After the successful release of his first single Potent, rapper and producer, Undead Unagi, caught up with Grok for a rather emotional interview about his unique story, influences, the industry’s current state and his future plans.
I wanted to start with your first release, Potent, before we go into ‘Undead Unagi’ as an artist. The track, and music video is filled with so much depth and meaning. Can you talk us through the concept for both, as well as the inspiration behind this first release?
Potent was centred mostly around the stigma of marijuana use, especially in Australia as well as other similar first world countries. There’s a stigma around marijuana use because it is an illegal substance, but most of the time it is seen as a better pain reliever or a safer recreational substance to use compared to tobacco and alcohol! Those things don’t have half the negativity around it, and you are almost conformed to drinking alcohol to be part of the relevant social setting. However, let’s be honest, alcohol has given way rougher experiences to users.
My dependence on marijuana started when I was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. I’ve suffered from a lot of chronic pain along with mental health issues as a result, and doctors offered prescription medications that would keep me in bed all day in a sort of ‘vegetable’ state. I do recognise the negatives of marijuana use, but I believe the benefits for me, and many other patients, outweighed the negatives of the drug.
In the video, I dressed up with bloody horns to symbolise a demon character, essentially the stigma of marijuana use. You see this depiction of the demon getting high on weed and having fun like he is using the drug recreationally to escape something. The fun symbolises this ‘awake feeling’ and escape from the extreme pain, being bedridden and the mental psyche that came with being a teenager in my state. Marijuana use helped me physically, emotionally and spiritually to fight through, and inspire things that made me connect with the world again—music!
With many saying marijuana is a gateway drug, I disagree and say it can be the very thing that saves you like it did me, and that was basically the inspiration for making Potent. I just wanted people to look at my story and maybe think twice about a lot of the mainstream ideas in this area.
Backtracking from Potent to the start, or the creation, of ‘Undead Unagi’, talk us through where it all started and what influenced you to make music.
Basically, Undead Unagi started in his little room, sick, and … I didn’t want to do anything, and I was just too weak to move for weeks at a time while the frequency and severity of the autoimmune disease was becoming a lot worse, so I fell into music, and I started with producing beats on my laptop. It was my way of coping with that reality and I never intended to release anything until a close friend, now manager, Chas, heard some tracks and convinced me to be an artist. There wasn’t any intention behind the brand, it was just someone that I was becoming, and it was something in I needed in my life, to feel normal.
The ‘Undead’ basically comes from me hitting rock bottom and still being here today, with another chance to live, after my autoimmune disease has shown signs of remission. Keeping busy, staying healthy, studying, working hard, making music are now my keys to keeping my physical and mental health on check. It’s about redeeming yourself when life had, at one point, gone.
‘Unagi’ is a Japanese eel and I feel that it represents me in a way because I resonate with the ouroboros concept, the ancient self-eating snake/dragon symbol. A lot of the concept is to do with this life and death, and it has come into contrast in the last few years where I saw the opposite sides of that spectrum.
I just want to tell my story and connect with people, through my music. Hopefully the music will, at some point, inspire someone else to move away from their demons.
As you mentioned, Potent was about your substance abuse. I guess one can say that your music is inspired by life events. What else are we expecting after your first track?
Potent and the next four tracks I release will create my first EP, Good Demons, and will be centred around different ‘demons’ that I came to face over the past few years. Potent obviously was the substance abuse demon in our society.
The next song [released on 27th September 2019] is called So Slowly. Have you heard of the Social Determinants of Health? With weekly chronic attacks, and not being able to hold a nine to five job, I didn’t know where I would end up in society, so I talk about all that. Our mindset and emotions are constantly changing even when the problem doesn’t, and I basically talk about the wave of emotions that I went through over the past two years.
Solve This, and the next couple of tracks follow the same theme.
On the technical side of your music, tell us about how your beats/production come to life and where your inspiration comes from. Also, why hip-hop?
Well, I was born in Mauritius and like a lot of countries where English was a second language, the ‘90s hip-hop/R&B wave was as probably as big as it was in the USA! My elder siblings loved the genre and I guess I grew up around ‘90s rap, R&B and all those boy bands. Apparently, I used to love rapping, singing and trying to perform in front of my family at a young age and that love of hip-hop never stopped.
In the studio, I make what I love and that’s the simplest way I can put it. Although I venture out into the alternative, I like to keep the production simple with the hip hop basics, a good kick, solid 808’s, some hi-hats, claps all laid out. With a solid base, I then can venture into some modern sub-genres and new wave aspects to create a beat idea and then juice it up to a track.
It seems like we both should blame our elder sisters for our love of hip-hop! A lot has changed since the ‘90s with all the new artists in the game. What’s your take on the world’s hip-hop scene now?
[Laughs] There’s a lot of negative connotations around the ‘new’ rap and there’s this apparent war going on between the old generation of artists and the newcomers. Mumble rappers are going against the ‘old-heads’ and vice versa. It’s an argument that isn’t worth the time.
Rap, like other music, is subjective, right? You can hear something and love it, whatever the style and language. I love all of it. Right now, I’m bumping to this Chinese rap group, called Higher Brothers, that spit completely in Chinese. To me, it delivers the euphoria I need to love music and it just goes to show that it doesn’t the previous argument doesn’t matter because it’s about how the music makes the listener feel.
I love when artists take their music one step further and innovate, not that the old music needed any innovation. It’s just about moving forward because nothing stays the same, there is always progression in nature. The mature thing is to accept and embrace what is going on and make music that makes the artist, and fans, feel something. Just because I don’t like a certain alternative metal-country band (hypothetically speaking), doesn’t mean I should hate on it, and society needs to quit that.
To wrap it up, what’s going on for you over the next couple of years? Oh, and when do we expect the EP to drop?
The EP will be released one single after another, with the whole pack expected to come out by late December. I’m only half way done with what I want to accomplish for this because I want to hit as many senses as possible to emphasise the feeling you get. There’s a music video for every track which will come out at their respective times, for a little more edge.
Music came from my need to cope and the idea is to keep it basic and just do my best with connecting with people via the music and upcoming releases. I didn’t even think of fame or money when we decided to release. So, if I was invited to do a show, I wouldn’t take money, if an artist wanted a beat of mine, I’d just hand it over.
Perth’s hip hop scene is birthing right now and, trust me, its on the way up. I just want to be behind it and push it up. Even if I don’t make a name for myself, I just want the satisfaction of knowing I was there and helped the scene move up.
As a big fan of Perth’s scene, it’s really great to hear you mention it!
Oh my God! Perth’s artists are on fire right now, not just in hip-hop, but every genre! They are all coming with such beautiful art and it honestly makes me happy. It feels like I discovered this extended family I didn’t even know about a couple of years ago!
And when you go to the events and gigs, you see every single face there. There’s a definite community vibe filled with love and motivation and it’s the most amazing thing to be part of!
There are so many talented people out there, it’ll take too long to mention all of them. To end, I just want to give a big shout-out to everyone making it happen here in Perth!