For the last 30 years, hip hop legends Upper Hutt Posse has been creating powerful and inspirational music to challenge the status quo and fight for social justice in Aotearoa.
On 15 November the group will be welcomed into the Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa / New Zealand Music Hall of Fame as the Tohu Whakareretanga/Legacy Award recipients.
Founding member Dean Hapeta (Te Kupu/D Word) says, “After three decades I welcome this esteemed accolade because it accords with the appreciation and respect shown us all along by grass roots hip hop heads and lovers of conscious music—whom I acknowledge first and foremost.
Furthermore, in today’s increasingly interconnected world where environmental degradation, war profiteering, misogyny, police brutality and white privilege can no longer be denied I see our being recognised as according also with progressive activism over the last decade – from Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and protests against that miserable good-for-nothing skirt-chaser in the white house.
Upper Hutt Posse made waves with their debut single ‘E Tū’ – the first original Hiphop track recorded and released in Aotearoa, a commanding statement striking out against racism and injustice.
The song combines revolutionary rhetoric with an explicitly Māori frame of reference, paying homage to nineteenth century Māori warrior chiefs who fought against European colonialism; Hone Heke, Ka Witi, Tītokowaru, Te Kooti, Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata.
Hapeta first started a reggae band, playing keyboards and singing, alongside his brother Matthew (aka MC Wiya) on bass, Aaron Thompson (aka Blue Dread) on guitar/vocals, and Darryl Thomson (aka DLT) on drums.
Adding into the mix the Roland TR-505 drum machine, a turntable, vocalists—Bennett Pomana (aka MC Beware), Teremoana Rapley, Steve Rameka (aka Acid Dread), and a manager with a Roland TR-808 drum machine George Hubbard, the roots of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s pioneering Hiphop group were set. This foundation lineup combined singing, rapping and reggae toasting over live and programmed instrumentation making them unlike any other group in the world at the time.
After releasing their debut album Against The Flow in 1989, the group were invited by the Nation of Islam to play in Detroit, USA before returning home to Aotearoa to open for the political rap group Public Enemy in 1990.
During this period, the group faced challenges from mainstream media who were coming to terms with rap music as a political tool, with false accusations of causing a ‘racial punch-up’ and blocking Pākehā students from attending their shows.
Throughout all this, UHP remained committed to equality for tangata whenua in Aotearoa. Their 1995 album Movement In Demand was released on their own label Kia Kaha, with strong political messages and educational blurbs about the Māori leaders pictured on the CD cover.
In 1996 Hapeta decided to further commit to learning Te Reo Māori and enrolled at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, the first modern wānanga/Māori university in Ōtaki. A solo album entirely in Te Reo under the name Te Kupu (with an english language counterpart) followed, influencing future Upper Hutt Posse releases.
The 2000 album Mā Te Wā, 2005 album Legacy, and 2010 album Tohe all heavily feature Te Reo Taketake, as well as a remix project called Te Reo Māori Remixes that revisited and reconstructed 10 Upper Hutt Posse tracks with Māori language vocals and received an award for ‘Best Mana Māori Album’ at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2003.
In 2011, Upper Hutt Posse released Declaration of Resistance that once again pushed their sound to evolve, solidifying their legacy as one of the country’s most thought-provoking groups and a commmitted outlet for social justice and equality in Aotearoa.
Recorded Music CEO Damian Vaughan applauds Upper Hutt Posse for their revolutionary sound and commitment to championing the rights of Māori for the last three decades.
Upper Hutt Posse were so uniquely different when they debuted ‘E Tū’ and were – and remain – trailblazers for hip hop in Aotearoa. They are an inspiration for young musicians and also to all New Zealanders to keep fighting for what they believe in.
Celebrated on the night with a tribute performance by Che Fu and The Kratez, eighteen members of Upper Hutt Posse and their legacy will be acknowledged at the 2018 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards on 15 November.
Looking forward, Upper Hutt Posse will continue creating music that challenges the status quo, and champions the human rights of the oppressed in Aotearoa and around the world.