It’s a sunny Friday in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood.
Hong Kong-born local rapper Tommy Gunn, his producer brother 99hurts, Tommy’s girlfriend, Jacquie, their friend, Wilson, and overseer from their label, Minori, await a 12pm lunch at Eastood’s Canton Cafe, a restaurant fusing the cuisines of the East and West.
It was Tommy’s choice, a little slice of home tucked into Sydney’s multicultural landscape.
Originally, it was just going to be Gunn and me (I’d talked with my editor about writing an article where I pretended I’d tricked him on a date – great content, right?), but the thing about the young artist and his music is that community and family never trail too far behind. The entourage of friends was welcome.
A couple of months ago Tommy released his first EP, Bet On Me, a project extending the narrative of being the underdog, of family values and of community. His release party saw his mum and dad moshing on the dance floor as Tommy facetimed a friend who happened to be in a detention centre. “I talk to him everyday, he’s a rapper too,” Tommy says. Even if they weren’t there in person, everyone that mattered was involved, somehow.
Throughout our meal, one that started with chicken feet and ended with him footing the bill, I learn a lot about Tommy Gunn, where he was from and where he’s going, and why community and family sit as a big part of his message.
VICE: So what do you usually get?
Wilson: Have you tried chicken feet?
I mean, I’ll try it, I’ll try anything. Is it good?
99hurts: I used to like it but when I came here I ate one with a nail still on and it still had hair and I stopped eating as soon as I saw that. But they do it proper here.
What does it taste like? Just chicken?
Tommy Gunn: Nah, it tastes like skin.
99hurts: and it’s good for your skin, according to the asian markets.
Yeah, let’s go, I’m happy with whatever. So what are we getting?
Tommy Gunn: So there’s this barbecue, it comes in like a hot pot and there’s rice in it and meat but it’s boiling hot. And then Hong-Kong style french toast with Honey, and then a baked pork chop with rice. And then braised chicken wings in rice.
Let’s get some drinks. Do they have alcohol?
Tommy Gunn: I don’t know if they do, we gotta ask. [Ordering] Do you have chicken feet?
Waitress: Only sour…
Tommy Gunn: Oh nah nah.
Is the pickled one not good?
99hurt: It’s like cold, sour. You want to try it?
Yeah, why not.
Tommy Gunn: Alright, we’ll get that. Do you guys have alcohol?
Tommy Gunn: Oh, do you guys want drinks?
99hurts: Do you want to try hong kong style milk tea? Do you have soy milk?
Waitress: No, we don’t do soy milk.
Tommy Gunn: Bro’s lactose intolerant. And just some water please.
Are you from this area?
99hurts: Nah, when we first came to Australia there weren’t many places where there were actual Chinese communities, so our Auntie would take us here and show us restaurants, and it felt more like home.
When did you move over from Hong Kong?
Tommy Gunn: 2011
So 11 years ago with your family?
Tommy Gunn: Yeah, Mum and my Dad. They’re very supportive now that we’re doing good music and we’re making money from it. They’re super supportive this year, the year before they were like…
They didn’t really get it?
Tommy Gunn: They never used to be like this, everyone’s like “you’re parents are so supportive” but they were pretty bad before. We had to earn their respect.
What finally won them over?
99hurts: Seeing the live shows, seeing people sing our lyrics, situations in real life that they’re starting to see. Us being able to go to the studio everyday and keep doing that, it looks real to them
I think I actually saw your Dad at one of your release parties, he was moshing.
99hurts: I’ve never seen my mum that lit before ever
Tommy Gunn: Never.
[Pickled Chicken Feet arrive]
You gotta be honest with me, is it good?
Tommy Gunn: I don’t love it, but it’s not bad.
99hurts: Everything here’s traditional, it’s on the verge of Western and Chinese. There was a war and the English took over Hong Kong for 100 years. That’s why a lot of the food is mixed or westernised.
Alright, let’s try.
Tommy Gunn: You just chew the skin. It’s so sour, it’s weird aye.
Tommy Gunn:You like it?
I mean it kinda just tastes like slippery chicken.
[Hong Kong Style Milk Tea ($4.80) arrives]
Minori: omg that’s so amazing that’s really good, drink out of it again so she can take a pic.
[French Toast with Honey and Peanut Butter ($9.80) arrives]
99hurts: This one we grew up on.
Is it sweet?
Tommy Gunn: This is the good stuff
So, When did you start making music?
Tommy: We started making music in 2017. He started producing first, like a month before we started recording, with his friend. And then I’ve always been rapping to the boys and writing raps and showing them. He’d get annoyed from it and shit cause I’m always like “yo yo”, then I was like I’mma start recording and he laid down the first song
Wait… so is Tommy Gunn a joint project?
Tommy Gunn: Not really, we do our own things. Tommy Gunn’s just me. People always ask that, if we’re collaborative, but we don’t promote together. We’re brothers, but we do our own thing. We work with other producers and other artists. He just landed a Tory Lanez placement.
99hurts: I worked on his album.
[Braised Beef & Chicken Wings ($19.80) arrive]
Do your parents make this kind of food, too?
Tommy Gunn: Oh, our mum makes other things, we grew up eating this type of stuff but we’d go out and eat it for breakfast.
It’s really good.
99hurts: So he was a cellist growing up
Do you still play?
Tommy Gunn: Nah, but I play guitar, self taught, and I’m learning piano as well
Why don’t you play cello anymore?
Tommy Gunn: ‘cause I stopped learning it, and I think it would take a bit of time to pick it back up. He played clarinet.
99hurts: Yeah I used to tutor, since I was like 17. That was my job from 17 til 20.
So you’ve always loved music?
Tommy Gunn: Yeah we literally started just fucking around, we were obsessed with it. I don’t think there’s a reason, I’ve just been around music my whole life. I guess it gives me freedom. I’ve always been a person that likes to do a lot of things, like boxing or sport.
99hurts: It’s exciting doing music. We go in different studios and meet different people. It’s different every day.
[Roasted Pork BBQ ($19.80) arrives]
Tommy Gunn: Try that pork.
Damn, that’s good. How old are you guys?
Tommy Gunn: I’m 23, he’s 22
So you came over from Hong Kong when you were 11/12? What was that like?
Tommy Gunn:Well, some things happened with family and we had to come here on a week’s notice. We couldn’t tell anyone.
Not even your friends?
Tommy Gunn: One week notice… and then we had to go. Didn’t even have the chance to say a proper goodbye to our mates
99hurts: Yeah, I remember going to school to pack up our locker and all of my friends were like where have you been
Tommy Gunn:We just had to go. Until today I don’t really know why.
When you get older it’ll probably all come out. Family secrets always come out. Was there a bit of culture shock when you came to Australia?
Tommy Gunn: I was like… where are the people? You don’t understand, Hong Kong’s packed.
99hurts: And we didn’t speak english when we came to Australia
Tommy Gunn: We went to a half english school and I played footy with western people, like Americans, English.
99hurts: I remember when we first came I still had to put the sentencse together in my head and say it out loud and I always struggled with numbers. The Chinese number system and English are different, so I struggle saying them out loud.
99hurts: nah nah nah, I can count to 10 (laughs).
Tommy Gunn: Yeah, I’d get the boys and we’d do a challenge where we read Harry Potter books out loud, and do a drinking game.
Wait, weren’t you a child?
Tommy Gunn: In Hong Kong, everyone’s shoulder to shoulder, and then we came to Australia and it’s like what’s there to do? Cause you don’t know the spots to go to where everyone chills, you just drive past trees and houses. You’re just not used to it. Hong Kong’s just busier. You don’t even see trees in Hong Kong. You barely see trees. There’ll be like one tree in the middle of the street
99hurts: You’d have to drive 45 minutes to go to one oval where there’s grass.
Tommy Gunn: There’s a lot of fake grass. The air here too, it’s the first thing I loved. You can breathe properly. In Hong Kong you can’t breathe. Just dusty, dirty.
What do you think of Sydney? Music, everything.
Tommy Gunn: To be honest…
You can say it’s shit if you want to.
Tommy Gunn: We just do our own thing.
99hurts: I think there’s just not enough competition. I know people always say there shouldn’t be competition in making music and being creative and stuff, but at the end of the day, people in the US, the quality of music that people produce there compared to here is very different.
It’s like if you want to make it you have to be the best. Here you can be like ‘Eh’ and still have a place in the scene. I was talking to my friends the other day, and I think Australian culture is just very laid back. That kind of leads into the music culture as well. There aren’t that many tastemakers here, that’s what we’re trying to be.
Tommy Gunn: Yeah, everything’s so slow. So I think it’s an advantage for us to outwork other people.
Maybe you should switch up cities, go to Melbourne?
99hurts: Who’s from Melbourne? Keanu’s from Melbourne.
Tommy Gunn: He’s a producer. He works with Tory Lanez and Drake.
I can’t believe you [99hurts] worked on Tory Lanez album.
Tommy Gunn: Well, Drake’s producer was asking for loops, he’s like a 20 platinum producer, he’s got a song with Taylor Swift, that’s why Drake’s producer asked him. That’s as big as you can get, a song with Taylor Swift. It’s bigger than Kanye or Drake.
I mean yeah, she’s the biggest pop star in the world.
99hurts: Sold more than what Drake’s album sold.
Unpopular opinion, and I get a lot of shit for it, but I hate Drake.
Tommy Gunn: A lot of people say that.
99hurts: You hate Drake? I love Drake
I mean, I’m not denying his music is good but just the way he carries himself, it’s just so –
Tommy Gunn: A bit corny?
Yeah, a bit corny
99hurts: A lot of people don’t like him ‘cause he doesn’t write his own music.
Tommy Gunn: But like all of the biggest artists, all of the biggest popstars, they don’t write their music.
Is that the level you want to get to, Drake?
Tommy Gunn: For sure. We were planning on going back to Hong Kong next year.
First time since you were a kid?
Tommy Gunn:Yeah, there are these big artists in Hong Kong. So I want to go back to Hong Kong. Go to the best studios, meet people there. It’s a matter of time before [99hurts] and me take over Asia, and then America will follow, because the Asian market is an untapped market. I mean Drake, all these guys, they haven’t touched the asian market. Aussie, Asian, American, we want to take over all the places. Next February.
Yeah, I guess you don’t really hear of many artists coming out of Hong Kong.
Tommy Gunn:Yeah, especially in the mainstream, cause they rap in half cantonese. But I feel like the quality isn’t the best but they’re big.
99hurts: I feel like the people that make it in Hong Kong, they go over to mainland China. But we’re going a different route, back to Hong Kong, see what it’s like. Do what we can there.
Tommy Gunn: People are always like ‘Oh, you guys are inspiring a lot of asian artists here’.
Do you like when people say that?
Tommy Gunn: Yeah, for sure. It gives me a big drive, definitely. I always look at it from the perspective of ‘we’re all just monkeys’.
Fuck, I say that too, ‘We’re all just stupid little monkeys.’
Tommy Gunn:Living on a piece of rock, we can do whatever we want. Everything’s deep but it’s not that deep. Us being Asians, coming into the scene, we’re definitely the underdogs. I know people look at me and they’re like ‘who’s this asian kid’ but we have to outwork that barrier.
There’s that thing of being the token when you first come onto the music scene but it feels like national radio stations are starting to diversify a bit.
Tommy Gunn: It’s definitely growing, it’s good. Australia’s never been here before, everyone’s making music. But I think it’s great. But in terms of types of music, I don’t personally love a lot of artists that come out of Australia. I like a lot of them, too, but it gets a bit weird when everyone’s doing songs with everyone else in the same group.
99hurts: In my opinion, the spotlight isn’t on the best music yet.
Tommy Gunn: I think people just hop on trends, that’s Australia. A lot of the UK artists, most of their listeners are in Australia. It’s a bit saturated, too. There’s so much politics, it’s crazy. If you know, you know.
Alright, let me pay for this.
Tommy Gunn: No no, we already paid for it.
I didn’t even see you do it.