In Celebration of the New Zealand Hip Hop Scene
Updated: Jun 8
By Taylor Tutawa
Hip hop in Aotearoa New Zealand has been prominent for more than 30 years. As someone raised on the sounds of King Kapisi, Scribe and Savage (to name a few) listening to these songs now as a 21-year-old has given me a newfound respect and love for our music.
Aotearoa has created a dynamic music sound that combines elements of hip hop, rap, funk, soul and reggae with Polynesian culture.
It’s the story of hardship and inequality experienced by our minority communities. It’s the celebration of pride, strength and honour for our whā nau and 'aiga. It’s what makes our music stand out to the rest of the world.
Way back in the mid '80s, Aotearoa was developing its music scene alongside the popularity of hip hop globally. The Upper Hutt Posse were the pioneers of hip hop in Aotearoa with their song E Tu promoting Mā ori pride with their lyrics giving reference to injustices against tangata whenua in a historical and modern setting. The song’s success showed how Mā ori artists could achieve popularity in mainstream music, which until this point Mā ori had not been given fair coverage by TV channels and radio stations in NZ. By the '90s Aotearoa was creating Hip Hop songs that captured the unique urban setting and culture of the country. 3 the Hard Way’s Hip Hop Holiday was a feel-good track that captured the party vibes of early '90s mainstream hip hop.
How Bizarre by OMC reached number one in Aotearoa and blew up in the international scene and became a cultural phenomenon. This song is a laid-back classic that made a comeback in 2010 after Pauly Fuemana’s death.
Screams from da old plantation by King Kapisi was a song that spoke of the importance of knowing your own culture, regaining lost knowledge and passing your knowledge to the next generation. Polynesian artists were achieving success that had not been afforded to them in past generations.
By 2000 Aotearoa had entered the new millennium as the hottest music spot in the Pacific. The success of Aotearoa’s hip hop scene was acknowledged further through the establishment of the PMAs or Pacific Music Awards in 2005. The awards were created to honour Pasifika artists in all music genres. These music awards have been received by both well-known artists and hot newcomers.
Scribe’s Not Many (remix) track is considered one of the best NZ songs of the decade. Savage’s track Swing blew up the charts and even made it into the 2007 Hollywood film Knocked Up.
These artists were the voice of a new generation that were conveying our unique identity to a local and global audience.
Now let’s bring it back to the present, 2020. The start of a new decade and another generation of artists have come through. SWIDT, Church & AP and Poetik are killing it right now. Gone are the days of records and cassette tapes (way before my time), and even CDs and radio airtime are fading out. It’s all about how many streams you got on Spotify/Soundcloud, how big your follower count on IG is and how much you smash that like button (thanks YouTube).
The music and culture of hip hop hasn’t changed, it has evolved with the times and created something fresh while showing love to its roots.
Last month marked the 20th anniversary of NZ Music Month, a unique celebration due to COVID-19 and its effect on the music industry here in Aotearoa.
Support New Zealand artists by purchasing and streaming local music. Celebrate 20 years of Polynesian music with this Spotify Playlist