The story behind New Zealand’s first ever hip hop track, 'E Tū' by Upper Hutt Posse. Featuring members Te Kupu, DLT, Teremoana Rapley and Bennett Pomana. This episode contains strong language.
Series Classification: PG (parental guidance recommended for young viewers)
In 1988, Upper Hutt Posse released Aotearoa’s first ever rap song, E Tū. Years later, the hip hop group stood on stage at the New Zealand Vodafone Music Awards, broadcast live to the nation, finally gaining the recognition they deserved for their landmark contribution to New Zealand music.
Their belated induction to NZ’s Music Hall of Fame “didn’t mean shit” to Upper Hutt Posse member DLT.
It is the song that means something to him, not the accolades but the message.
And it was this sentiment that the song’s writer and lead rapper, Te Kupu, was still relaying, on live television, 30 years later.
Thinking back to Te Kupu’s acceptance speech, DLT laughs, “We all knew he was going to go there so we didn’t prepare nothing.”
Like his song, Te Kupu’s speech at the Music Awards drew lines between New Zealand’s colonial past and the struggle for Māori rights in New Zealand’s present.
He called out power. He singled out the Prime Minister. He didn’t water anything down.
This mainstream recognition for Upper Hutt Posse was long overdue. At the song’s release, the group faced a backlash from all sides. It was too political or too flippant. It used swear words and was too ‘pro-Māori’. Talkback radio callers complained about the song being anti-police, blatantly twisting Te Kupu’s lyrics. And the song’s meaning simply went over people’s heads.
“It [E Tū] was just showing love for us,” DLT says. “If you are ignorant E Tū looks like a racist song about some Māori pissed off at Pakeha. No, no, no. E Tū is about promoting my ancestral past to everyone! You got ears? If you hear it, it’s for you.”
Today, E Tū stands as a song celebrating Māori culture and heritage. It’s about Kotahitanga. And its iconic lyrics inspired a generation of Kiwi hip-hop artists to come.
“It’s great to be inducted into the music hall of fame,” Posse member Teremoana Rapley says, “but the purpose of that song is about people standing up for what is right. It comes from the depth of understanding what your place is in this world and knowing it so well that you can stand up and lift your head and be proud of where you come from.”
This episode follows Upper Hutt Posse as they discuss their successes, their failings, and how issues of racism, youth suicide and self-love, worked their way into their music. And we hear the untold story of why Bennett finally left the posse.
About the Artists
Upper Hutt Posse
Upper Hutt Posse is a band that originally formed in 1985 in the Upper Hutt in Wellington.
They were one of the original bands to merge rap and reggae and in 1988 their bilingual single ‘E Tu’ became Aotearoa’s first released rap track.
The band have produced seven albums to date, with a large focus for the band’s music being to fight racial injustice through music.
In 2018 the group were inducted into Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa, the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame as the Tohu Whakareretanga or Legacy Award recipients.
DLT (Darryl Leigh Thomson) was one of the founders of the Upper Hutt Posse. He grew up in the Hawke’s Bay and first came across Hip Hop after moving to Wellington early in the 1980’s.
DLT taught himself to scratch records so that he could back his friend D-Word (Dean Hapeta) and this eventually led the original four-piece reggae group to head down the path of Hip Hop. DLT has continued to be heavily involved in music as a key Hip Hop producer in New Zealand.
Te Kupu (Dean Hapeta) grew up in Upper Hutt with his brother and fellow original band member Matt Hapeta. He was on keyboards and vocals and started out playing reggae before the band could get their hands on drum machines which allowed them to start programming beats.
In 1987, Dean noted that Māori were being disparaged by the media and society in general and wrote E Tū as a message to fellow Māori to stand tall and be proud. He has used his music as a way to share his awareness of social and political injustice.
Teremoana joined Upper Hutt Posse at the age of fourteen as a singer in her home town of Wellington. She travelled and performed as the only locally born female rapper in New Zealand at that time. Teremoana went on to pursue a solo career and continued into television as a reporter and eventual presenter.
She has been a recipient of the Tate Music Prize twice (alongside the Upper Hutt Posse and Moana and the Moahunters), was inducted into the Aotearoa Music Hall of Fame and received the Legacy Award (with the Upper Hutt Posse).
NZ Hip Hop Stand Up was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.