Clicking Around With Music: Savage

Posted 12/08/2008 by WHayes in Labels: , , ,

The interview was due to begin in minutes, and I was caught behind a parade of tourists on Sunset and Highland. I could see the Renaissance Hotel mere feet to my left. My worst nightmare was being late – I saw it as a death sentence, an instantaneous mark of irresponsibility that would be sure to follow me throughout my career. Diving into the first parking space I could find in the underground garage, I ran up and through the beehive of boutiques and stores of the adjoining mall and across the walkway into the hotel, barely on time, praying that he was still there.

A quick scan around the lobby and I saw him: Savage, the New Zealander rapper of strong Samoan heritage. Making eye contact, he stood, beckoning me over to the nearby couch. He looks exactly like his publicity stills, if slightly more tan from soaking in the Malibu sun on the set of his new video for “Wild Out,” the second single off his U.S. debut album Savage Island (December 23rd). When I looked him over, the phrase “size matters” came to mind. He shook my hand with a powerful grip befitting his stature. When our conversation shifted to sports, he admitted that rugby was his weapon of choice, and he had been on both the giving and receiving end of some marvelous injuries in his time. You can feel the energy it would take to play such a feral game in his music. His voice is big, rough, and reminiscent of Fat Man Scoop, while his bass lines are pounding and heavy, like the man himself.

Savage, born Demetrius Savelio, grew up on the south side of Auckland, New Zealand. “Every country has a hood,” he said, and his journey from troubled household to a mainstay on the Kiwi hip-hop scene could match even the roughest anecdotes from any of his American counterparts. A series of challenges, from an absentee father, to his overworked mother, to ill-fated gang entanglements came to a head when a teenaged Savelio violently lost seven friends and one cousin in a single year. Yet, like any successful artist, adversity only cemented his drive to not only move forward, but also give back once meeting his goals.

Few artists show the dedication to their crews, their neighborhood, and their people as Savage does. As we spoke he occasionally downplayed his efforts by claiming his benevolence – a generosity he attributes to his proud Samoan heritage – is for the benefit of his own nieces, nephews, and two children (ages 8 and 10), but occasionally the scope of his efforts would slip through. He performs in prisons, speaks at anger-management classes, and hosts youth groups. He does this because he’s been through it all before, and would be doing those who helped him in life a major disservice not to continue the tradition. Bound by both honor and a desire to help, he gets this proud smirk when he talks about “the young generation,” like a scientist cooking up a new plan to save mankind.

He knows the game well. Savage has been performing with his fellow Deceptikonz for over 10 years; their own individual (and successful) solo albums don’t prevent them from still performing and touring together regularly. Even if you missed his most recent American tour (his surprise favorite stop was Oklahoma), you may have heard his music before. His first single, “Swing,” was featured in last year’s Judd Apatow rom-com Knocked Up. Unlike the East coast vibe to “Swing,” “Wild Out” has a decidedly southern rap feel. It would be at home on a playlist featuring the Yin Yang Twins, and Three 6 Mafia. The sound was no accident. In addition to including traditional Samoan chants, he readily admits that hip hop from all over the United States influences his style (on the whole, the fusion works). Both East and West coasts share equal space on his iPod. He talks about the new Q-Tip album he picked up at Amoeba Records with the energy of a kid at Christmas. He’s got no opinion on it yet, as he’s “saving it for the plane ride home.” There are few aspects of hip-hop Savage doesn’t drink in, although he could pass on any bling. Money was precious growing up, so the Samoan in him avoids needlessly spreading it around. As open-minded as Savage is, it’s easy to wonder if American artists reciprocate the warm reception? Ask Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony or Ice Cube – he’s toured with them all.

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