The ten best tracks in reverse chronological order. No questions, no arguments, no tears. These are just the best rhymes and beats ever produced in New Zealand. Enjoy.
"Don't Rate That" - David Dallas
David Dallas has been set for bigger things ever since he went by the name Con Psy and decimated a verse on Scribe's breakthrough single, "Not Many (The Remix)". Kanye West blogged about one of his early vids and Freddie Gibbs guested on one of his tracks. Though his big overseas break never arrived, Dallas has stayed on his game.
On "Don't Rate That", his flow remains as slick as ever and he takes an axe to rip-off finance companies and racist politicians. The beat, by Fire and Ice, is minimal but not lazy - an odd melody of sub bass notes under chirping distorted keys and clicking hi-hats. There's no singing and no fucking around, it's just three-and-a-half minutes of realness. Dope as ever.- Gareth Shute
"How My Day Goes" - ENO x Dirty featuring Melodownz
Where others are content to loop a four bar cut, ENO starts "How My Day Goes" by flipping a dusty jazz sample and let's it sit for a full minute before complimenting the beat with live guitar licks. It goes from being an ordinary chop to an entirely new piece. The vocal is fierce in sound, but smooth in delivery; a pairing that is indicative of lifetime rap fanatic MCs who understand that true effect often lies in the juxtaposition of hard and soft, heavy and light.
DIRTY's accessible delivery is key in helping clinch this as one of New Zealand's best hip-hop songs as he blends touchstone Kiwi vernacular with diction that doesn't alienate listeners in markets like the US, consciously moving New Zealand hip-hop forward to a place that it's often struggled to arrive at while remaining unique in its identity.
This is the future of New Zealand's hip-hop scene. Hip-hop artists in this country have often suffered from telling stories the world isn't familiar with, in a language the world doesn't understand. The style exhibited in this song is an integral building block in NZ hip-hop's quest to do what all good music should do; make people feel as though they really understand the environment in which it was created. But beyond that, what a track like this says is, if you're talking about the golden age of New Zealand hip-hop and you aren't either talking about now or the future, you're not really listening. - Max Oldfield
"Good God" - Home Brew
There was never a definitive Home Brew song. You could jump between "Benefit", "Under The Shade", "Friday", or even "Alcoholic", but you'd never lock down everything they were about in just one track. That said, "Good God" might be the closest the outfit ever got to conveying the dark and light that framed their debut double album. It's a moment of clarity amidst a heavy existential crisis and a soundtrack that falls somewhere between seriousness and total amusement at how fucked everything is.
Religion will forever be a contentious subject, but what drives the song is Tom Scott's innate ability to kick back, observe and analyse rather than offer up any type of definitive answer. The anger and frustration that carry the song is central to everything, but at the same time it never once feels like Scott's trying to push any sort of personal agenda either. It's only one verse, but it's a perfect one at that.
In true Home Brew fashion, Haz's mum ended up reviewing the record for New Zealand street mag Volume. Her verdict of 22 out of 11 stars seems about right. - Hussein Moses
"Not Many" - Scribe
Considered by many as the New Zealand hip-hop track "Not Many" took over the country when it was released in 2003. It also become a central rallying cry after the 2011 earthquake in Scribe's hometown of Christchurch. Taken from his debut album The Crusader, and co-written and produced by P-Money, the track reached platinum in New Zealand. The remix featuring Savage and Con Psy, reached number two on the New Zealand Singles Chart and appeared on the Australian Singles Chart for twenty-eight weeks.
While references to 'Subarus' and 'Nike kicks' the verses now seem a bit naff but P-Money's production is mint and that chorus has become a Kiwi anthem. This has to be one of the best New Zealand songs of all time if only for the way "roarck" is pronounced in the chorus. "How many dudes you know who got the skills to go in and roarck, a show like this". - Joel Edwards
"Sub Cranium Feeling" - King Kapisi
Lyrically this is as relevant and powerful as ever. It speaks of the negative effects of colonialism on the native people of New Zealand. It critiques the bullshit idea that indigenous people are 'savages' in comparison to Europeans. It speaks of the deportation of Polynesian immigrants in New Zealand. It challenges the role of christianity within the Samoan community and exposes the true intentions of British missionaries in Samoa, a voice that was an unpopular and dangerous one to have in 1998 (and perhaps still today) amongst a people that are extremely religious. It addresses the intolerance and the appropriation of Polynesian culture.
In the video Kapisi wears a traditional ie lavalava, flaunting the rich history of a culture that has been oppressed in it's new home. The song is intentionally one of conflict but Kapisi has such a good sensibility for melody that the average listener might not even hear it. On 'Sub Cranium Feeling' he wrapped his message in such a good disguise he was able to sneak into the the consciousness of mainstream New Zealand. The song went to number 8 on the pop charts and was nominated for Best Music Video in the New Zealand Music awards the year it was released.
Going back to this record 16 years later it's still hard to put a time stamp on. I can't point to an influence he was emulating. The production hasn't been washed by technology. The concept of the video is still fresh. This song was ahead of it's time then, and timeless today. I think it's rare that an artist is ever both of those things. - Lau Fai
'Machine Talk' - Che-Fu
In the era of Drake, Young Thug, and Fetty Wap, the idea of a rapper singing doesn't seem all that revolutionary. But back in 1998 when Che-Fu released 2b S.Pacific, it really wasn't happening. Here he was singing his heart out on "Machine Talk" with one of the most prophetic choruses. "Machine Talker / receive my audio / I'm online just to let you know / Machine Walker / receive my video / I'm online just to let you know." Even better, Che and Submariner came through with one of the best New Zealand hip-hop beats ever. Those futuristic melodies; that iconic grinding bass line, that simple-but-snappy beat, and the scratches performed by DJ Nasty Nige all supported Che's vocal, in the process creating something truly unique. 18-years later, "Machine Talk" is still the gold standard for the creativity, depth, and vision possible within the form. We still want to hear new music from you, Che. Don't leave us hanging for too long. - Martyn Pepperell
"Behold My Kool Style" - Dam Native
Hip-hop alchemy is created when lyricists and beatmakers lock in, whether it's Nas x Primo, Snoop x Dre, or Drake x 40. The New Zealand hip-hop track that still holds GOAT status a full 20 years after its release can be boiled down to this same elegant equation: With a Buckshot sample immaculately cut by Manuel Bundy and drums jacked from Dr Lonnie Smith's "Spinning Wheel", Dam Native's "Behold My Kool Style" is a cut far greater than the sum of its parts. Those parts consist of the "horiest intelligence" of Hypa D, and the jazzy production of Zane Lowe. Across three verses, Hypa D single-handedly upgrades a whole hip-hop generation's working knowledge of the Māori language, peppering his raps with references to lyrical patus, Rūaumoko, the Māori god of earthquakes and volcanoes, and talk of iwi cutting ties to Queen Liz and co. Zane Lowe, meanwhile – then a VJ on Auckland's Max TV, and not the world's most influential music broadcaster – masterfully carves the space for Haimona to flatten the track like Lomu steamrolling Mike Catt. Incredible, lyrical, original – and unequalled. - Sam Wicks
"Hip Hop Holiday" - 3 the Hard Way
There was a touch of naivety when West Auckland's 3 The Hard Way dropped their first single on Deepgrooves in 1995. The track hit number one in New Zealand - the first local hiphop song to do so- but was built around a substantial replay of "Dreadlock Holiday" by UK band 10cc. The label had failed to clear rights, resulting in the song being officially credited to 10cc songwriters Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, with all royalties going to them.
Still the success of the song in New Zealand and Australia led to extensive touring of both countries and the recording and release of the band's debut album, Old School Prankstas. And nostalgia aside, it is a strong song. Get in the car, blast it and cruise the streets of Auckland. - Sally Gunn
"In The Neighbourhood" - Sisters Underground
I was 11 when it came out; a recent London transplant with little idea what this country was about. I did know I loved that song they had on loop everywhere—it felt tailor-made for Auckland's humid, lazy heat.
Nostalgia aside, this track is timeless—from Hassanah Iroegbu's mellow observations and Brenda Makammeoafi's sugary (but somehow also bittersweet) hook, to the breezy guitar strums and 'Ashleys Roachclip' drum break. Greg Semu's gorgeous, site-specific video doesn't try to posture or get tricky, either. It's just honest and dreamy.
Hassanah and Brenda met at Hillary College in Otara, South Auckland, although Hassanah's words—with their references to the heat of a cruel, June morning and MAC-10 submachine guns —places the song closer to Hassanah's New York beginnings.
But the track is South Pacific in both its conception and reception, a steadfast Kiwi favourite that's sound-tracked TV promos, countless summer drives, and took 58 on the APRA Top 100 New Zealand Songs of All Time list.
It should have listed higher: 22 years after it appeared on seminal LP Proud: An Urban-Pacific Streetsoul Compilation, "In The Neighbourhood" is as fresh as when it first debuted as the soundtrack to my arrival in this small, green, summery place. - Rebecca Kamm
"E Tu" - Upper Hut Posse
As New Zealand hip-hop began to form an identity in the mid to late 80s - post Beat Street and Style Wars - and while throngs of teenagers gathered in Auckland's Aotea Square to posture and pose whilst breakdancing circles intermittently broke out - Wellington hip hop crew Upper Hutt Posse diligently fashioned their pro-Maori anthem "E Tu". While the rest of the country was more concerned with their look and style, the Posse did the unthinkable and released their debut single on vinyl and chased it with a classic, four elements video clip.
Simplistic in style, not unlike Rammellzee & K-Rob's classic "Beat Bop", or the essential "Apache" by the Sugarhill Gang, they managed to couple the stripped down sensibilities of early rap tracks with the righteous prose of a Chuck D. At the time it was confrontational, compelling, and being a DJ based in Auckland, quite surprising - we had no idea what was going on in the Capitol. Truth be told, it was local hip hop standing up and being proud - E Tu, kia kaha.
- Philip Bell
Illustration: Amy McPherson
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