In the mid-to-late 90s there weren't many parts of the world that didn't fall to the infectious sound of OMC's How Bizarre. Or find something compelling in the vocal by Pauly Fuemana, his raspy voice riding a fine line between tongue-twisting rap and indelible melody.

Fuemana might have talked of freeways and Chevys, the music might have featured mariachi trumpets and accordions, but the song didn't feel like it was aping anything foreign. It quickly became the feelgood hit of the 1995-1996 Kiwi summer.

And on screen in the song's video, Fuemana proved a charismatic presence, rejecting the sportswear dresscode of hip-hop for debonair jacket and cravat.

For Fuemana, who died yesterday at the age of 40, the song was just one of a bunch he and Auckland producer Alan Jansson quickly knocked off in a composing session.

It had originally laboured, with possibly less hit potential, under the title Duff It Up - before the title's pop hook arrived in a flash of rewrite inspiration.

Jansson had earlier produced the 1994 South Auckland hip-hop compilation Proud, which featured a more menacing, more hip-hop sounding Fuemana on We R the OMC, a New Zealand hip-hop classic of a track which explained the then group's acronym - Otara Millionaires Club.

Within a few years, that name was no longer ironic. Having taken up semi-permanent residence in the local charts, the song then went to No 1 in Australia, Ireland, South Africa and Austria. It made the top 10 in eight other countries, selling roughly two million copies of the single and another two million of the subsequent album of the same name, making it New Zealand music's biggest hit export.

With the song lighting up the global charts, it threw Fuemana into high demand. As the single rose in the British charts, he shuttled between Auckland and London for weekly appearances on TV show Top of the Pops. Fuemana spent much of 1997 in a tour bus, hoping to capitalise on the hit's heavy airplay in the United States, where the song wasn't released as a single to bolster album sales.

Eventually though, the struggle to take that song and make it into a career proved too much.

It certainly made him rich, with thousands in royalties still being generated more than a decade later.

But record company politics and money disputes saw a falling out between Jansson, effectively the musical brain behind OMC, and Fuemana. Jansson settled out of court for unpaid royalties.

Fuemana's financial troubles weren't to end there.

He was declared bankrupt in 2006, partly blaming his rags-to-riches-and-back money woes on his generosity to his family, which included older brother Phil, a South Auckland music powerhouse who died in 2005.

Having worked out their differences, Pauly Fuemana and Jansson recorded together again, releasing single 4 All of Us.

Despite the attention-getting presence of Lucy Lawless in shared vocals, it did not prove the hoped-for comeback. Its video, though, brought Fuemana full circle, back to the home of his Otara youth where he grew up speaking mostly Niuean, his father's language.

In his few local print interviews, Fuemana often expressed how his musical ambition was fuelled by wanting to get out of the poverty of his old neighbourhood and provide for his growing family.

In 1996 he explained to the Herald's Graham Reid about his shift from hardcore hip-hopper to pop hitmaker - about how the original confrontational Otara Millionaires Club "just walked on stage and blitzed them. We kicked arse and didn't care about anything. We were just sick being the dumb coconuts so we just kicked and kicked".

"But that wore off. I'm glad I did it, though, because now when musicians say I should go more underground I can say 'why?'. I've been there and it got us nowhere and just made us a lot of enemies."

He is survived by his wife Christine and five children.