When hip-hop was born on the streets of the Bronx in the late 1970s, part of its birth was due to the highly competitive rap battles that took place. You had crews battling it out night after night to see who was the best MC in their neighbourhood in what became an essential element of hip-hop culture. It is this aspect of the culture that forms the heart of what is Red Bull Music’s 64 Bars Live, a night celebrating the craft of rapping.
Based on the online series curated by David Dallas which showcased some of the rising stars of New Zealand rap over seven seasons, 64 Bars Live is a throwback to those rap battles of the past and on Saturday night at Ponsonby Social Club saw eleven of Aotearoa’s top MC’s battle it out on stage.
Featuring the likes of local stalwarts MELODOWNZ, JessB, and Diggy Dupe, 64 Bars Live was a true celebration of the art of rapping. This was the chance for New Zealand’s best to battle each other in front of a live audience and showcase their MC skills like never before.
The evening ran like a showcase, with each rapper getting around ten minutes to show off their ability on the mic. Most took the opportunity to play their own songs, while free-styling was also an option of which many didn’t back down from, especially as a rapper’s ability to freestyle is often how they are judged in the pantheon of rap.
What garnered my attention throughout the night was how diverse New Zealand’s rap scene is at the moment, signifying how healthy it is.
Then there was performance style, something that is essential when it comes to battle rap. How does one rev up the crowd? How charismatic can you be as a performer? Jane Deezy treated her performance more like a speech, getting political between songs and talking at length about race and gender. On the other hand, rising star Church Leon bought plenty of wit and some flare to proceedings, while Diggy Dupe was on top form when it came to crowd interaction.
This added to the intrigue throughout the evening as it wasn’t just a case of an MC behind a mic, but an opportunity for each rapper to truly show off themselves and their performance style giving the crowd a little snippet of what they are all about as an artist.
Rather than acting as a hip-hop festival of sorts, 64 Bars Live was a celebration of New Zealand rap and all that it has to offer at the moment. Local rap fans came out in their droves to not just support the artists on display but the culture of hip hop in Aotearoa, a culture that is arguably as strong as it ever has been.
You could feel the support for the artists was strong all evening and although this was in many ways modelled on the idea of the battle rap, there was no competition on display at all but a comradeship between the artists and the audience illustrating just how close this scene is.
In conclusion, the evening on the whole was a massive success and a great way to show off one of the many burgeoning local music scenes on the map at the moment. If anything, the only down side was that a bigger venue was needed given the demand for tickets and the amount of people who were keen to come out and support New Zealand hip hop, something that can only be a positive sign for rap in Auckland.
They could have put this night on ten times and sold out each one.
That is how popular Aotearoa hip hop is right now and the evidence for that was clear as daylight at Ponsonby Social Club last night both on stage and off.