“Failing was never an option”The NZ rap maverick Diaz Grimm has a five-year global masterplan – and a message that a bad start doesn’t have to mean a bad end
You won’t come across many hip-hop MCs who cite history-making outlier Steve Jobs alongside rap superstar A$AP Rocky in their list of role models – but then, Waikato-raised, Auckland-based Diaz Grimm is far from typical.
The rap maverick was born in the sleepy town of Cambridge, but during his teens he moved to Rotorua, where he was exposed to gang life in the city’s underbelly. Instead of becoming trapped in a cycle of crime, however, Grimm dreamt big and pursued a career in music. The plan paid off: in April, his debut album, Osiris – recorded at Red Bull Studio in Auckland – stormed the top five of the NZ iTunes Album Chart. Grimm, 26, explains how he upgraded his career prospects…
THE RED BULLETIN: Why was your move from Cambridge to Rotorua so pivotal?
DIAZ GRIMM: I went from not knowing which gangs were affiliated with which colours, to being very conscious of the colours I was wearing. In Rotorua, I spent most of my time rolling with friends with our hoodies up, looking for trouble – I don’t recall many weekends that didn’t end in a fight or two. For my last year at school, I returned to Cambridge; that year began with my first ride in a paddy wagon after I aimed a BB gun at police, and it ended with me being kicked out of school for finishing a bottle of vodka before interval.
So, how did you turn the situation around?
I had a lot of ideas but didn’t follow through with them, so I ended up bartending. Then, one night, the bar’s DJ had to pull out, so I jumped on to iTunes and double-clicked song after song all night.
And you were hooked?
From there, I came up with a concept for raves in secret locations. The second rave we held, 2,000 people turned up. I went home with $40,000 in a suitcase that night. Then, in 2012, I went on a road trip across America, funded with the money I’d made as a promoter. It included a stop at Coachella, where A$AP Rocky was playing. During his set, he talked to the crowd about how only two years prior he hadn’t known what he wanted to do with his life. It was then that I decided I was going to take up music seriously.
In your list of influences, Steve Jobs sits side-by-side with Rocky. What cues have you taken from their lives?
I have this philosophy that if something’s been done before, it means that it’s possible; and if something is possible, that should be the baseline you start from. Take Steve Jobs, for example: he thought not only about the product he wanted to create but also how it could move the needle on pop culture. I think a lot about my music and the ripple effects it could have on society. I’ve never been one to talk about the usual hip-hop clichés: cars, girls, money. I’d rather speak on subjects like having respect for one another and believing in yourself. If you have self-belief and vision, you can pass that on to the next generation. Where you start from doesn’t determine where you’ll end up.
What’s your long-term plan of attack?
I’ve actually written out a five-year plan. Next year I’m opening a creative space for my collective, G7NG, which will have a recording and photography studio, plus a store where we’ll sell music, merchandise and art. The next phase will be stores in Los Angeles, New York and London. Ultimately, I want G7NG to be recognised globally as one of the creative companies that corporations come to for fresh ideas.
What lessons do you think others could learn from your life story?
What I’ve learnt over the years is that everything takes time and hard work – there were no shortcuts to get where I am today. I never gave myself the option of failing, so I just stayed the course. Three years ago, I had a plan to be here, but I was too impatient. I thought I was ready from the get-go, but I needed to put in my 10,000 hours first. Patience is a must if you want to make it.