For any musically-inclined person, musical tastes come and go like the wind. One day, you may be listening to Bach and jamming out on some Baroque-style organ, and the next you may have switched to heavy-metal and started wearing black leather, studded dog-collars and biting heads off bats.
Musical influences are a completely different kettle of fish, though. There’s always one cluster of tracks pressed into a record that stick in the mind of any artist, imprinting itself on any of their future creative pursuits.
Personally, I have always had a rebellious fascination with Eminem and his stance on rap music and hip-hop. His way with words is mind-blowing. He is my musical influence, along with some others from the hip-hop genre itself. The wordsmanship of rhyme, the messages and conversations they provoke – there’s the magic in it. For Hawke’s Bay-native, Tom Francis, his big musical influence is hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. His favorite album––‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’, for pretty much the same reason.
For a young, creative hip-hop artist from New Zealand, Francis has truly worked with the best that industry has to offer. He hangs out and collaborates with the undisputed Godfather of West Coast rap, Snoop ‘Doggy’ Dogg. They even released a single together at the start of March and Francis plans to continue releasing music monthly. Francis first made tracks in 2016 with his debut album, Underestimated. His second album, The Follow Up came out earlier this year and I listened to it in its entirety, alone, upon its release. Rhymes and beats, slides of tone and jabs of bespoke honesty made me automatically create a connection to Francis’ influences, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg himself.
The thing about Francis was his refreshing confidence. He had a type of knowledge that I could tell keeps him grounded, humble but not too cocky. This genuinely humble, break-through artist made time in his busy schedule to sit down with me and chat about his story and success.
Can you let us in on a bit of your musical history?
Well, I started three years ago. One day, I was just like, ‘Man, I want to start making music,’ and I did. I’m from Hawkes Bay, which is a very small town, with a small town mentality. When you’re doing something, people don’t really believe in it. That was pretty hard for me to get around and when I started out I was super nervous, I didn’t really know how to rap. I wanted to get that fear out of the way.
So a friend of mine and I sat in a car and we rapped to each other. I was bright red, just freaking out. He was doing the same thing. He didn’t actually end up carrying on with the music, but I did. I sort’ve knew this stuff was going to work. We released an album, Underestimated which we basically produced out of a bedroom. Bedroom production has real minimal costs.
Next, we did a couple of songs in the United States and then from there, worked with Paramount. I met some cool people and made more connections through that. Next up, we were doing stuff with bigger artists. I was in a studio and my Sound Engineer suggested that one of his producer friends comes through. That was when we were working on the second album, The Follow-Up.
This guy, KJ, came in and he liked my style and asked if he could hit it up with Snoop [Dogg]. It’s a real funny thing…I started off in Hawkes Bay working in a firewood business and that’s how I was paying for my flights and studio time, because I was still early on, just trying to hustle and make it happen. Next, Snoop is inviting me into his studio!
I had five days until I was going back home, and as the days went, things were getting real business. I flew back to Hawke’s Bay, jumped in my truck, went and picked up a trailer, cut and split a quarter firewood, delivered it and then flew straight back to LA on the next flight I could find! I was back in LA that same night and I was back in a studio with [Snoop].
What was it like meeting and now working with Snoop Dogg?
He’s just super humble. No ego, just down to earth. A lot of those artists in LA are, because that’s how they’ve gotten to where they want to be. Most of those guys started with nothing, and they know the struggle of trying to make it. No artist I’ve come across has a big head. There’s no point in having an ego. I feel like an ego is only a disadvantage. But yeah, Snoop and I made this song that we’ve got out recently. It’s called Lifestyle.
What can people expect to hear from it?
Snoop asked me what sort of song I wanted to make, and I said I wanted it like an OG West Coast rapper, the most iconic, right? People ask ‘Whatever happened to the ‘good rap’?’ I love all types of music and subgenres of other genres, but most of all good hip-hop. I love trap music too. I love new stuff, but I just felt, with him there, I wanted to make a song that would suit the West Coast. That had this stamp, those slaps and sneers and kicks, just like a nice piano. I wanted the good-feel organic sound.
It’s got a really positive and uplifting vibe when you listen to it. I want listeners to feel good. It’s all about a healthy, wealthy, happy sort of living. Not necessarily financial wealth, but wealth of who you’ve got around you. A happy family, you’ve got a roof over a head and everything’s straight.
How do you stay motivated?
Hard work overrides talent, when talent doesn’t work. There’s a lot of guys out there that are so talented but they just don’t work. Many use drugs as a crutch. I stay off the drugs. I’m clean as a whistle. I just get it done.
My main producer, Flocker, and I, we’re just constantly working. When we go to LA, we bang it out. We get in a studio for 12 to 14 hours. We’re going in at like 7 o’clock at night and then we’re coming out at 10 in the morning. It makes me feel like a bat.
But we’re here to change the game in the New Zealand scene, and we’re here to kick some doors down and we’re doing it. It feels good to be the first ever artist of any genre in the Southern Hemisphere to directly work with Snoop Dogg.
Who would you say is your biggest musical influence?
I get really inspired by Kendrick Lamar. I like his old stuff a lot. I’ve been working with a dude who worked with him on Section.80. That music wasn’t all “club-banger” stuff, it was more what the message was and I related to that so much. I felt like every situation I was mad in, he had me covered on every basis and it was super inspiring to me.
When working on a song, what sort of messages do you want to put in the lyrics?
I try and capture what I’m feeling at the time. If I’ve got like a chip on my shoulder about something, I’m going to speak on it. If I want to write something I’m doing, I will, and hopefully other people relate to it. The main reason I started making music was to help people relate to one another.
I think audiences like to figure out themselves and music is a huge way of expressing that. Music’s a great expression. You can listen to a full album after breaking up with a partner. You might have lost your job or you might have something bad happen and then you go listen to a good album, it just relaxes you. It’s therapeutic.
What would be your favourite album of all time?
Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. That album’s crazy, man. I’m a big fan of Men at Work too. Musicians like John Lennon, The Beatles, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix. A lot of genres that you probably think I wouldn’t really be interested in, I’m in to it. And it’s crazy, because a lot of the studios I work in now was where they recorded those songs. Jimi Hendrix recorded All Along the Watchtower in the studio that we recorded all our songs in.
How long does it take for you to work on a song?
Flocker and I made this one song driving to the studio in LA. He was in the passenger seat on his laptop. He made the beat in five minutes. Then we literally walked in to the studio, plugged in the beat and laid it down. We had it mixed in an hour. It was like, ‘Sweet, on to the next one.’
When you are in the States and you’re working, producers are banging out four songs a day. That’s how they operate, because it’s a whole different work ethic. I bring that work ethic back here and we just boom, boom, boom, go all the time, just confidently doing music. You’ve got to be moving, because at the end of the day if you don’t, someone else is going to take your place.
How do you find the difference in the industry over in the States to here in New Zealand?
Huge difference. I find it so much easier in the States. People love working with me in the US. In America, people want to work with each other more because they know that teamwork makes the dream work. Whereas here, I feel like everyone’s got their own circle. It’s super cliquey and that’s not me. That’s not what we’re about. We like to bring the good vibes back [to New Zealand] with us.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I learnt this recently and this is probably the best advice that I’ve been given. Martial arts, like jujitsu, I’ve seen them take 15, sometimes 20 years to get black belts! And those guys say they got there because they just kept going back. If you put that in to the context of music, where you keep turning up to the studio, the chances are they’re going to listen to your stuff and make a hit.
Honestly, just keep going. Snoop said that to me ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’
What does the future look like for you?
We’ve got big, big plans for the future. We dropped our second album in February and we’ve got a single coming out on the first day of every month with a video. We stepped up, big time. I’ve got a really good team right now and I’m really excited. Everything that I dreamed of is coming together. Creativity and business are two completely different things in the industry. They’re quite hard to blend together. When I’m in my business mode, I’m in a business mode. When I’m in creative mode, I’m in a creative mode. Hopefully, I can balance the two.
With my new album, a whole lot of new songs with Lifestyle with Snoop dropping. 2019 is going to be a really good year for us. For sure.