Scenes - History - Analysis - Reference - Report


South Africa

South Africa’s hiphop scene is mostly centered in and around Cape Town, in the southwestern part of the country, although there are many active hiphop crews in Pretoria and Johannesburg, as well as in other, smaller cities. South Africa is not only the site of one of the most active hiphop scenes in all of Africa, it is also one of the oldest scenes as well, as South Africa was one of the first African countries to have consistent contact with the United States and access to its music. All four elements of hiphop culture are represented in South African hiphop, although DJing and MCing are perhaps the most popular.

Graffiti art in South Africa (sometimes called spraycan art) are mostly large scale, highly artistic mural pieces, instead of simple initials or names. Graffiti art is illegal in South Africa, and in addition to arresting graffiti artists caught while painting, found graffiti is painted over quickly. This means that graffiti artists are very busy-- often, their work is painted over before many people can see it. This does not stop graffiti artists, however, and South Africa's graffiti artists are popular not only in their own country, but in Europe as well. Breakdancing is perhaps the least-practiced part of hiphop culture in South Africa. There are some breakin’ crews, but most of them have few members. One reason why breakdancing may not be as popular is because much of the hiphop culture in South Africa focuses on promoting positive social behavior and political action, and these are somewhat hard to convey through dancing.

Music, however, provides an almost-perfect outlet for social messages. As seen in many other countries around the world, hiphop's infectious grooves and upbeat music are catchy and attract many people's ears. A legacy of racism and imperialism, with hard-won freedoms coming slowly, have led the younger generations to think about their situation in a critical fashion. Also, it is hard for government groups to get out the message about public health dangers (a study done by UNAIDS in 1999 stated that 19.9 million South Africans are infected with HIV. South Africa's total population is 43 million.). These factors together led to the rise of hiphop with a message in South Africa.

Black Noise, one crew from South Africa, are devotees of Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation and spread his message of universal brotherhood by holding workshops for all interested young people. The workshops are focused on allowing people to become self-supporting musicians, and include topics like how to run a sound system, how to design posters and T-shirts, and how to record their own albums. Black Noise holds these workshops while touring around Africa, and often include rural communities in their travel plans, in order to teach as many people as possible. In addition to creating innovative hiphop, the Black Noise crew is also involved in fighting poverty, increasing voter turnout, and increasing literacy. Their music focuses on empowering the listener, and encouraging them to achieve their dreams. Other South African crews who endorse equality and add positive messages to their music include Prophets of the City and Brasse Vanne Kaap.

While South African hiphop is popular in South Africa and parts of Europe, it’s not well known in many areas of the world. This may be because of the language barrier—there are eleven official languages in South Africa, not counting the many unofficial languages and the various forms of dialect and slang that have been created. It may also be because live shows are an integral part of the scene in South Africa. However, this melding of languages and focus on live shows is very similar to the beginnings of hiphop in other countries in the world. And just like those scenes, South Africa’s hiphop creators have added a unique spin on the sound of hiphop.

Most of the hiphop in South Africa is turntable-based, not sampler-based. This means that it sounds more like New York City, old-school hiphop than electro-based forms of hiphop. The records that South Africa’s DJs use are similar to other hiphop artists around the world. Afro-funk, jazz, reggae and soul are all important, but many turntablists are also influenced by the folk music of Africa (featuring “tribal” rhythms and tight vocal harmonies). South Africa’s musicians have added one branch onto the hiphop family tree by creating kwaito. It’s hard to pin down the exact origin of kwaito, but it began sometime in the early 1980’s, and sounds like house music (another derivative of hiphop, this time from England) mixed with reggae vocals. It’s dance music, but its lyrics often address social problems, much like South Africa’s rappers.



Japan’s hiphop scene is centered in Tokyo, although there are crews and b-boys and b-girls all over the country. The hiphop scene in Japan is almost as old as the hiphop scene in the United States—the first Japanese hiphop record came out in 1986 (made by Itou Seikou & Tinnie Punx and President BPM). In the early 1980’s, many Japanese teenagers were discovering reggae and American soul music, and since hiphop grew out of those musical traditions, it only makes sense that the hip Japanese music consumers would stumble upon hiphop music, too. Breakdancing and graffiti art also were imported from the United States, and became incredibly popular—they were the easiest elements of hiphop culture to get involved with. While American hiphop music was popular, many of the Japanese fans did not speak English, and so did not understand what the MCs were saying. This may be why the Japanese scene was focused on the look of hiphop, instead of the message, for many years.

Image was the most important factor of this scene from the mid 1980’s through the mid 1990’s. Hiphop was seen as an American phenomenon, and acting and looking like an American hiphop fan was the most important thing in the scene. However, some Japanese hiphop fans misinterpreted hiphop’s message of inclusiveness, and thought that being a real hiphop fan meant that you needed to “act black.” Japanese hiphop fans took this a bit far in the early 1990s, when it was popular to go to tanning salons or use products to darken your skin (one such product was called “African Special”). Many fans even had their hair put into dreadlocks or puffed into afros. Wearing baggy pants, hooded sweatshirts, expensive running shoes, and flashy jewelry was also popular. Breakdancing and graffiti were slightly more important to the scene than the music—while breakdancing’s popularity was declining in the United States, the original breakers were celebrities in Japan. Some even helped to open breakdancing schools, which are still popular.

One criticism of Japanese hiphop is that the culture is totally focused on the image of hiphop, and often loses the messages behind the music. While this has been true in the past, and may be to an extent, now, the focus began to shift in the mid 1990’s. Japanese DJs like DJ Krush and DJ Honda began to export their records and began collaborating with American hiphop artists. Because of these DJs and their success in America, there began to be a flow of communication between hiphop fans in the U.S. and in Japan. As a result, Japanese hiphoppers were exposed to new musicians and new ideas—some began to think about hiphop’s message more. Also, U.S. fans began to hear more from Japanese hiphop groups, which spurred the groups to create more unique music. Now, in 2002, the Japanese hiphop scene is much like the current United States scene- there are popular groups that focus more on image and style, and underground groups that have begun to make music about their lives and current situations—like underground hiphop artists around the world. Some of the current underground groups include: Dassen 3, King Giddra, Rhymester, Shakkazombie, Lamp Eye, and Microphone Pager. These crews are made up of several MCs and a DJ, and sound as diverse as American hiphop. For example, Shakkazombie is slow and bass-heavy, and sounds like a cross between horrorcore rap and West Coast hiphop, while Microphone Pager’s hiphop is more poppy and uptempo.



Because of the historical circumstances brought about by the Cold War, the story of hiphop in Germany has two beginnings, both of which lie in the enthusiastic reception to breakdancing in their respective locales.  In capitalist West Germany, hiphop’s beats and rhymes were considered by many listeners as merely a backdrop for breakdancers to exhibit their moves.  As a result, the popularity of hiphop music was ultimately tied to the fortunes of breaking, which bloomed into a short-lived fad that for the most part, died out about two years after it began to be widely adopted by West German youth in 1983.  During this period, newly-formed dance crews vied for superiority in local competitions that were oftentimes conducted in accordance to the line that divided German from foreigner and white from non-white.  As the thirst for this novel form of creative expression abated, so did the image of breakdancing as hip and cutting-edge.  Thus rap music also disappeared from the cultural radar during the late 1980’s, the only major exception being the success enjoyed by Run-DMC.  Colors, a 1988 film about LA gangs directed by Dennis Hopper, and the 1991 collaboration between Public Enemy and heavy metal band Anthrax did generate brief resurgences in interest for hiphop, though.  Also, the ubiqitous presence of American military installations in West Germany allowed some youth in surrounding areas to be exposed to the latest hiphop hits via armed forces radio.  However, the true hiphop renaissance in Germany would come after its two divided republics were reunified in 1990.

While hiphop was received by many West German youth on more or less a superficial basis, it took a much deeper hold in socialist East Germany and actually became a tool of the establishment.  Interestingly, research conducted by Mark Pennay reveals the large role played by government in the development of the East German hiphop scene through the propagation of the lifestyle as a means to serve Communist ideology.  A rather bizarre manifestation of this phenomenon was the Chrismastime tradition of televising the film Beat Street as an exhortation against the decadence and opportunism of capitalist societies.  The movie became quite popular with young people and the official interpretation of Beat Street shifted from a troublesome counterexample to socialism to a fascinating look into leisure activities adopted by the struggling American underclass.  The tacit approval of hiphop by authorities facilitated the development of a vibrant breakdancing culture in which young people could make a name for themselves by excelling at the numerous local and international competitions.  The music itself had great difficulty in taking a hold of the popular consciousness, a development attributed mainly to the language barrier that existed between German listeners and American rappers.  However, there indeed exist an (albeit limited) interest for hiphop music, which provided for the success enjoyed by the local group Down Town Lyricz in the late 1980’s.

The resurgence of a viable hiphop scene came during the years shortly following German reunification.  Inspired by a trip to the United States, a group of young men from Stuttgart returned home and emerged as Die Fantastischen Vier (The Fantastic Four), one of Germany’s first widely popular rap groups.  Their 1991 album Jetzt geht’s ab (Here Goes!) was a funky excursion into the ups and downs of life as a German teenager.  At this point, the nascent hiphop scene was vulnerable to charges of political obliviousness, a situation that would soon be rectified because of the pronounced deterioration of race relations arising from the economic turmoil of reunification.  As the prosperous West had to grapple with redeveloping the crumbling East, disgruntled sectors of society began to embrace far right-wing ideals, paving the way for the increased visibility of neo-Nazism and xenophobia.  Incidents of racist violence prompted a response from many hiphop musicians, the foremost voice belonging to Advanced Chemistry, a Heidelberg trio composed of immigrant youths.  Their 1992 single “Fremd im eigenen Land” (Foreign in My Own Country) decried the second-class status of foreign-born German citizens and epitomized the slew of antiracist anthems that were released the following year, which saw an unprecedented surge in the output of German rappers. 

As the 1990’s progressed, a discernible rift was carved out between hiphop purists like Advanced Chemistry, who insisted that rap music should never be separated from its original context within hiphop culture, and those aligned with the more pop-oriented camp, as represented by Die Fantastischen Vier.  Nevertheless, the commitment to innovative German-language rap espoused by those on either side of the divide helped the local scene to undergo a healthy development, in which German youth (many of them from African, Eastern European, and Turkish families) could both hear and be heard, especially in regards to social concerns.

Works cited

Pennay, Mark.  “Rap in Germany: The Birth of a Genre.”  Global Noise: Rap and Hip-

Hop Outside the USA.  Ed. Tony Mitchell.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

United Kingdom

The hiphop scene in the UK was, at first, heavily influenced by New York and L.A.-based hiphop. In the early 1980’s when U.S. hiphop records were being exported to other parts of the world, one of the first countries to receive them was the UK. While access was scarce, with only a few hundred copies of each LP being exported, hiphop was a hit in the club scene. Musicians began to imitate their favorite U.S. hiphop acts, and kids began to breakdance and graffiti the walls of major cities. Hiphop in the UK was very similar to US hiphop, because most of the musicians and boys were simply imitating the US hiphop culture.

Not surprisingly, many of the social constraints that helped to create hiphop in the US were present in the UK, too. In England, the conservative government was practicing the same style of governing as the conservative government in the US: neglecting the inner cities and the people who lived there. It was natural that the young people in these cities would turn to hiphop—it was the voice of dissention against this system and its inequalities.  One main difference between the US and UK scenes, at this point, was that US hiphop was mostly made and listened to by the poorer segments of US society; more often than not, that meant African Americans. In the UK, race was not as much as a factor as economic level. This means that hiphop was listened to by blacks, whites, Asians, Indians—there were poor people of all colors and races, and they all listened to hiphop. While tensions did exist between the different racial groups, it was much more harmonious than in the US. A constant flow of immigrants circling between the UK and the many British colonies and former colonies (there were laws that made it easy for any British subject to move between all British colonies and countries) created a diverse citizenry that were comfortable with many different kinds of music, from Caribbean reggae and calypso to Indian ragas. Punk was also a huge influence—it preceded hiphop in the UK by a few years, but expressed many of the same feelings: anger, confusion, the feeling of being forgotten about by society (Brian Cross, It’s Not About a Salary).

Due to these factors, once UK kids began to make their own hiphop, it was much different than US hiphop. In the early 1980’s, DJs in the UK began to mix Caribbean rhythms into the hiphop beats they heard from the likes of Grandmaster Flash. The result was “Ragga,” a genre that mixes laid-back reggae vocal styles with the slow bass beats of old school hiphop. Punk bands were also very intrigued with hiphop, and many began to add turntablists and MCs into their songs (The Clash, a popular punk band, released a song with rapping by New York graffiti artist Futura 2000 (David Toop, Rap Attack #3)). Many early UK artists made music that could most easily be categorized as electro. This is not surprising, as most Los Angeles artists who created electro were influenced by European electronic musicians—and European music was much easier to obtain in the UK. The UK hiphoppers had an advantage over their US counterparts when it came to finding source material from non-US bands.

The main difficulty with being a hiphop artist in the UK in the early days of hiphop was that there were few ways for your music to be heard. Radio and TV stations are programmed by the government-run BBC, and did not play much, if any, hiphop. The hiphop they did play needed to be very popular and watered down. Pirate radio stations (illegal, unlicensed stations) were often the only way to hear new, groundbreaking hiphop from around the world. Live shows were often the only way to stay connected to the scene, and breakdancing was just as vital as MCing and DJing. This is in contrast to the US, where by 1985, hiphop had become a commercially successful musical form. In the UK, public acceptance was much lower, and hiphop remained underground for much longer. This focus on live shows helped to create much of the electronic music that people enjoy today—house, trip hop, techno, rave, and trance. The DJs needed to be able to keep the show attendees entertained, and so began to scratch together many different kinds of music and vary the beats per minute (BPM) for their songs. The faster songs were preferred by the MCs, and soon became the

style that UK hiphop groups were known for. UK DJs were not only creating new music, they were well-respected by DJs around the world, with UK DJs winning the DMC world turntable championship for the first three years of its existence—1984-1986.

While some DJs began to create these new genres of music, there were plenty of b-boys and b-girls who still wanted to make hiphop. UK music labels began to release hiphop records in the mid 1980s, and gained some commercial success, but mostly with novelty records (such as Micron’s 1987 single, “Eastenders,” a tribute to the soap opera of the same name). By the late 1980’s, UK hiphop began to gain respect in other areas of the world, even in the U.S.

However, the lure of commercialism in the early 1990’s pulled many of the scene’s best producers and DJs into electronic music. Raves were becoming popular, and DJs who had honed their skills by playing in clubs with MCs were busy making tracks and playing at raves around the world. The total number of UK hiphop artists was declining, but the ones who remained were serious about their music. The amount of experimentation going on was phenomenal—no two acts sounded the same. Their underground status allowed them to be free from the main constraint that commercial artists suffered: the pressure to sell records. One thing that helped the scene was the BBC’s decision to air a one-hour hiphop show each week. This show was entirely focused on hiphop, and was an easy way for new acts to get their music played across all of England. By the mid 1990s, there were several UK hiphop labels and plenty of acts that had records released. While UK hiphop was not as commercially successful as US hiphop, there was a large underground network of fans that were devoted to the UK acts.

During the 1990’s, UK hiphop suffered several setbacks. The popularization of dance music again drew away many talented DJs and producers, US hiphop (especially gangsta rap) drew UK audiences away from homegrown talent, and the cancellation of the weekly BBC hiphop radio show made the UK hiphop scene struggle again. The major record labels refused to sign new hiphop acts and dropped the acts they had on their rosters. Luckily, everyone in the UK hiphop scene helped each other by forming collectives of DJs, MCs, and producers, some of who began their own small record labels. The lack of media support for UK hiphop made some in the scene very angry. Bandit, a British MC, began to circulate a petition that would require 40% of all radio content in England to be UK-made (similar to Canada’s content law). Some UK DJs and MCs have begun to pander to the mainstream audience that wants to hear US hiphop by having American MCs or DJs guest on tracks. The fast tempo of previous UK hiphop releases has been abandoned by some in favor of slow, laid-back, electro-influenced beats paired with equally lazy vocals. This genre, known as downtempo, has found popularity in many parts of the world. 

While UK hiphop has suffered many setbacks in the past ten years, and may not be well known outside of the UK, the scene there has helped to nurture some of the most popular music in the world. Without the UK underground scene, several genres of music, including trip-hop, jungle, trance, and ragga, would not exist. Today, the UK underground scene is very active, with crews like Against the Grain, Aspects, Headcase Ladz, and Task Force, MCs like Mydnite, Iceski, and K.N.S., and DJs like DJ Vadim, DJ MK, and DJ Semtex all creating music. Their approach to making music is very similar to that of the UK hiphop pioneers: to draw on musical sources that US hiphop often ignores or has no access to, and to continue to invent new genres by combining diverse styles of music.

North America

Los Angles

The beginnings of the Los Angeles scene are complex. Los Angeles has always been a creative center for musicians, especially jazz musicians, although many types of artists (visual and musical) have recorded and lived in the city since the 1940’s. One important creation in 1959 was the founding of the Arkestra, a collective of African-American artists. The Arkestra included musicians, painters, intellectuals, and poets, and was a catalyst for the growing discontent among African-Americans. The city had gradually been withdrawing resources from its poorer sections and residents, and by the mid 1960’s, the majority of African-Americans in Los Angeles were living in one poor section: Watts, in South Central Los Angeles. The people living in this section of the city were victims of economic and social disadvantages, including rampant police brutality and lack of basic services like public transit and access to jobs that paid living wages.

The results of these many influences were expressed in different ways. The Watts riots of 1965, during which 3952 people were arrested and 34 were killed (Brian Cross, It’s Not About a Salary…), was one way of expressing anger at the social system that created this imbalance in wealth. Many in Los Angeles used their rage to create powerful poetry. Gil Scott-Heron, Nikki Giovanni, the Watts Prophets, and the Last Poets are some of the most famous poets of this period. The Watts Prophets are credited with the first “hiphop” album made in Los Angeles, an ambitious, influential record that combined jazz music with their poetry. The rhythms, rhymes, slang, and diction of the language of the streets were captured on their record, Rappin’ Black in a White World (Brian Cross, It’s Not About a Salary), and set a precedent for West Coast musicians to follow.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the first few hiphop records from New York began to find their way to the West Coast. The records were popular, and locals began to imitate the scratching they heard. The differences between East and West Coast DJs are mainly in their source material. While New York’s original DJs were influenced by soul, funk, and reggae (many DJs were from or grew up in the Caribbean), the West Coast DJs were fascinated by electronic noises. They favored bands like Kraftwerk and were fans of the recently created Atari video game system. This difference in source materials led to a more processed, electronic sound that is still heard in hiphop today, in the “electro” genre.

The MCs on the West Coast were also more political than their counterparts, due to their connections with the poets mentioned in previously in this article. The constant harassment by police, as well as the economic depression, gave the MCs much to complain about. At the same time, however, these same conditions allowed them to give suggestions for ways to improve their own situations. These competing styles of MCing, uplifting versus telling the story “as it is,” are still the main types of rapping on the East Coast.

Parts of breakdancing were invented on the East Coast—“the robot” or “popping” had been created in the early 1970’s and was revived in the 1980’s and incorporated into the breakdancer’s repertoire. Graffiti was also a common sight in Los Angeles, but in a slightly different fashion. South Central, the locus of hiphop activity, had almost no public transit—there wasn’t a subway in L.A., and there were few buses. In New York, part of the point of graffiti was creating it on a mobile canvas that would be seen by a large portion of the city. In L.A., graffiti was usually applied onto the many bridges and overpasses in the extensive highway system.

L.A.’s focus on the car instead of public transit has influenced the scene in many ways. In New York, most hiphop culture was localized to certain areas or blocks. Each area had their own DJs, MCs, and breakers, and would have parties in a centrally located park or other public space. This helped to solidify crews in New York, loose collections of b-boys who lived near each other and enjoyed the same music. In Los Angeles, there were not many public spaces to have shows. In order to experience live music and breakdancing, people would have to travel by car to another part of the city. This had several repercussions. Hiphop culture in Los Angeles was shared by all b-boys in the area—there were no closely-knit crews. People did not attend shows as much, and instead listened to hiphop while participating in a typical Los Angeles activity: driving. Music sounds different when played in small car speakers versus large speakers like the ones at shows. West Coast musicians realized this and began to change their style to accommodate the new venue for music. This is sometimes said to be the main difference between East Coast and West Coast hiphop: that East Coast hiphop is meant to be heard on headphones while commuting on subways and buses, and that West Coast hiphop sounds better while driving in a car (Brian Cross, It’s Not About a Salary, and David Toop, Rap Attack #3).

The current scene on the West Coast can be traced back to these origins, although it has split into three distinctive scenes: commercial and “new old school”. Gangsta rap is commercial; the style created by hard living, gang-bangin’ L.A. MCs has been watered down to be palatable for a mainstream audience (Bakari Kitwana, The Rap on Gangsta Rap). The MCs making gangsta rap are now more likely to be living in posh mansions than on the streets of South Central.

New old school rap has become popular, with loose collectives and crews made up of several MCs and DJs trading rhymes and beats in the style of 1980’s vintage hiphop (for example, Jurassic 5). These brand-new, old school crews have helped to spark an interest in the jazz musicians of the past. The Roots even bring live jazz musicians on tour with them, instead of relying on recorded background music. This old-school influenced scene also includes uplifting, positive lyrics; you can hear the Watts Prophet’s socially conscious poems in the lyrics of Aceyalone (a former member of the Freestyle Fellowship), Black Eyed Peas, Blackalicious (who did a track with activist and poet Nikki Giovanni), and many others. Lumping all of these diverse artists into one genre is helpful for classification systems, but does not show the depth of the underground scene in L.A. Many different subgenres can be created out of this broad category, including the jazz-influenced hiphop like the Cali Agents, the psychedelic-influenced beats and bizarre rhymes of Casual (and the other members of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien’s Heiroglyphics crew), the politically charged lyrics of The Coup, and DJ Shadow’s unique turntable genius. The L.A. and California hiphop scene may be one of the oldest in the world, but the musicians and rappers who help define it are constantly pushing the boundaries of hiphop and creating new sounds in the underground.


New Zealand

New Zealand has proven to be quite fertile ground for the development of local hiphop scenes and boasts a diverse ethnic makeup that includes people of European, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent.  The former British colony has had a long history of racial tensions as the indigenous Maori people have struggled for cultural as well as political sovereignty.  Like other marginalized groups, the Maori have adopted hiphop as an outlet for creative expression and social protest in the face of a dominant white culture.  As the Aotearoa (New Zealand’s original Maori name) scene has developed, Maori musicians have incorporated preexisting musical traditions in order to indigenize hiphop and have even recorded in the Maori language to produce a sound that incorporates elements of American hiphop but yet remains uniquely Maori.  Furthermore, musicians representing the sizable population of immigrants from other Pacific Islands such as Niue, Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa have joined with Maori artists to assert a shared Polynesian heritage.

Similar to the rise of hiphop in Germany, New Zealanders first became acquainted with the culture through breakdancing.  According to a brief history of New Zealand hiphop by Tony Mitchell, breaking arrived sometime around 1983 through contacts with Western Samoa and by 1984, local breakdancing teams comprised mainly of Maori and other Pacific Islander youngsters began entertaining the country via televised performances and various competitions.  However, this initial boom died out soon thereafter, as the media began to correlate breakdancing with gangs and drug use.  1984 also saw the first local pop hit to be influenced by hiphop, “Poi E,” by Patea Maori Club.  The number one single combined rapping with Maori chants and poi, a traditional dance.  The eager identification with African-American cultural forms by Maori youth, from music and dance to fashion and even gang names, cannot be readily ignored.  One explanation for this phenomenon posits that the poor visibility of Maori culture in the media has resulted in an underdeveloped sense of cultural identity among Maori youth.  As a result, the appropriation of elements of black American culture has served to strengthen local cultural identity at points where it has been considered weakly formed.  Whatever the validity of this theory, it remains a fact that hiphop culture has gained a wide acceptance in New Zealand. 

As years passed, the output of local artists grew steadily, from Upper Hutt Posse’s 1988 single, “E Tu” to 3 the Hard Way’s 1994 anthem “Hip-Hop Holiday.”  The former achieved great success in the early 1990’s, as they rode high with their smash album Against the Flow and were featured as the opening act for Public Enemy.  By the time 1995’s Movement in Demand was released, Upper Hutt Posse’s music had grown more militant, as it mixed English and Maori-language raps with indigenous instruments and the Nation of Islam’s black nationalist rhetoric.  3 the Hard Way, along with labelmates Urban Disturbance, dominated the New Zealand hiphop scene in the mid-1990’s and enjoyed the most commercial success of their compatriots.  In the case of the latter, a shift towards a sound more reminiscent of drum n’ bass and trip hop reflected the cultural ties that still bound New Zealand to the former British motherland.  Nevertheless, it did not detract from the fact that formerly foreign music was being utilized as a vehicle to assert the cultural identity of the city-dwelling Maori.  This period was thus marked by recognition of the fertile and ever-growing local hiphop scene.  The 1994 album Proud, a compilation of rap, reggae, and R&B songs by Otara-based Maori and Polynesian artists topped the charts and was hailed by critics as a reinvigorating shot in the arm for New Zealand pop music.  Embodying an “Urban Pacific Streetsoul” aesthetic, Proud was a landmark release that asserted the bond uniting native Maori and Polynesian immigrants and featured contributions from groups like Sisters Underground, OMC, Pasifikan Descendents, and Semi MCs. 

1997 also brought glad tidings for New Zealand’s hiphop listeners as Dam Native debuted with the album Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted (KDRU).  Songs like “Behold My Cool Style” and “Horrified One” attacked the problems of race by asserting the positive contributions of Maori culture and by deconstructing the pejorative language and images used to represent the Maori.  When a number of hiphop releases, including KDRU and “Chains” by DLT featuring Che Fu won top prizes at the New Zealand Music Awards, it was hailed by media as a major turning point in the evolving tastes of New Zealand’s music listeners.  Despite such official accolades, however, many Maori artists still complained of a lack of support from the local record industry.

Despite such perceived obstacles, local hiphop artists have remained persistent in ensuring the growth of the New Zealand scene.  One example of this do-it-yourself ethos has been the emergence of Dawn Raid Entertainment, a record label founded by former college friends YDNA and Brotha D, a founding member of popular rap group Lost Tribe.  Dawn Raid released its first compilation Southside Story in 2000 and went on to expose the talent of acts like Deceptikonz, Kaos, and Ill Semantics.  Another trend that has continued from the late 1990’s onward is the sense of solidarity that hiphop has engendered among the Maori and Polynesian communities.  One of 2000’s hiphop milestones was King Kapisi’s debut album Savage Thoughts, a crowning achievement that featured the anthems “Reverse Resistance” and “2nd Migration” and even broke out onto the music charts in neighboring Australia.  A New Zealander of Samoan descent, Kapisi frequently centers his rhymes on regional tensions, such as French testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific.  Thus, far from being a mere reflection of their American counterparts, New Zealand hiphop artists have commandeered a malleable art form to establish a vibrant local scene that has found it unnecessary to constantly look across the Pacific for musical inspiration.

Works Cited:

Dawn Raid Entertainment.  2002.  9 April 2002.

Mitchell, Tony.  “Kia Kaha! (Be Strong!): Maori and Pacific Islander Hip-Hop in Aotearoa-New Zealand.”  Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA.  Ed. Tony Mitchell.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

Paligaru, Clement.  “King Kapisi & the Rise of Samoan Hip-Hop.”  The Space: ABC

Online Arts Gateway.  2002.  9 April 2002.

South America


The burgeoning of the Chilean hiphop scene came during the early 1990’s after the end of the repressive Pinochet dictatorship, which strictly monitored media during its sixteen-year regime.  Chilean youth began to be exposed to the politically charged raps of acts like Public Enemy and KRS-One largely through records and cassettes received from relatives in New York.  As a result, old record players were salvaged, city parks became showcases for local breakdancers to try out their moves, and elaborate hiphop-style graffiti began appearing side-by-side with the hastily scrawled political messages traditionally emblazoned on public spaces.  Acts like Las Panteras Negras (The Black Panthers) and Decedientes de la Calle (Descendents of the Street) made up the local rap pantheon and helped to transform the youth culture of urban centers like Santiago, Serena, and Viña del Mar.  The latter saw its scene develop with much help from the Internet, as hiphop fan Kaco began downloading music and freely distributing it to the community in 1996.  The thirst for hiphop proved to be unquenchable and that year saw the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers become the most bootlegged tape in Chile.  Kaco then teamed up with Abismal (who would later go on to become a member of DDC) to organize and promote shows for local artists to display their talent. 

However, it became clear that there was a noticeable break between the popularity of the superficial trappings of American hiphop culture and a deeper understanding of the social and political aims of its proponents.  While teenagers eagerly started donning baggy, oversized clothing (oftentimes resorting to fashioning it themselves for lack of retail outlets), they also began to construct a romanticized image of U.S. ghetto life as portrayed on media sources like MTV.  As a result, elements of hiphop that have gained greater acceptance elsewhere, particularly the DJ battle, have remained underdeveloped in Chile.  However, the socially conscious material produced by the less materialistic of American rappers, such as the members of the Native Tongues posse, proved to be a positive influence on local groups like Tiro de Gracia, Chile’s first double-platinum hiphop act.  As with the other myriad locales where hiphop has gained a foothold, Chile and its scenes are constantly finding ways to fit hiphop to a local mold and give it an indigenous voice. 

Works Cited:

Bravo,Vee and Tarik Gause.  “South American Hip-Hop.” 2 March 2000.  Stress

Wiretap (6 Feb 2002)

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