It’s been 20 years, but Scribe can still remember the rush of disbelief he felt listening to the final version of his debut album for the first time.
The Christchurch rapper was living at a mate’s place on a couch when his producer dropped over the final cut of The Crusader. P Money told him with a smirk, “here it is. I’ll leave you with this,” and then he went home.
Scribe was immediately taken aback by the quality of the work they had created together – hearing his stories through the honest, fast-paced rhymes he was determined to have heard cut through.
“I cried listening to “Dreaming”. I couldn’t believe this was me,” Scribe tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ 20 years later. “When you’re in the studio you know it sounds cool but once you hear it mixed and mastered, it’s like ‘wow, that’s it.’ It was like a miracle.”
People had heaped praise on his ability to interpret the feelings that are hard to articulate since he was young – and for the first time he saw himself as an artist through the lens of a listener. “Even when I was trash people got something out of it, so I’m just glad that I stuck at it really. I’ll never forget that moment,” he says.
Two decades have passed now and Scribe’s unpredictable road has been filled with many twists and turns, losing his way to decisions that triggered deeply personal battles, at times played out to a very public audience.
“If you’ve followed my troubles for the last ten years, to be here just in itself is a massive win – for me to be well,” he insists. “My music coming back is something I’ve re-embraced.”
Over two back-to-back nights Scribe is set to take the stage ahead of Ice Cube, first in Christchurch tonight and in Auckland on Saturday. As he searches for how to explain how he’s feeling about it, he struggles to find the words to express its significance. After a pause, he has something: “I’m still processing what it actually really means to be honest, what it means for me for where I’m at.
“Firstly, I wouldn’t have ever imagined myself to do this. It’s a bit of a wake up call, just how fast time has gone. It’s kind of exciting, but it’s kinda like ‘damn, we old,'” he adds while erupting into laughter.
It’s been four years since we last spoke. I interviewed Scribe in 2019 amid a sea of uncomfortable reports about his private life taking a downward turn, but I wanted to give him an opportunity to share his story in his own words.
Despite there being more than 1,000km between him in Christchurch and me in Auckland, I can sense a stark difference in the person I’d chatted to before. There’s an easiness to his energy and a clarity in his pitch; he sounds jovial, relaxed, even content.
When I ask him to cast his mind back to the eager 24-year-old about to drop that first album, he turns our conversation to the rush of creating music in the early ’00s. “It was such an exciting time in music in general and I think for New Zealand hip hop, but I just think in Kiwi music there was a real vibe happening, there was a new generation coming through,” he recalls.
“I think New Zealand hip hop was the pinnacle of that because we were such a minority group to really cross over. There was a real energy, I was part of that community.”
You could be anywhere – a car with the radio blaring, walking through a shopping centre, or in a club, and then the intro to “Not Many would hit: “Ooh, Ooh… How many dudes you know roll like this? Not many, if any, not many, if any.” Instantly iconic, these words are now ensconced in Aotearoa hip hip history. Achieving longevity in the music industry is a dream for so many, but Scribe’s hits from The Crusader have truly stuck.
For a long time he was so caught up in distractions that the possibility that he may have achieved such longevity seemed far-fetched; it’s only now that he’s becoming aware of the impact his music has made. “It’s mind-blowing to connect with people on that level and being a part of their life is definitely the biggest reward of being a musician,” Scribe says.
“To me it was part of our life soundtrack, realising that now I’m actually just blown away. I can’t believe that was me and that I wrote that and that people associate.”
Scribe and Peter Wadams, under his moniker P Money, had never set out with ambitions of creating an album that would make history in the way it did. The local hip hop community was thriving and they wanted their tracks to be true to that without false intentions or grand plans.
“It was just always so pure and I think that’s part of the karma of The Crusader and the work that we do because we do make art and we don’t come in with expectations.”
As a kid, Malo Luafutu, now known as Scribe, was drawn to rap music and knew early on it was something he wanted to pursue. During his years at high school, he developed a style that he was able to work on through his late teens.
But it was teaming up with P Money that he credits as being the gateway to his opportunity to take the next step up, working on beats that challenged producers locally as well on the international level. “Finding P Money for me, as someone that was like ‘man, I really want to do this,’ was like finding gold,” Scribe gushes. “Because I was into hip hop at that age, I knew what he was making was world class so I just nabbed onto him.
“When you make music with someone else, it’s really just based on the chemistry and vibe – you could be a fan of each other but until you vibe and see how your personalities are, there has to be the right balance before the music is going to have something.
“Pete and I hit it off straight away. I think we both recognised in each other that there was a hunger to do something and strive to be good, and Pete had that drive, he had a purpose, he had something that he was fighting for so I think that’s why we came together so easily and made music so easily.”
When The Crusader landed in 2003, it was received with the same enthusiasm Scribe had felt, jumping straight to the top of the New Zealand Albums Charts. The album featured now-iconic hits like “Stand Up” which broke the record for the longest-running number one in New Zealand at 12 weeks – and still holds it.
Tracks were used in campaigns and doors soon opened up overseas with Island Def Jam, moving from clubs to festivals. Out of nowhere, Scribe had some of the industry’s biggest heavyweights trying to be a part of his uprising. He picked up a “very sweet deal” for two more albums and was getting booked by the biggest promoting agency at the time.
Looking at it now, though, he recalls carrying a sense of sadness despite being inundated with such huge opportunities. “I’d been rapping since I was 16, ups and downs, mountains to climb, get some success here, then that doubles up with success in Australia, which means going to the UK. I just wanted to chill,” Scribe says.
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His publishing deal gave him the means to record his second album, Rhyme Book. But oblivious to him at the time, the world was quickly changing. “I’m coming into my second album with all this expectation,” Scribe remembers. “Little did I know we were entering an era in the world where there’s been a massive financial crash, there’s no money.”
The album struggled to sell, opening up space for a mentality which saw Scribe resort to using drugs – a habit which he struggled to shake in the years beyond The Crusader.
Unstable times saw him thrust into the spotlight for the wrong reasons – run-ins with the law and reacting to media through Instagram – which only made it harder for him to deal with the issues he was facing.
“I’m all good dealing with my shit by myself but it created a lot of anxiety and mental illness, so that was me online with this crazy anxiety and depression and fuelled on drugs trying to manage a situation I really had to just let go,” he says. “I had to let go of it and stop trying to resist and be accountable and face up to this and fight it. That’s why music is my weapon.
“Every single human has their own thing they’re going through, whether it’s a Class A drug addiction or alcoholism or just trauma or dealing with something, the difference is when it’s shared with everyone – that’s what made it hard for me.”
Scribe took to the stage at Electric Avenue in 2021 with a renewed outlook, giving him the chance to stand in front of fans again and claim back a sense of himself he thought he’d lost. “I’m grateful for that because it gave me the opportunity to be like ‘you know what, who are you, you really need to stand up and really stand on who you are right now because everyone is saying you’re this person,’ and I knew that wasn’t me. In life’s great mysterious way it was exactly what I needed to be where I am now and I’m so grateful later.”
Overcoming his battles with relying on substances has been essential to moving forward in life, but it’s not lost on him the time it’s taken to get there. “There was a time not long ago when I didn’t think I would make it back. It was a very scary and very real addiction,” Scribe reveals. “I’m sober and I’m more together than I’ve ever been and maybe it didn’t have to take 20 years, but it did.”
Suddenly, the words to find how he’s feeling about this weekend come forward much more easily: “It’s with great enthusiasm that I’m looking forward to performing on Friday.
“I’m in a place where I’m really just grateful. I realise how lucky I am to be able to transition and do this because this is such a privilege and honour to be able to do what I love. I’m very grateful and I’m super happy.”
Reclaiming his presence as an artist despite all the odds stacked against him – how many dudes can claim to do that? You know the answer.
Room Service presents Ice Cube and Cypress Hill on Friday March 31st in Christchurch and Saturday April 1st in Auckland (more information here).