Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Scalper – known to his family as Nadeem Shafi – is one of the politest e-mailers it has been Elsewhere's pleasure to have contact with.
For the past few years he's sent us sample tracks from his forthcoming album, always signed off with “Peace” and has cheerfully accepted that Elsewhere doesn't review singles or EP (too many full length albums commanding attention).
He always said he hoped I was well, and the singles just kept coming despite me being unable to do anything for him.
But not unwilling.
So when he released the album The Emperor's Clothes recently I happily shelled out for the vinyl (which came with an MP3 download code).
But here's the thing about Scalper, he might be very polite but his music is dark and menacing, his lyrics full of portentousness and broody doings.
Among his current favourite films are The Shining and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Needless to say then, the sonic setting on the album are doom-laden and disconcerting. On Phantom Ghost on The Emperor's Clothes a holy choir exists in the same space as a voice which echoes “murderer” and searing guitar in the middle ground . . .
It is powerful stuff and if over the long haul you think he might be broadcasting on a narrow frequency you just need to make the time and sample judiciously. These are 10 discreet pieces punctuated by subtle samples and held down by incessant beats.
But there is still that dark matter.
Of his earlier album Flesh and Bones five years ago we said that in places it “comes off like the Book of Revelations pulled through newsreels of Middle East conflict and the nightmares that would ensue”.
We were so impressed we also had him answer our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire in 2012 on the back of his album Butchers Baker.
A bit of background then: London-born Shafi/Scalper was in the influential socio-political hip-hop group Fun-Da-Mental whose work addressed racism, Islamic culture and marginalisation.
Oddly enough he recently told Elsewhere that among his more embarrassing role models as a kid were Showaddywaddy and the Bay City Rollers. Everyone is allowed such missteps of course.
However he also toured with Public Enemy in 2011 as support, is currently performing in Europe and laughs about his most recent purchase which was a Korean synth-pop record from an op shop.
“I usually only buy old records now to look for samples and sounds to pilfer.”
Such samples are woven cleverly through The Emperor's Clothes which he self-produced (a couple of tracks with Troy Ferguson) at his own studio at Te Henga at Bethells Beach in west Auckland where he has lived for quite a few years now.
There is also beauty at work, as on Lullaby with vocalist Claire Duncan from Dear Time's Waste who brings ethereal counterpoint to his menacing poetry.
The Emperor's Clothes is an impressive collection where subtle allusions to Middle Eastern music are as evident as the smell of brimstone and sulphur.
“Lyrically and musically I am at the best place I have ever been in my life,” he says, “and the album feels extremely relevant to these times in which we live with all the turbulence of existence.
“Plus the beats are great, each track is different and the tracks do not follow a set pattern so avoids monotony.”