One random Wednesday in Auckland I catch up with DJ, Grantis for breakfast. We’re in Kingsland at Shaky Isles Coffee Co. Grant is eating muesli out of a pop-top jar and I’m having eggs benedict off a chopping board. It’s unsure whether the aesthetics at Shaky Isles make the food taste better, but we munch away regardless. After breakfast, Grant will pick up another DJ, TDK, for the Brew Up Show at Base FM in Ponsonby. And I am off to pick up King Homeboy; a man I have tried to interview since 2009 when he broke the record for the world’s longest beatbox. With the event taking place at the time of the annual 40 Hour Famine fundraiser; King’s contribution to the charity would be his ‘vocal kung fu’. The plan was to fundraise money by beatboxing for 40 hours straight. Though he only reached 34 hours, he still broke the record for the world’s longest beatbox. Afterwards his mouth was left riddled with ulcers and blisters. He finished his beatboxing plight dazed and dehydrated, but victorious nonetheless. The next goal for him was The World Beat Box Championships, which he attended last year in Germany. Originally a beloved Wellingtonian, I’d met King many times busking on the streets in the capital. ‘I’m still Māori,’ he’d tell me when I asked how he was, a notorious answer of his, which he says he hasn’t yet begun using in Auckland because people don’t know him well enough, ‘but they will.’ He says to Whendidyoufallinlovewithhiphop, all it means is he ‘is himself’. With a documentary and a new album in the works; the interview reveals that Tamaki Makau Rau and it’s big city energy is treating him well in terms of motivation-for-self. Soon enough he says, the famous phrase recognized by his Wellington friends and supporter, ‘still Maori’ will creep back into his vocab; as his wisdom as a person and friend undeniably touches those wherever he is.
HH: What can people look out for from you in the months to come?
K: More videos online. Just doing my beatboxing but also hopefully by the end of this year I will have my personal album out which the New Zealand music community have been crying out for… to the point where they want to strangle my neck [ for taking too long].
HH: And you have a documentary coming out?
K: Yes I do. I have a full length documentary coming out that’s based on me, my life and my beatboxing — we’ll see my travels towards the World Championships which were in Germany last year.
HH: Have you seen any of it yet?
K: No I haven’t. I’m one of these fullas that don’t like looking at myself that often. It’s like I’ve already done it, I was there already, so why do I have to see myself on this…But I can say you also see me and the documentary crew fundraising for it in Wellington and that was lots of fun.
HH: How was Germany?
K: It was really awesome. I was actually really privileged, because originally I was just going to go there and do the typical Māori’ ones and just stay there for like four days just for the tournament; but a lot of musicians and people who have travelled over the other side of the world advised me to stay there for at least a month because you know it was like, ‘it’s your first time there’ and if you are going to go there then make the most of it, so I stayed there for a month after the tournament. Now the World Championship — I got a lot of words to say about that, but that’s a different story there. [He was knocked out in the first round of the battles]. Afterwards I was able to, in this very short period of time, sort out some other gigs. Some of the gigs I did were pretty awesome when I actually think about it, like I did two gigs with two very legendary German hip hop DJ’s over there, Plattenpapzt and DJ Tomekk, and I was able to have the opportunity to do a club set with them too. The place where we were at, Düsseldorf, was a really high-end place.
HH: How did you feel being there?
K: [Laughs] I was like ‘churr’. You know, cause seeing the Germans like looking at me because they don’t know, they don’t see Māori’s at all on the other side of the world, and all they think is like, he must be Turkish or Indian. But then they’re like, hang on wait, what’s a Polynesian? And they’re like ‘oh you Māori’, oh, you’re All Black?’ And it was like, ‘Nah, I’m brown.’ [laughs]. But yeah Düsseldorf — besides the dairy and supermarkets being like one or two the rest of the place is like 10 euros for a chocolate bar which is like $22 here.
HH: Was it a nice chocolate bar?
K: It tastes the same as the one in the supermarket! So I just headed for the dairy. Besides all of that, the people over there, in the hip hop scene, it felt like, not to be sad, but an updated version of a Courtney Place crowd. You know they’re only just there, just in the scene; the whole this is cool, so I want to be cool too. In saying that, some of them wouldn’t get it at all what I was doing, but some of them did. It just took them a while to fully express that.
“You know, the mana of someone. And it’s like oh well, ‘just think of a person in the dark trying to be noticed without a spotlight”
HH: How is the hip hop scene there?
K: It’s really good. There’s just more people…Me being so condensed in Wellington for most of my life, seeing so many like-minded people on the other side of the world was really choice. With more numbers you can find more like-minded people on the same wave length as yourself. The people I stuck with were also like me… it took a while [to connect] because I don’t speak German that much and for them to speak English over there, it’s secondary and quite slow.
HH: How was it when you came home?
K: It felt a bit weird when I was home for awhile after that it really set me off to search the internet for international hip hop songs — different dialects. There were a few songs in German that I really liked, I may not understand what they’re saying, but it’s just the sound of it. And even now I’m on this whole [idea] of just understanding. When international people see me on the street in NZ and they want to rap with me, they try and rap in English, and I know they’re sort of finding it hard to rap in English so I always tell them to rap in their own launguage because you’ll be able to express more. And you see it straight away, they just open up and you see the words fly out. Even if it’s bad words, you know. I’m not looking for the [that]. I might not understand what they’re saying but for some reason, after a while, I start to understand what they’re trying to say.
HH: Is that because you’re in a cypher and you can feel it?
K: Yeah. It’s like all I’m providing in the background is just, like this song here,(Grant1s drops Six Million Ways by Emanon at the Base studio), all I’m providing is a nice groove at the background but it’s to make the foreground fuel for words at the front. So even though I might be beatboxing along, I am trying to listen too. Just in my mind, you know, I’ve got a hold of the music but all I want to listen to is the words that are coming out and the feeling of it. They could say anything but if they’re feeling it you can just see their aura comes straight out and that’s another thing that people sort of struggle with [to understand], when I talk about mana, you know, the mana of someone. And it’s like oh well, ‘just think of a person in the dark trying to be noticed without a spotlight’. For some reason your so called imagination can start picking them out…that’s mana. It’s like all the lights are turned out, you can’t see anything and that person’s trying to be seen in the dark but there’s no torch…You know, your imagination sees this energy that starts beaming out to you — no one else can see it. You can.
HH: That makes me wonder how your Māori culture ties in with your music?
K: I think, also, like the connection to everything as well. Like my connection when I’m in Wellington, that’s my home. That’s where my kaupapa is from. It’s my area. It’s where my ancestry ranges from. So every time I go back there, of course, it’s like home base, and I recover, recharge. [In Auckland] I can still stretch out, I’m still on home soil, you know, but I’m in a different city. In saying that, since going to a place like Australia, Germany or Japan respecting the law of the land over there, it’s different… in an urbanized way when people ask me, this is just me, but when people ask me like, ‘oh hey bro what ya been up to?” I still say, ‘I’m still Maori.’
HH: What do you mean when you say that? I’ve always wondered.
K: Don’t worry the whole world always wonders about that, and some people think it’s sort of a racist, but it’s not. It’s pretty much me saying in a different way that I’m just being myself [and it’s] for people to understand that, to create an impact. If I was to say, ‘ah bro just being myself’, that doesn’t have an impact does it?
HH: How did you figure out you wanted to beatbox?
K: By accident. 1998. Winter. I was at home and had the flu. It was like five degrees and I was at home in the lounge, on the couch underneath two mink blankets; next to the fire with like a hot cup of Milo and a packet of Tim Tams. We were watching Oprah at lunch time. There was no Sky back then. So I was watching Oprah, and coughing. I was coughing away, then in the middle of it, I accidentally did like a rhythmical pattern. At first I didn’t think much of it. I was thinking you know, ‘what a egg’ [laughs]. ‘What a egg, nah, nah cut that out’. But then you know when something sort of interests you, but you’re not fully convinced of it yet, but you still wanna check it out. Like what’s this all about; one month after that I played around with it, just to myself. I was still sort of laughing at it. Then one month later I went to my school library and started to do some research. What I found is that it’s actually been around for most of my childhood and I never really realized it. Then I found it under the understanding of the word, ‘vocal percussion’. After that, the rest is history…There’s many chronicles and episodes between then and now — that was 14 years ago.
HH: And you’ve been dancing while being in Auckland?
K: Since coming up to Auckland, yup. Which I have always wanted to do for a awhile. For many years I was around the wrong people…there’s too many politics [behind it and] I’m not gong to name names but I was just around people who wouldn’t show me their moves and all that, or give me the opportunity to learn and respect what they were doing. [I was] trying to dance exactly like them with respect, you know? So up here I’ve joined the Auckland popping community and I’ve joined it without using my profile. They’ve just opened arms to me and even them, themselves, when they realize I beatbox they’re just like, ‘ah yeah that’s right, I forgot about that’.
HH: When did you fall in love with hip hop?
K: I think…That’s a hard question really because music’s been around all my life. Like you know, just to pick out one genre is real hard because I’ve got memories like; I’m cleaning up the house and dad’s got Cook Island music playing in the background. Or mum’s cooking and she’s got Patea Māori Club or you know aunty and uncle are having a party at the house and you hear like Nolan Sisters or Womack and Womack, Luther Vandross, Julio Iglesias, Diana Ross. Then my sisters recording RTR countdown and RTR special during after schools and all that. Even now, even though hip hop is my strongest point, that’s not my only point, just because of the musicians that I have had the privilege to be accounted with. And able to have discussions with and pick their brains, then fuse it into my own mind. I think also that’s how the world’s changing now; even as a beatboxer they’re like, ‘oh can you do dubstep or can you do Rahzel’? Then I do something different and they stop paying attention because it’s not the popular thing.