With a fresh track ready to drop on July 7th, Diaz Grimm talks to us about what inspires and motivates him, and how he navigates the world of music with his unique take on rap and refreshing perspective of the world around him. His enlightened perception of music, individualism and mental health was just one of the many interesting things about him, and proves that New Zealand is in for a much-needed shake-up in regard to hip hop and independent musicianship.
You might know him from his past musical adventures in which he toured with Mt. Eden Dubstep, and collaboration with the likes of Lukan Raisey and Spycc – or you might know him from an incredibly endearing video he released featuring Cambridge school kids (peep the Chlöe endorsement):
Grimm’s track Foreigners is out July 7th, in which he collaborates with Raiza Biza and Iva Lamkum. A self-described “cheeky, taunty” song, Foreigners is an announcement of New Zealand’s arrival in America – a track that came about from Grimm first creating the melody, then finding words that were inspired by the sounds:
“Ignorance really came to mind…”
Grimm’s humble beginnings were in the very beautiful but very small town of Cambridge which he notes undoubtedly contributed to his mentality of being “naively confident”, as he was the only one he knew of that was doing what he was doing with music. In bigger cities, the pressure to compete can often overshadow your inherent desire to create.
“My awareness of how things were meant to be done was… small. So, I did things wrong, but… it worked for me.”
With benevolence clearly running in the family, Grimm also shared a few stories about his mother, who he went to visit recently as she has been living in Vanuatu to help communities prepare their villages for tourists in order to create revenue. Grimm‘s strong belief in trusting the universe to guide you toward what was best for you has played a significant role in his musical journey, and his affiliation with the number 7 has also stemmed from this belief.
“I’m a big believer in creating your own luck. So I decided that whenever I saw the number 7 I would tell myself, ‘okay, you’re on the right track.’”
Soon Grimm decided that 77 would be his new sign, in order to tempt fate, as it were. But when he went to Vanuatu, this belief was reinforced by his encounter with one local villager.
“What’s that on your face?”
“Oh, it’s just for good luck.”
“I have that tattoo. It was my grandfather’s name.”
Eventually Grimm discovered that his grandfather had been named after a Bible verse, Matthew 7:7 – “ask and you shall receive.”
Taking his talents to Austin, Grimm performed at the infamous musical festival, SXSW, where he was invited to a house party to kick off the event (his first-ever overseas show) and was greeted by a Kiwi from Queenstown – “what are the chances?” – proving yet again that New Zealand is pretty much inescapable…
Being confronted with the overwhelming and wonderful reality of SXSW – over 250,000 people all brought together by one common thing – was far from the quiet backdrop of Cambridge. Grimm noted that being somewhere like SXSW meant that you were surrounded by people who also wanted to talk endlessly and intimately about music, and that was incredibly important:
“Being around people who I felt were trying what I was trying was very inspiring.”
The musical diversity of Austin was another incredible part of this experience, as Grimm recalls walking past the many bars that celebrated “jazz, hip hop, country… and it was all quality, too!”
Of the many commendable qualities about Grimm, one of his most prevalent was his belief in himself and in his music – when asked how he has evolved as a musician from making in New Zealand to taking his talents overseas, he replied,
“I think it goes back to what I was saying before about how naively confident I was. I always figured I was going global… I’ve always had this thing where, if someone’s done something, then it’s possible.”
Since he was 15-years-old, Grimm has aspired to Jay-Z and Kanye levels – not, as he says, to be better than anyone, but because he knows that it’s been done before, so why can it not be achieved by everyone else?
“I’m a very big believer in equality. And I feel like the hip hop scene lacked equality, because people are so, like, ‘no you can’t do that. You can’t do that.’ And if you believe that someone else can’t do something that someone else has done, then you don’t believe in equality.”
Contrary to what I’m sure a lot of us feel when we see our New Zealand peers make it big overseas, Grimm says that it wasn’t as overwhelming as one would think. For him, it was just another goal that he was achieving. This mindset is also something he hopes that young people can learn from, in that they will see that success isn’t an unlikely thing to attain, rather than believing that it isn’t easily possible. Grimm is also a big advocate for the self-belief that goes with creating a plan and following it.
“I think people mistake confidence for ego. I think ego is not believing in equality. Ego is thinking you’re better than other people, whereas confidence is believing in yourself. For me, confidence is like… I don’t think that rap would exist without confidence.”
Grimm has noted in the past that the lyrics he incorporates into his music are perhaps not considered mainstream rap – for example, his last album dealt heavily with futuristic themes and was not as edgy as one might come to expect from rap albums. He mentioned his strong musical beginnings when he was young, and in particular, his relationship with College Dropout, where he discovered that Kanye was talking about things that he could relate to, and that authenticity was the key to maintaining your individuality as a musician.
“To put it simply, you can see through things that aren’t real. There’s no point faking anything, because it’s like, karma – you get what you put out, right? If you’re putting out fake content, if you’re putting out lyrics that aren’t true to you, you’re going to get back fake fans.
There’s that saying, ‘you’re not the centre of the universe’, but technically, you are the centre of your universe. So, I can only talk about things that I have experienced, because if it’s not coming from here, then… yeah.”
Grimm is also passionate about the youth mental health crisis, and he believes in instilling positivity into the lives of young people, and treating each other with kindness. He also believes that mental health is behind everything that’s going on in the world right now, such as greed and selfishness, and that in order to combat this negativity, we need to focus on improving mental health itself.
“I feel like everything is so simple, and people like to complicate it.
I’m a big believer that the mental health system is going down because of this ego thing… everyone is so worried about themselves, individualism, doing well individually, and if we all just teamed up and be mates, and like, look after each other as much as we look after ourselves – and look after ourselves more than we currently do.”
When prompted with the somewhat heavy question of the most important purpose of music as both a creator and a listener, Grimm mused that it was two major factors – as a textbook over-thinker, music provided an outlet for him to purge these thoughts (“because if I didn’t rid of the thoughts… mental health issues”). The other was that he believes so strongly in equality – a conversation that is lacking in the media.
“If the media is allowed to spread fear, and do all the things they’re doing, someone needs to counteract that. So, it’s the two things – getting it out of my head and being able to speak to people. Also, music is just like… you don’t need to talk on the track, because the music speaks to you. And that’s not just music, that’s art. That’s expression.”
Growing up in rural Cambridge, Grimm recalls how it wasn’t easy to visit friends on a whim, and it was lacking in the way that small-towns lack frivolity or endless entertainment. But music allowed him an escape, and something to calm his overactive mind, and luckily the radio was the one thing that was always accessible. College Dropout, he emphasised, is what changed the game. Released in the early 2000s, West didn’t shy away from talking about inequality and racism, overlapped by radio-friendly beats, which is one of the main reasons that Grimm was so drawn to him.
“He brought conscious rap into the limelight, and it was kind of the death of Chingy, Ludacris, 50 Cent – all these rappers that were talking about the unrelatable stuff to people who aren’t rappers in the club with girls. It was the death of that. And I kind of feel like that was big for me.”
In terms of other important musicians, Grimm commended Young Thug’s new album, “where he talks about how beautiful girls are, and how important they are” which he thinks is still against the grain, even today. The significance of Jay-Z releasing an album where he owns up to his mistakes is similarly monumental, and had Grimm animatedly talking about how Obama listened to Jay-Z for inspiration, possibly making him one of the most powerful African-Americans we have in popular culture. On top of this is the mention of Kendrick Lamar, whose recent album is soaked in social commentary, which leads Grimm to muse,
“I think there’s a change happening. I think we’re about to see a golden era of… activists.”
Overall, Grimm is refreshingly positive, earnest and understanding of others, where he notes that everyone has their own universe and their own truth, which might not always align with our own but isn’t any less valid. He’s also rife with interesting, uplifting stories relating to his law of attraction belief, in regard to the number 7, which we discussed again through our mutual agreement that Friday, the 7th of July, would be a big day for him:
“[laughs] It’s going to be a huuuuge day for me! 777! I’ve been planning doing something huge on this day for like, a year… I have held back what I’ve been doing specifically to wait for this day. And I’m pretty impatient as far as telling people what I’ve been up to, so I’m very excited to see what happens.
I have a long vision. I’m making things that I’m already hoping my grandkids will be real proud of. I’m not making shit that my peers are going to be like, ‘yo that was shit.’ I’m trying real hard to think what’s still going to be the truth in twenty years time. Happiness is important, in a line. That’s still going to be important. Apart from – by the time I have grandkids, they might live on the internet, or something, so maybe emotions don’t exist, I don’t know. But even if emotions are nothing to them, because they’re all robots, they’ll still appreciate that it was the truth at the time.”