In the 1980s the inaccessibility and expense of professional equipment and records was a limiting factor for local DJs. Nightclubs provided important opportunities for the country’s first hip hop DJs to hone and display their skill, and the advent of regular hip hop radio programmes grew the hip hop community. The incorporation of Aotearoa New Zealand into international DJ competition circuits operated by the Disco Mixing Club (DMC) and International Turntablist Federation (ITF) encouraged the further development of local DJ talent in the 1990s and 2000s.
Getting the good stuff
Aotearoa’s early stars didn’t gain acclaim just for their talent in mixing and manipulating records. Getting the right vinyl, even rare vinyl, was a source of prestige. The best supplier was often an overseas friend who would find and send over records. Failing that, a friendly record store might help.
Locally produced hip hop music was the last of the hip hop arts to develop in Aotearoa. Musical acts formed as early as 1985, and the first MC competition took place in the Hutt Valley’s Taita in 1986. The first commercial hip hop recording – the single ‘E tu’ by Wellington-area group Upper Hutt Posse – was released in 1988.
Local hip hop music – like the US imports from which it took inspiration – ran the gamut of topics. Releases from Upper Hutt Posse and other artists of Māori and Pacific Island ancestry voiced strident social commentary, while other recordings focused more on relaxed, celebratory themes or on the braggadocio that has always marked hip hop wordplay.
Pauly Fuemana and Ōtara Millionaires’ Club’s single ‘How bizarre’ reached number one on the charts in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Austria. It reached number four in the United States and also charted in many other countries.
Growing artists, audiences and communities
Local hip hop music production experienced slow but incremental growth throughout the 1990s. A handful of acts attracted interest from music labels, and some found commercial or critical success. The growing visibility of hip hop was further enhanced by the launch of local television programmes receptive to hip hop music and fashion.
A sense of community was actively nurtured throughout the 1990s and 2000s through opportunities for local, regional and international exchange. 1994’s Proud tour and the associated compilation album, featuring a variety of South Auckland-based hip hop and vocal artists, was a key milestone.
Artists from around the country shared billing at regular club promotions such as Wellington’s Phunk Republic gigs (1992–2005), and local artists received exposure as opening acts for touring international DJs and hip hop acts. A handful of people involved in Aotearoa hip hop relocated to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, London and Dublin, and became key conduits of information.
Signalling the consolidation of hip hop music’s collective local significance, visibility and self-belief were the release of:
- the national compilation Aotearoa hip hop vol 1 (BMG 1998), which featured both North and South island artists
- the Auckland hip hop and R&B compilation Pioneers of a Pacifikan frontier (1999)
- the multi-genre Christchurch compilation album Landmark (1999), which included hip hop content.
The launch of hip hop-dedicated local magazine Back2Basics in 2001 – which for a time was packaged with an accompanying mixed CD – and the production of Auckland iwi station Mai FM’s mixtape series Majour flavours, mixed by DJ Sirvere, provided further opportunities for showcasing local artists and building up audiences.
Hip hop summits, 1998–2012
The organisation of national hip hop ‘summits’ in Auckland (1998, 2001–5 and 2012) and Christchurch (2000) provided further opportunities for fostering connection and collaboration. National gatherings were also important for re-emphasising the interconnectedness of the various hip hop art forms and ensuring that dance and graffiti featured alongside music performance. All of these events helped to foster a sense of community, by drawing together like-minded people with a shared passion for hip hop culture and facilitating the exchange of information between older and younger artists.