Explore NZ Hip Hop Artists: The Best Of The Past, Present And Future
Words: Reshma Madhi
Fancy getting familiar with who the the key figures (past and present) of New Zealand’s hip hop scene? Reform the Funk provides the lowdown on the trailblazers – those that brought the “Polynesian Māori Pasifika Kiwi Hip Hop response to US Hip Hop” and created songs about “Love life anger dance poetry joy stories struggles people” as ethnomusicologist Kirsten Zemke describes it.
Kirsten, who studied NZ hip hop for her PhD (yes really) summed up the scene in Māori also known as Te Reo ("the language"). Kirsten stresses that the words mean so much more than the simplistic definitions here: Aroha (Love), Kaupapa (purpose), Mana (charisma), Kanikani (Dance), Karanga (summoning), Tauparapara (Chant), Korero (discourse), Taonga (Treasure), Rangatahi (youth), Ihi (power)
Colonisation had a deep impact, with use of the language faded out and school children punished if they were heard speaking it. It wasn’t until 1987 that it was recognised as an official language. Since then, there have been attempts to turn around the decline, with a revival and growing popularity in using and learning of the language, particular through community groups. The list also includes those who got the music its crossover appeal and achieved commercial success. It is as Gareth Shute, author of Hip Hop Music in Aotearoa observes, “Secretly more worldwide, broader and healthier than ever” or as Sam Smith, music journalist describes, “local, original, powerful and entertaining”. We also introduce the current and rising stars of the future, who see it as “diverse, growing, exciting” (Jess B) and as “quality, Seki (samoan word for cool, sweet as), authentic, evolving, energetic, powerful, DIY, impactful, solid and SWIDT” (SPYCC)
A leading figure, credited for breaking the scene over to the mainstream. Known for his laidback flow; he typifies the distinct Kiwi brand of Hip Hop and is one of the country’s best-selling acts of the genre. His debut album 2b S.Pacific went double-platinum.
Veteran DJ and Hip Hop icon who has championed Kiwi Hip Hop music for nearly 30 years. He was recently made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Check out some of his mixes on SoundCloud
The Polynesian artist has collaborated frequently with Che-Fu and offers a similar laidback, Island vibe. He gives the Hip Hop music video a colourful, fun Samoan makeover for his 2000 track "Samoa mo Samoa!". ‘Screems From Tha Old Plantation’ is another favourite.
A key rap group, with each member also going on to be widely respected solo artists in their own right. Devolo and Mareko remain a strong presence on the local scene. Some of their top songs include ‘Evolution’ feat. Adeaze.
A renowned DJ and producer, he co-founded the Dirty Records label and worked with the likes of Che-Fu, Scribe and Savage. One of his best known tracks is ‘Everything’ feat Vince Harder. He continues to tour, DJ and produce and collaborate with breaking talent.
Savage went on to be the Kiwi crossover success in the US, with his New Zealand No.1 hit ‘Swing’ featuring in Hollywood comedy hit Knocked Up (a version of the track with Soulja Boy, ‘Tell Em’, broke into the Top Fifty of the Billboard Hot 100). He also collaborated with Akon on the track ‘Moonshine’ and recently, has been working with Australian dance music producers and had a run of hits. 'Freaks' was certified gold in the US and he featured on the track 'Push', which played in a Superbowl half-time advert for the Fast and Furious 8 movie.
A soulful, RnB influenced Polynesian outfit that have had a number of commercially successful albums. Here’s one of their biggest tracks, from their debut album.
Misfits of Science
These guys turned the cliched gangsta rap genre on its head with their unique brand of humour on chart-topping hit ‘Fool’s Love’ (2003)
The trio’s smash hit track ‘Brother’ (2009) is a rally cry for how it wants its South Auckland neighbourhood to change, with a music video inspired by a real-life incident, where a businessman stabbed a young tagger. Sid Diamond and Tyree have gone on to be respected solo artists.
This artist was hugely influential and commercially successful during the early noughties. His track ‘Not Many’ is basically a Kiwi institution. Sadly, in recent years, after a less successful follow-up and other struggles, he’s currently in the middle of facing charges for possession of drugs.
Auckland duo and another key New Zealand group, that made tracks like ‘Lost in Translation’. Rapper David Dallas went solo in the last decade and is a big name in his own right currently.
One of New Zealand’s most successful groups, thanks to its catchy, funky, upbeat single. “I Got”.
Rapper Sam Hansen’s alias is an acronym for his hometown Palmerston North City. He’s worked with a number of other big Kiwi artists since he emerged in the noughties and remains a big name today.
Home Brew Crew
Since releasing their debut EP a decade ago, the band remain a current player and have had a platinum No.1 album. They don’t take themselves too seriously and make some fun tunes. Member Tom has also made some interesting sounds and has a new project, called Avantdale Bowling Club.
Young, New Talent:
MeloDownz – member of the Third3eye collective, he’s caught attention with his solo projects about growing up in West Auckland
Rizvan – keeping the Tongan language alive through his music
Poetik – Samoan born-and-bred, his debut album went to No.1 on the NZ iTunes on its first day
Dharmarat – has released two albums in as many months during 2018
Lukas - trap-influenced sound
If you wanna get your geek on around the subject matter, shout out to Gareth Shute for his hip hop timeline: A timeline of Aotearoa Hip Hop
Words: Reshma Madhi