Rappers Church & AP helped define New Zealand summer, with a hook-heavy hit that put their nascent careers into overdrive. The duo tell Jogai Bhatt for Metro about their “formulate and execute” philosophy, and bringing others along for the ride.
I’m sitting in the Purcells’ Sandringham home. Albert Purcell and Elijah Manu — the two Auckland teenagers of local rap duo Church & AP — are running late. It’s understandable — they’ve just come off the back of a 12-show summer tour, multiple sets for local media, and a surprise slot at Auckland’s Laneway festival. Last night, they spent the night out south, working on new music. They’re exhausted, but they seem to like it that way.
If you don’t know the name by now, allow the 17- and 18-year-olds to introduce themselves. “We’re rappers. Creatives,” says Manu (Church). “Sorry, it’s very convoluted but it’s just what it is.” Purcell (AP) is as concise: “We’re just two teenagers making moves.”
Their trajectory can certainly attest to that. Over a matter of months, Church & AP have gone from cultivating a name in the underground to receiving backing from industry heavyweights, headlining their own sold-out shows, and releasing what’s arguably been the song of the summer — “Ready or Not”, a refreshing, hook-heavy blast of youthful energy.
The boys finally make it to the Purcells’, Samoan-style treats in hand from the cafe across the road. I tell them I was floored by their show at the Tuning Fork and ask how they’re feeling about the general state of things. They’re feeling good, they say. Busy. Their Auckland show concluded a nearly two-week tour around the country and featured acts from all pockets of the local music scene, from Lontalius’s electro alter-ego Race Banyon to Trey Bond and Leaping Tiger.
Manu says this was a conscious move. “People in our circles might not necessarily know who Race Banyon is, or the significance of a set like Trey’s, but it was important to have those guys. You might not get it now, but one day you’ll look back and appreciate it. And you’ll be talking about it, like, I was there for that.
"I think the most remarkable thing about that show is that the crowd was diverse. The people that we saw in the crowd weren’t all brown, weren’t all white…”
“Weren’t all our homies,” Purcell adds.
“Yeah, weren’t just our friends,” Manu continues. “There were hundreds of people we didn’t even know.”Right now, the pair are moving through the early stages of a seemingly inevitable commercial, and artistic, breakthrough — suddenly becoming more accessible, more available.
For the early-adopters, early warnings included Manu’s spot on 64 Bars — David Dallas’s live-in-studio video series — and the duo’s opening set for SWIDT.
But for the most listeners, it’s “Ready or Not” that caught their attention. And it happened immediately. Even before the song was officially released, it was New Zealand’s most-searched song on song-identifying app Shazam. “We didn’t know it was a hit,” says Manu. “There hadn’t really been any New Zealand rap song that’s been at the forefront of New Zealand radio. Not since Scribe. We wanted to replicate that as much as we could. We thought maybe we’d get a b-rotate and our followers up to a thousand.”
Church & AP are just like any promising young artists — ambitious and talented, with an insatiable hunger to prove themselves. But they have a pragmatism that sets them apart from the rest.
“We have plans going into things,” says Manu. “Nothing we do is out of the blue, and if it is, it’s because we want it to look that way. It’s just planning and pre-meditation. Goals are different to plans. You can have a million goals. But how you do it is a different conversation.”
Or as Purcell puts it: “Just formulate and execute.”
The more we talk, the more I get a sense of their dynamic. Where Manu is extroverted and sometimes braggadocious, Purcell is calm and reserved. Their duality is what makes Manu and Purcell work, on and off the stage.
At every Church & AP show I’ve been to, there’s always been a surprise addition to the line-up. I often ask if their desire to showcase a diversity of local acts is driven by a sense of obligation to support the scene. Their response is an adamant “no”. “It’s not even support,” Manu says. “It’s just realising that people make world-class music next door. But you don’t know until you go to a little gig at Whammy or link up with somebody over SoundCloud.”
It’s this thoughtfulness, this inherent desire to uplift the circle of artists around them, that is at the core of Church & AP. And the reason they’re so hard to define. “We’re focused on building our own community of people that we can go to consistently, that are like our constant collaborators,” says Manu.
“We can just relate, eh? I feel like there’s a family vibe to us, working with Humble, Jinzo and them. We’re like your cousins or your older brothers.”
This is why people are connecting with Church & AP. Not because they’re not running alone, but because they’re charging forward with an army. Whether it’s their immediate circle of artists and producers, or the wider community of directors, photographers, videographers and stylists, the pair are determined to elevate their peers along the way.
This collective effort is paving the way for a sort of renaissance, Manu says. “We’re doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time. We’ve been lucky because generations before us, hip-hop was stigmatised for being this kind of nuisance to society. We’ve been able to breeze past that, so it does show something new that’s happening. People are unafraid to support. We’d just appreciate if that continued.”
And the duo have no intention of slowing down. In the coming year, they plan on releasing multiple bodies of work — an album at some point, maybe; a double EP for sure. They’re coy about certain projects, but absolute about one thing: “We have to keep on building our name,” says Manu. “Because people know ‘Ready or Not’, but not everyone knows Church & AP.”
Photography by: Nicole Semitata Hunt
This article was first published in the March - April 2019 issue of Metro.