Chip Matthews is the Breakfast host (with Dylan C) on Auckland's Base FM and -- as the following makes clear -- the bass player on a string of important records; the most recent of them being Home Brew's eponymous debut album.
As part of the research for the Pacific Auckland story in the new issue of Metro magazine, I asked Chip for some thoughts on cultural connections to Auckland hip hop. His response was prodgious and soulful. As it happened, I couldn't use any of it in the story -- but I think is worth sharing.
My personal buzz starts with my whakapapa. Father was a Maori fella from Rangi Point in the Hokianga. My Mother was born of an English-born father and a NZ-born mother, and lived in Auckland all her life. We moved around a bit when we were younger, following the old man as he worked on the pipeline. In some ways, we were the typical post-urban migration multi-racial families.
Musically, my buzz comes from my father and his family. Always had music around us at family parties, very stock-standard party stuff (fuck, I miss them days too). The test of one's prowess seemed to be tied to being able to play Peter Posa's "Guitar Boogie" or the like. My dad taught me my first chord when I was seven or so. It was an E.
Started playing bass around the age of eight, put it on the back burner through intermediate, and by default, picked it up in college. Played in school groups, kinda just blah blah'd my way through. Left school, fucked around for years. Did a few operatic society-type shows and the like. Then, in 1996, stopped work and kinda just started playing more -- shitty paid jazz gigs etc
Then in a week, it all kinda changed.
I had just come off of a national jazz big band youth tour. Then I got a call from Godfrey de Grut to see if I would like to audition for The New Loungehead. Had a jam with them on the Tuesday, I think. Met the band, including Isaac Tucker on drums. On the Friday of the same week, I got a message from Isaac to call him. I did, and he asked if I would like to go into the studio and do some demo stuff for Che. Che? Yeah Che. Oh, the brown dude from Supergroove (internal monologue ftw!). Had no idea what to expect, so drove over to town, to York Street B (then in Shortland Street), playing Supergroove on my car stereo. I mean, how different could it be?
That weekend was pretty transforming. Before then, I was a fan of hip hop. My first tape I bought myself was Run DMC's Raising Hell. I celebrated the end of my School C exams by going to Public Enemy. But in regards to New Zealand hip hop, my knowledge and experience started burgeoning. I didn't touch the bass for the first couple of days in York B. My herb tolerance skyrocketed, and on the final night, DLT came in with the version of 'Chains' that was about to go to air. Things were about to pop off.
I ended up re-recording basslines, I think about a year or so later. In 1998, I played my first gig as bass player with Token Village. That crew consisted of Isaac Tucker (drumms), Submariner (keys), Ned Ngatae (guitar), and Juse (DJ), along with MCs Che, King Kapisi, Phatmospheric and Ras Dan. That gig was also my first time playing Pasifika.
Then from that point, there would've been recordings (hip hop wise) such as:
King Kapisi - Savage Thoughts
Unique's debut album
Che's next two albums
Ladi 6's albums
I've been so lucky to see what I feel was a transformational period around the turn of the century. Sitting in the room as DLT and Che listened to 'Chains', I had no idea that this song was gonna blow up so huge. Following that, it was like suddenly hip hop, which obviously had a history going back to the 80s, (Against The Flow from UHP was the first NZ music I bought myself), was the music de jour.
At arm's length at first I feel, but DLT's True School album paved the way for Che's album. Suddenly a credible pathway was open. Credible in that now it was more than the hip hop community, but indeed the public started buying into it. It probably helped that a large part of Che's albums, and indeed the first singles, were sung. But Che always sought to firmly lay his solo career roots in hip hop. And it was hip hop. Personally, hearing my basslines, and quite immature playing style on an album with such a singer was pretty amazing.
Around this time, I also got to record for King Kapisi, as well as tour with the bro to Oz for some shows. The tour aspect brought me into first contact with Danny from Dam Native. I still have a photo of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag hung outside the flat we were staying in. Kapisi was similar in his kaupapa with his culture, but with the addition of being virulently anti-religion. So he was a dichotomy: being proud of fa'a samoa but also shunning the introduced colonial religion -- perhaps religion in general.
Around this time, I was becoming more aware of my identity. I knew my Dad was Maori, it was pretty obvious. I knew most of my cousins were Maori, I saw them all the time. But I never really made the connection to me. Being Pakeha, I kinda took my Maori side "for granted". But being involved with musicians such as these brought to me an awareness of my Pacific heritage. It empowered me to want to know and be proud of that side. Hip hop did that for me -- it led me to the pathway for me to choose.
All of this happened before 2000. The new century shit just went wild. We did Navigator and it went multi-platinum. 'Fade Away' ran tings pon de airwaves, Misty Frequencies and the like were absorbed and cradled not just by the traditional "urban" market, but by the audience in general.
The Nesians followed this up with their brand of Poly-funk. But their styles definitely continued a style that was New Zealand: the old hip hop/R 'n 'B-inflected vocal mashups. And what I liked about the Nesians was that they embraced the Polybrand. It was so proud, and for me, those years were like a turning point, or a new stake in the ground, when looking at our city's identity.
Scribe's album blew everything to a new level in regards to Hip Hop and how it was received. 'Stand Up' served just as a fuckin' great hook, but it was really like someone was saying that NZ hip hop, it's there for us. You know what I mean? Look at the video and you see the commercial side of our industry peeps, you got the underground, the breakers, and general Joe Public, all in one place, in one video, supporting the kaupapa.
At that point, I really think the relationship between Hip Hop and "the community" was amazing. I felt a vibe, a connectedness with Pacifica. Having always been around multi-culturalism, it wouldn't seem a biggie, but to me it was. It enabled me, this music, to have a look into the cultures of my colleagues, and their different relationships to their own culture.
Note King Kapisi who is so aware and proud of facets of fa'a samoa, but also hugely critical of the aspects which he found not forward-thinking. I was also surrounded by NZ-born P.I. musicians, so they had similar diasporic stories. They were similar to mine, with my father being a product of the urban migration and his subsequent disengagement from Te Ao Maori.
And with hip hop's history in NZ coming through the likes of UHP, and Dam Native amongst others, then I saw a situation where Hip Hop also had the ability to be identity affirming. Around that time too, Askew was organising graffiti events in Aotea Square, the summit had a presence … it was all, in hip hop slang, gee.
I would argue though, that there was an element of standoffishness. Part of that is to do with the listenership. As much as NZ hip hop has grown, developed, matured, I believe we're still hamstrung by the Mai/Flava factor. I've felt that there has been a lack of support for NZ hip hop in general through these stations. Opensouls, as "hip hop" as we were, were never playlisted on these stations as we didn't fit the format. Really? An urban collective of musicians playing an urban-centric genre not being suitable?
I taught a class about hip hop recently and I was surprised a) at how much some did know about NZ's hip hop history, but b) that the majority of them were not engaged with local hip hop. If we are going to engage this Pacifican city of ours through hip hop, I would argue that there needs to be a change at the mass communication level to allow this.
It's similar with graffiti. We have some amazing artists. Askew is world-known for his work, SP23 (Component) through a combination of more above-board work, mixed with his street level stencilling, and social commentary: such important facets that are by and large ignored by the powers that be.
Note the grey-walling in time for the Rugby World Cup. At a time where the different elements of our artistic community could be given such a platform, and yet those in charge (including a Mayor who came in on the back of being in touch with the urbanite) chose the pathway of censorship, even on walls where the work was allowed.
To me, that shows a disconnect between the potential and the actuality. There needs to be a dialogue between officialdom and the hip hop community. Imagine more workshopping with artists. Take away the negative conotations associated with graff and give it a medium where it can teach and inspire, as well as highlight art versus vandalism. Or get the youth working with MC's, allowing them to see it is poetry, that it can form part of a social commentary which I think exemplifies the NZ reaity, and the place of that within a world context.
Home Brew. It has been such an interesting ride with these cats. I came in late in the piece. I first heard of them through one of the crew when he told me I had been name-dropped in 'Friday'. So I quickly went and downloaded Last Week and had a listen. It blew me away. The lyricism was so firmly rooted within the local context, almost in a local dialect, but was still talking about stuff that people do all over the world.
That Tom mentioned who he did in his songs displayed an awareness of his local music environs And yes, whilst it highlights aspects of a lifestyle that many a parent would NOT want their children to follow, beneath that layer is an honesty and a rawness that I think many in our society can learn from.
There was a self-deprecating look both at himself, but at the wider audience as well. Critiquing the negative parts of the No8 mentality that so many in NZ firmly cling to, was brilliant. And what a great cross section of our community it brings together. Whether it be our bros from Otahuhu, our local inner city contingent, and of course Tom and Lui's inner west life (I'm from the poor part of the Shore), Home Brew is Auckland at its best!
Hip hop has an important role in our glorious city. Our hip hop community has been industrious and innovative. Those in power should harness that fact.