Upper Hutt Posse: it's Maori music

 NZ Listener

Dean Hapeta never really stops rapping, whether he’s onstage or off. Under the pseudonym D-Word, Hapeta is MC and chief lyricist for Upper Hutt Posse, the first New Zealand rap act to make it onto vinyl.

Away from the microphone he eagerly and provocatively propounds theories and expresses opinions, ranging from his disdain for certain prominent Maori to his admiration for black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan.

His interest in black liberation developed alongside his passion for music and writing. While at school in the Hutt Valley he read Malcolm X’s autobiography, listened to the Sugarhill Gang and privately wrote poetry. The arrival of rap in the early 80s, heralded by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ and Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’, suggested an obvious means of tying this three interests together. But Hapeta and the other Posse members started out playing reggae.

“We were getting into rap but we needed turntables, drum machines. Back then, looking at a drum machine it might as well have been a 747.”

His first attempts at rapping were made to the accompaniment of a live drummer trying to imitate the electronic rhythms of a beatbox.

Cynics point out that every major overseas movement in black music has been echoed in New Zealand. The late 60s saw an overdose of Hendrix imitators; later came a swarm of would-be Santanas and, by the mid-70s, Bob Marley clones. Are the Posse anything more than the inevitable local variety of a current international music fad? Hapeta won’t deny the obvious influences, but still claims: “WE are not imitators of black Americans. Sure, we’ve adopted some of their dress and style and some jive talk. I say I’d rather sound like a black American than a white Englishman. But if we’re Maori and doing this music, this rap or whatever, it’s Maori music plain and simple. I think it bugs a lot of people, calling it Maori music – including Dalvanius, and all those sort of people – but it is.”

Hapeta has little time for the “pop rap” of groups like the Fat Boys, reserving his praise for the more politically conscious rappers like Public Enemy and KRS1. The Posse travelled to Auckland to catch Run DMC’s show last year. “They were massive,” he admits, but, “Dick Driver interviewed them for Radio With Pictures. We went along. The first question he asked was: ‘There’s been a lot of talk about the elections in the States. Are you happy with the results?’ and DMC goes ‘Aaaah… we’re not into politics, man, our politics are social problems.’ That sort of hit me. I thought: ‘Don’t you realise that social problems are the result of political situations?’”

The Posse are not about to make that kind of copout. “I’m trying to wake people up to what’s happening. If Maori really understood why they’re in the pub, why their kid got beaten up by the cops last night… all they can say is, ‘Because the system’s racist’ or something like that. But why and how and where… relate it back to history. I try to do that.”

Tags: new zealanddean hapetaupper hutt possemaoriraphip hop

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