NZ Music Month – Underground Hip-Hop Alive and Kicking in Auckland
It’s 12:30am on a Thursday night – now Friday morning – at Ironbar café on Auckland’s iconic K’Rd. Deep hip-hop beats flow out into the street enticing passers-by to slip in and see what’s going down. Inside they find a circle of some of Auckland’s most passionate emcees, passing the mic as their turn to cypher comes along.
The cypher-circle is an almost spiritual place where emcees young an old show their love and respect for the craft and for each other by rapping over whatever beats DJ Exile decides to throw down. Anything goes, pre-written lyrics or freestyles and the styles and content are as varied as the artists themselves. From freestyle extraordinaire, Tihei Harawira or Bad Crop’s poetic, mind-enhancing flows to hard-hitting political and social comment from Alpha ‘N Omega or Saru G. Throw in some international flavor with African and Cuban expats Jinetero MC and Child Ether and you wonder why more people aren’t there to watch and enjoy.
But this is underground hip-hop in its purest form and all the emcees are here to hone their skills, bless the mic and enjoy a special bond that comes from a love of true hip-hop and not the soulless commercial rap that is fed to us in an endless stream of guns, bitches and expletives, mirroring an image of US culture that the big record labels would like us to believe is a true representation of what rap is about. Here in this sacred circle emcees are free to spit – a street term for rap – about whatever they like. And in the case of some of these extremely talented freestylers, whatever pops into their head that second.
Over the last couple of decades rap/hip-hop has forged its place on NZ’s music scene with credible overseas success from artists such as Scribe, PNC, Savage and Young Sid – now Sid Diamond. But it is the underground scene that has taken the biggest steps recently with the popularity of online sites such as Soundcloud, You Tube and Facebook and the improvement of recording equipment and software that lets any young emcee lay down their tracks to a standard that can be enjoyed by all.
No longer do artists have to get into a studio and push their mix-tapes to various radio stations and record labels to be heard. Now they can share their passion and their words with the whole world with ease. Some will climb out of obscurity and start to make a name for themselves such as fast-spitting 4Sayken, who recently opened with Auckland rap-royalty PHD for American rapper, Mobb Deep, but many others will be content to simply make great music from the heart to share with friends or simply for the pure joy that comes from creating musical poetry and social statements.
The beauty of the internet these days is that one artist’s channel will often lead to other similar artists and an afternoon can soon disappear as you follow the threads and links from 4Sayken to Young Revus to TeeVee to JandP and so on. You soon begin to realize that the Auckland underground hip-hop scene is alive and kicking and the standard is extremely high. The beats are as dope and fresh as anything from Dr. Dre and the standard of rapping lacks for nothing. Some of these artists will, and deserve to go on to greater heights such as T13 and PHD or the irrepressible JCK, whilst others will be content to hold the middle ground and win the hearts and ears of their loyal and adoring fans such as Homebrew, Third Eye, Badcrop and Simba. Putting out albums, rocking the stage at various gigs or just blessing the mic at Ironbar in the cypher-circle.
The moral of this story is, don’t wait for the radio to play it, because in most cases their corporate sponsors dictate what gets played. Take the time to go online and look and listen for yourself. Support these artists by listening to their uploads, watching their videos and getting along to their gigs wherever possible. More often than not, these underground emcees are doing it for the love of it and want nothing more than for you to love it too.
Footnote: I must give a special shout-out to two people. First is DJ “Exile”, a long time stalwart of Auckland hip-hop scene and Mike and the team at Ironbar Café. Their vision and passion for supporting underground rap in Auckland has given a home to those of us who are passionate about our craft. If you ever get a chance, make sure you get along to one of their open-mic nights and see what you’ve been missing.
Article by: Saru G
Next event: Saturday 9th May @ 9:00pm
‘We support New Zealand Artists on the way up. Providing a platform for them to practice their craft and also literally a stage to present their talents.
Ironbar has worked with exile entertainment to start from a “grass roots ” level the Cypher Show. It has slowly been bubbling and growing. We are moving it from Thursday to a Saturday slot. The last event we had 33 1/3 MCs roll up and share their thunder.
This time we have prizes!!
1st prize: Studio time to record a track to be mastered for radio. @Riddim Central K’Rd! (I’m hooking up w a local guy that literally built his own recording studio in St Kevin’s arcade). I will personally contact local radio stations and get the track air time.
2nd prize: is all out drinking, dining experience for 2 @Ironbar.
3rd prize: original Run DMC record, Walk this Way, featuring a guy called Steven Tyler.
4th prize: Packet of original Tim Tams.
As you can see we have gone all out.’
Michael King, Ironbar.
Ironbar café: http://www.facebook.com/Ironbarcafe
Alpha N Omega: http://soundcloud.com/alpha-n-omega1
Jinetero MC: http://soundcloud.com/jinetero-mc
Tihei Harawira: http://www.facebook.com/tihei.harawira.9?fref=ts
These are just a sample of underground emcees. Check them out and follow their links to more artists.
About Me – Saru G
I come at hip-hop from a slightly different angle. Of course I have the same passion and love for hip-hop, but for me it is all about the message.
I am – for want of a label – a “conscious” rapper. About five years ago I became disillusioned with the state of the world. Wars, corporate greed, hate, racism and sexism – amongst others – frustrated me and I wanted a way to express myself and hopefully become a voice for positive change.
I have been a huge fan of rap for over 30 years – showing my age – and it was the perfect outlet for my pent-up rage. Inspired by other conscious rappers like Immortal Technique, Akala and our own Genocide I began making my own beats and writing angry rap lyrics as much for my own release as for spreading my message.
I now have a reasonable collection of tracks and videos covering everything from the evils of war, corrupt governments and the Global Elite. Despite this, I always try to offer up positive solutions in my songs on how to make the change in ourselves and hopefully a positive change in our world.
I could say more, but I prefer to let my music speak for itself. Please check out my links below: