CHURCH & AP (IMAGE: deadnakedparty)

Church & AP: ‘Why should you be shunned for being young and putting yourself out there?’

Yesterday, Jogai Bhatt talked with the people behind creative collective Nah Zone. Today, she talks with one of its closest musical collaborators, Church & AP.

Church & AP is a rap duo comprised of Elijah Manu (Church), Nah Zone’s head writer, and Albert Purcell,  the younger brother of Nah Zone’s founding director Jonique Purcell. The 17 and 18-year-old duo are making waves in Auckland, with the former receiving acclaim from the likes of David Dallas and SWIDT after a standout 64 Bars performance. Now they’ve released their debut project Thorough Bread – a nine-track EP chronicling their everyday observations of clout, societal pressures, tall poppy syndrome, and life in Aotearoa.

How did the EP come together?

Elijah: Thorough Bread was never really meant to be a project. A lot of it just came out of catharsis. We didn’t have a cool name for ourselves. We’re not SWIDT, you know. We’re just Church & AP. That’s us. We were just making songs together, and we saw other people were releasing joint projects and we just figured, we can do that. We’d only really planned to do this one thing, but then we started doing live shows, people started associating us more as a duo, the chemistry worked and everything just fell into place. Now we just run with it.

At what point did you realise you worked better as a duo?

Albert Purcell: It was around when we started getting more gigs together, maybe December last year. It was Let Me Loose at Whammy, that was the first time we were Church & AP.

Elijah: I begged Rizvan for a spot and he was like, ‘You should come with your bro from the Introvert video’, which was a song we’d done a long time ago. I was like, ‘Sweet, we’ll be Church X AP’. Then I was like, ‘Yo, Albert, I put us down as Church X AP’, and he goes, ‘Nah, that’s Eno X Dirty, change it!’ So that’s how Church & AP became a thing.

Albert: We were trying to come up with a name. One of them was gonna be “Clap”.

Elijah: But then clap’s chlamydia so it didn’t work. Anyway, people notice us as Church & AP now, it’s nice.

How do you guys know each other?

Albert: Year nine. I was talking to my mate about Chance the Rapper, and then this guy just came out of nowhere and was like, ‘Yo, I heard that project as well’. It was his first day at MAGS too, and I was just like, ‘Eh, who are you?’ Then I saw him at school rapping, he did a lot of freestyle battles.

Elijah: I was just that guy who would love to go somewhere and show off. I was really terrible back in the day, but still, that was me for a long time. Before people took me seriously, which was only like a couple weeks ago, I was always just that guy.

Thorough Bread is a great showcase of local talent, you’ve got Diggy Dupe on there, you’ve got a Jinzo feature, you’ve got Rizvan and MeloDownz. There’s also Baccyard and Shallows on production. What’s it like working with those guys?

Elijah: They’re cool. Working with them came along all quite naturally. The first song we ever made for the tape was Alladat.

Albert: That was after we dropped ‘Introvert’, then Baccyard commented on that and was like, ‘Keen to work’.

Elijah: The Alladat beat was one he’d posted months ago, and that was the one we knew we wanted, so that song came along really quickly. It was done by September, and we just held on to it. Then Baccyard was like, ‘I’ll make some beats for you guys, what do you want?’ So I just asked him to make a random beat with a certain sample and that ended up being ‘Call It Clout’. Then with Shallows, we met him at the Te Atatu community centre. Turns out he went to school with my sister. So many random connections.

Albert: And Melo and Rizvan were through the Wesley Community Centre.

Elijah: They were just like our mentors at the time.

Albert: And Jinzo I just came across through Soundcloud.

Elijah: But I met Jinzo through DNP. DNP was supposed to meet Jinzo at Auckland City Limits in 2016, but he ended up meeting me, which is really weird because we all know each other now.

Albert: I was there trying to sneak in, g.

Elijah: We were all there, we were all in the vicinity. None of us were working together, but you know Kendrick, he just brings people together. We got to talking and by the end of the show we just had so much in common, so we added each other on Facebook and then he was like, ‘Yo, one of my mates Jinzo, he raps, here’s this video I did for him’. So we’d known about him for ages, but we only properly met him in person at the Nah Zone pre-party. Prior to that it was all over the internet – the beat was sent over the internet, the verse was sent over the internet, the whole song was just made online.

It was a real natural process of us being like, ‘Hey, we like your music, do you wanna jump on a song or something?’ The Rizvan song, part two to ‘Bills’, was just because we loved ‘Bills’ and that was our favourite Rizvan song. So I just asked Rizvan, like, ‘Can we flip it?’ And we were gonna just rap over the same instrumental but the version he sent didn’t have any drums. He was like, ‘Sorry, bro’, and so we got Shallows just to reproduce it, and he did his thing.

Elijah, you got major recognition through 64 Bars. What’s it like getting that recognition from industry heavyweights like David Dallas and SWIDT?

Elijah: It’s cool because these guys just as excited as we are. They’re excited to see what we’re doing, and we’re just excited to do it. It’s an awesome feeling to get those kinda words of affirmation, when they say stuff like, ‘Watch out for Church & AP, they’re gonna be the next big thing.’ It was only a year ago that we didn’t know any of them, we were just fans, but now it’s at that point where they’re playing really big roles in mentoring us. In 2017, we didn’t release a lot of music, we just sat and waited and soaked up all the knowledge we could, and this year we’re finally executing all those plans. So it’s been a process, and it’s still going, but now we’re just a bit more in the public eye which is always cool. And to have that kind of support from those guys, it’s almost like a verification sticker, like, this guy’s official. If David Dallas says he’s cool, then he’s cool.

It was mean seeing that Sniffers profile of you, especially with the 64 Bars parallel between you saying you were inspired by Abdul Kay, and Abdul saying he was inspired by the person before him. Kind of reminds you how instrumental something like 64 Bars can be in fostering a new generation of talent.

Elijah: We were all inspired by Abdul. Albert knew him just by living around him, and going to school with his brother. Abdul came up as Facebook famous, man. We all knew him.

Albert: Then he put out that rapping video and that was part of our motivation as well.

Elijah: We were like, ‘Yo, he’s actually doing it’, then when we saw the 64 Bars we were like ‘Yooooo, he’s for real doing it’. I remember I messaged him after that came out – it’s so cringe looking at it now – I was like, ‘Hey, man. How do you get on 64 Bars? Who do I send my music to?’ That was the kinda impact those guys had on us.

I know people always mention your ages in these things but I think it’s important to note in the context of this EP because you guys are so young, but you’re speaking on some quite poignant issues. One that gets in me particular is ‘Bill$ Pt.2’ – you’re saying you don’t want fame or pay, you just want do enough to be able to provide. Can you touch a bit on that track?

Elijah: That was probably the most important verse that I wrote.

Albert: Definitely, you didn’t wanna mess that up, especially with Rizvan letting us remix that track.

Elijah: We made sure that we spoke on something that was important, so we kind of flipped the idea of Bills and added to what Rizvan had put on the original song.

Albert: Because that’s from Rizvan’s perspective, and he’s much older than us.

Elijah: He’s working and he’s doing the nine-to-five, and we’re seeing our family do it. We’re seeing our parents do it. It’s a pretty emotional subject for me in all honesty, when I played it for my mum, she cried. That’s how you know it’s real. I was just commenting on the things that were around me, and it was just a small line about my mum having bills and not knowing what would come next. Just constantly having to wait on the grace of God. Like, yeah, we wanna rap and we wanna do all these things, but at the end of the day, it comes down to family and trying to provide. It was a very personal thing for both of us. It ended up being a long prayer.

Albert: He sent his verse first, which had the ‘Dear heavenly father’ line at the beginning.

Elijah: And Albert’s verse finishes with ‘Amen’. A lot of people don’t really catch that, but it’s just one big prayer. I hope people look at the tape and know there’s a bit more substance there.

Another one that gets me is ‘Tall Poppy’. I remember talking to SWIDT at the VNZMAs last year about this whole obsession we have with tall poppy syndrome, and they were like, ‘We work so hard all the time, why shouldn’t we celebrate?’ Do you think we’re seeing a kind of pendulum shift happening culturally?

Elijah: Yeah, and it’s something that Nah Zone is definitely helping with. Giving that confidence back to the artists. For us it was like, why should you be shunned for being young and putting yourself out there? People will support you, but then when you put yourself out there they’ll be like, ‘This guy’s cocky’ or ‘He thinks he’s the man.’

Albert: Especially being in school, eh.

Elijah: Especially in school. They’ll just be like, ‘This guy’s wack’.

Do you think you’re more susceptible to that criticism being brown? Because I know for me culturally, humility is kind of instilled in us from a young age.

Elijah: Definitely. You’ll still get roasted for being a rapper. I think especially within the Pacific Island community, it’s within that culture to bring people down, and it’s not even a negative thing, it’s just about how you should act or how you should be perceived by people. Albert’s a bit more humble than I am, but when you’re out here just being unapologetic, people feel a certain type of way about it. It’s understandable, but it’s also something that we both felt like we needed to speak on.

What’s next for Church & AP?

Albert: Just keep it going.

Elijah: A lot of people care about us now. You can’t gauge the type of people that listen to you until after the fact, but just seeing that there are people listening to what we have to say, that just motivates us to keep going. We have a lot more coming, like two or three projects before the end of the year. Time to get more shows.

Albert: Time to get more money.

Elijah: Yeah I didn’t wanna say it, but get more money.


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