When New Zealand hip-hop came of age
Homebrew are playing at the Events Centre as part of Orientation on Thursday, March 1. Tickets can be purchased online at musa.org.nz.
New Zealand hip-hop has so often followed the fashion and culture of its US counterpart that it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a rapper from South Auckland and one from Los Angeles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to some, but it has seen much of our own identity lost in favor of a more commercially viable product which matches the formula of mainstream hip-hop music while losing some local relevance.
Two Auckland-based crews causing a stir have broken this mold with rhymes that reflect our unique society and place in the world – and that doesn’t mean the music isn’t world class, yet both Home Brew and @Peace have found success doing things their way.
Auckland has given us the likes of David Dallas and Savage, yet rarely has it provided such a revolution in rap music as being seen now, with both Home Brew and @Peace capturing our attention with their mixture of street poetry and smooth cutting-edge beats. It’s the sort of music that rewards repeated listening, with lyrics that poke fun at John Key, name-drop Pak N’ Save and Trade Me, mention iconic New Zealand sportsmen, and tell of lazy summer days playing Xbox and drinking brews.
This is far removed from the party raps and posturing that has overtaken many of Auckland’s elder emcee’s, and in many ways this refreshingly honest approach allows for a more soulful musical experience. “Just don’t call them ‘conscious’ rappers” it says on Home Brew’s site, yet in a way this is exactly what both groups are – hip-hop musicians who are conscious of the world around them. One interesting thing about these two crews is the fact that they feature the same emcee, Tom Scott, showing the connections are bound closely, with the musical backing the point of difference in the way these two groups sound and perform.
Home Brew is Lui Slick, and Tom, who handle the raps, with Haz Beats on production duties, and DJ Substance added when performing live.
Their fun and often satirical take on hip-hop is no less pure or cultured because of that, and the well-rehearsed flows and crafted beats are the result of hours of hard work. This fact also makes them an impressive live outfit, and this reputation has seen them steadily become more in demand throughout New Zealand.
Since their inception, just over three years ago, Home Brew has found interesting ways to fund their continued development. A series of self-produced videos promoting a fundraising gig, eventually uploaded to YouTube, helped raise the $15,000 needed to produce the video to their Underneath the Shade song, something that they had failed to get funded under the old criteria of NZ On Air.
[pullquote]“Rarely has there been a time in New Zealand where the word on the street about ‘what is good in hip-hop’ has been dominated by local musicians.”[/pullquote]This do it yourself attitude may seem like a typically New Zealand trait, but whereas in many local circumstances this can be identified as lacking a little professionalism, in the case of Home Brew it has sharpened their focus while showing a sense of humour rarely seen in most hip-hop culture since the days of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Underneath the Shade, made by Chris Graham, director of Sione’s Wedding and countless classic New Zealand music videos, shows the group playing cards and drinking beer while climate change takes hold around them. In a way, this seems to perfectly embody their ethos – the intelligence to provide an honest view of their environment, while retaining a sense of fun and simply having a good time.
They have kept up this creativity in recent times, following a successful debut album release, Last Week, while also creating controversies through satirical videos such as an interview with TV3s David Farrier (played by Tom), and how to beat a Police breathalyser when stopped at a checkpoint.
In a recent interview with NZ Musician, Tom said: “I can’t reach people if they can’t relate to me. So I figure if I’m myself, I’ll reach other people like me”. Judging by the loyal following Home Brew have created, there is obviously many who do relate to Tom and the group. This connection with their audience is translated into their sense of control and ownership – something that is such a big issue for debate right now in the age of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload’s demise – making all of their music available to download for free.
This attitude towards copyright control and the higher powers who manipulate those laws for their own profit is also shared by @Peace, who have also made music available through their Bandcamp page in a ‘pay what you like’ deal. It seems both groups have not lost focus on being grounded, or forgotten the tough times that come before success.
Ponsonby’s Base FM served as a meeting ground for @Peace, whose members decided to jam after finding like minds and gelling as a crew over a period of months. Made up of Tom from Home Brew, rapper Lui Tuiasu of Nothing 2 Nobody, producer Christopher El Truento, and the eccentrically named Hayden ‘Dick Dastardly’ Dick, @Peace had created a huge amount of underground hype simply by forming, with El Truento’s beats already gaining notoriety for quality and needing the equivalent rap accompaniment. The following nine-track self-titled album lived up to those expectations, with thought-provoking lyrics matched to the sort of off-kilter beats Electric Wire Hustle have made their own.
Since then they have become the hottest property in underground New Zealand music circles, selling out shows, playing festivals, and touring over summer. The reputation of their live performance has also grown at a steady rate, often incorporating live musicians such as Isaac Aesili and Julien Dyne into an improvised and expansive companion to their recorded output.
It isn’t just New Zealanders taking notice either, with several of the world’s leading tastemakers such as Benji B and Gilles Peterson playing @Peace on their influential radio shows. It seems that big things are about to happen for this distinctive and hardworking group.
While there are factors that connect Home Brew and @Peace, these are two very different groups, bound as much by their sense of politics and society, as their sharing of members, gigs, and audience. Rarely has there been a time in New Zealand where the word on the street about ‘what is good in hip-hop?’ has been dominated by local musicians. Both groups will certainly be highlights of the upcoming Orientation gigs, and it might just pay to catch Home Brew and @Peace before they take their exciting sound to the world stage.