Peoples Champ

Acclaim Allstars Card Phi11a


Sydney’s Phi11a could be described as something of an outlier. The tatted-up young rapper with the some of the wildest grills in the country was one of the first artists to pen a deal with the AUNZ wing of iconic label Def Jam Recordings. In the year that has followed Phi11a has dropped tracks like ‘Overdose’ which see him showcase his impressively speedy flows, his collaborative EP Sad Cowboy Shit with US producer Jimmy Duval (XXXTentacion, Lil Baby, Ski Mask The Slump God) and launched into the conversation with a feature from Trippie Redd on ‘Witness’.

Phi11a’s latest track ‘Dirty Dancer’ sees him link up with legendary US hit-maker Scott Storch whos beats soundtracked the 00’s era, boasting production credits on everything from 50 Cent’s ‘Candy Shop’ to Beyoncé’s ‘Naughty Girl’. Eager to hear his stories of recording abroad and what comes next, we caught up with Phi11a to his collaborations, come-up and his influences from punk and metal.

Acclaim Allstars 2020

Tell us a bit about growing up – what were you like as a kid? Did you grow up in a musical household?
I was pretty weird. My dad was always in bands and stuff, he was a massive Kiss fan and we had Kiss memorabilia all over the house and the first concert I ever saw was Kiss when I was 9 years old. I was always in my head as a kid, I was thinking about the future. I was a fat kid dreaming about when I would be skinny. It used to stress me out, I got bullied a bunch and I remember the school holidays between primary and high school I went to the gym every single day and by the time I started year 7 I had a full six-pack. By the time I was 15 I was doing rowing, basketball, everything really — and then I found rap and pot. [Laughs]

What kind of music were you listening to from young?
From young it was a lot of pop-punk like Blink 182 on long car trips, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ By The Way album—I would thrash that with my dad. Then, when I started to find my own music it was all that 00’s shit like Usher. And then in my teens, I got really into punk rock and metal — I got really into Black Flag and I started playing bass in punk bands because my dad played bass and I always looked up to him. My brother and I didn’t get along until we were young adults and because he liked metal, I think I just tried not to like it but once we became closer I got really into metal bands like Tool—who to this day are one of my biggest inspirations. I loved people like Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, Biggie and 2pac.

How did you first get started rapping? Do you remember the first song you ever wrote or your first time in the studio?
I remember being 14 at school and my friend Eddie had learned how to beatbox and he used to say like “Someone needs to learn how to rap” so I used to just freestyle and try to make them all laugh and say shit to try and freak everybody out when we were stoned. Like Eminem shit that would 100% get you in trouble if you said these days. I remember one night before bed I wrote a 16 bar in my head because we didn’t have a computer at the time and got to school the next day and spat the written verse for everyone and they all lost it. Since then I knew I just had to rap.

I know there’s a crazy story about how you got discovered and signed to Def Jam AUNZ – can you tell us about that?

So at the time, I was managed by my two friends at Saint O’Donnel, shout out to those guys because they helped me a lot at the start. My homie Chin had helped me get this show at a strip club in Kings Cross — I had this idea to put a spin on the Atlanta strip club thing but bring my own dancers and have both male and female strippers, it was right at the time of the referendum for same-sex marriage in Australia so I wanted to support that. We got there and I asked where to set up for the show and the owner took one look at me and was like “You? Nah.” I’ll never forget it he goes “I don’t like the look of you, I don’t like the look of your mates, I’m just being honest but get the fuck out”.

I had given him $2500 to hire the venue so I told him to give me the money back and he’s saying nah, so I told him there are 80 kids out thee front who are here for a show — either give me the money back or I’ll bring them upstairs and they’ll do way more than $2500 worth of damage. He still says no so all the homies start rushing up the stairs into this venue and his security has to try and block them from entering. This guy ends up giving the money back right from the till. So then, me and my crew and 80 kids end up walking around Kings Cross with speakers and mic stands and everything— literally walking into venues and trying to find one that will let us set up and do this show. The first couple of venues say no but then we find this little dive bar that was like “If you can bring 80 people in here to drink at the bar you can start setting up right now”.

So we end up doing the show in this dive bar which happens to be a couple of blocks from the Universal head office, and the head of A&R for Def Jam AUNZ is walking home from work and sees all these kids outside this random bar — back in 2017 it wasn’t that common to see the punk rock shit with the rap shit so I guess he was curious enough to come check it out, he ended up giving me his card while I was still on stage and I called him a couple of days later so I didn’t seem too keen!

You’ve had some crazy releases and collaborations so far. Let’s start with your EP Sad Cowboy Shit with Jimmy Duval, how did you guys get linked up and what was the process of writing that record with Jimmy?
We reached out when I was in the states and the funny thing is we really just went to Jimmy’s house for a meeting and I ended up staying there for three days and we just partied and made the tape.

Ok let’s talk ‘Witness’ with Trippie Redd. I know you actually got to link with him in the studio rather than the more common internet collaborations. How was Trippie in the studio and what can you tell us about writing with him?
Trippie is a genius, first and foremost. Being in the studio was really incredible, it really felt like the first moment where I was like “Wow, I’m really here” like that shit is crazy. The thing I would change if I could go back would to take 90% of the people who were in the room out of there because I feel like Trippie reads energy a lot and sometimes when there’s a lot of different energies in the room it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed. I love Trippie but the next time we kick it I think it has to be a lot more low-key.

How do you think hip hop in Australia has changed in recent years, what do you like about the direction the scene is heading here?
I’m Moari first and foremost—my tribe is Ngāi Tahu, my nanna is on the board of elders there—so shout out to my Pasifika family, Polynesian people. I don’t speak about that so often because I don’t feel like it has anything to do with my music, it has everything to do with my identity. Honestly, it’s been hard to see the way my people are being represented at the moment because I just see so much power in the negativity and the violence. It just seems easy to blow up overnight when you’re making violent music, but if you’re trying to make a positive message it’s less impactful and takes a lot longer. So what does that do? It then encourages more young people to follow in those footsteps—I know that hip hop is a vehicle for people from different socio-economic backgrounds to get out of bad situations which is important—I’m not mad at anyone winning I’m just mad at the standard it sets. Like, let’s make being nice to people cool.

Can you name a couple of local artists who have been impressing you lately?
I like Echo The Dolphin, my boy Wezma, Shadow, my boy Alec Nysten—he’s one of the biggest people on Onlyfans in Australia—he makes super lo-fi noise music, Mitchos Da Menace, Hugh Lake, Hancoq, Craigiewave, Pania is fire.

I can’t forget to ask you about Scott Storch – you just released “Dirty Dancer’ with one of the GOATS of hip hop production. Talk to me a little bit about Storch and that experience.
So that was some of the worst stress and pressure I’d ever been under because we got 12 hours notice for the session and directly after was the meeting with Jimmy Duval so I literally went from Scott Storch’s to Jimmy Duval’s house for 3 days. It was awesome though, take me back. Storch was the nicest, coolest and most down to earth person. He shook everyone’s hand, made everyone feel comfortable, gave everyone advice. He inspired me so much, he’s the man and shout out to Avedon too his understudy, that dude is a fucking genius.

You seem to have a really great fanbase, something I admire about you is that you always hit your fans back and speak to them directly. How has the support been for you since you started dropping music and why do you take that kind of approach with your fans?
Let me explain this to you — so originally, I dropped my first track ‘Overdose’—everyone who was following me before that song was just following me for me, before I did music or anything you know? So when I released ‘Overdose’ all those people freaked out, like “Holy shit Universal and Def Jam what the fuck”? A lot of those people had been following me since like 2015, I’ve been speaking to some of those people for like 5 to 7 years.

Also, I get in my head alot I’ve got a lot of social anxiety and weird shit going on in my head. So in the beginning, I thought if I don’t hit these people back they aren’t going to fuck with me so it originally started with like, problems of abandonment when I was a kid, bullying and all that sort of shit so I thought if someone shows me love I have to show them back. It got to a point where I realised I couldn’t possibly hit every person back but that in turn made my thought process changed because even when I stopped hitting people back all the time, the love kept coming in. So that made me realise damn, like people genuinely like me. Man, social media distorts your perception of yourself, your perception of other people like—who is really your friend?

Now, the core reason I try to get back everybody and have time for everybody who hits me up is because it genuinely means a lot to me. I’ve been fighting for this shit for a long time, anybody who is supporting me, anybody— I love you. It’s completely genuine. I love my fans bro.

If you could work with any artist in the world right now who would you want to jump on a Phi11a track?
It would be two people on the same track — John Mayer and Young Thug. Just so I can say I was the person who brought them together. Like I’m the glue.

Damn, I wonder how that would sound. I feel like you’d barely even need to do anything on that, maybe just the ad-libs.
That’s it just sit back like “grrrt!” Yeah, that or Iggy Pop would be my dream.

What have you got coming up next?
I’ve got a single coming out called I try on November 27. It’s a melodic rock song — I asked my fans what they wanted and it was literally split down the middle of rock or melodic, so melodic rock song! It means a lot to me, it’s based around the themes of keeping hope, never giving up and also that we should celebrate people just for trying shit. Trying your best, nobody should talk shit if you’re trying your best.

Lots of shit coming up though, we’ve officially linked up with Def Jam US so if you go to their website I’m right on top of Public Enemy, baby! I’m super confident with my team and my plans next year, I’ve got some features I’ve been teasing in my album art so if you go back and look at all my album art you can see what’s coming up. I’ve got two of the biggest features in the world right now but I can’t say who or when because I don’t fucking know but next year I’ll be dropping features with two artists who had #1 records in 2020.

Follow Phi11a here for more.

WORDS: Cass Navarro