Diving deep with Tuka and his new album ‘Nothing In Common But Us’
Australian hip hop has undergone a renaissance period over the last few years. With a seemingly constant stream of new and exciting artists popping up every week, all with their own individual styles and influences, it’s fair to say the scene has never been stronger. But, in order for a scene to gain such strength, credit and gratitude must be paid to those who were breaking through when it wasn’t necessarily the case. Thundamentals is one such acts, putting “Aussie hip hop” on the map with their own breakthrough records and becoming one of the most commercially successful acts in the country. The three-piece have garnered a vast and loyal fan base which has stuck with them over the many years they’ve been in the game, with Tuka, Jeswon and Morgs becoming something of living legends in the Australian hip hop ecosystem and beyond.
Tuka has also seen a version of this success in his own right, with now three solo albums and an EP under his belt. Spanning back to Will Rap 4 Tuka back in 2010, his impact on the last decade for Australian hip hop is one that cannot be overstated with the Blue Mountains-native this year releasing his most ambitious record to date.
Titled Nothing In Common But Us, Tuka pushes his creativity further than he ever has before. He delves not only into many different facets of hip hop itself, but genres far outside of this too. He worked with The Presets‘ Julian Hamilton, he repeatedly switched up his style to broaden his sound, and as a result has delivered a record that is not only impressive in how much is going on in it, but how cohesive and personal it remains. Always one to infuse the personal and the professional in terms of his lyrics, Nothing In Common But Us mines Tuka‘s personal life as he explores the different stages of a relationship. Positioning the relationship itself as an almost third entity it its own right, Tuka takes a peculiar and curious look at what it means to be human with other humans in all its messy glory. In doing so, he emerges triumphant not just in how he has managed to overcome his own personal adversity, but also in that he now has an album that is worthy of the deep evolution he’s undergone since we last heard from him five years ago on Life Death Time Eternal, and only further cements his name in the very highest echelon of living musical legends in this country. We got to chat with him over email to dive a bit deeper into the record, and you can check it all out below.
Congratulations on the album, what a moment! It’s been five years since your last record, how does it feel to have a new body of work finally out in the world now?
I mean, in that 5 years I put out two full length records with my band Thundamentals, so the solo thing is almost like a bonus, I now have fans that like my solo stuff so I’m hoping they didn’t mind the wait…
In between Life Death Time Eternal and Nothing In Common But Us, you were a full time songwriter. Do you think that kind of full time approach was part of what liberated you to take such big risks when it comes to everything going on in this latest record?
Yes and no. Yes because I have more time to try and get things how I want them to sound, but no because you run the risk of overthinking things.
In another interview, you said you were more concerned with building your own genre as opposed to sticking within an existing one. This is something we’re seeing more and more of with artists rejecting “traditional” genres and instead just doing whatever feels right at the time. It’s also been so prevalent in hip hop as well. You’re someone with a few years in the game now, so I wanted to ask: do you think we can expect to see genres be done away with completely?
Yes, genres will become much more interconnected in the future. Think of it bit like globalisation but artistically.
A lot of the creation of this record sounds like it’s really all about trusting your gut more than you ever have before. This is probably something that can only really come over time though, right? Was there a moment when you kind of thought to yourself, “I’m throwing out the rule book!” and just trusting yourself?
I guess I feel like I’ve covered a lot of rap/hip hop in my past releases, do people really just want the same over and over? I was never not gonna follow my guts and I don’t think music has a rule book theses days.
Based on this then, although ‘How To Fly’ is more about a relationship than anything else, it’s also about trusting the process and knowing that it might not be easy at the time but it’s worth it in the end. Looking back at it now, all these months on from when you first wrote it, does the song have a bit of a new meaning?
It’s loosely around the idea of “taking a dive” or “taking a loss” or an “L” and seeing it as a win or a positive rather than negative. I’m asking people to switch their mind frame on why it’s important to lose sometimes. This can be seen in a lot of ways, from sacrificing something now for the greater good (delayed gratifications are often much more satisfying than merely indulging or being impulsive imo) OR when things do go wrong, trying to see your misfortunes as an opportunity for growth rather than failure. Finding grace in loss [and] learning that our failings are just as much apart of us as the things we are proud of. I really believe the fear of failure holds us back, taking a dive can also mean making a chance and through that journey, after the fuckery of learning from your mistakes, you may indeed learn “how to fly”.
It’s interesting because a lot of people have started to undergo more introspective transformations over the last few months and have been looking inwards to find meaning. Has that always been something you’ve tapped into, or is it a more recent revelation?
I think I’ve always looked for art to express meaning. I always tend to write introspective songs, I’m a pretty sensitive person so I guess inclined in that way.
I really enjoy how much of a focus you have had on the art of creating an “album” album. The tracklisting is important, the story is there and it all flows together to create something bigger than its parts. In the time of streaming where most albums can be just a playlist, you’ve got interludes and two bookends of the record as reflective pieces and a narrative thrown in between! It’s quite impressive how much detail has gone into the construction of this record. Why was that such a big thing for you this time around?
I fell in love with music via listening to full albums. I like to fulling exploring and trying to understand sometimes very complex ideas, I feel like that is the roll of art. It blows me away that streaming has more or less destroyed the idea and utility of a full length project.
Throughout the record, and your previous works as well, it’s very apparent that you’re a sensitive and introspective person. I also read you’re a Pisces! Water king! Given this sensitivity and introspection, does it feel like sometimes the relationship you’re talking about on this record could be that of the one with yourself?
That’s one of the strongest themes in the album 100%. You could look it at that way for sure. But also my relationship with the universe at large as well and how we are all interconnected in all sorts of ways.
Looking back, you’re now in possession of quite an illustrious catalogue of music. You’re also now writing new music with Thundamentals. What’s something you’ll take from the experience of creating such a richly detailed, sonically diverse and ultimately very personal collection of songs that you’ll use for future records?
Yeah, I’m proud of the vast amount of work I’ve been able to release. I guess moving forward I’ll continue to test myself and try and find “the sound” haha, whatever that is. That’s a hard question to answer until I’m in the studio and perhaps little further into my current project with TM. I just want to say something that is worth listening to. Doing that in an artistic way is always the major challenge.
Nothing In Common But Us is out now.
Words by Emma Jones
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