Navigators Program with Elijah from Church & AP
We had the chance to talk to Church - one half of hip-hop duo Church & AP - about his involvement and history with the Navigators program.
Checks: So tell us about your journey with the Navigators programme?
Church: I first got to navigators around 2017.Church and AP didn't even exist yet, we were only just starting to make music. AP hit me up one time and was like, "Yo there's a place that's doing free studio time." So one Tuesday after school we rocked up. Melodowns was there, Raiza Biza was there and they were the mentors of the Navigators programme. At the time they were the biggest rappers I had seen in real life. To us they were larger than life characters, especially Melo because right around that time he had just dropped ‘The Anthem’ which was a big song in West Auckland. So we pulled up and they were just really accommodating, it felt like they cared about what we wanted to do. At that time, we had no idea how to do anything but to have somebody that was giving out free studio time, that's like a golden ticket. You know? So we just got straight into it and ended up making all of our first mixtape there, eventually our first EP and single, ‘Ready or Not’. All made in one of those community studios.
Checks: And how has that evolved to your involvement now?
Church: So where Melo and Raiza once stood as facilitators, that's now my job. Which is really cool. I feel like you only get so many full circle moments in your life that are really fulfilling. I'm just there for the youth, mentoring where I can. A lot of these guys already know so much, way more than I did at that point. If they can go to Navigators and figure out how to build a career, some other kids are gonna come through there and do what I'm doing tenfold. So yeah I'm just trying to lead the youth in the right direction.
Checks: Do you have any success stories outside of yourself?
Church: Oh man, just the amount of raw talent that comes from the most shy people. I think for me it's about people that have come to us in confidence and really find their identity. Then later on just been like "Yo, thank you Church for listening." I think that's a big part of it. As much as I want to be a teacher or be the wise guy, sometimes I just shut up and hear what they have to say and hear them flesh out their perspectives on the world. It's crazy to see. So I think the biggest success stories to me are the guys that really take on board the opportunities that we're trying to give and make sure they feel connected because that's important. Before Navigators there wasn't really a space for young people that are trying to do music to really hang out and feel accepted.
Checks: Can you tell us about how the program has expanded?
Church: So, when I first started, it used to be in Mount Roskill at the Wesley Community Centre. We've since moved out to Te Manawa which is a brand new spot around the Westgate area. They've built a state of the art community centre and really welcomed us with open arms and just let us do our thing there. So we're running the same programmes they're on Tuesdays and then the original navigators are still going on Wednesdays, plus there's one out East and out South.
Checks: You sort of touched on this before but what do you hope the young people involved can get out of it?
Church: More than anything, if I can help provide a space for two hours to forget about everything that's going on outside, then I’ve done my job. A lot of these guys come with a lot of baggage and part of the job is figuring out how to channel that into art. I've seen a lot of kids in the past year really take what we give on-board and put it into their music. It's so crazy to see young people that are so articulate about their message, what they want and who they want to be. I had no idea what I wanted to sound like when I was 16. I wanted to be a gangster, I wanted to be American. I wanted to be all these things but these guys are so secure in themselves. It's just a pleasure to watch real artists grow.
Checks: What was your personal experience with navigators? What did it mean to you at that time in your life?
Church: For me, when I first got to Navigators, I just wanted to be better than everyone. When I was there we had a string of guests who came in each week and one week was David Dallas. So I tried to write the best verse in front of everyone for David Dallas. The next week, it was Tom Scott and I did the same thing. Then it was Melo and so I tried to do the same thing. Then it was poetic, same thing. I was just very hungry so I felt it was a place where I could service that hunger. A lot of guys have hunger and they have drive but they don't know where to go. So having a place like Navigators where I know I can at least, you know, sharpen my sword here. Ultimately it helped me take what I'm doing today seriously because prior to that I don't think I ever really thought that I could do this as a career. Until I saw real studio time, until I saw real creatives at work.
Checks: Can you share a bit about the Ready or Not story and how it was recorded?
Church: I think it was after school one day at one of the community centres. We hadn't even thought about it much, I was probably still in my school uniform. The beat got sent. I think it was just the ability to be in a room and there's no overarching supervisor or someone trying to make sure that we're doing the right things. We just had freedom to create and it was somewhere in that freedom that we came up with Ready or Not. We were like "Oh this sounds really good." It was a completely natural process. I did the hook, sent it to Albert and told him to come to the studio the next day. The next day he came through and it was a done deal. We didn't really think about it much. I think we had made it six months before we even thought about releasing it. We just kept working and kept working and kept working and eventually the time came and we were ready to do it and it's been good ever since.
Checks: You have some pretty influential speakers stop by, who can potential visitors expect to rub shoulders with?
Church: Because I'm an artist in the industry we kind of have a pulse on what's going on in the scene. So it's really up to the participants, who do they want to see? So Melodownz is really big out west, you know, a real prominent figure in the scene at the moment. So for us to be able to message him and ask him to come through, and he's been in it before, so he knows what it means. It means a lot to the kids, because it's Melodownz. We try to have no restrictions about who we can and can't bring in. If they want to see Tom Scott, we'll reach out to Tom Scott, you know? if they wanted to see Benee, we would reach out to Benee.
Checks: What's next for you? What’s coming up?
Church: I’ve got a solo project coming out, I think the tracklist is done. So it's mixing and mastering now. We just announced the Church & AP tour of Australia. It'll be our first time going across the ditch so that'll be big as well. Hopefully some big things over there. The plan is to get acclimated with the whole scene, because the way I see it, our scene is attached to theirs. So we got to tap in and make more connections. I think once we're able to do that with Australia and really get a feel for their audience, the sky's the limit.