A conversation on social media has sparked a discussion about anti-Blackness, New Zealand hip hop and appropriation. Writer Kristian Fanene Schmidt, who is Samoan, shares his opinion on Aotearoa’s Māori and Pasifika hip hop community.

Let me start by saying that I am not Black – I’m a Samoan who was born and raised in Porirua. I am by no means an authority in hip hop and will never claim to be. 

However, I am someone who has lived in the United States for over a decade in close community with Black family and friends, particularly Black women, and they have been instrumental in my education, growth and self-discovery. They play an important role in my life and they don’t play around.

Having someone truly hold you accountable in every sense can really unlock and raise your awareness and through that, I’ve developed a heightened degree of sensitivity to anti-Blackness. 

One way I honour my relationships is by doing the work to de-programme it within myself, my family and the wider Pacific community.

On Sunday, Guled Mire, a Somali refugee who made New Zealand his home, tweeted:

Just attended my first concert outside of NZ & not a single white/brown folk was rapping along saying the N word. I cannot describe how incredibly pleasant it was. And until kiwis realise they can’t say the N word unless you’re Black, you’ll never catch me at a concert back home.

Love Hip Hop?

Get the latest Hip Hop news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more

Karlos Diamond (brother of NZ rapper Sidney Diamond, formerly Young Sid of Smashproof) responded:

Just don’t come back then.

NZ rapper Mazbou Q (of Nigerian descent) caught wind that musician DJ Sir-Vere liked Carlos Diamond’s tweet and called him out on it. 

Rather than own his actions and apologise for the harm he caused, Sir-Vere began to throw a tantrum in a series of tweets, talking about how he’s done so much for hip hop and how his legacy is being ruined over one like. 

He even went as far as bringing up “cancel culture” – a myth created by white conservatives to discredit and trivialise people who seek justice and consequences for misconduct

No one is above reproach. 

I wish I could say I was surprised that a grown non-white man got defensive and centred himself as a victim after being reprimanded for showing support for something racist. But I’m not. Because we are capable of weaponising our tears against Black people too.

That’s the insidious nature of anti-Blackness and how it operates in all of us living in a society underpinned by “white supremacy”.

As a “pioneer” of NZ hip hop, it’s outrageous that Sir-Vere would co-sign an insult directed at a Black man expressing his disgust at hearing the N word.

Anti-Blackness which doubles as “white supremacy” is so prevalent throughout the world – Māori and Pacific people in Aotearoa are no exception. 

Which begs several questions: how are we any different from white people? Is what we’re doing appreciation or appropriation? How do we assess where we cross the line?

The measure is respect. Paying respect to not just the greats but to the community it comes from. It’s not enough to shout out your favourite MC. You must be actively interrogating your anti-Blackness and not standing for it when you see it. 

You cannot take from Black culture with one hand then hit Black people with the other. This is what makes you an appropriator.

And just to clarify, the N word is not for us to use – Polynesians experience racism but we do not live the Black experience nor did our ancestors suffer the atrocities tied to it. 

Sure, I’ve been called one before but that doesn’t make any difference because our people did not endure being called it through 400 years of chattel slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and police brutality so it is not ours to reclaim. 

Even if your homie said it’s okay. Stop. It astounds me the way Māori and Pacific people will jump through hoops to justify using it.

I recently had a conversation with Misfits of Science’s Ruckus Garvey.

Speaking about the New Zealand hip hop industry, Garvey, who is South African, said: “When I look at how many amazing artists there are in Aotearoa, who have migrated from other African countries, and then try to find the reasons why they don’t get spoken about in the same light, it starts to become quite clear that this gatekeeping still exists today and that’s something that we need to put an end to once and for all.” 

Garvey is absolutely right. The issue is bigger than one person. It’s the culture of NZ’s hip hop scene which is just a microcosm of our attitudes towards Black people.

Take for example, A Reason To Rhyme, a documentary that premiered on Māori TV on Waitangi Day this year. 

I was tasked with coming up with the initial concept of this. I had wanted it to be an exploration of all the ways Māori and Pacific people indulge in Black culture (music, fashion, political movements, dance, language, the ballroom scene), asking the question: Is it appreciation or appropriation?

I set up meetings with Black artists, academics and community leaders to both consult with and weigh in as interview subjects. Everyone seemed to be excited and on board with my vision. 

Without any input from me, white producers and directors became attached to the project then DJ Sir-Vere was added as the resident hip hop “expert”. 

I made it very clear that I didn’t know or trust these people to bring my story to life with the complexity and consciousness it deserved. 

The powers that be didn’t want to meet me there so I made my exit, asking my name to be removed from everything. 

Watching it recently, I have to say it’s a complete shambles. I sat cringing. 

New Zealand rapper Mareko declares: “I don’t think [hip hop] belongs to any one culture or any one skin tone”. Artist Ladi6 casually explains “anyone can claim ownership over hip hop … seriously, no one owns hip hop” while artist DLT states that hip hop is “in our ancestral teachings”. 

What?! This is erasure and it is violence. Hip hop was born out of the Black experience in America. It belongs to Black people.

To clarify, you do not own hip hop. It has never “belonged” to you and it never will. You are free to enjoy it, be inspired by it, express yourself through it, but you should always acknowledge who it comes from. 

You are a guest. 

What makes this even more exhausting is that they know damn well they would riot if people took on elements of Māori/Pacific song or dance or tatau and said “it doesn’t belong to anyone”. 

The fact NZ media didn’t rip it to pieces in reviews also exposes a clear lack of Black representation in journalism. 

It’s not too late for Sir-Vere and the rest of New Zealand’s hip hop community to make things right. We all make mistakes. And when we cause others pain publicly, the redress should be just as open. 

There’s a valuable lesson to be learned and he now has the opportunity to help create a shift in hip hop that’ll only enhance his mana. 

For Pasifika and Māori artists who have built their careers and profited off of Black culture, you have a responsibility to do right by Black people. 

And if you’re really about hip hop like you say you are, you’ll waste no time in setting things straight.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine