Kiwi-Samoan artist King Kapisi’s 1997 hit Reverse Resistance raised the standard for music. It sent shock waves through Aotearoa’s underground hip hop scene and with it, Kapisi became the first-ever hip hop artist to win the coveted Silver Scroll for song writing.
In the words of hip hop artists Dirty and Eno, “he exudes hip hop and Pasifika as well.”
Kapisi grew up in Wellington but maintained a strong connection with his ancestral home of Samoa. He found inspiration in Samoan hip hop group The Mau, which fused hip hop with Samoan culture. For Kapisi, The Mau expanded the realm of what was possible in music.
“I have a very strong cultural roots connection to my home of Samoa,” Kapisi reflects. “The difference between most rappers and me was that I was going to represent me and my hood, my country, and the area that I’m from. And so I make South-Pacific hip hop.”
This South-Pacific focus shines through. In his lyrics, rapped over stripped-back guitars, drums, and even an orchestral string section, he speaks of combating colonialism. He focuses on the religion it brought into Samoa and the lives it “fucked up”. The song stands in resistance to colonial power calling for its reversal.
Even Reverse Resistance’s music video, filmed on Savai’i, in his village of Fagamalo, works to this end. Directed by Kapisi’s sister, Sima Urale, it shows Samoa not as a commercialisedholiday destination or a page out of National Geographic, but as living place in its own right.
It moves hip hop from the hood to the Islands.
NZ hip hop artist Melodownz recalls watching the video with his Samoan grandmother: “I’d never been to Samoa, so she was telling me about where things were and stuff in that video... It made her happy.”
Reverse Resistance is a dope, high-quality, well-composed song, but more than that – it is music as a tool and as a weapon. King Kapisi’s uncompromising style emanates Samoan pride.
He smiles, “I’m very, very lucky that my whole career I’ve made music that I like and I actually dig, and I can live with it because I don’t have to change for anyone. Just me.”
This episode explores how King Kapisi uses his music discuss the effects of colonisation, show Samoan pride and share the stories that matter to him. As Scribe says, “that’s why he’s the king.”
NZ Hip Hop Stand Up was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.