Tom Francis has come a long way since his days chopping firewood to pay his music bills.
This year, his promising music career has been endorsed by none other than the doggfather, Snoop Dogg – and a criminal court judge.
He finished up a nationwide tour of New Zealand in August and tonight, the 25-year-old is down to play the Hula Bar in Rarotonga. But let there be no doubt, it’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the young singer.
Last year, he was named a semi-finalist in Young New Zealander of the Year.
Then this year, his single “Lifestyle” with Snoop nearly didn't happen. And a month after it was released, a judge named him as guilty of an unprovoked coward’s punch attack.
Napier District Court judge Bridget Mackintosh said the serious assault involved a “king hit” to the head, leaving the victim with ongoing health issues.
It was his first encounter with the police. “You should have some sort of smarts in relation to the kind of situations you can get into because of course you have been in contact with the justice system prior to this,” the judge told him.
She acknowledged his talent and potential as a musician and that a conviction would hamper his ability to “make it big in the music industry” – but said the gravity of his attack meant she had no choice but to convict him.
She ordered him to pay $3000 in fines and reparation to the victim as well.
Just a month earlier, Francis had dropped his single “Lifestyle”, recorded with Snoop.
He had been introduced to Snoop Dogg by Los Angeles producer KJ Conteh. But with five days in LA at that time, the phone call to meet Snoop came just as he was about to “switch the flight mode button” aboard his plane at LAX.
The next few hours were a surreal transpacific scramble. Francis arrived in Hawke's Bay and immediately split and sold a few cords of firewood to fund a plane ticket back to LA.
At 11 o’clock that same night, he was back on the plane heading to an opportunity not to be missed.
The session at Snoop's home was “super quick”, Francis says.
“We bounced a whole lot of ideas round ... It didn't take that long but I also got to hear Snoop’s new album.
“He's a super humble, super cool dude in real life, definitely one of the most inspiring guys I’ve ever met and worked with.”
The single has made Francis the first independent artist in the Southern Hemisphere to release a collaboration with the “Gin and Juice” rapper.
The achievement is not lost on the 24-year-old, of Ngati Kahungungu Maori descent.
Despite a deep desire to make music as a child, the reality of making it was slim. “I don't want to say I doubted myself, but people would say ‘is that realistic?’”
Regardless, he and a friend bought all the equipment they could. “We had no idea but we just started and kept learning more and more.”
It was when Francis was up front at Rhythm & Vines watching Wiz Khalifa, when things were set into motion. “I was getting crushed up against the crowd and I was like 'What am I doing here? I should be on that stage’.”
Yesterday, Francis said the crime of which he was convicted “wasn’t true” and he was mounting a legal challenge. He refused to say any more and hung up.
· Tom Francis plays a one-off show at Hula Bar tonight. Tickets are $10.