Patrick Crewdson - student, Auckland

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Street cred

This post is about journalism, not hip hop, but I need to ask you: ever heard of MC Emu?

In September 2002, when I was nearing the end of the first of my two years as editor of Critic, I published an article called 'Straight out of Cumberland' written by our talented features reporter, Rohan Murphy. The piece was about Damian Roberts (aka MC Emu) a German-based rapper who Rohan described as New Zealand's "least-known musician":

It seems that the Germans love his cheeky beats and just can't get enough. His first album, 2000's brash My Style, shook life into a hip-hop tradition that many pundits thought was choked by lack of imagination. Lauded by the critics and embraced by the German hip-hop public, My Style sold nearly 300,000 copies in its first six months of release, buoyed by TV performances described as "electrifying" by Rolling Stone's German branch. More of MC Emu's sweetly simple but cutting rhymes feature on his soon-to-be-released follow-up LP, Expatriot to the Fullest. Between major releases, Roberts has kept busy with a four-track EP, Ruhe, which he co-produced with German sensation Die Beatminister, touring, giving interviews, and MCing with the vibrant Munich underground scene.
The article explored Roberts' rise to fame in Europe, briefly touched on his deal with Sony Records and contrasted his blinging Munich lifestyle with the more sedate pace of life at his New Zealand home in Curio Bay, between Dunedin and Invercargill.

Having played a role in bringing the expat rapper to the attention of the Otago student body, I was delighted to hear over the weekend from Fighting Talk contributor (and former Critic designer) Lyndon Hood that MC Emu rated a mention in David Eggleton's recently released history of kiwi rock, Ready to Fly. The relevant line comes in the very last paragraph of the book, in the afterword:

A sizeable contingent of expatriate New Zealand DJs - including Freq Nasty (Darin McFadyen), MC Emu (Damian Roberts) and Zane Lowe - have based themselves in Europe and the UK ...
Rohan, who is now a policy analyst for a Government Ministry, wrote some brilliant articles for Critic that year (his interview with the PR spokesman for the Church of Scientology, which we printed as a straight Q&A, was particularly good). The MC Emu article seemed to slip under our readers' radar a little though, so I was pleased to see his work finally getting noticed.

Mostly though, I was delighted because MC Emu is completely fictional.

Rohan's MC Emu article was part of a hoax issue of Critic, and wasn't really (as the tagline on the cover claimed) "investigative journalism @ its finest". It ran alongside features on an Tyler Durden-style fight club based in Mosgiel and a human cloning scandal at a private university in Masterton. A letter writer responded to the fight club article the following week ("I briefly hoped that it was all a piss-take. However, as I read on I became convinced that the item was authentic") but the other pieces went uncommented upon. I just figured our intelligent, educated readers had got the joke.

As a student of Otago Boys High School, Roberts won a reputation as the fastest talker on the 1st XV, on which he was a rangy lock who won selection for national schoolboy tours to Australia. "Looking back, getting smart to front-rowers was probably the first rapping I ever did," he jokes.
Guess not.

I called David Eggleton last night to ask him about Emu's inclusion in Ready to Fly and he was very good about it really. I had wondered whether he was just having a laugh too, but no, he admitted to being taken in by the story. Basically he included MC Emu as part of a "scattershot approach" to illustrating the musical success of expatriate New Zealanders. A worthy point, I'm sure, and at any rate, the fact that MC Emu doesn't actually exist is hardly a significant black mark against Eggleton's book.

Funny though.