Debate catches up with: Jujulipps
by Liam Hansen (he/they)
Tāmaki Makaurau’s Jujulipps has only been in the local rap scene for a couple of years, but the impact she’s made in such a short, Covid-struck amount of time has been wild. She went from releasing her debut track ‘Hilary Banks’ in the middle of 2021, to performing at 95bFM’s Fancy New Band Showcase, to opening for Synthony in the Domain. Her powerful music is impossible to ignore (and it’d be pretty stupid of you to try and ignore it in the first place). I sat down with her shortly before the release of her newest track ‘Saucy’ in the recording studio of her new label, Big Pop, to chat about the new release and the grind of touring.
Debate: Kia ora, Juju! How are you doing?
Jujulipps: I'm good! I woke up today and was immediately tired. I feel like it's been one thing after the other - I'm still recovering from CubaDupa.
Debate: I can't blame you! The entire start of this year has been jumping between different festivals and opening slots. You've been at Cross Street, CubaDupa, you were gonna be at Laneway… What has the daily grind of different performances been like over the past couple of months?
Jujulipps: It's been cool rehearsing a set list that's not out yet! I’ve only had one track out for them, so I'm really giving the audience something that they've never heard before. I feel like a really cool one of a kind experience that I’m really having fun with.
Debate: Has having that audience there and playing these unreleased tracks to them been informing the music itself at all?
Jujulipps: Absolutely, yeah, I feel so blessed to be able to perform them, because most of them actually aren’t even mixed and mastered. There've been so many times that I come back into the studio, and I'm like “Okay! After I performed it a few times, this is actually how I want it to go, cause the audience really relates to this part”.That’s a real blessing, to be able to go back and forth with my work.
Debate: It's especially a privilege after the past couple of years of Covid.
Jujulipps: 1,000%. Covid was a little bit of a bitch. ‘Hilary Banks’ was released in June, July of 2021. It was fun, it was great, and then three months later, everything's cut. I would always end up saying to myself, “I should have started this six years ago, five years ago, like I should have started this when I was 19.” I was forced into a break when I really wanted to go in and go hard. But everything happens for a reason, so when I look at where I am right now - I'm not happy Covid happened, but I'm really glad that things played out the way that they did. I'm just in the best place to be doing this right now. Like, a year ago I thought “I'm ready! I can do this!” Now that I'm actually here, I’m stressed. If I did this a year ago, I don't know how I would have coped.
Debate: So, where did your new track, ‘Saucy’ originate?
Jujulipps: I had just moved out of my home, so that was the first time I was properly independent and really feeling the anxiety that can come from that. The energy very specifically came from my environment and my friends supporting each other and hyping ourselves up. I mean, the entirety of ‘Saucy’ was made through Covid. It was just me in my room with my shitty little recording setup.
Debate: So if it comes from a place of uncertainty, were you trying to manifest the confidence to get through the rough period of becoming independent and getting through Covid?
Jujulipps: Oh, absolutely, I'm a strong believer of words of affirmation. Before I even had a name for what it was, when I was younger I would just speak to myself, telling myself that I am this strong woman. While making ‘Saucy’, that's all I was thinking about. I really needed to understand who I was again, and wanted other people to understand it as well.
Debate: Do the people around you tend to influence your music a lot, both in a platonic sense and a creative sense?
Jujulipps: Yeah, 1,000%. I've written tracks about being frustrated at my girls for going with really, really stupid guys. I think the best music is made from experiences that are relatable, so I really try to take on what's happening in my life and put it into what I do. One thing I need to work on is being a lot more vulnerable, and putting those elements into my music.
Debate: Does that happen in a sense of almost journaling? Like, what is the process of writing lyrics and putting them to music for you?
Jujulipps: I think it goes both ways - there's the journaling aspect, but there's also when I'll be sitting with my friends, and someone will say something random that I’ll quickly write down. If you went into my notes app, you’ll just have four lines, then another random four lines, and another random four lines. Those are just little snippets of moments that have happened around me. And the journaling aspect - to be honest, I could write a whole poem or write a whole essay on how I feel, and summarise it into a song.
Debate: A lot of your live performances so far have been in front of massive audiences, which is pretty rare for such a small artist. What has it been like jumping straight into performing in front of major crowds?
Jujulipps: It's weird. When I was first booked for Synthony - shows that are on the biggest stages ever - I had probably performed three or four times. My manager asked me if I wanted her to go down with me to the first show in Wellington, and I was like, “No, you know what, it's fine. If I can go on stage in front of 7,000 people, after literally doing three performances, I can do anything.” And I stepped on that stage. I did it.
Debate: That's in contrast to the stages at CubaDupa, Cross Street, and Whammy. Do you find that you prefer the smaller venues, or the larger venues?
Jujulipps: I like the bigger stages more, maybe that's because it's where I started. I try to take the attitude from the biggest stages to every stage - it doesn't matter if there's six people and it's a tiny little stage, you are gonna see a performance like you’re at an arena. I think that there's a real difference between going onstage and performing and simply singing your track or doing your track. I think that's what's cool about the biggest stages is that you've got the opportunity to do that. But in the same sense, I wouldn't care if there was one person or if there were 60,000 people there.
Debate: You're already putting on that show with each of these things, bringing in more visuals with dancers. How has it been bringing them into your shows?
Jujulipps: It's been super, super fun, but super challenging. Everything from the surface seems a lot more straightforward than it actually is, like finding dancers that you really connect with. The audience can see whether there's a connection or not, so it’s the number one I look for in dancers. There's always going to be choreography regardless - I could get two different strangers and be like, “Listen, this is what we have to learn, we have to do it in two days, and we're gonna do it.” But having people that you really, really gel with is really, really cool. They bounce off of me just as much as I bounce off of them. The process for the choreography is collaborative - the dancers would make up some of it, and then from there I'm like, “Okay, this part doesn't work, because I need to be rapping here, or this part could go for longer, because then this does that.” I remember just before one show, I was like, “This audience is going to love it if you give them facial expressions, you're gonna love it if you do a little something to them.” So each performance, depending on what I see, just from the audience is altered a little bit.
Debate: What's been challenging about it?
Jujulipps: It's just a lot of effort. It takes a lot of syncing calendars, a lot of rehearsals and a lot of outfit design for us to give the image we’re wanting to give. I'm also at the start of my journey, so I'm asking for a lot of people to be available for everything. Managing all that with my day job has been hard, because I'm really just a normal person. So if I finish work at six, I have rehearsal from seven to nine, and then I'll go to sleep, and then I wake up and do it all over again. I suppose I always tell myself when I get too tired or frustrated, ”This is gonna be your career for the rest of your journey. You just got to get used to it.“ Even when we go on these trips, I have to logistically make sure everything's fine - the hotels are booked, everyone's gonna get picked up, there's a lot to it.
Debate: Yeah, it's super hard to build a creative career that heavily involves others in the first sense. I mean, have you been making music since before the Jujulipps name?
Jujulipps: Before Jujulipps, I just did things as a joke - I guess it's my background. Where I come from music was never a thing that was going to be a career. It was just having some fun in my friend's little bedroom studio. But I think after Covid hit the first time, I realised those sessions were the things I enjoyed and missed most.
Debate: It goes back to how you don’t know how your life could’ve changed without Covid. I don't think that I would be here interviewing you if it wasn't for the pandemic happening! But yeah, on the creative careers side of things - how have you been getting by trying to build both this side of your life as Jujulipps, whilst also trying to make a living?
Jujulipps: I honestly live how Hannah Montana lives. Like, it's so funny, because I'll get off one of the biggest stages ever. The next day, I can't get to work because of traffic. After CubaDupa, I remember coming home on Sunday and thinking, “You're telling me I have to clock in?!” And it's so annoying because I’m not just working for luxuries. It's so I can pay the rent. But it's really humbling, and I'm glad that I get to have this process. Because I mean, we hope and we pray to the whatevers, that one day I won't have to be doing two jobs, and my main focus can be music. Yeah. But while I'm in it, it's really cool to see the hustle. It's not every day that someone goes and does a massive show, and then has to clock the next day
Debate: It makes the music so much more genuine.
Jujulipps: Exactly, exactly. That's also why I really do want to get a lot more vulnerable in my music. Like, I quite like seeing how people treat you with nothing to the name. My parents would always say, “Never tell someone how much money you make, because they will treat you accordingly.” I can be struggling as this individual, but I've got this entire life that I'm so proud of and that I'm so happy about.
Debate: It must be so energising to be on the heels of a new EP coming out later this year. Has that been a good source of motivation for you?
Jujulipps: Oh, 1,000%. The closer we get to any type of release, it reminds me that I'm doing this for a reason. You can sort of just get into this cycle of the little headspace where you feel like you’re not doing enough. But this month, I've just been so much more optimistic about everything. I'm an optimistic person in general, but this month all of the hard work is going towards something. Even when I go to work, I'm using this cash to do something with my life - it all folds back to music.
Debate: Is there anything you want to say to our Debate readers before we wrap up?
Jujulipps: ‘Saucy’ is out now! Just watch it with an open mind. Enjoy it. Have fun. Listen to the lyrics, take it in, take that confidence and just have fun with it. This is my first music video, and I feel like I didn’t know how much work would go into it. My team and I have just done such a great job with this project, and my manager Helena has backed me so much. There's just so much behind the scenes that goes on. I really hope people listen to it, and get that sense of confidence. If you listen to my music, and understand that you are the shit, then I’ve done my job.