Feelstyle: Break It To Pieces

 NZ Listener

BREAK IT TO PIECES, Feelstyle (Can’t Stop Music)

It has been a long time coming, but the debut of local rapper Feelstyle was worth the wait.

Born in Samoa and brought up in Wellington, he was rapping early enough to beat Upper Hutt Posse in a mid-80s battle-of-the-mics, and carried on under a variety of aliases (RIQ, Picasso, Conscious Navigator) to front or share stages with most of the capital’s pioneering hip-hop outfits: Noise in Effect, Rough Opinion, Gifted and Brown.

But it was only a shift to Auckland this decade to assist fellow Welly-rapper King Kapisi with his second album that focused the seasoned MC on finally producing an offering of his own.

Break It to Pieces is a rich, sophisticated album that recognises hip-hop’s long history and traces its origins back to soul, R&B and reggae. But it intertwines that tradition with another one closer to home: the rapper’s Pacific Island heritage.

Feelstyle – who is more commonly known as Kas, an abbreviation of his old stage name Picasso – raps as fluently in Samoan as English, and alternates between the two languages throughout.

Unlike some of his Kiwi colleagues, Kas doesn’t fantasise for a moment that he’s a gangsta from the ‘hood. All he has to say about that is encapsulated in a photo on the sleeve, showing him in pinstripe gangsta suit and shades, a golden chain of Crunchie bars around his neck.

When he’s not mocking the stereotypes, he’s writing what he knows. Family features prominently. There’s the uncle in “Enlightenment Piece” who can’t handle his alcohol, the migrant son returning to a world both strange and familiar in “Going Home”. Ands there’s the sombre story of a suicide (all in Samoan) in “Evotia”. But there’s humour, too, like the salacious “Outside Enclosure”.

Kas has made a lot of friends on the road to his debut, and they have all come to his party. Lole, Karena Lyons and the Finau sisters wrap harmonies around his rhymes, and there are soulful solos from Miss Temple, an understated cameo by Shayne Carter and bluesy choruses from American import Ronnie Taylor. Expat jazzers Mark De Clive Lowe and Cameron Undy, on keyboards and bass respectively, add a bubbling undercurrent of funk.

But most crucial of all the accomplices is Andy Morton – better known as Submariner – whose production makes Break It to Pieces as much his album as Kas’s. His grooves are the foundation on which the rhymes are built. These often lean towards vintage reggae or soul, but are at their most striking when they draw directly on the sounds of Samoa. In “Su’ga Ea!”, a traditional melody and strummed set of chords drive the irresistible opener, and there are similar reminders throughout this album that it could only have come from the heart of the Pacific.

Tags: new zealandraphip hoppacific

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