There is a remarkable and strong lineage of Māori hip-hop which runs from Upper Hutt Posse’s Against the Flow through Dam Native’s Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted to this ambitious, crafted album by Tipene Harmer who – like those illustrious predecessors – knows exactly who he is and where he’s from.
On the lyrical and rhythmical Ariki here he says, “I’m walkin’ with the ariki … a Māori from the wops bay … I must admit I had my days of Mr Know It All … respect the past, make the future that’s my protocol … my inspiration, whanau, hapu, tamariki … from New Zealand Aotearoa represent … why you tryin’ to be American, there’ll only ever be one Dr Dre and Eminem, just look around at the country you livin’ in, this is your whanau …”
And he knows what he’s talking about.
In the mid 2000s he went to New York for a month to immerse himself in hip-hop culture but realised the black artists were disconnected from cultural roots in a way Maori weren’t.
He released his debut album Tautoko in 2017 and the terrific, autobiographical West Side Hori from it was on the shortlist for the APRA Silver Scroll (songwriting) award in 2012 (and the video was filmed in his hometown of Flaxmere with friends and locals).
Harmer lives in Whitianga now and this album – which has sprung singles – has had a wedge of award nominations this year including Top 20 Finalist APRA Silver Scroll, Best Hip Hop Album, Best Māori Male Solo Artist, Best Single by a Māori Artist and Best Māori Songwriter.
It is easy to see why, these tracks are loaded with cultural history and references: Kupe “the true OG”; the powerful Mauri featuring Ariana Henare with a dreamy and elevating vocal; the lovely Turangawaewae with Maisey Rika and Troy Kingi.
And there’s also the personal (Paepae) on a bilingual album which outlines the journey of Māori to Aotearoa (“navigating by the stars”) but delivers as sassy, beat-driven hip-hop (beats by Tenei Kesha aka 10A) with nods to haka and waiata … and by the end comes off as a cool history-cum-culture lesson.
And as he says in Ariki, “lyrics unexplicit outta respect for my parents, from New Zealand Aotearoa represent, loud and proud and comfortable in my own skin”.
And on Wairua about his hard-scrabble bakcground: “I’m focused on my dreams, gotta get out of the scene … mind is my weapon and my hand’s a microphone”.
Each of these tracks is musically discrete but the powerful cement at the centre is his assured delivery which is declamatory but not strident, just a confidence in what is being said and explained.
He recently said, “I wrote this album for 100 years down the track, after I’m long gone. When my photo is hanging in the marae and my mokopuna points to it and asks’ ‘Who’s that?’, ‘What was he like?’, they can press play on this album. This music is about legacy.”
This really is quite something and another stake in the rich earth of local hip-hop culture which knows where it is coming from … and going to.
released August 3, 2021