Interview: 10A —Winning Super Brawl And Working With Scribe On Rhyme Book

Super Brawl winner, 10A. Photo by James Hirata, Catalyst Photography.
Super Brawl winner, 10A. Photo by James Hirata, Catalyst Photography.

10A, who’s real name is Tenei Kesha, had his name misspelled on his birth certificate – not by the nurse, but by his dad – he laughs about it now, ‘give him the old one, two for that’, he reckons. But sadly, after his dad, who was also a musician, passed away a few years ago, Tenei packed up and moved to Melbourne to recuperate;   while there, he explored the city his dad used to live in; remembering he had pushed him to make an album and even  wanted to feature on it. He says, ‘ it was on my heart to get that oNESHOT album out.’ After the album was released this year, 10A returned home to Christchurch, ready for the next step with his music. Winning the Super Brawl Invitational Beat Battle, held by DJ Spell last month in Wellington, was just another show case of the producer’s talent. The prize of the competition was a Maschine from Native Instruments; the best thing about his new ‘toy’ he says is ‘the colours’ and flashing lights. But seriously, he says, winning the competition has provided more opportunities and collab proposals from New Zealand and overseas. Not that he needs to be gassed up – having produced five tracks on Scribe’s Rhyme Book in 2007 – Tenei still cites that as his proudest musical moment to date. His album, oNESHOT, dances through many musical genres like dubstep or hip hop. It’s hard to pin one specific style on him, though he says, fusion and hip hop are genres that are heavily apart of his style; video game samples are another, ‘ I used to buy games just to go to the option menu and listen to music and the sound effects, I wouldn’t even play the game. I’d listen to the sounds and get a high off that…I always wanted to know how they made that sound, I was kind of a geek, you know like a computer nerd’.  Most musicians are geeks, I say, to which he answers: You kind of got to be if, you want to come up with new sounds, you know?

HH: Musically what was Melbourne like? 

T: I went there not knowing what was going to happen, but it was crazy, I met so many artists and the level of professionalism there is just another level.

HH: So where does the name 10A come from? 

T: [laughs] It’s a long story. I tell people it’s Indian, cause I’m part Indian, but it’s actually Māori. My dad spelt it wrong when I was born so I think, give him a one/two for that one. And then I changed it to 10A so it could at least look cool. I don’t know if it does. But yeah.

“It was just crazy, seeing all the spots I used to hang, I can’t tell my kids, if I have them in the future, that I used to hang here, and Time Out was here; I used to chill here with the boys. It’s gone.”- Tenei on Christchurch post earthquake. 

HH: Do you remember what music influenced you as a kid? 

T: It goes way back, like my dad was a guitarist and that’s all he did was play guitar every day. My mum was a singer and I just remember them leaving to do gigs and stuff. The house was left and I’d be at home alone with my sister – she was four at the time, and we’d just be playing on the music gears and jamming out on the drum machines when they were gone. Even at their band practices – so I got early memories of music from then. It’s been like that throughout my whole life just being at family gigs, watching them practice, just taking it all in.

 “You know, music, it kind of came to me because it was like a drug, like a get away from what was happening in the house and all that sort of shit, so I got soaked up in it.”

HH: What music did your parents play? 

T: It was more fusion, sort of funk. My dad was a heavy metal guitarist and he’d play fusion/funk. My mum was more R&B she’d listen to hip hop and all that sort of stuff so yeah it was a big mix.

HH: What were you drawn to most? 

T: Man, fusion I think. It’s an out of it style — jazz,  funk and rock. It’s just crazy, no limit sort of styles.

HH: Yeah I was listening to oNESHOT and it kind of runs through all different genres of music, it’s was hard to pick you sort of a thing.

T: Yeah that’s right. The reason I did that – okay so I was conforming to hip hop and doing a lot of R&B and what not, but I’ve always been a jungle, drum and bass freak, hip hop freak and R&B since I was a little kid; I used to try to master every style as a kid, I just wanted to master it all and I think moving to Melbourne, where my dad used to live, it opened me up to so many genres of music. I just thought man, I want to try something different and do something that hadn’t really been done. It was a test in a way, like getting my music out there with different styles and seeing how the crowd was going to react. It was just something fresh I guess and I needed to get it off my chest a well; that’s why I did a whole range of styles on that album and it seemed to work. I just wanted to let people know as well, that I don’t just do one style.

HH: So how long have you been making beats properly would you say?

T: Properly, 12 to 14. I started making beats when I was seven. My dad gave me my first drum machine when I was seven or eight and I just naturally took a liking to it. I was getting praise for it as a kid so I just stuck to it – it became a passion and something crazy where it was like my video game.

“Most kids would be playing video games, I’d just be making beats.”

HH: Do you know what your specialty would be – sound wise? 

T: I’d have to say hip hop, I’m a big fan of hip hop – boom bap stuff. I always find myself going back to hip hop, no matter what other style I do. Every style seems to have the cool factor in it, and it’s the hip hop side of me that seems to branch out into the other styles so naturally, I’m always going back to hip hop when I’m done doing dance or whatever.

HH: So were you performing in Melbourne? 

T: I was supposed to do some, but I mostly went there to find myself in music again. I’d not long just lost my father and my music came to a hold. It was a good three years –  I moved to Auckland from Christchurch and studied there at MAINZ for like a year, then I spent another year in Auckland and decided it’s time to do what dad really wanted me to do – he wanted me to put out an album  and be on it as well. So yeah, it was on my heart to get that oNESHOT  album out. I pretty much went to Melbourne to make music and just find myself.

HH: Which part of it was a weight off your shoulders, because it was your first album as well? 

T: It was just a huge weight – everyone had been waiting and I just didn’t know how to get there, like what do you do? I didn’t have anyone to go to, I only had myself. So I just thought I just have to man up, do my own mastering, do my own mixing, my own cover art work, and just chop it out and see what people think of them.  It was worth it because I learnt a lot in the process.

HH: So when you realized you were done, what feeling came over you – because despite what you were going through, releasing your first album would have left you cleaned out of ideas as well. Or did you know where to go next? 

T: Yeah definitely. I was actually really excited and had a huge weight off my shoulders, but I was also like,  ‘man where to now? Like what do I do? I kind of got stuck again, and yeah it was stupid – it’s a cycle and it was just crazy. I was talking to my sister and said, ‘man I feel like it’s time to come back to Christchurch’. I guess I was just ready for the next stage in life and I felt Christchurch was the place to come back to even though there’s no city and stuff like that. The timing was perfect coming back.

HH: What is it like down there, post earthquake? 

T: The vibe’s changed, everything’s changed ae. I mean the roads are screwed still; I got a flat tyre the other day, I just bought this car  – and I was probably going a little too fast and yeah, hit a pothole and lost my tyre. There’s just no city. I drove through there the first time the other night and it was just crazy; seeing all the spots I used to hang, I can’t tell my kids in the future, you know, if I have kids, that I used to hang here and Time Out was here, I used to chill here with the boys. It’s gone.

HH: So Super Brawl. You won man, did you go into it thinking you had a good chance of winning? 

T: Nah I had no idea ae. I went in there thinking I was going to lose. You know, all the young talent in New Zealand now, it’s just crazy like Smokey Beatz he’s just crazy – he wasn’t in the battle but I was wishing he was, that would have been cool for him too. And SickDrum he’s amazing as well, all these guy are young. I remember the ranking match, I turned to my boys and was like man, ‘I’ve lost’ and they were like, ‘shut up, you don’t know’. But I was just like, nah, I’ve lost bro, I’ve lost. I knew these guys were going to come with next level music. But I didn’t expect their shit to sound that hot… like it was really punchy and I was thinking, ‘oh man, I didn’t spend no time making beats for this battle’. I did two tracks for the battle and all the rest were old tracks. It cracked me up (laughs) so I jumped up and I seemed to win the first battle and I was like,’ oh shit, the crowds liking it’. And then by round two I was pretty drunk and just thought, ‘oh I’ve lost it, definitely lost it,’ and then I won that and yeah I just thought, ‘snap, I don’t know what’s going on, but something’s working’.

HH: You had battle beats though, that counted towards ranking each time, I think…

T: Yeah I guess so, it was more aggressive tracks,  but I did plan my tracks with the battle mind. I knew had to have aggressive tracks in order to get somewhere.

HH: What software do you use to produce the sounds

T: Now I am using, wait I’ll show you, my prize…[we’re on Skype] So that’s a Maschine. I got a keyboard and I got heaps of software and drums sounds and stuff like that.

HH: So, I kind of understand writing lyrics, how does it work for writing a beat? 

T: Um… It starts off from feel, how you’re feeling. And I guess if you feel like making quite an aggressive track you can put down the drums, you chose your sounds first, according to what you’re feeling at the time. So, I’ll find like a kick, say, then a sneer. Lots of little sounds. Then I’ll make a beat like that and then loop it. Then I’ll put chords down like keyboards and just add, and add, and add until you’re happy with it I guess. It builds from one sound to another until you’ve got this solid; say the chorus of the song and then you kind of build around that, like your intro and then you got your verses until it builds into a complete song and then you send it away to rapper – or singers and see what they think.

HH: How do you personally know when you’re done? Is there a line between done and putting to much on?

T: So if you’re in a creative mode, I guess anything goes and if you’re not worried about rappers or singers on there then you don’t worry, you just do your thing. If you’ve got pop in mind or a commercial track in mind you kind of got to pull back, you know, so you can put as much sounds as you want and then when you’ve finished, start pulling away. Yeah, and that’s what you do, just pull. So if it feels like there’s too much in that bit, pull away until it sounds quite nice and there’s rooms for vocals. Usually choruses are quite big and you can use all your sounds but just turn them right down and do your effects and make it wide enough so vocals can sit nicely there.

HH: You know how you said you start with a feeling. How do you know where to take that feeling with the track? Like you have a loop, then what do you do?

T: Yeah it’s all feel. So you’d go from that loop, like you just seem to know. I guess that’s how everyone has their own style. You just seem to know where you wanna go and depending on how I’m feeling, I guess, I just go in that direction. It’s hard to explain and everyone’s different and have their own ways of making music. A lot of people use loops that are already made – they don’t make it, they just chuck it in and then they get ideas from that and build of that.

HH: Do you do that? 

T: I do both. Usually I make my own loops, it’s kind of more inspiring to me. The thing with making your own loops is you can change it. You know, chop and change – pull little sounds out and make it not so monotonous.

HH: Who’s been your favourite person to work with so far? 

T:  Definitely Scribe, he’s dangerous man like, off stage and behind the scenes, he’s crazy. He’s probably the most creative dude I’ve worked with.  As an emcee, for him, he seems to ride my music really nicely. He gets in the zone – so I’ll be in this feeling and this zone and he’ll just seem to be on that same level. Every time. If not higher. He just gets in that pocket, just like me. So that’s the best.

“That was probably my most proudest moment. I produced five tracks on Rhyme Book back in 2007. I think that album was really underrated, but to me it’s still dope. I can listen to it now and just think, man it’s got so many memories behind it too.’

[Rhyme Book] was all bedroom styles. There’d be mornings where he’d turn up with McDonald’s in my face like, ‘get up, are you ready’?  And I’d be like, ‘shieet I just woke up’. So I’d get up and we’d just start recording and banging out tracks. Yeah it was pretty cool.

HH: So when you say dangerous what do you mean? 

T: I’d say I guess flow wise, it’s just crazy. He likes to do fresh stuff – aside from what’s being released commercially. He plays with flow and just seems to hit- I’ll have a beat that will have different timings and he just seems to flow perfectly over it. I think it’s flows his biggest talent, and his lyrics, he’s a really good writer.

HH: What have you found is good about the Maschine? 

T: The colours. The lights. Yeah it’s cool man- I love looking at it.  So far that’s all I’ve liked looking at. Just seeing all the different colours and I guess it will look cool on stage too. But no, like, I put all my sounds in there, stuff that I’ve owned previously, and I think it’s quicker to make music. You can get your ideas from your head down onto the Maschine; you can find your sounds really quickly and there’s no mouse clicks. It’s just straight away and I seem to be pulling out beats a lot faster than what I was before. I’ve used Maschines for years but coming to this Maschine, it is a lot different because it’s software base – it’s like learning a whole new thing all together. It’s got all these different turns and stuff that I have to learn but it seems to be making sense so far and making music with it, ideas seem to get shot out of my head really quick. It’s good because I get bored really fast and if I make a song and it’s taking too long, I just scrap it straight away.

HH: What can people look out for from you now?

T: I’ll be learning for another month I reckon and trying to get this Maschine down pat. The reason I’m working on this so much is because I want to see what other things it can do, aside from what I always do. I know it can do a few other things that I couldn’t do before with my software so I’m learning it now. Once I’ve got that down I think I’ll be ready for my next album I guess, it’s probably going to be leaning towards hip hop. I feel like I got to get that off my chest now. I’m also working on a collab with ATP from the Gold Coast on his next EP and Fortafy. There’s also a bass player from New York called Evan Marien. He’s been labelled the world’s greatest bass player and so I am working on remixes for his album. He heard my album oNESHOT and is a friend of Hudson Mohawke, the guy that I look up to.

HH: That would have been buzzy? 

T: It was just crazy hearing from this guy. And I was thinking, ‘man this guy knows Hudson Mohawke’, you know he’s my favorite producer in the world – him and Timbaland. And also I got heaps of respect for him, I love his bass playing and he reminds me of my dad and my dad’s music – fusion sort of thing, so I’m getting into that with him. I’ll be doing drum n bass, hip hop all that sort of thing for his album. So yeah that’s cool. I’ve had quite a few artists hit me up. Especially after winning the battle, a lot from Aussie wanting beats.

HH: When did you fall in love with hip hop?

T: When I was at intermediate. I was listening to New Zealand music a lot back then. When King Kaps brought out his album, Savage Thoughts. And Che Fu’s 2b S Pacific. Those dudes were killing it man and I had them in my headphones, everyday in my tape player. Like way before that I was listening to Radio One and Dole Boy was djing all the classics and that’s what really got me into it. Plus you know, being around my Samoan friends and my Māori friends we all listened to hip hop and a mix of Samoan music and Māori music. I was brought up in all the culture, Indian, everything. I am a quarter Indian, Samoan and Maori so I was brought up on all sides I guess. It was cool. Going to India, I learnt about that side of music too.

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