West Auckland rapper and hip hop artist Tom Scott won Album of the Year and Best Hip Hop Artist at last month's New Zealand Music Awards.
His album, Avantdale Bowling Club is a fusion of jazz and hip hop, which Scott calls a "self help book addressed to myself". It's about the last few years of his life, becoming a father and coming to grips with adulthood, and addresses problems including depression, inequality and drug abuse.
Scott tells Kathryn Ryan that his son Quincy is a big part of the album's story.
“It’s pretty hard for children not to change your life, I guess. People always tell me, ‘I’m not financially ready’ or ‘I’m not emotionally ready’ but the cause and effect happens backwards with kids, they get you ready. He totally changed everything for me.”
Coming back to New Zealand is also a big part of the album and he addresses it on the song ‘Home’. He wrote it while living in Collingwood, Melbourne.
“I was looking out the window writing that and to be honest I was crying writing it. Something moved me and I suddenly let the floodgates open on my homesickness. I had milk crates with plants in them and there was a fern in one of them and it was just withered and dead and I just thought this is the perfect metaphor for me: a Kiwi trying to survive in this place.
“My music has always been so local and I’ve always tried to talk for the people in my neighbourhood and, living in Australia, I felt like I had no purpose. My art had no reason. I had no one to talk for, they weren’t my people. I could only describe my struggle and that’s what made that song.”
He says he’d made the move to Melbourne in the hope of more opportunities, but was suppressing his feelings in pursuit of money. It was when he and his partner found out Quincy was on the way, that moving home became a no-brainer.
“I want him to be raised in the same soil I’m from.”
Scott moved his family back to where he grep up, a place the holds close to his heart: Avondale, a suburb in Auckland's inner west.
“I just judged the Avondale Intermediate talent quest yesterday actually and that’s a perfect illustration [Scott is cut off by his son Quincy who's in the studio for this interview] - 'Watch out Bub, you can’t touch that, you keep drawing your whales.'
"It was a perfect illustration of how Avondale influenced me. It was just brilliant and that’s the same place I was lucky enough to come from.”
Scott is unashamedly political and writes and speaks about inequality and injustice in a forthright way that has landed him in hot water in the past.
“One thing about growing up in a place where people don’t have much is that you’re blessed with empathy. Empathy only comes with experience. Once you see other people who have less than you, you learn that you’re at an advantage.
“Some people don’t get to see that and I feel sorry for them because I’m sure that if they did see what struggle was, they’d feel empathy for them.”
Scott’s father has been a big influence in his life, not just musically, but also as a father for better or worse. He says that having a son of his own has changed his perspective on his father.
“It makes you realise what they went through. I walked my son to the radio today holding his hand and having these great times, the highlights of your entire life. I try to put my Dad in my shoes and there was a time when he was holding my hand like this having some of the best times of his life. It makes you respect and understand them so much more.
“I really regret some of the things I’ve thought about my father, because he’s a good dude.”
He says there were things he was entitled to feel, but to find peace, "you have to take responsibility for the whole garden".
“You can’t be mad when one little weed is out there. You are the gardener of the whole thing. What your parents went through and their ancestry, you’re responsible for all of that and, at the same time, you’re responsible for the whole planet.
“Everything that comes from here is ours. So you can’t really be too mad at your father or your father’s father, you have to take that on board yourself.”
Scott says he wants his music to be like medicine for people. Not necessarily a cure, but pain relief.
“We’re all looking for a greater purpose and if you can see you’re helping something bigger than yourself, it makes life easier. It makes waking up in the morning a bit easier. I’ve always wanted to try and serve a purpose, I think we all do.”
Tom Scott is performing a one-off show with his former group @peace at the Auckland Festival in March.