Sometimes an artist can wait for the exact right moment to release their first album, and then life gets in the way. As he was about to drop his long-awaited debut full-length, LONE WOLF, Melodownz found his world transformed by the death of his Aunty and the birth of his daughter in the space of just one week.
“She was really close to me, she was my mother’s sister, so the timing was bad,” the West Auckland artist, real name Bronson Price, says. “You’ve just got to accept these things as part of life. I’ve now got a beautiful daughter and my album is out. It was intense at the time, it really tested me, but I’m getting through it.”
It’s several weeks after that fateful time in Melodownz’s life when Rolling Stone AU/NZ speaks with him from his studio. He’s in a reflective mood, clearly happy that his debut album is finally out in the world. It’s certainly been a long time coming.
If you’ve been following the Auckland music scene in recent years, you’ll know Melodownz; if you’ve been following the West Auckland music scene over the last decade, you’ll definitely know him. Beginning by making music in his bedroom in the suburb of Avondale, he’s since become one of the most prominent voices in New Zealand hip-hop.
After releasing several well-received EPs, particularly the seminal 2017 record Avontales, why did he finally feel ready to drop his first full-length? “As an artist it takes a while to figure out your direction and sound,” is his simple answer.
“Avontales was more like an introduction to my narrative, (2018’s) Melo & Blues was more of a mixtape, that was me being more experimental. I felt with this (LONE WOLF) was something I could be proud of and really put my best foot forward.”
It could actually have been released a lot sooner. Melodownz started writing these songs all the way back in 2019, with the intermittent lockdowns throughout the last few years making it a “weird time to release music.”
“Even now I was like, ‘what does the landscape even look like to release music?’ With TikTok everything’s changed, everyone’s attention spans have changed, everyone just wants to release singles.”
But Melodownz grew up on the hip-hop of the ‘90s, when making full-length albums was the thing to do, and it’s why he now holds an old-school approach to releasing his own music (shudder at the 1990s being referred to as “old-school”). “When an artist released an album, I’d listen to the full thing,” he says. “That’s how I was raised and that’s what I know. For me as an artist it’s important to have a body of work that’s consistent from start to finish.”
He lists Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as contemporary artists who are still focusing on full-length albums, because “half the world drops what they’re doing to listen to them.” “Although I’m on a much smaller scale, the artistry behind my work is still necessary,” he adds. “It’s good that people like myself and other artists in New Zealand are dropping albums that don’t get overlooked.”
And it’s true that the increased length of LONE WOLF allows the diversity of Melodownz’s sound to thrive: there are bracingly introspective freestyles, soulful slow jams (including one even named “Slow Jamz”), bruising gangster rap homages, and rattling trap cuts. He’s always lyrically thoughtful, including on “Pray For More”, which finds him doubting God’s guidance before ultimately realising God was there all along.
The full-length also allowed for more collaborators, with powerhouse US rappers Denzel Curry and Maxo Kream contributing verses. Denzel’s last album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, reached the top 20 of the US Billboard 200; Maxo has worked with Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler, the Creator and Lil Uzi Vert in the last several years. By any measure, these were not minor MCs that Melodownz attracted to his album.
Is it a sign of the growing global reputation of New Zealand hip-hop that he was able to get such artists to work on LONE WOLF? “It was a combo of being in the right place at the right time and manifesting those things,” Melodownz says humbly. “My management was on it with communication and stuff, but also an artist wouldn’t get on a song if they didn’t like it.”
Things went so well with Maxo that the Texas rapper asked Melodownz to support him on his recent Australian tour. “I’ve got heaps of bros in Australia that I went to school with and grew up with, so all my boys pulled up to each show which was cool,” he remembers fondly. When I ask him what Maxo was like personally, he smiles slyly. “He’s down to earth, he’s got his fried chicken, he loves his blunts, he’s a good dude.”
Such collaborations must have seemed a long distance away when he was making rudimentary beats in that Avondale bedroom. It was fitting that Melodownz really started making waves with Avontales, an EP named after and chronicling life in his home suburb.
He doesn’t come across as someone that forgets where he came from. With his career in the ascendancy, the temptation to leave Avondale behind may entice a lesser artist – a lesser human – but Melodownz enjoys that his life is now about “duality.”
“I’ll go back to see my boys in Avondale and then I’ll be in the Universal offices the next day,” he says with a disbelieving laugh. “This album is about merging these worlds together as one.”
The merging of these two distinct worlds literally happened just a few weeks before our interview, when Melodownz held a pop-up event on K’ Road. “There were people I work with in the industry, people I do business with, and then my friends from Avondale and my fans and family,” he recalls. “It was a combination of people and it was beautiful to see. It was kind of the perfect representation.”
At the pop-up event, a proper community event that featured Samoan food, Kava, an art exhibition and, of course, an album listening session, Melodownz couldn’t believe the diversity of fans that showed up. There were lawyers and even some homeless people that just caught my interview on the news,” he says with a smile. “They were like, ‘I saw your pop-up store was going to be here so this is why we’re here.’”
LONE WOLF: it surely requires a striking level of self-confidence to name your album this, to advertise your seemingly impenetrable individuality so explicitly. Yet Melodownz frequently mentions his close friends back in Avondale; his newborn daughter is a significant arrival in the lone wolf’s tight-knit pack.
He doesn’t even pause when I ask him to explain exactly what the album title means. “People that know me know that I’ve always been on my own buzz. I can pull up to a party by myself and know my friends will be there. I don’t like to say, ‘I’ll roll with you guys’. The lone wolf mentality is about being comfortable with yourself, and being able to endure whatever your day brings and whatever your life has in store for you.”
Talk turns to the local scene. Where most countries – particularly Australia – struggled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand was comparatively fortunate. With borders steadfastly shut and no international artists allowed in, local acts absolutely thrived, enjoying the surprising dearth of overseas competition, including Melodownz himself.
As New Zealand has opened back up to the rest of the world, this effect hasn’t lasted. “It’s like, ‘Melo’s playing here but I’d rather see (UK rapper) Central Cee here. That’s just where it’s at right now I feel.”
I ask him for his honest appraisal of New Zealand hip-hop, and he pauses for a moment. “I feel the talent is there and the work ethic is there,” he responds. “It’s just so hard to get the music out. We’ve got what it takes to break through internationally, it’s just about getting the eyes and ears onto it, do you know what I mean? Someone with two million streams could do a show in real life and it’s like, ‘can they actually sell the tickets?’
Still, Melodownz is keen to acknowledge just how far the hip-hop scene in Aotearoa has come. “When I was coming up there weren’t many programs for me to attend or resources to get me where I needed to be.”
That led to the fledgling artist heading to open mic nights in “the roughest areas” just to get his music out there, a grounding experience that means he only wants to do his best for the next generation. “There’s no gatekeeping with my generation and the new generation coming through,” he insists. “Obviously we’re all competitive musically but we’re still cool together, there’s no beef.
It was a different story in Melodownz’s earlier days. “There were people at certain radio stations that held the key to everything, and if they didn’t like the music, no one else got to hear the music!
One particular K’ Road memory stands out. “I had just turned 18 and there were these rappers popping off at the time. I went to a club and they were there with their groupies and people. I remember saying, ‘what’s up?’ and they just gave me the coldest look (laughs). “There was still that mentality of ‘we’ve got the torch and we can’t give it away or lose it.’
“With artists like myself and Rizván and Church & AP now, I think we all hold the torch together. Obviously we all think we’re the best individually – you have to – but we all support a lot of other artists.”
Does the local boy done good, the man who named one of his most prominent records after the place that made him, ever see himself leaving Avondale and Auckland behind? When it comes to advancing his career, it may be a necessary – albeit temporary – thing.
“To grow and evolve as an artist you need to be travelling and experiencing life,” he ponders. “Even my little stint in LA a few years back opened so many doors for me.”
It’s the City of Angels that Melodownz wants to head to next again. “I haven’t had the opportunity to go there since lockdown but I think I’m going to go there next year and do a few things. LA is such a hub, it’s really popping over there. Everyone just wants to work and win and be the best version of themselves. It’s the best place to be if you want to network.”
It’s not just Avondale that Melodownz is proud to represent in Aotearoa and beyond. “I’m European, Samoan and Māori. I grew up more with my Samoan and Pasifika roots, I’m really connected with that family,” he says. “If you look at the map, we’re literally at the bottom of the globe! Coming from a tropical island, my people were orators and dancers and I’m just trying to carry that through my own music and express it.”
It’s also rare that you interview an artist that’s been on the other end of this experience, but Melodownz started Kava Corner in 2020, a YouTube web series that celebrated his roots. “I invite guests and influential people from this country while also showcasing traditional Polynesian culture,” he says, adding that the idea came to him from the famous Hot Ones series. “I felt that we could do the same with Kava – every question we have a drink. It’s pretty cool.” Guests have been as varied as BENEE, Chlöe Swarbrick, and John Campbell. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see PM Jacinda Ardern there one day.
We return to discussing his daughter; Melodownz’s face beams across Zoom whenever she’s mentioned. Parenthood has changed many artist trajectories, but he’s more focused on his future than ever. “I’m going to use my daughter as motivation. It’s made me far hungrier than I ever was. I used to make music for myself, because it was therapeutic and I loved it, but now I’ve got another purpose to do it for. I know it sounds cliche but it makes me want to work harder and accomplish far more things.”
“You see all these gangster rappers and you think they’re really hardcore, which they are, but at the end of the day, they’re all humans with families to provide for. I’m just another number in this machine!”
That’s why the hard work doesn’t stop in 2023. “I postponed my release party to next year so I’ll be revisiting my album shows and doing it properly then,” he says. “I’ve already pretty much finished my next project but I haven’t even presented it to my management yet! I’ll have to sit down with my team and play them all I’ve been working on.”
This feels like where Melodownz the artist is at currently: the confident lone wolf realising that his debut album is just the beginning. There’s a wide world out there.
Melodownz’s LONE WOLF is out now.