In 1988, Upper Hutt Posse released Aotearoa’s first ever rap song, E Tū. Years later, the Hip Hop group stood on stage at the New Zealand Vodafone Music Awards, broadcast live to the nation, finally gaining the recognition they deserved for their landmark contribution to New Zealand music.
Their belated induction to NZ’s Music Hall of Fame “didn’t mean shit” to Upper Hutt Posse member DLT.
It is the song that means something to him, not the accolades but the message.
And it was this sentiment that the song’s writer and lead rapper, Te Kupu, was still relaying, on live television, 30 years later.
Thinking back to Te Kupu’s acceptance speech, DLT laughs, “We all knew he was going to go there so we didn’t prepare nothing.”
Like his song, Te Kupu’s speech at the Music Awards drew lines between New Zealand’s colonial past and the struggle for Māori rights in New Zealand’s present. He called out power. He singled out the Prime Minister. He didn’t water anything down.
This mainstream recognition for Upper Hutt Posse was long overdue. At the song’s release, the group faced a backlash from all sides. It was too political or too flippant. It used swear words and was too ‘pro-Māori’. Talkback radio callers complained about the song being anti-police, blatantly twisting Te Kupu’s lyrics. And the song’s meaning simply went over people’s heads.
“It [E Tū] was just showing love for us,” DLT says. “If you are ignorant E Tū looks like a racist song about some Maoris pissed off at Pakehas. No, no, no. E Tū is about promoting my ancestral past to everyone! You got ears? If you hear it, it’s for you.”
Today, E Tū stands as a song celebrating Māori culture and heritage. It’s about Kotahitanga. And its iconic lyrics inspired a generation of Kiwi hip-hop artists to come.
“It’s great to be inducted into the music hall of fame,” Posse member Teremoana Rapley says, “but the purpose of that song is about people standing up for what is right. It comes from the depth of understanding what your place is in this world and knowing it so well that you can stand up and lift your head and be proud of where you come from.”
This episode follows Upper Hutt Posse as they discuss their successes, their failings, and how issues of racism, youth suicide and self-love, worked their way into their music. And we hear the untold story of why Bennett finally left the posse.
Made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.