabes being a big influence. To be able to work with guys like Substantial, Cise Starr, and Funky DL – all guys that have collaborated with Nujabes – how significant was that to you?

P.R: It was a big goal of mine once I started to get into Nujabes’ sound. I thought to myself, I really want to work with the artists he worked with and bring that colour out, that jazzy hip-hop flavour, and continue to get that sound out. It was an honour to get those guys on those tracks, because they worked so close to Nujabes, and I was really influenced by him at that time.

If you notice on “Sunchild,” Substantial and Funky DL both say, “rest in peace, Nujabes” on it, so [that] was really an honour. Just to have them on it and have them say [that] after being so influenced by his music, it was really cool. When it came to Cise Starr, it was even cooler. But it definitely helped a lot with people getting to know my music and comparing it to Nujabes.

TCUS: How do you feel about the Nujabes comparisons?

P.R: I think it’s an honour to be compared to him. A lot of the times, when people compare stuff to Nujabes, some people might consider it [an easy comparison]. Nujabes is such a big influence, maybe some people don’t like to be compared to [him], but I like [it]. I still think his sound is so unique. It really takes a lot for people to get on his level. But I’m honoured by the fact that when I jump online, I see comments that “Nujabes would be proud,” or “this sounds like such a Nujabes track.” It’s definitely what I’m going for. I really want to branch off that sound and bring my own style into it.

TCUS: What is it exactly about his music that speaks to you so much?

P.R: Just the sound and the emotion that’s put into his music, the certain feel of his songs – the mellowness. He’s got one of those sounds where you can throw it on anytime and it’s a good moment to listen to it. When I was listening to it at that time, my mind state, I [had] very mixed emotions and it was the right time of my life to listen to his kind of music and get inspired.

For me, I think it was more about the right time [that] I was listening to him, and the way he inspired my music. It could be different for a lot of people – people could be going through things, or struggling through certain parts in their life, and Nujabes’ music [has a] positive sound and feel. It’s hard to pinpoint, but there’s definitely something about [his] music that grabbed my attention straight away.

TCUS: Moving onto your project Moment In Time, this was another project where a lot of people took notice of you. Tell me about this project and its significance to you.

P.R: Well, after Introspection, I really wanted to take it up another level, but still not move away from that hip-hop aspect of my music. I felt like a lot of people were considering some of my tracks downtempo-ish, so I really wanted to progress and take it to another level, and bring big, solid aspects of both hip-hop and jazz. The concept behind Moment In Time [was that] each track was kind of like a moment in life for me.

For me, I really saw it as more of a travelling EP. At that time, I wanted to go out to Japan and Korea, so I wanted to put together a project where you can throw it on and travel with it. I wanted to reach out to more hip-hop artists, so that’s when I reached out to Blu and Skyzoo, because I wanted to get them involved in the jazzy hip-hop production. But yeah, it came together well.

TCUS: What was that experience of travelling like?

P.R: It was really inspiring, especially [listening to] the music when you go out to those countries. I went out there and was working on music at the time, and I really wanted to immerse myself in music out there. The places we went to, the things we did… My main focus going out to Korea and Japan was [that] I really wanted to promote my music, have meetings, try to lock in some shows, and work with some people out there. It was really productive.

It was cool; when I went out there in 2012, the reason I went to Korea was [that] after Introspection was released, I saw a lot of listeners out in Korea for that project. I thought to myself, you know what? I’ll just get out there and see what happens. At that time, I had a lot of contacts with Korean artists and companies. I met up with a couple of Korean hip-hop artists and just travelled through Korea, did some digging, and hit up some hip-hop shows. Some really cool things happened in Korea as well. I connected with a couple of listeners from Introspection, and they were really nice. I made some really good contacts out there.

It’s funny; I had a moment where I went to an underground hip-hop club called Brand New, and basically, I walked in there – there were probably about 30 people in there – I sat down with the guy I was travelling with and two of his contacts and started chatting, and 30 minutes in, my song “Sunchild” played all of a sudden. It was a really cool moment. I went up to the deejay – I had the CDs with me – and I tried to explain to him that it was my song. He looked at the CD, and I pointed to “Sunchild” and to myself, and he got the idea. He came out from behind the booth and shook my hand. So yeah, little moments like that happened in Korea that really made it even more inspiring and made me want to go back in 2013 as well.

[In 2013] I went out to Korea and also Japan at the same time, and yeah, I went out there, same kind of thing – I was connecting with people that were into my music and other artists – and I had a really productive and inspiring music trip. It was really cool to get out to Asia and see what the mood was like, and see what I could do out there with music.

TCUS: In Japan, you actually met family members of Nujabes, correct?

P.R: Yeah, I met Nujabes’ brother. It was really surprising. I was out there with a friend of mine, LeeHahn, and both of us met up with one of my contacts one night, and she took us to a little ramen spot – it was really random; it was in the backstreets. She directed us there, and we were trying to find the place, and we all got lost for like five minutes. We kept walking down the backstreets of Tokyo and finally found the joint. We sat down, and as soon as I got in there, they were playing Nujabes’ music and Uyama Hiroto’s music, and Substantial’s music, and I was like, wow, this is really cool. I wish I could walk into any ramen place out here in Australian and they’d be playing jazzy hip-hop.

We ordered and started eating, and in the back, there was one chef making the ramen. After we finished eating, he walked out, and it was Nujabes’ brother. Our contact introduced us to him, I shook his hand, and at the time, I had a Moment In Time CD with me, so I gave him one of my CDs. He checked out the tracklist – and obviously he was familiar with Cise Starr and Substantial and all those guys – so it was cool to connect with him.

I explained to him that Nujabes is a big influence of mine, and it was really cool to do that. He smiled at me, and I could see that he found it cool as well. That was a really cool moment for me, to meet Nujabes’ brother. All the way from being influenced by his music to all of a sudden meeting his brother, it’s pretty crazy.

TCUS: What has been another of the most special moments where you’ve met someone through music?

P.R: There’s been a lot of cool moments, definitely. One of them that really helped with pushing what I was trying to do and meeting him was in 2010, when I met Statik Selektah. He came down with Q-Tip and the Pharcyde in Sydney, and at that time, I was talking to Statik on Twitter, and I hit him up, saying, “I really want to get you a side show.” He responded to me on Twitter, and he was cool, so we met up at his hotel. At the time, he was putting together that release with Saigon, All In A Day’s Work. He showed us one or two tracks from it. I got him a side show, and from there it kind of progressed.

P.R Interview on The Come Up Show

At the time, I was putting together my debut mixtape, Pre-Heated, and I reached out to him, [asking] “how can you help me get it out there?” We had the idea of him hosting it, so Statik ended up hosting my debut mixtape and gave me some contacts. So that meeting with Statik was really cool.

Apart from that, I also met up with Onyx when they were in Sydney. We got them in the studio. They were recording a track for a compilation which I’m a part of, and it was cool to meet Sticky [Fingaz] and Fredro [Starr]. I was playing them my beats and going through beats to record for that compilation, so they ended up choosing the beat, and they jumped in the studio, and I was sitting there watching everything.

They recorded to my beat, and I had a chat with Sticky about the Shut ‘Em Down album, and how it’s one of the albums that got me into hip-hop. He liked that. I started talking to Fredro as well. It was really cool to meet those guys, because Shut ‘Em Down was definitely one of the first albums that introduced me to underground hip-hop. Other artists… I’ve met Skyzoo, and a couple of hip-hop artists where I’ve thought to myself, wow, I’m meeting all these dudes who I’ve been listening to this whole time. There’s been a lot of cool moments with that.

TCUS: Let’s go back to Moment In Time. You had Skyzoo and Blu on that project. What stuck out to you about their music and made you want to reach out to them?

P.R: I think in terms of Blu, ever since he released music, I’ve really liked his direction and his fusion of hip-hop and jazzy/soulful production that Exile was doing. When I was thinking about features on Moment In Time, I really wanted to bring together the hip-hop aspect and the jazz aspect, so I was thinking of Cise Starr, and then I thought to myself, who else can I get on board that could take my EP to another level? I thought that Blu would be perfect for what I was trying to do, so I reached out to him.

Luckily at that time, Thomas Prime – one of the guys that runs the Cult Classic label – had a contact with Blu’s manager, so it all came together perfectly. I reached out to him, and he sent out the track, and Blu jumped on it, so it worked out really well. I’ve been lucky with that – whenever I want to put together a track, it always works out. But Blu was a really good addition to that EP and helped a lot.

Skyzoo was someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. I had been following his music, and I considered him one of those emcees on top at the time in that scene. I had been talking to Skyzoo on and off since 2010 – I wanted to get him on my mixtape at that time, but he was touring a lot, and that was really difficult. I wanted to get him on a track with Chaundon called “Give It To You” – I ended up getting Naledge from Kidz in the Hall.

For Moment In Time, it was just the perfect time [to get Skyzoo]. Another guy I was working with, he actually wanted to get Skyzoo on a track as well, and we ended up getting Skyzoo on two tracks – the one with Substantial and another track that I produced with Sheek Louch. He brought everything to that track [with Substantial]. It was good timing and everything else worked out.

TCUS: What have you been up to since Moment In Time came out?

P.R: I’ve just been working a lot. This year, I’ve basically been trying to elevate my music on a business side of things, so I’ve been co-running a studio since last November and recording, mixing, and producing people that come in here. It’s a full-time thing for me now.

Apart from that, I’ve been involved in a lot of different projects with different people. I’m working on quite a major remix – it feels like it might be the first of its kind, fusing jazz hip-hop with indie pop, and it’s quite a big song as well. It’s probably not a good idea to reveal anything yet [laughs], but that’s definitely on [the way]. I’ve been sending out a lot of beats to people. I have my Introspection and Moment In Time instrumentals out this month with Cult Classic Records, so that’s way overdue – people have been asking for those instrumentals for awhile.

P.R Interview on The Come Up Show

[Also], there’s one or two albums that are coming out. I’ve got tracks with Evidence, Bone Thugs[-n-Harmony], Masta Ace, and a lot of unreleased tracks. I guess I’m just trying to stay busy with as many projects as possible this year, working with a lot of different artists. But my main focus has been on the business side of music, while at the same time, trying to release projects and stay consistent with all that. Look out for a lot of new music, because there’s [lots] on the way.

TCUS: Let’s end things off with a rapid-fire round. What’s your dream collaboration?

P.R: Mos Def. He’s been an artist that I’ve always been trying to connect with. He’s probably in my top five emcees of all time. With my sound fused with Mos Def, I think that would turn out really cool.

TCUS: What’s your favourite Mos Def song?

P.R: Actually, it’s probably a song that not many people would say, but a song that really connected with me is “Life Is Good.” It’s not one of his songs; it was a deejay or producer in Japan who did that song with Mos Def. It’s just a really positive song, and at that time, it was on loop. But yeah, Black On Both Sides, and obviously his songs with Talib [Kweli]… when I started getting into hip-hop, it was his music.

TCUS: Who rounds out your top five emcees?

P.R: Oh man. One’s Mos Def. Eminem – he introduced me to a different side of hip-hop. I’d definitely put Blu up there, just because of his different approach to the music that he makes – I really liked the way that he would emcee, and how diverse he was. I know I’m going to regret this list later [laughs]. I’d probably say Redman. At that time, I was listening to a lot of Def Squad with Erick Sermon, Redman, and Keith Murray, and I started listening to Muddy Waters and all those tracks. And I’ll say Black Thought – the fact that he’s such a great and real emcee, and what he’s done with the Roots, he’s put together some amazing music. I wish you’d have given me a top ten though [laughs].

TCUS: What’s your favourite emcee and producer duo?

P.R: I’d say Gang Starr, just because of the influence Premo and Guru have had on me. They made some classic hip-hop.

TCUS: Final question. What’s your favourite Nujabes song?

P.R: You’re really making these questions difficult [laughs]. That’s even harder than the top five list. The Nujabes song with a feature would probably have to be “Highs 2 Lows” with Cise Starr. [Either] that or “Think Different” with Substantial. [As for an instrumental], “The Final View.” The way he combines the sounds on that, I really love that. It’s just one of those tracks I can always throw on, in any day or time, any place.

Subscribe to The Come Up Show Podcast!