By Maggie Shui
“This one goes out to all the immigrants, maaan,” is how Mo Muse begins his song ‘All the Kids’.
Then he quips, “You know, we always had to be the interpreters at those parent-teacher interviews. As far as mum was concerned, we were doing well…” Delivered like an ad lib, the line is specific, personal and funny. It’s a trifecta that’s produced many memorable rap lyrics (see: any Kanye song).
But the humour is just the entry point. What makes these lyrics great is when they point to a wider feeling. Here, it’s that feeling among migrant children of growing up a little too quickly - picture nine year olds filling out visa application forms and handling cash registers. It’s also that feeling of how straddling two languages is like straddling two worlds, and how things can get lost in the chasm.
“The strongest way I found to actually get your ideas across is satire,” says Muse, whose family arrived in New Zealand from Somalia as refugees in the 90s. “That’s why that first line was particularly powerful because it’s like ‘oh shit, I know what he’s talking about’ and anybody can laugh about it, but it’s actually not really funny.”
That said, there’s lots of joy in ‘All the Kids’. “The angle has to be lively. I intentionally made it that troubadour-style sound. It has that fusion of rock and rap,” Muse says about the production of the song, which takes a sample from A$AP Rocky collaborator Joe Fox.
In the music video (directed by Ahmed Osman, and filmed and edited by Connor Pritchard) Muse is decked out in an ostentatious all-black (save for his chain) fit, with a Hugo Boss belt and a pair of black Air Force 1s (yes, those). It’s actually a pretty good look, but Muse says he’s partly taking the piss.
There’s a lyric in ‘All the Kids’ that goes: “Had to cop the Gucci belts, whips with tints till we balled like a scrimmage/ It ain’t as simple as they made it out / See, when you’re oppressed you purchase any symbols of wealth”.
“It’s about not having much, but then overcompensating. That’s a massive thing, particularly in hip hop. And as a migrant kid you want to appear as if you have it,” says Muse, “it” being wealth. “It’s something I play on a lot, which is why there’s such a contrast between my exaggerated and slightly offensive outfit, and what I’m actually rapping about.”
It’s connections like these that made “hip hop a really powerful identifier” for that group of young African migrants who came to New Zealand in the 90s, he says. “We were just so conditioned with hip hop so young.” He and his peers - Jess B, Abdul Kay, Raiza Biza, Mazbou Q, Blaze the Emperor - are ‘first generation’ kids who have now grown up and are making their own music.
“The people who are most likely going to be listening to this album are kids, so the first song has to be for them,” says Muse. ‘All the Kids’ is for the next generation.
Mo Muse's album The First Generation LP is streaming on all platforms.