Forget bling, this hip-hop hero is all about telling the tales of the streets, as Joseph Barratt discovers
As we pull into Taaz's driveway in Papatoetoe, a smiling face, framed in dreadlocks, greets us over the balcony. ``I like to think of this as East Mangere,' he says with a laugh. Wearing a pair of personalised Mangere Converse shoes and talking about the Mangere East Hawks rugby league team, he's obviously proud of the place where he grew up.
His real name is Zurial Harrison but, like many rappers, he rarely uses it.
He is a rapper with a difference. He cares deeply about what's happening in his community and his lyrics have meaning. He describes himself as a ``street reporter', telling the truth about what his streets are like.
``I want people to be able to listen and say, `Yeah, that's what it's like out here'.'
After listening to some of his songs before I turned up at Taaz's home, I had a fair idea of what he means. Sweet Azz Bro was released in 2004 with his group at the time, No Artificial Flavours. It's all about South Auckland children living in poverty. The second verse goes:
Got no time for lame topics like a party. I represent for those who got food in their cupboards, hardly. You don't know me. Do you know what that feels like? When you're having dinner and the power runs out? The kids are in the shower and the water runs out? Three babies crying 'cause last week their powder ran out?
The themes are a contrast to the ``bling bling' consumerism in many of today's mainstream songs.
Taaz nods when I comment that it could have been a hit. He says radio stations and major music companies didn't see it that way.
``They seemed to take it personally, like I was having a shot at them, and didn't let it go into mainstream.'
Although the experience was frustrating, Taaz was happy when the single - rleased through local label Machaventa -maintained its sales for nine months.
``It showed people connected with it. They knew that it was real.'
Taaz's social consciousness developed when he was working at his local swimming pool and teaching young people to breakdance.
``I just started hearing the different stories. There were some real bad ones. Eventually, it led to mentoring some of them.'
He soon moved from breakdancing to rapping.
Taaz was a member of hip-hop group Dam Native and even opened for American nu-metal band Linkin Park with West Auckland group Blindspott. He later moved to No Artificial Flavours which, other than Sweet Azz Bro, had a track on the Major Flavours 2 album in 2002.
Over the years, he's kept up with current affairs and we talk about the latest edition of Time magazine. He reads the papers every day - not to be politicised but to be informed, he says. ``If you go for a few days and haven't learned anything, you have to wonder why.'
As we leave, he hands me an early copy of a new song. I listen to it while writing and I can't help thinking radio stations will be doing listeners a disservice if they don't play his next album. joseph.barratt@theaucklander.co.nz
25 06 2009