Equally adept at singing, rapping and hosting the stage, Tali, whose given name was Natalia Scott (now Natalia Sheppard), made the transition from a regional figure to a national underground star quickly, before making the jump across the ditch to Melbourne.
Tali spent most of the 2000s working in the Northern Hemisphere.
After some words of encouragement from hip-hop artist King Kapisi, Tali impressed her hero Roni Size, leader of the Bristol-based Full Cycle collective, and one of the key international jungle/ drum & bass stars of the late 1990s, with an impromptu a capella performance. It was the start of a journey that saw her spending most of the 2000s working in the Northern Hemisphere as a respected touring and recording artist.
Along the way she clocked up a Top 40 hit in the UK with 'Lyric On My Lip' and opened the door, not just for female MCs within jungle/drum & bass, but for the now-respected New Zealand jungle/drum & bass performers who followed in her footsteps: Shapeshifter, Concord Dawn, Bulletproof, The Upbeats and State of Mind.
In 2012, Tali returned to New Zealand on a semi-permanent basis with her husband Benn Rolls-Sheppard. She remains internationally active within music as a singer, rapper, host MC, producer, radio broadcaster, bandleader, voice artist and public speaker.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Taranaki, Tali grew up in a household that not only placed a premium on the arts, but also understood the importance of a good party.
"My parents are real entertainers. They love having people over, and they always used to throw house parties when I was a little kid … Mum has this story she tells where I came out of my bedroom at 3am when I was three and was dancing around in my nightie. Later on she found me crashed out with my head against the speaker. I think this has something to do with why I like raving and rave music."
As Tali entered her teens she discovered hip-hop through music television.
Encouraged to try out creative things by her parents, she joined a local choir in primary school and began taking piano lessons at age nine. When her natural talent for music became obvious, her mother took her to singing lessons. As Tali entered her teens she discovered hip-hop through music television. Connecting with the form instantly, she started writing little raps. "Hip-hop music was the first music that really struck a chord with me and moved me. I was eleven or twelve when I really clicked with it."
At the time her brother was living in the nearby township of Oakura. On the weekends she would visit him to go surfing and raid his CD collection. "That was where I discovered things like The Pixies, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. My music passions became really varied. I loved The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins, but hip-hop and lyrics really resonated with me also … People often say to me, 'You liked Public Enemy? What would a little white girl from a dairy farm in New Zealand possibly find cool about Public Enemy or A Tribe Called Quest?’ For me, they educated me about persecution, racial segregation in America and other things no schoolbook ever taught me in New Zealand. All these things made my heart bleed. All these people had suffered in ways I hadn't, yet I related to it because I'm a really open hearted person. The idea of using your platform to educate people about where you're from really resonated with me."
After graduating from high school, Tali studied Theatre and Film at Wellington's Victoria University. Two years in, she failed a crucial paper and had to rethink her whole game plan. After talking with her mother, Tali decided to try Performing Arts school. "I applied for Toi Whakaari in Wellington, the one in Auckland and NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art) in Christchurch," she says. "NASDA was the one I got into and they only take twelve students a year, so I felt pretty lucky."
For Tali, it was her first look at rave culture. From that moment, she wanted a piece of the action.
With her letter of acceptance in hand, Tali moved to Christchurch. "I only knew a second cousin down there. It was all very new, fresh and exciting." One night soon after arriving, she was walking one of her flatmates to church when she heard a type of music she couldn't recognise coming out of a bar. They popped their heads in, and were greeted by the sounds of 90s rave music and people dancing on tables. For Tali, it was her first look at rave culture. From that moment, she wanted a piece of the action.
A hip café called Java was one of the key local culture hubs. Tali would walk her flatmate to church, and hang out at the café until she was done. They played acid house, happy hardcore, breakbeat, and techno music on the stereo system. Tali quickly started picking up flyers for parties and befriending people involved in the local rave scene. "The people were nice and took an interest in us. It was the first time I felt like I was around people who were like me, everyone was different and yet they had this thing that unified them, the music."
She attended early performances by international DJs Ed Rush and Spring Heel Jack, and lost herself on the dance floor until dawn most weekends. Come 1996, Tali discovered jungle/ drum & bass music. "I heard DJ Silencer play a full set of jungle/ drum & bass and raved till 6am. When he came on I didn't leave the dance floor for three hours."
Realising this was her music, Tali started religiously listening to the specialist jungle/ drum & bass show on local student radio station RDU. When Doc Scott and MC Justyce performed in Christchurch, Tali was once again blown away. During that crucial performance, an idea began to form.
"I loved rapping and lyrics, but I didn't want to be a rapper like Lil' Kim or anything. When I saw Justyce perform with Doc Scott, I was like, ‘Hold on … this is someone holding court like a rapper over a type of music I really love. He's using his platform to express things about the music, and make people feel a certain way. I started thinking, how could I do this? How could I blend these two things I loved?"
Tali went to more raves, and saw more MCs perform over jungle/ drum & bass with DJs. She started dating a respected local DJ known as Mosus, and, frustrated with there being only one dominant promotions company based in Auckland deciding which acts came through, they began throwing parties (with another key Christchurch DJ named Pylonz) as Scientific. Tali was in charge of writing the blurbs for the backs of the fliers and creating the contracts that were sent to agents abroad.
Tali was captivated by the bubbling, patois-infected ragga rhyme schemes.
Mosus would play her jungle/ drum & bass mixtapes sent from London. Some of them contained performances from UK MCs Moose, Navigator, Shabba and Skibbadee. Tali was captivated by the bubbling, patois-infected ragga rhyme schemes they deployed across furious breakbeats and huge rumbling bass lines. "It was so foreign to me, but at the same time I completely connected with it." Listening to them, she became committed to finding her own space within the scene, which at the time, seemed devoid of female voices.
One night Tali went out to a hip-hop night hosted by a local artist collective. When she got there, there was an open microphone cypher happening. "Beats'N'Pieces crew were playing, Kaboom, DJ Ali, Antsman and all of them. People were passing the microphone around the dance floor, and dudes were rhyming. At the time, Ladi6 and Sheelaroc were doing their thing, and while I didn't want to be a hip-hop MC, I had these rhymes in me that I wanted to get out. I saw the microphone coming around and went to get it, but it missed me. The second time around I made a real point of sticking my hand out. The microphone was in my hand, and my heart was racing. I started rhyming over hip-hop beats and the crowd seemed to love it.”
Soon afterwards, Tali travelled down to Dunedin with Mosus. He was booked to play a gig with respected local DJ Shan at Bath Street. Shan's girlfriend encouraged Tali to get on the microphone with Shan. He played some drum and bass, she sang and rapped over the top, and yet again the crowd went crazy.
"Afterwards Mosus sat me down and we had a talk. He said, 'It's not enough that you're a female MC or that you dabble in this. It's not enough to just be good, you have to be great. As a female in this industry, people will be quick to put you down, persecute you, and talk shit about you. You have to be amazing at what you do.’ I really took that on. I didn't want to disappoint him, because I loved him at the time, and I really wanted to do this."
From that moment, Tali made it her mission to learn both the scene and the art of MCing inside out. She read jungle/ drum & bass magazines Knowledge (now called Kmag) and ATM from cover to cover every time they came out, and would always ask who produced the tunes she liked, or who was MCing on what mixtape. "I knew it wasn't enough to be good on the microphone. I had to know about the culture I was getting involved in."
She practised and practised, until Mosus and Pylonz gave her her first full gig at Bath Street in Dunedin. "It wasn't a home crowd, so not a lot of people knew me. I got on the microphone, did it, and it was really good. From there they started booking me for Scientific gigs. Every spare waking moment that I had, I was living and breathing jungle/ drum & bass."
Running parallel to this, Tali graduated from NASDA, and then went to teacher's college, securing the qualifications that would keep her afloat in between paid gigs over the years to come.
She started MCing at the end of 1998, and after a year of playing at raves most weekends, touring, and supporting the majority of the international DJs who came to town, Tali relocated to Melbourne. But first a couple of pivotal events had to happen.
"The next seminal moment for me was when DJ Bailey from Metalheadz came to town. His MC, Flux, was sick and wasn't allowed to fly, so Mosus and Pylonz took me aside and asked me to step in. I met up with Bailey, we talked and we were cool. We made up a few hand signals to use during the set. That night we rolled out for four hours. I put my heart and soul into it, and the crowd didn't seem to mind that Flux wasn't there. I could command a Ministry crowd and hold it down with an international DJ, but where was I going to go next with this?"
As the year progressed, things got better and better for Scientific, and Tali became more and more involved in event promotions. At the same time, her relationship with Mosus shifted from love to something closer resembling a business partnership. "We were more excited about what rave we were going to put on next then going out for dinner together."
Realising it wasn't working, they broke up, but continued working together. That dynamic wasn't without its problems though, so after some soul searching, Tali decided to head to the UK, with hopes of connecting with her favourite jungle/ drum & bass crew, Roni Size's Full Cycle collective.
Her first step towards this was moving to Melbourne, which at the time was developing as a jungle/ drum & bass hub. "I already had friends over there from Christchurch who were involved in the scene, DJs like Trooper and Dan Motive. I also had girlfriends there. I moved over, got a job and started MCing at parties. While I was there, everyone would ask me what I was doing in Melbourne. I told them I was saving money to go to the UK and find Roni Size. I had it all mapped out in my mind, but the universe conspired to make it happen another way."
Tali was hanging out in the VIP bar with King Kapisi when Roni Size walked in.
In 2001 Roni Size and Full Cycle brought their Reprazent live band to Melbourne, where they played a sideshow while touring Australia as part of the Big Day Out festival. That evening Tali was hanging out upstairs in the VIP bar of the venue with King Kapisi when Roni Size walked in. After some encouragement, she necked a shot, headed over and introduced herself as an MC.
"He pulled me aside and asked me to MC for him. I nearly had a ‘yeah nah’ moment, you know, when you're all Kiwi and you're being too cool for school. But I MC'd for him in his ear, then broke into song. He had the biggest smile on his face, and was like, no way, girl you are amazing!" Roni took Tali into the DJ booth and put her on the microphone alongside Full Cycle's Dynamite MC and DJ Die. The performance went well, and a connection was made. Afterwards they went out clubbing. All those years of listening to mixtapes and records, and reading magazines paid off. They grilled her on what she loved about jungle/ drum & bass, and what her plans were. "I told them I wanted to be a jungle/ drum & bass MC and work with them. They thought that was great." Three months later, Tali moved to the UK to realise these goals.
During her first few months in the UK, Tali kept her distance from Full Cycle. "I was really shy about contacting them. I thought they might turn around and say, we made a mistake, you're not really what we wanted." She started seeing them out at shows, and they'd ask her when she was going to come and see them in Bristol.
After an invitation from Full Cycle DJs Krust and Die, she joined the two on stage at the infamous Fabric Nightclub in London. The performance didn't go as well as they'd hoped, and Die gave her a lot of constructive criticism. From there she made more of an effort to stay in contact with them, leading to an invitation to record with Full Cycle member Suv in Bristol. This led to studio time with Die. Eventually Roni Size gave her a call. "He said, listen, I know it seems like I'm not interested, but I've been waiting and watching to get feedback about you in the studio from the boys. I've heard great things. I think you should come up and work with me in my studio."
In their first session at Roni's plush home studio, they recorded 'Lyric On My Lip', a bouncy sung/rapped jungle/drum & bass roller, which would become not just one of Tali's signature tunes, but her first breakout hit.
"We were both amped, and it just came out, I recorded it in pretty much one take. The whole time I was living in Melbourne I was writing lyrics in my songbook. 'Lyric On My Lip' was one I wrote about a 42-degree heat wave in Melbourne. I couldn't sleep, so I would get up at night and write. That was the beginning of the song: ‘At night I’m kept awake by me, thinking of lyrics constantly …’ "
At the end of the session, Roni gave her one hundred pounds spending money to keep her on her feet and told her to come back next week. They did several more sessions, and then she moved up to Bristol. "Roni sat me down and told me he wanted us to make an album. Not a Krust album or a Roni Size album, but a Tali album. No MC had done an album yet, and he thought I should be the one to do it. He also wanted me to join Full Cycle and sign to the label. I thought, ‘Fuck yes.’ "
In the span of several short years, Tali had transformed her dreams into reality, and with the casual teaching work she'd been doing on the side having just dried up, the timing couldn't be any more perfect.
When the album came out, ‘Lyric On My Lip’ entered the UK Top 40, which led to the album selling over 15,000 copies.
An early 12" release of 'Lyric On My Lip' b/w 'District Line' in 2002 gave way to the release of her debut album of the same name in 2004. Working with Roni Size, Krust, Die, Clipz and Dynamite MC, they created the album in Bristol, taking breaks to go on tour and attend festivals like The Miami Winter Music Conference along the way.
"I kept a diary while we were making the album. People kept telling me I was the first lady to do this in jungle/ drum & bass, and that no jungle/ drum & bass MC had ever done an album before. I knew it was important, so I felt I should write it all down and document it."
When the album came out, 'Lyric On My Lip' entered the UK Top 40 singles chart, which led to the album selling over 15,000 copies. Exploring not only jungle/ drum & bass, but jazz, hip-hop, R&B and pop, the album divided the critics, but off the back of the success of 'Lyric On My Lip' and the follow-up single 'Blazin', Tali was able to spend the next three years touring the world.
"I was making more money per show than ever before, and I was touring the world. I was going places I had never imagined I would go, getting recognised on the street, going to raves, and finally feeling like I had cracked it." There were Glastonbury appearances, music videos, and magazine cover stories. The full works.
One day in 2006 they came off the tour bus after a long but successful tour and Roni Size told Tali and the rest of the crew that he would see them in a few months. "He said, 'I'm turning off my phone for a couple of months. You probably won't see or hear from me, this is just what I do.' Roni can be very socially introverted. He had fame and high expectations thrust on him, but he is a ghetto kid at heart."
Soon afterwards it became obvious to Tali that some dramas were unfolding inside the Full Cycle camp. As things began to unravel, her spirits started sinking. She asked her boyfriend of three years, DJ Clipz (now known as Redlight) if he would move in with her, and after he said he wasn't ready, Tali broke up with him and moved to London to start afresh.
In London Tali started connecting with hip-hop producers, as well as other rappers and vocalists through her manager Simon Goffe. She recorded a hip-hop/R&B mixtape titled Do It For Yourself. It featured guest appearances from UK rappers Sincere, Dynamite MC, Mr Ti2bs, and Blak Twang, and production from First Man, Roni Size and Al'n'Neel.
"One of the producers I was working with was Adam First Man. We used to laugh because he was “First man”, and I was called the first lady by some of my peers in drum and bass." Tali and Adam fell in love.
She moved in with him, and although on the surface she was happy, Tali was finding performing and socialising more and more emotionally difficult. Tali then turned her back on not only the jungle/ drum & bass scene, but MCing in general. "I started having panic attacks when I went on stage, would have nothing to say, walk off stage, and burst into tears."
While she didn't quite realise it at the time, she was dealing with severe depression. Two weeks before Christmas, Adam broke things off with Tali, and distraught, she returned to New Zealand to be with her family.
Back home she collapsed into a slump and started getting into arguments with her friends. Luckily it didn't last for long. "One night I went out partying with [Tiki Taane] and the Shapeshifter guys," she recalls. "I had a cry to Tiki and Devin Abrams. I didn’t know where my place was anymore and I felt lost. Drum and bass had moved on, New Zealand had moved on. Devin was like, 'Fuck Tali, where is that girl who went to the UK on her own and smashed it out? You paved the way for people like us, The Upbeats and Concord Dawn.' I felt like no one in New Zealand knew what I had done or that they cared. Reno said, 'We know, and you know, that's what's important. You need to go back to the UK and find it again. Don't give up." His words resonated.
After watching personal development film The Secret, Tali began focusing on the power of positive thought and started to keep a journal of what she wanted in her life. She headed back to London in 2008, signed up with a new agent and began anew.
"My first gig back was with LTJ Bukem. It was in Birmingham. I drove there with these two girlfriends of mine. It was my first gig in a year and a half. I got on the microphone, stood in the corner, shut my eyes and went for it."
At the end of their performance Tali opened her eyes and everyone was clapping. "LTJ Bukem was just grinning. He reached across, kissed me and said, ‘I don't know where you've been, but you're back.’ "
Tali hit the studio hard with a who’s who of jungle/d&B producers of the time.
With that moment as a trigger, Tali started as she puts it "smashing it out again". Live, she began touring and playing spot dates with Goldie, Ez Rollers, Shy FX and High Contrast. Alongside that, Tali hit the studio hard with a who's who of jungle/ drum & bass producers of the time.
"I realised that everything that was happening was because of ME making it so. I didn't need the validation of Full Cycle. I didn't need a manager to make it. I could make it."
Tali started writing for a selection of UK, and US magazines including ATM, Knowledge, Nu:Soul, and Guestlist Network. She also started doing voiceover work. Within that realm, Tali's vocals feature on the Activision game DJ Hero.
Her songs have been used to promote Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory on the Xtreme Sports Channel (Sky UK), Really TV, (UK) and Soccer Am (Sky1), and her voiceovers have appeared on BBC Radio 1 and BBC radio 1Xtra.
In the late 2000s Tali formed a live jazz band named Rogue Nouveau. During their run they performed at the Jazz Café, and also held a monthly residency at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. Thanks to Rogue Nouveau's reputation, she was commissioned as a composer to score for playwright Richard Marsh's political comedy Nicked. Featured at The Hightide Theatre Festival and previewed on the West End, Nicked was well received by The Guardian, Observer and The Evening Standard.
While creating the score, Tali worked with cinematic composer Christoph Bauschinger. The studio chemistry between the two was strong. They made plans to collaborate again in the future, perhaps this time on some electro-pop music.
One fateful night she met Benn Rolls-Sheppard. He ticked all of the boxes on the checklist in her journal. They married in New Zealand in 2010 and while they were here, Benn asked her, “Why are we living in a one bedroom flat in Hackney when we could be living in a three bedroom house here? Don't you think it's time you came home?” Tali agreed, but asked him to give her two more years in the UK.
"Over the next two years I went really really hard. I had already won best drum and bass MC at the Drum and Bass Awards three years in a row [2008, 2009, 2010]. I played some amazing shows. I did some amazing collaborations. My tunes went to #1 on beatport.com. After that I was ready to go home." However, she wasn't going to get away without releasing another album.
"I thought I might retire from jungle/drum & bass. I was planning to go back to New Zealand when I got a call from Shimon." A respected producer/DJ who got his start as part of Andy C's Ram Records/Ram Trilogy movement, Shimon had recently established his own label, Audioporn Records. There was no way he was going to let Tali slip away without one final bang. "He was like, 'What is this bullshit? You can't retire,’ " she recalls. Shimon convinced Tali to record an album for his label. For Dark Days, High Nights she collaborated with a selection of jungle/ drum & bass and dubstep producers, including Lynx, Dirtyphonics, Dodge and Fuski, Forward, NoisseS, Shimon, Ed Rush and SkisM.
Around the same time Tali had befriended two acoustic guitarists named Fran and Josh. A quickly filmed YouTube jam session led to strong friendship between Tali and Josh. He began learning some of the songs off Dark Days, High Nights, and after some discussion, they decided to record a live version of the album as a second disc. Josh's band More Like Trees (with Matt Whitehouse and Lachlan Radford) came onboard for the recording, as did Christoph Bauschinger, and backing vocalist and good friend Collette Warren.
Impressed by their performance at a live event, Shimon's DJ/producer associate Ant Miles, another legendary jungle/ drum & bass figure, signed on to produce the second “live” disc. Tali's husband Benn also joined the band on turntablist duties. "We got to play at Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Greenfields Festival, and most exciting of all, Sun and Bass in Sardinia,” she reflects. "I was jamming with those peeps right up until the day I left the UK."
When Tali returned to New Zealand with her husband Benn in 2011, she hit the ground running.
When Tali returned to New Zealand with her husband Benn in 2011, she hit the ground running. "The first thing I did was MC at the La De Da New Year's Eve Festival," she recalls. At La De Da, held in Martinborough, she connected with The Upbeats, Truth, Mt Eden Dubstep and TREi, a generation of younger jungle/drum & bass and dubstep producer/DJ talents who were all aware of her work and reputation, and wholeheartedly welcomed her home. She followed this up by recording a song with TREi and hitting the local festival circuit in earnest. Tali also began hosting Soulside Sessions a jungle/ drum & bass mix she co-created with DJ Emma G. Between 2011 and 2013 they recorded five volumes, all of which can be streamed via Emma G's Soundcloud page.
As she settled back in, Tali started establishing herself within our local media landscape through a weekly radio show on George FM (The Morning Sickness) and began speaking about her experiences within the international music industry at education providers around the country.
"When I was in the UK I used to work with disadvantaged youth. I'd teach them how to write raps and record themselves. I decided I wanted to do something similar here. I just started ringing up schools and instituted myself. I spoke at MAINZ in Auckland and Christchurch a couple of times. I also talked at my old school NASDA and CPIT Jazz School, and to over 900 kids from schools all over Taranaki."
Building upon her existing rapport with Christoph Bauschinger, Tali worked with him to complete Of Things To Come, her fifth full-length album. Released in 2012, the album saw her trying her hand at writing electro-pop, while still folding her signature sounds into the mix. She released two singles from the album, 'Jet Set Love' (funded by NZ On Air) and 'Of Things To Come'.
With summer approaching, Tali assembled a live band to tour Of Things To Come. Around the same time she established her own mentoring business, Sheppard Artist Development, which aims to create connections and support to up-and-coming musicians. Under that brand, Tali started hosting workshops on MCing and began working with local artists, most notably Laura Hunter and RosaDub.
Tali has had an impressive and accomplished career spanning both hemispheres.
In 2014 she became the corporate voice of George FM in Auckland. She has also appeared as a featured artist on songs from AhoriBuzz, Concord Dawn, Bulletproof, MayaVanya and Dan Aux. Outside of that, Tali has been refining her skills as a producer and recording engineer at her home studio. She is working towards the release of Wolves, her sixth full-length studio album, and is in talks with Massey University and Crash Creative Arts to create a workshop aimed at encouraging more women to take an interest in working with electronic music.
In the 18 years since she first became actively involved with dance music culture within New Zealand, Tali has had an impressive and accomplished career spanning both hemispheres. She's toured the world, achieved overseas chart success, collaborated with her heroes, and found ways give back to the community along the way. Showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon, a driving force in her longevity is an internal sense of self-belief, which always eventually overcomes her doubts.
"People enjoy hearing me tell my story because I tell it how it is. It's not all great. Shit will happen to you. It's about how you deal with that shit. It's about how you learn to pick yourself up and progress forwards. It's about learning how to find the strength you need within yourself.”
Read More: Tali takes it to the World, 2014-2020
Tali’s mother is Taranaki artist Margaret Scott
Full Cycle Records
Sativa Records UK
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