“If I can give advice to young rappers, it’s this. Stop going on Facebook, and social media. It’s just fucking distracting, and it’s just shit. If you’re gonna read someone’s status, go read an article, or a book. Stop smoking so much weed. Stop listening to rap music. Get Inspired. Fucking sleep. And drink heaps of water.”
I met the unlikely trio at Base FM’s studio. Emanuel sat at his MacBook, aux cord plugged into the room’s speakers, Ben perched behind him on a used-and-abused office chair, providing feedback on each sound. Pritesh hovered - methodically collecting and discarding empty beer cans from around the room, neatly pooling the never-ending paraphernalia discoveries.
The three represent KWOE, or, to the uninitiated, Kids With Open Ears. Each goes by a moniker - Emanuel is, obviously, Name UL. Ben is Heist Beats. Pritesh is dubbed lovingly by Emanuel as the “old lonely man.”
In the time we take to pack up the studio, cross the road, order coffee, and sit upstairs in the old Williamson building, top floor all to ourselves, they show no signs of slowing down on the satire and self deprecation lobbied, like a game, back and forth. Only the night before, I’d watched Emanuel blow up a performance at ex-strip bar Las Vegas with a startling professionalism, energy, and stage presence, Ben all the while holding down the decks. First impressions? These guys knew each other like brothers, but worked harder and more cohesively than any business start-up you could think of.
Emanuel, Name UL, is 20 years old. Music became his first love by way of modern tech romance, when his parents bought him an iPod at around 8 or 9 years old. The flirtation never ended, spawning instead a need to make babies (roll with me on the crude analogy), providing Emanuel his first place of individual, wholesale belonging, amidst a life experience of high school cliques and competitiveness.
He’d known Ben Murdoch since the pair were little kids - their dads both music industry guys - but hadn’t talked for years, when a 14-year-old Ben dropped a ‘beat tape,’ and a 14-year-old Emanuel discovered it, asking to use them as backing tracks for his upcoming ‘mixtape.’ Adding fuel to the fire, only a few years later, Emanuel’s DJ packed up and shipped out to Australia, and with an upcoming show, asked Ben to take the spot. The two have been working together since.
Pritesh, who also holds down a job lecturing at SAE, slots into the story in a slightly less conventional manner. The tale is almost too good to be true: a young Emanuel was walking home from his girlfriend-at-the-time’s house, decided to go off course for some Burger King, sitting and eating it at the stage door to a Thrift-Shop-era Macklemore’s show. Pritesh, at the time managing Supervillians (who opened for ye olde Macklemore), walked past and recognised him immediately, proceeding to get the kid backstage. Here lay the foundations of an eventual management relationship.
“You never know, we might look back, and this might be the best time,” Emanuel is reflecting on where they currently sit, post SXSW travel, pre relocation to LA. At the starting line of adulthood, he’s beginning to prioritise, “We made one song and a music video in two years. Then in six months of hustle, we did so much.” He’s sitting on a polished and produced album, currently unnamed, the refined tracklisting whittled from 50+ songs, “I think it was just realising me, myself, what I could do if I went 100%.”
It’s a relentless energy channeled into creating music, a ‘momentum’ all three keep speaking of that keeps the pendulum swinging. Emanuel attributes a lot of that to his daily routine, “Before I do anything, I wake up, have a big-ass glass of water, then make myself a coffee, and spend half an hour getting inspired.” Fitness and mental health are a priority, and he can’t stop scratching the itch, “This is the thing. We have so much music. I’ve got to the point where I can’t not make it. I have like a two hour limit of not making it - then I have to go back and make it. There is nothing I would rather do. I’d rather not take breaks. I’ll go home, and I’ll start watching a movie, and then I’ll be like, ‘Ugh, this is so fucking boring,’ I just want to start making music again, you know?’
Ben and Pritesh know. The crew have created a private Facebook group called ‘Morning Inspiration,’ where, “We just post shit to motivate us. Just to remind yourself how much it fucking means to you. I’m not saying, like, you have to be so into it that you’ve got to grind all the time - it should feel natural, just reminding yourself that you’ve got shit to do. That’s where you build your confidence, man.”
They’re not all yes-men, as Ben puts it. Emanuel points to his crew, “These two are my biggest motivators. Brutally honest. They always make me feel like they ain’t shit. That’s why I’m surprised when people like my music.” They allude to the fact they can’t go two days without speaking to each other, despite operating cross-city in Auckland and Wellington. The plan is to keep the team churning when Emanuel’s overseas, too.
The goal is to find harbour into a scene propelling itself forward by the inherent nature of its limited resources and oversupply of talent, “In LA, you’re not going against the grain if you’re a creative. Here, you are.” It’s to thrive in a new environment, and according to Pritesh, find infinitely more avenues of honing commercial viability. It’s to visualise the dream, “I just find LA extremely motivating. You see it [your dreams], everyday.”
But don’t get it twisted. Despite the lofty visions, these guys are as firmly rooted in humility as humanly possible - noting a loss of respect for any who turn to social media to denounce others without cause, or, as Ben puts it, “The artists who turn to Facebook for that validation, who fish for the ‘Oh, you’re so dope bro’.” Whilst Emanuel can’t wait for the platform, “I just wanna be the most intelligent motherfucker who can just like, dissect everything, and like, put it back out there in the form of music. I never want to get up on a radio station and wild-out, and be, like, saying all this crazy shit. But I want to be able to say whatever I want in my songs, then be able to back it up.”
The drive for recognition is not for money, but for further opportunity, both to work with his favourite artists, and to shift the culture - an aim all of them echo the album will address. It’s to shine light on the dark: “People don’t want to address it. But can we just acknowledge this kind of shit? Like, I’ve lost friends to the culture. It’s real, but no one will talk about it… You wanna get fucked up bro? Go do it. But don’t get behind the wheel of a car.”
Harmony, and noble intentions. Name UL is a concept built of its own special breed of humour (Emanuel had tried to convince me he worked as a taxidermist - and just wait 'til you see the Nice Guys Finish Thirst video), raw talent, and an unparalleled drive to be better, do better.
As for the Drake comparisons? “Who the fuck else would you rather be compared to?”
Photography by Dexter Murray for WG
Clothing by Emporium Vintage