Meer has been known for her punchy, slick rapping since her duo Cool Tan (then called Heavy) dropped their first EP in 2014. Last year, she kicked off her own solo career and here she talks to Gareth Shute about her new single ‘1953’.
There are many reasons why Meer (real name Reem) holds a singular place in the local hip-hop scene. Most obvious is that she’s a young woman with Lebanese/Palestinian/Iraqi heritage (she moved to New Zealand from Dubai at five years old) in a scene where these characteristics put her in a distinct minority. At least this has changed somewhat in the four years since she started, given, for example, the arrival of rapper/producer Ill Baz (who hails from Palestine) and the unstoppable force that is Jess B (who features on Meer’s track ‘Woah’).
However just as interesting is her progression from the underground (with shows at Whammy Bar and releases on Bandcamp) into an artist who can produce both catchy tracks with crossover potential and conscious raps that examine her unique upbringing. She now has as many Spotify listeners in Brisbane and Melbourne as she does in Auckland, and has recently moved to Australia to check out the scene there (it’s also her partner’s home city). Given all this, it seemed worth asking how she herself sees the changes in her approach to rapping over the years.
How do you feel you’ve developed as a rapper since that first Heavy EP back in 2014? It feels like your early raps were about bringing strength out of yourself, but now with these solo tracks, you’re expressing a bit more of yourself as a multi-faceted person?
Heavy was my gateway, I learnt so much from it, and I think I have been mainly working on my voice and delivery since then. It was hard because I wanted so badly to become “a rapper” and I didn’t even know to how properly put my words together to fit a beat. I just used to acapella everywhere, parties, festivals, I was that drunk bitch rapping to Biggie very loudly on the streets.
Then I guess there was a moment in Heavy where we started getting asked to play some really big shows, that’s when I started to develop myself further. Plus seeing all these other rappers makes me jealous so I want to be even better. Underneath we all feel that way, wordsmiths are very competitive.
I’m starting to structure my songs now and create songs that aren’t half finished or snippets. I wanna do fuckin’ 64 Bars, les get it.
Do you think that goes along with changes you’ve been making personally? The reason I ask is because of some of the powerful interviews you’ve given recently – like when you opened up about your struggles with depression on the Attitude documentary series and spoke honestly with Serum magazine about a surviving a terrible episode in your early teens [trigger warning: linked article discusses sexual abuse/rape].
Oh yeah for sure! I’ve been through some breakthrough changes man, and I’m still changin’ you know. But what I have been working on is my self-confidence, once I started to love myself completely, I literally became more open, once I started to put things into action based on my values, I became almost unstoppable. I am unstoppable.
It’s interesting when that article came out I had so so so many people respond to it, my DMs were full. One thing kept popping up though in most of the messages I got was “that’s so brave of you to be so candid”. I mean I get it, yeah it’s bold and very public, but fuck man I wanna be seen, and I want this stigma to be gone so that we wouldn’t need to say “wow so brave!” but instead move on from that way of reacting. Part of my mental health journey is to be as raw and as honest as I can, because there is magic in this world, and I have built a pretty deep connection with it, to the point where I really trust myself. Truly.
‘Pomegranate’ was a standout on your Kushari EP and recently your released an amazing music video for it that features two dancers from the local vogue scene – Duchess and Princess of Haus of C O V E N. Did you have a particular idea in mind for this vid beforehand? What ideas did the director – Delicious Miss, AKA Corinna Hunziker – bring to the table?
Man, this woman is incredible. She came to me with this brilliant idea and some keywords like “Arabian badass Palestinian army Cleopatra.” And I’m like OMG … it me! We went around town looking for costumes and started to create ideas together at my house she would come over for coffee and we would spend hours just planning.
She really put in so much energy, I was really blown away that someone would do that for me. Like it all came from our – mainly her – pocket. Thank you Corinna!
Your new track, ‘1953’ features soulful vocals from Siobhan Leilani (who performs in a bunch of bands around town, including rapping in their own jazz combo, playing bass with The Protection). How did you end up working with them?
Siobhan is one of the honeys, they are super smart, like legit has some knowledge and is misunderstood (like me) a lot! We bond over that heaps, we known each other for a while too, and we both do music, we hung out heaps so it was only a matter of time until we both did something together.
Siobhan is actually part of Meer now. We are working on an album together at the moment.
The track is named after the birth year of your mother and focuses on the great things she’s done for you bringing you up as a solo mother, as well as the very different cultures you’ve grown up in. How has she adapted to you sticking to the rap game?
She didn’t know I did this thing for a while [but] after years of hiding it I was over it. I ended up telling her, she wasn’t happy at first but after many, many loud conversations, she’s finally accepted the fact that I do this sort of thing.
I don’t just wanna make music though, I want to help others and create platforms for other Arabs. I don’t know man I wanna be like, an icon.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.