NZ hip-hop cannot be stopped! (Pity)

21:12, Jul 20 2009

Remember when Scribe burst on to the scene with his chants of "we can't be stopped" with his double single (a clever way of releasing essentially the same song) Stand Up/Not Many? I say burst on to the scene, but this was 2003 and the man born Malo Luafutu was already known to New Zealand hip-hop fans for his contributions on P-Money's debut album, Big Things. But he made a mainstream audience from singing the same song twice.

Big things were indeed promised by Scribe, and apparently expected. And the success of his album - a rather embarrassing collection of clichés wrapped in tinny, garden-shed productions (a shame, because P-Money is a clever chap but his production for that album is awful) - became a reason for people to celebrate an apparent genre: New Zealand Hip-Hop. Not just hip-hop that comes from this part of the world; the name of the country was in the title of the genre as if it was an ingredient. That's a worry.

It wasn't just Scribe though. Around this time, a couple of years either side of The Crusader, we had Auckland crew The Deceptikonz, and from that group, most famously, we would hear from Savage and then Mareko (and then, depending on how much of a sucker for punishment you are/were, Devolvo).

In Wellington there were The Foot Souljahs - probably better than The Deceptikonz (certainly to begin with) but unfortunate to not be walking distance from the Dawn Raid label.

New Zealand's hip-hop scene really took off because it was marketed at the easiest target - impressionable (and clueless) teens and tweens - and because it was reduced to knuckle-scraping, lowest-common-denominator big beats and lazy grunts.

P-Money's Big Things was clever, his Big Things Instrumentals was even better, showing that there was talent and technique, a method to creating the breaks and beats. But since then he's taken the safe route with his releases, dumbed down and disappointing for Scribe's Crusader record and for the subsequent P-Money releases.

The biggest problem with these artists is that they have nothing to say.

Take Savage's song Swing. The sell-job for doting fans is that this song has done well. It was in the movie Knocked Up - so it must be good, right? So good that it's been remade and placed on the new album. I know they are trying to break him internationally - and follow up on hype - but when an artist's biggest hit from his first album is there again for all to see (and sadly hear) on the second album, all I think is this artist has nothing to say. Their career is over.

Remember when Scribe burst on to the scene with his chants of "we can't be stopped" with his double single (a clever way of releasing essentially the same song) Stand Up/Not Many? I say burst on to the scene, but this was 2003 and the man born Malo Luafutu was already known to New Zealand hip-hop fans for his contributions on P-Money's debut album, Big Things. But he made a mainstream audience from singing the same song twice.

Big things were indeed promised by Scribe, and apparently expected. And the success of his album - a rather embarrassing collection of clichés wrapped in tinny, garden-shed productions (a shame, because P-Money is a clever chap but his production for that album is awful) - became a reason for people to celebrate an apparent genre: New Zealand Hip-Hop. Not just hip-hop that comes from this part of the world; the name of the country was in the title of the genre as if it was an ingredient. That's a worry.

It wasn't just Scribe though. Around this time, a couple of years either side of The Crusader, we had Auckland crew The Deceptikonz, and from that group, most famously, we would hear from Savage and then Mareko (and then, depending on how much of a sucker for punishment you are/were, Devolvo).

In Wellington there were The Foot Souljahs - probably better than The Deceptikonz (certainly to begin with) but unfortunate to not be walking distance from the Dawn Raid label.

New Zealand's hip-hop scene really took off because it was marketed at the easiest target - impressionable (and clueless) teens and tweens - and because it was reduced to knuckle-scraping, lowest-common-denominator big beats and lazy grunts.

P-Money's Big Things was clever, his Big Things Instrumentals was even better, showing that there was talent and technique, a method to creating the breaks and beats. But since then he's taken the safe route with his releases, dumbed down and disappointing for Scribe's Crusader record and for the subsequent P-Money releases.

The biggest problem with these artists is that they have nothing to say.

Take Savage's song Swing. The sell-job for doting fans is that this song has done well. It was in the movie Knocked Up - so it must be good, right? So good that it's been remade and placed on the new album. I know they are trying to break him internationally - and follow up on hype - but when an artist's biggest hit from his first album is there again for all to see (and sadly hear) on the second album, all I think is this artist has nothing to say. Their career is over.

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Scribe's follow-up, Rhyme Book, was even more facile than The Crusader; at least that album had hits - even if Not Many was a terrible Eminem rip.

Now, I know a lot of people who read this blog do not like hip-hop - I've heard the arguments before and those people must be pleased to note that I have kept coverage of the genre to a minimum. But this is not even about being a fan of the wider genre - this is about false advertising.

What we are being sold (if we buy it and buy in to it) is New Zealand Hip-Hop. And what is that exactly?

Well it sounds almost exactly like American hip-hop, just a) not as good, b) cheaply produced, c) with faltering, wavering accents (often American accents are still attempted), and d) with utterly unbelievable stories about how tough it is on the streets of Auckland.

The latest, awful example is Smashproof. We were told to be impressed because their song, Brother, had set a record. It has now, mercifully, been bumped down the list but it held the top spot longer than Sailing Away - by All of Us. So many people have talked about checking it out because of the hype, only to feel disappointed. Well people: the clue to how stunningly average Brother would be is surely in the fact that its competition was Sailing Away!

Meanwhile, Jody Lloyd has, under the names Dark Tower, Trillion and most recently as Jody O. Lloyd, been releasing clever cut'n'paste amalgams of dance music, indie pop, hip-hop and electronica. He sings about New Zealand (and not about how tough it is on the streets) capturing the boredom (or ennui, if you prefer the arty sound of that word) and he uses his own voice: a true Kiwi accent, twanging his way through the lines. He has a body of work that has been largely ignored. It's made all the more tragic by the fact that he has also released the work of other under-appreciated artists under his She'll Be Right imprint and has recently relocated across the ditch. Maybe we'll claim him as our own when he finds success in Australia?

I think of Lloyd as a Kiwi folk musician, a practitioner of a true indigenous music, bending the ideal of hip-hop to suit his own ideas. That's what I would call New Zealand Hip-Hop (check out his latest, Loops of Love, it's been on high rotate for me; I can't get enough of it).   

But Lloyd will never get the recognition he deserves here because the sound cannot be packaged up by Telecom or Vodafone and sold to people who only want to like a song that they can download as a ring-tone or bop along to in a packaged/branded music showcase where it's a see-and-be-seen exercise for the kids.

Hip-hop is an American music - in terms of the rap music that first found its way on to stereos on the 1980s coming from the 1970s disco and soul movements. But there are many different global variants. Unfortunately New Zealand's version is often lazy, riddled with obviousness and lacking in anything to make it feel distinctive.

So, I'd like New Zealand Hip-Hop to sit down for a while and come back when it's ready to admit that it's a sad facsimile of an established sound. And if we boil it down, it should be the easiest form of music to compete with internationally: it's just a guy spinning a record, stealing tunes while someone makes up rhymes over the top, right?

And the record companies need to accept a huge portion of the blame for being lazy and obvious in their selections here too.

What do you think? Would you like to see New Zealand Hip-Hop stopped?