You can call it New Zealand hip-hop, but if you call it Aotearoa hip-hop you are showing respect to the indigenous peoples, the caretakers of this land.
Aotearoa is the indigenous Maori name for New Zealand- it means “Land of the Long White Cloud” ((commonly pronounced by English speakers as /ˌaʊtɛəˈroʊ.ə/ ( listen) ). The Maori are the tangata whenua (people of the land) of Aotearoa. Today they make up about 15% of the population after suffering centuries of abuse, colonization, and institutionalized racism from British invaders. The last 50 years have seen a resurgence in Maori language, confidence, and tikanga (ways). Some of that renewed activism has taken place alongside parallel political developments from around the world (Black Power in the U. S. for instance in the 70’s) occasionally bolstered and transmitted by popular culture (such as reggae in the 1970’s).
Maori folks’ Pacific Nations’ cousins came as immigrants from Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Cook Islands, etc. They were brought in for cheap labor in the 1970’s and now makeup 7.5% of the population. They too suffered a lot of racism and injustice in New Zealand and are often found on the wrong side of statistics. In the early 1980’s, mostly young, disenfranchised Maori and Pacific kids were the ones who developed a grassroots hip-hop culture with dedicated expressions of the core elements.
Like most countries, New Zealand gets a steady influx of American popular culture, and young people, inspired by some of it, create their own versions. We have New Zealand jazz, country, punk, rock, and a lot of indie bands. In the 1960’s, Pacific and Maori folk loved the soul sounds coming out of Motown, producing some amazing groups and vocalists. We still have some awesome “brown” soul and R&B artists (check out Aaradhna “Brown Girl” and Teeks “If Only”). Bob Marley’s visit to Aotearoa in 1979 cemented a deep spiritual connection for Maori and Pacific folks with both the music and politics of reggae (see Herbs “Long Ago”, Unity Pacific “Street to Sky”, Katchafire “Get Away”, Fat Freddy’s Drop “Wandering Eye”, and Six60 “Don’t Forget Your Roots”).
Local reggae was the fertile soil for the seed of hip-hop to be planted. By 1982 there was a small hip-hop scene with breakers and graf artists. Technically the first local hip-hop track released was not a rap song, but a mix of funky beats with kapa haka (a Maori group dance) called “Poi E”. This huge local hit was created by a Maori soul singer who wanted to use hip-hop to attract young urban Maori back to their culture. The first local rap released was also from a Maori (ex-reggae) band, called Upper Hutt Posse. They kept their rhymes pro-Maori, and overtly political. While hip-hop may have been transferred over the airwaves by the mainstream media as simply a danceable pop music, there was no mistaking in New Zealand that hip-hop was at its core music of decolonization.
You will not regret listening to the tracks suggested here. New Zealand may project a clean, green, peaceful image to the world, but local hip-hop has always highlighted uncomfortable truths and told “real” stories. It’s hard to make a perfect list, so much is left out, but people can fight me on this.
- Patea Maori club “Poi E” 1982
- Upper Hutt Posse “Whakakotahi” 1993
- OMC “How Bizarre” 1996
- DLT featuring Che Fu “Chains” 1996
- Dam Native feat Che Fu “The Son” 1997
- King Kapisi “Screams from the Old Plantation” 2000
- Nesian Mystik “Nesian Style” 2002
- Scribe “Not Many” 2003
- Usual Suspects “Profile” 2004
- Savage “Swing” 2005
- Dei Hamo “We gon’ Ride” 2005
- Smashproof “Brother” 2009
- Home Brew “Alcoholic” 2012
- David Dallas “Runnin’” 2013
- CL “Bad Bitches” 2015
- SWIDT “Little did she know” 2017
- Stan Walker “New Takeover” 2017
- Jess B “Set if Off” 2018
During the 1990’s the local rap scene further developed with local labels and local MC’s having hits with well-produced albums imbued with local referents and imagery, that won plenty of local music awards (King Kapisi, Che Fu, Dam Native). Aotearoa hip-hop thrived in the early 2000’s with plenty of MC’s reaching #1 on the charts, and they continued to infuse their hip-hop with local flavors. New Zealand maintained all the hip-hop elements with an MC battle scene, b-boys and b-girls, and some internationally winning DJ’s.
2010’s hip-hop is pretty divergent, probably due to how the music industry has changed. We have pro-queer rappers, Maori pop star Stan Walker rapping, South Auckland gangster rapper Savage making pop and dance hits, newer immigrant rappers from Africa and Iran, hip-hop producers working with orchestras, bedroom beat-makers, internationally winning hip-hop dance crews, as well as more established ‘stars.’ New Zealand has had some success in the U. S. A. with OMC, Savage, and David Dallas. Hip-hop dancer Parris Goebel works with Nicki Minaj, Janet Jackson, Rihanna, and K pop megastars. Upcoming beatmaker Montell2099 is working with 21 Savage.
You can call it New Zealand hip-hop, but if you call it Aotearoa hip-hop you are showing respect to the indigenous peoples, the caretakers of this land. It shows an understanding of the politics that many rappers have used their music for.
Kia Ora (a Maori greeting, literally means “have life”)!
Dr. Kirsten Marie Zemke is a Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Auckland. Her teaching and research focuses on Popular Music and specializes in hip-hop. Within this is a strong interest in race, identity, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. She believes that popular music can reveal a lot about society and the ways we see and understand each other.