From their launchpad of eccentric hip-hop, Coco Solid release an ambitious double album, Radical Bad Attack, in June. Titular frontwoman Jessica Hansell talks to BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM about going to the next level.

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COCO SOLID are an unlikely musical combination in a nation where the understated prevails. Full of bravado and sexual tension and smart as a whip (and not afraid to drop it in), Coco Solid have been causing a stir in both indie and hip-hop circles in New Zealand (and overseas). June sees the release of another ambitious project – a double album, Radical Bad Attack – that will continue the band’s propensity for hilarious one-liners, rhymes and quips, outrageous Detroit-inspired hip-hop beats, and ultimately brilliantly enjoyable hip-hop.

The primary duo are Coco Solid (Jessica Hansell) and Erik Ultimate (Benjamin Buchanan), but there are some invaluable other members – ALC5 the producer, and DJ Han Baby. Hansell and Buchanan “met at several parties in the early ‘naughtiez’. We became friends when I was in a rap n roll girl group called The Pussies and he was a DJ into a lot of German and NYC electro at the time.” Hansell admits that “Erik has had a huge influence on the music I like and obviously the music I make. Despite our different approaches to a lot of things in life, collaboratively I’m like a moth to a flame. He’s a fuckin’ genius.”

However it’s a bit simplistic to say Coco Solid are simply hip-hop, and their musical influences go far beyond. However Hansell’s background proved influential in determining the direction of the music. “Mainstream hip-hop, rap and R ‘n’ B is what I grew up on. I grew up out South Aucks, and you couldn’t escape it. Plus you got whanau disco and soft rock. My adolescence was a bit more diverse and I was a teen at the peak of grunge, Brit-pop, new wave punk and the alternative ‘90s onslaught and you couldn’t escape that either. So I think my childhood cemented the framework I work in, and my teen years polluted that.” The others also have particularly eclectic backgrounds, though Hansell suggests ALC5 “is a rock n roll guy originally” and DJ Han Baby “a booty bass DJ.” It’s interesting hip-hop was chosen as a medium to work in, given the variety of their musical background, but “hip-hop as a medium fits more in lyrically and I find is a potent political tool. It’s about telling stories, monologue-esque messages and shaping characters like cartoons.” However, they do demonstrate strong influence from other genres – their album Denim and Leisure was a collection of remixes for example. “All music influences and infiltrates us. All genres are god’s children, even the bad times are good.”

“I pimp the system, sure, to get what I need but you live by the sword, you die by the sword and you’re gonna have to hang out with those creeps and be nice to them once you start relying on them for your success. And that’s when the comedy starts, people playing into the role of ‘musician’ just to get the funding, the best gig, the magazine space, the sponsored ill-fitting jeans. If people are laughing at my stuff for its crappiness I’d probably have to agree in part – it is crappy sometimes. But at least I didn’t mortgage the house or grease up some record label jock to make a fool of myself. I did it for cheap.”


The band were mining popular culture from the ‘80s well before ‘80s revivalism being en vogue and garish clothing were peddled in the mega-stores. “The ‘80s thing was just a natural source for us when we started, it’s such an ‘outavit’ era to have sprung from. Kids shows all had drug-fucked themes and drunk presenters, entertainment in general had this disco vs punk ‘coming of age’ tension, fashion was blinding – like this aesthetic puberty for the western world and politically everything fucked out or had an uprising. And all us ‘70s/’80s kids have this natural space cadet quality and real affinity with pop culture ‘cause it raised us.” However Coco Solid have moved on. “I’m all about referencing the late ‘90s right now. Will Rachel and Ross get together etc.”

New Zealand hip-hop hasn’t been noted for its sense of humour, and while arguably this is a gross generalisation, it is probably fair to say mainstream hip-hop out of this country and elsewhere has been rather dour. And for a band who can have lines like “‘cause making love to me, fuck it isn’t rocket science”, “I’m very sweet and I’m very kind // but if you don’t have what you owe me // I’ll be round a nine // with a baseball bat and three of my cousins”, or “Erik’s rolling in a fresh yellow Lambor // with a big L on it ‘cause I’m learning the Road Code”, they want to make you laugh and/or think while you dance. Other hip-hop artists “might not be laughing at themselves, but we’re all laughing at them right? Most bands are fantastic comedy, they just don’t know it. How many times you and your friends been at home heckling the shit lyrics, bad (expensive) music video, ego-driven self-conscious performance? I reckon just being yourself is the trippiest thing you can do these days, because there’s so much social airbrushing and posturing going on. Everyone needs to present themselves as successful and serious even if they’re not, just to survive. I don’t need to play that game because the incestuous New Zealand music scene isn’t the hand that feeds me.”

However, Hansell does admit that “I pimp the system, sure, to get what I need but you live by the sword, you die by the sword and you’re gonna have to hang out with those creeps and be nice to them once you start relying on them for your success. And that’s when the comedy starts, people playing into the role of ‘musician’ just to get the funding, the best gig, the magazine space, the sponsored ill-fitting jeans. If people are laughing at my stuff for its crappiness I’d probably have to agree in part – it is crappy sometimes. But at least I didn’t mortgage the house or grease up some record label jock to make a fool of myself. I did it for cheap.”

However it is fair to say that mainstream types have responded more to the earnest but unintentionally funny versions of commercial hip-hop. “Those groups are important to a lot of people in this country, it’s mainstream entertainment, it’s more sales driven, it’s about publicity and representing a voice that I don’t have anyway. They can have the mainstream attention, I don’t want it – a) it’s a circle jerk and provincial blood bath and b) I think it’s crucial that it’s not all white ‘alternative’ bands running the game who are just as homogenised half the time.” I ask if the disproportionate attention annoys her. “I honestly don’t give a fuck about the inequality of attention. The things that drive my music are light-years away from what motivates other artists I meet, my objectives are slow burn. Break it down, I’m a pseudo-intellectual antagonist hori palagi fob female who still produces a lot of her own stuff. I only collab with the people who crack stereotypes in the jaw, we’re completely independent of a label since day one, and we still do the overseas thing. That’s political and something I’m so proud of.”

“I reckon just being yourself is the trippiest thing you can do these days, because there’s so much social airbrushing and posturing going on. Everyone needs to present themselves as successful and serious even if they’re not, just to survive. I don’t need to play that game because the incestuous New Zealand music scene isn’t the hand that feeds me.”


This lack of attention also allows the band to act in ways which don’t fit into the national stereotype, with in-your-face faux confidence and highly sexual songs. “[New Zealanders are] modest people, we’re fake humble to avoid criticism. I’m pretty lo-fi in real life myself, so I have an alter ego. It’s nothing new. Alter egos take on the qualities and say the things that you feel, think, and should drop daily but you don’t. Again it comes back to me playing with the fiction of success like a game and other artists actually having emotional and financial investments at stake. So they have to play it a lot safer. They have to pretend they are a really down-to-earth, cool, humble person all the fucking time. Bo-ring. That’s what my real life is for.”

There aren’t too many New Zealand bands (Coco Solid excepted) that are particularly sexual in their music either, from indie to rock to hip-hop. Given that popular music has always been highly sexual (“rock n roll” means sex for example) New Zealand musicians seem pretty virginal and puritanical. “That’s a colonial thing thing, uber-English that’s crept into our national psyche. It’s such a shame. Everyone wants to get laid but are so repressed they can’t articulate it. I started with that schtick ‘cause I wanted to explore those themes quite selfishly. I wanted to go wild artistically while figuring myself out if I’m being honest. Triple X female rappers have always deeply inspired me and sexual politics, our biology, all that shit.” The sexuality of their music derives in part from Erik Ultimate’s faux accent. “Erik’s deep voiced persona is so fantastic, such a great tool to represent the laid male within. Together we really symbolise the gender, sexual friction thing to a lot of people. Our early New Zealand shows were mental because I think everyone was just dying to be whipped up into a sexual frenzy. People wanted to be dirty, people wanted to grind and all the cute fat girls wanted to pop booty like you see in the videos, instead of feeling bad about themselves. But it’s never instant. We try to ease their guilt with a couple of Hemingway references to gratify their minds and they go oscar buck wilde.”

Their antics and catchy music have caught hold in both the indie and hip-hop scenes, a kind of “half-caste mentality” as Hansell calls it. “The indie scene is cool – it’s open-minded, a band like us obviously relied on that support in the beginning. Having said that it’s very uptight, insecure and sooo self-conscious. The hip-hop scene is very staunch, homogenised and conservative. But having said that it’s a lot more sincere and a lot less complicated. If they dig it they dig it. If they don’t, the scene ignores you – and I like that.”

The new album, Radical Bad Attack was recorded in a few weeks and is due for release in June. And given the quality of their previous work, this is definitely one to check out. Disc One is called Sex and “it’s a bit homier and for the dancefloor”. Disc Two, Science, is “a bit more experimental, punk.” I ask if this signals a Speakerboxx/Love Below type splitting up, or a Sign O’ The Times type epic – the reply is a “bit from column A, bit from column B.” The speed with which this album was recorded comes from not being a perfectionist. “I guess I have a conceptual vision and I stick to it. The process itself is very casual and loose. Lyrically I am particular. Collaboratively, it’s a free for all. There’s no point straining no matter how dense your music is.” There are a lot of collaborations, and lots of outside producers involved. “It’s twenty-one songs, so I do everything from surf guitar to grime. It was choice to make, it’s packed with friends and family. I go next level, and that’s what’s important.”