The time is now.
When the Young, Gifted & Broke collective hosted New York rapper Wiki at a King’s Arms gig back in February, the line stretched all the way down the street. It was the longest queue I had ever seen outside the old tavern, which was only days away from closing its doors for good. There were kids from all walks of life and culture. The buzz both inside and outside the venue was electric.
This was the end of a golden summer for rap gigs. The list reads like a who’s who of rap. Just some of the people who played here included Mick Jenkins, Lil Uzi Vert, Post Malone, Migos, J Cole, GoldLink, Vince Staples, and Future.
Fans at the shows were chanting every word, taking in every movement, and moshing with such intensity I at times feared for people’s safety.
With this also comes a burgeoning local rap scene. Here, the likes of SWIDT and David Dallas have done wonders for rap’s popularity, putting out excellent albums and generating a strong fan following.
There has probably not been a rap group as visible in the mainstream as SWIDT since Home Brew, and that is a testament to their ability as charismatic performers, sense of humour, and no doubt, their ability to produce music as good as any of the rap released in New Zealand. Just think about their 2017 album STONEYHUNGA, an album that will go down as one of our greatest rap records.
Then there has been the underground and alternative rap scene which has also been bubbling away, quietly generating some momentum which you would think would continue to grow in the coming years.
Acts like Melodownz, Eno x Dirty, JessB, and the great stuff coming out of Auckland’s Grow Room Collective showcases the best New Zealand has to offer, with many of these acts appearing at festivals such as Laneway and Auckland City Limits, supporting touring acts, and taking the live scene by storm.
Local rap fans can be proud knowing we have a scene here that is producing quality as good, if not better than some of the stuff from overseas, and that is flowing with talent who constantly level up both live and on record.
Over the past 30 years, there have always been little pockets in New Zealand music history where rap has risen to the top and generated a strong mainstream following, in particular the success the likes of Che Fu, Nesian Mystik and Scribe had. Maintaining this level of popularity for long periods has been the difficult part.
Hip-hop’s history has for the most part been one of marginalisation in New Zealand and the movement has had to fight the local music industry, as well as the mainstream media, to get exposure and positive attention for the scene.
One also cannot overstate the impact music streaming has had on rap and its growing popularity in New Zealand. With the advent of platforms such as Spotify, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, rap artists have been prolific in the amount of music they are releasing on to these platforms, sometimes without any warning.
They have successfully tapped into the streaming scene, utilising it to their advantage to generate more fans knowing it has quickly become the number one format for music consumption. This has also helped local rap artists avoid long delays and the costs of releasing music physically.
There still is a long way to go for hip-hop in New Zealand. But given the quality of music being produced by New Zealand rappers and the army of young fans, it won’t be long before hip-hop has an extended stay in the mainstream spotlight of the New Zealand music scene. Who knows, it might also have a rare opportunity to branch out internationally and compete with the big guns in America.
These are surely golden years for hip-hop in New Zealand and I am excited to see what happens next.