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CARETAKER — The quiet power of rapper, poet and YouTube talkshow host MELODOWNZ

"Seeing such genuine, authentic interactions sparked my journey to understand the inner eccentricities of the real Bronson Price, the real Melodownz."

CARETAKER — The quiet power of rapper, poet and YouTube talkshow host MELODOWNZ

Oct 5, 2021 Music

When I first met Bronson Price, known to most as Melodownz, we were waiting outside the independent music festival Nest Fest, waiting for a bus to transport us to an after-party. We sipped straight Patrón from a bottle as if we were at a mid-2000s LA party with famous rappers. There in the middle of Hawke’s Bay, through the cigarette haze and drunken squeals, with moonlight over the horizon, we had a kōrero about performance, mana, fear and loathing.

Price’s energy was soft and dignified, and the rhymes still flowed post-show as he interacted with other musicians who’d just played sets — I watched them share beats on their iPhones as they made plans to get into the studio to collaborate and record. What struck me the most was how he garnered attention with a strongly conveyed humility and integrity; he talked respectfully, as if speaking to his mum or nana. Seeing such genuine, authentic interactions sparked my journey to understand the inner eccentricities of the real Bronson Price, the real Melodownz.

Melodownz is a force to be reckoned with. A spiritual lyricist, a self-professed “hippy- living-hypocrite”, he has shapeshifted his very essence into Aotearoa’s hip-hop. He’s also a golden child of Avondale — repping the West Auckland suburb in his lyrics, which often convey gritty perspectives from his life growing up in the urban village.

Price comes from a line of strong mana wāhine who have had huge influence on his growth as a person. He credits his compassionate outlook on the world to the matriarchal nurturing of his mother and grandmother. “My mother is a caretaker,” he says. “And that caretaking attitude runs true — she looks after people right before they die … It’s angelic — you have to be a special type of person to do that. It’s inspiring.”

Graffiti was his first form of hip-hop. Price talks of having stickers that he’d tag ‘DOWNZ’ on — a reference from a Bone Thugs- N-Harmony song called ‘Down ’71’. Playing premier basketball at Avondale College meant that he had height in his step, and he used to run around school jumping and slapping these stickers everywhere. He was brought home by the cops every now and then. “I wasn’t even doing it to be ‘bad’,” he says, “but all the boys I was hanging out with were doing it … petty crimes became a bit of an adrenaline rush.”

Melodownz, the rapper, formed through a similar combination of exploration and rebellion. At the time in the mid-00s, well before the rise of digital saturation and social media overwhelm, Bebo was the be-all and end-all of music hype. And it was Bebo that launched Melodownz to a wider audience — having three pages dedicated to his music. Between the local internet café where he and his cousin used to play Counter-Strike, and his Mum’s old PC, Bronson began mixing and recording more songs, sharing them via Bluetooth at local parties whilst smoking out of homemade Cody’s can bongs.

One of his earliest gig memories is of getting an opportunity to perform at Woody’s Bar in Manurewa, South Auckland. Expecting a packed-out bar with a huge crowd, Price was dismayed when he rocked up to find there were only a few old uncles wearing hi-vis vests mingling between the pokie machines and Lion Red long-neck bottles. “I had the expectation that it was going to be packed out with heaps of shawties,” he says. “I just wanted one person to fuck with what I was doing … And that night I got validation. A couple people came up to me and hugely appreciated what I was doing.”

As a musician, Melodownz deeply connects with his cultural roots and rich Samoan-Kiwi-Māori upbringing. Understanding the roots of where you’re from, and using that understanding to know where you’re going, is a taonga. This process constantly evolves — so much so that every night you may stand, uncomfortable, saying goodbye to a version of yourself only to welcome a new version every morning. Undergoing this process has taught Bronson a lot about maintaining mana and grounding in an ever-changing industry.

In his musical creations he fuses hip- hop, rap, R&B and neo-soul infusions with elements of G-funk, jazz and reggae. His songs channel experiences from the early days, when he was struggling with his identity, selling weed and playing to those few uncles at a bar, with no money in his pockets. These experiences built the foundations of mana within him. Losing a few close friends to suicide at a young age also helped to shape his own mental state and higher-purposed outlook on the world. In music he found solace and an outlet to understand and reflect on the heavy emotions he was experiencing.

For Price, connection is something that goes both ways — a mutual understanding of who he is and whatever or whoever he’s trying to connect with. Knowing that he has good intentions, and those firm connections between himself and others, is key to his process of creation and expression. “The [music] industry is based on heart and creativity, but in the same breath it’s an industry and you’ve gotta make money — it’s about understanding that, and finding the balance,” he says.

Broadening his creativity beyond music, Melodownz now creates YouTube videos in a unique series called Kava Corner, in which he shares kava and talanoa with well-known New Zealanders. Kava has been around for centuries and traditionally it was used to talk heavy things through, to ease certain disagreements or misunderstandings — almost a truth serum. The genuine, bare-all conversations he’s hosting online run true to that history. They’re powerful, and have a sense of deepened community and intimate village mentality.

Notable guests include hip-hop legend Scribe, in his first public interview in over nine years, Price enabled a safe, sacred, anything-goes space for Scribe to open up and be honest about himself. Price remembers his now very good friend giving him a call and saying, “Uce, I’m just gonna go no-filter — and I’m only doing this because it’s your thing … I won’t do this for no one else.”

“You create a space when you drink kava where you can let your guard down, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from,” Price says with beaming eyes. “If you’ve got something on your chest, you can really just talk about it, and people will listen. It creates a really good conversation, and relaxing dialogue.”

A community has sprung up around the show — the ritualistic, sacred sharing of kava with the Western world on a digital platform has clearly struck a chord with many. To talk about private matters with dignity and gentleness seems to have created a special style of authentic content that the world is in need of.

I feel it too — simply to be in Price’s presence is calming. There’s a strong sense of alchemy within him; his mana is mythologised in all senses. As we sit in conversation, staring mesmerised at the rain, he plays parts of his upcoming album that feature the Avondale Intermediate School Choir. Again, he mentions the importance of knowing your roots.

Hearing the school choir is a reminder of the blessings in reflecting on your beginnings. The eerie sound of the choir is like an ode to the days that shaped him, speaking to the notion of going full-circle, back to where he came from. It evokes the potential and the evolution of his essence and art; a reminder that the mana he holds is his thanks to the vulnerabilities and strengths of adolescence.

Now firmly imprinted on Aotearoa’s evolving hip-hop, Melodownz illuminates an authenticity that is encouraging others to shine. Authenticity, like the sharing of kava, creates intimacy. And the reality and rawness of the Melodownz story is only the tip of the iceberg.

Inā kei te mohio koe ko wai koe, i anga mai moe i hei, kei te mohio koe, kei te anga atu ki kea. If you know who you are, and you know where you’re from, then you will know where you’re going.

This story was published in Metro 432 – Available here in print and pdf.

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