11 Jul 2019

A brief history of New Zealand hip-hop

From Nights, 7:09 pm on 11 July 2019

The first time Brad Warrington (AKA DJ Sticky Fingaz) heard hip-hop that captured his attention was in 1991, when the bass spilled out the windows of a passing car during a basketball game in Dunedin.

He’s pretty sure it would have been something like Run DMC or N.W.A.

“Basketball is a black-majority sport so there’s a strong affiliation between basketball and hip-hop.”

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Photo: Brad Warrington

Hip-hop was created by a Jamaican DJ in the South Bronx called Kool Herc when he took the idea of sound system culture to the streets of the US, says Warrington.

“Originally, he was probably playing calypso and reggae and those things but then he realised that during funk tunes there was a break-down, a little break, and then he got two turntables and he started looping the break up and realising there was a continuous break and that’s when he was like ‘oh MCs could jump on here’.”

The raw break, without lyrics, gave people an opportunity for people to get on the mic and ‘toast’ – “the raw element of hip-hop is basically spoken word lyrics.”

Hip-hop has always been a vehicle for disenfranchised people of colour to express themselves, says Warrington.

“There’s MCing, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti, those are the four elements.”

The first real official hip-hop tune would have been Rappers Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.

The first CD Warrington bought was Cyprus Hill’s Black Sunday – and he quickly realised it was the kind of stuff he could get down with.

“It was a secret, I kind of had my hip-hop secret. Everyone else was into the Pearl Jams and the Nirvanas, I still liked those, but I listened to hip-hop.”

It was the break-beats and the bass and the lyrics that had him hooked.

“I could relate to some of the content, we all had our struggles and I guess I could relate to it.”

His own hip-hop awakening came somewhat after New Zealand had embraced the genre.

“The first time I saw breakdancing was Poi E…the part I love the most was Mr white glove guy coming out and popping and locking. And that was the first time I saw any type of hip-hop culture.”

It’s not necessarily a hip-hop song but it definitely has a strong hip-hop vibe throughout it, he says.

“I have no doubt in my mind that that gave Upper Hutt Posse the confidence to do their first song, which was E Tu.”

DLT and Dean Hapeta are the two people Warrington would consider OGs. “They’re not gangsters but that’s the term in hip-hop.”

In 1984, they arrived on the scene. “DLT was living in Hastings, he knew that most of the kids were dropping out in fifth form, he knew they were going to work in the freezing works and he didn’t want no part of that, so he decided to pack up and move to Upper Hutt and that’s when by chance he met Dean Hapeta.”

The first time the pair met DLT saw Hapeta in a confrontation with some guys.

“He saw this short-statured man say to these big dudes ‘you’re not going to do anything to me’.”

The realised they shared similar views in life and were bound by their love of hip-hop and the oppression of Māori.

They started as a reggae sound system and made beats with an 808 drum machine and then an 809. Dean Hapeta took up the pseudonym D Word and other members came along.

One of the first commercial hip-hop songs to come along in New Zealand was a re-lick of She’s a Mod when Jerry Tala Brown, a beat boxer, and Jerry To'omata, a rapper, were discovered by Mike Chunn of Split Enz. The Double J and Twice the T track Mod Rap reached #2 on the charts.

“They released three other tunes and then they called it quits.”

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