In the gang world he was 'Loko', then rapper 'KD Lok' once he got out of jail. But something was always missing for Matty Paparoa. For the first time he tells his story in LOKO, a seven-part video series by Useful Media and the NZ Herald, made with the support of NZ On Air. Episode 1 - Finding Loko.
Matty Paparoa had a rough start in life. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and drug dependency.
His father, Matty Harris, was a Black Power gang member and went to jail before Matty was born. His mother, Maria Paparoa, was young and wasn't coping with a newborn baby so Matty was put into state care and ended up in multiple foster homes.
Listen to all the songs in full here
The first foster home was in Kelston in West Auckland and the new parents cared for Matty like family from six months old. When his foster father Rex died, Matty was 12 years old and he didn't deal with it well. He went off the rails, getting himself into trouble. His foster mother could not cope with the delinquency on her own and Matty found himself in new foster homes.
Robin Fendall was Matty's Youth Court lawyer. At age 16, after an incident with his friends, Matty was charged with grievous bodily harm and kidnapping in 1998 and was sent to prison for two years. In prison Matty turned his poetry into rhyming lyrics and joined the rap battles in the yard with the other prisoners, honing his craft.
After being released from prison, Matty pursued fame with his rap music and enjoyed a rising hip-hop career in the 2000s, performing with top international acts including Snoop Dogg, Booyaa Tribe and Ying Yang Twins.
Still yearning for success, Matty made the risky decision to turn his back on the gang to start a new life, one that involved being more present in his youngest son's life and removing himself from his old life and associates.
Decades later as Loko begins, Robin meets up with Matty again in Titirangi Village - and this time there are no fancy cars or piles of money. He has spent the last seven years living rough out the back of the Titirangi shops.
He had set up a bed under the eaves of the shops at the Fan Club (called that because of the air conditioning fans). Later on he lived in a make-shift bush hut in the trees (affectionately dubbed 'Lower Hutt'). It was crafted out of an old sign and camouflaged with foliage.
Filmmaker Tom Riley looks for clues of KD Lok's prior success, and finds no obvious digital or archival footprint. He remembers Matty mentioning an old music associate K'Lee, aka Kaleena McNabb, who was a big name in NZ hip hop in the early 2000s.
Tom meets up with the radio DJ at work and hears more about Matty's remarkable past.