'My existence is political'
I first heard of Auckland rapper Mo Muse when he released Friday after the Christchurch terror attack. He dedicated the track to the 50 victims who lost their lives, telling Radio New Zealand: “Not only do I belong to the Muslim faith, but I'm also close with the Muslim community in Christchurch, so the tragedy has hit very close to home.”
The song’s black and white video features Mo rapping to the camera over a piano loop, while people hold up cards showing the names of the victims.
My very existence is political
Eight months later, Mo has released his debut album, First Generation, which carries on the political, 90’s-influenced hip hop of Friday. “My very existence is political,” Mo says. “The fact that I’m able to call New Zealand home is political.”
This isn’t to say the album doesn't have it’s lighter moments, but there’s a seriousness to Mo’s lyrics and the way he delivers them that keeps you engaged over the 13 tracks. Mo feels that it’s important to have political undertones in his music.
“It’s who I am, and music is the most powerful tool I can use to really express these messages. I do this unapologetically, but also I avoid sermonising or preaching. I give a different perspective and try to make people think about the different realities other Kiwis who don't look like them face.”
Playing catch up
Despite appearing on Red Bull’s 64 bars and collaborating with local hip hop mainstays like Raiza Biza, Mo is relatively new to making music.
“I don't remember properly writing songs until I was about 19,” he says. “It's funny because I didn't even record on a proper studio microphone until I was nearly 21. In that regard, I feel I'm playing catch up with my peers.”
But he credits the years he spent listening to hip hop as a fan for helping him prepare for a career in music. It was while studying in Otago that he began his first foray into rapping which he says started with “no expectations or any real aspirations”. From there, he went from strength to strength, “until one day I was on stage showcasing at open mic nights, then eventually opening for other national and international hip hop acts.”
Propelling Aotearoa’s hip hop community
One of the national hip hop acts he opened for was Raiza Biza, and Mo is now part of the Hamilton-based creative collective AmmoNation. Mo describes it as “a collective of artists, coming together to really propel each other forward.”
This feeling of support is something Mo identifies as a strength of the wider hip hop scene in Aotearoa “The hip hop community in NZ is unbelievable. It's the diversity I like the most. Every single artist making waves on their own has something different to offer. But more than anything they are extremely supportive of each other. Per capita, NZ probably has some of the most talented hip hop artists on earth. Something will eventually give, and the rest of the world will catch on.”
“NZ probably has some of the most talented hip hop artists on earth. Something will eventually give, and the rest of the world will catch on.”
A bright future
With the album out and gaining positive reviews, Mo now has his sights set further afield.
“I promised myself if I was to ever go overseas for a ‘holiday’, music would be a central part of it. So yes, it's a goal I would like to accomplish sooner rather than later.” Although he doesn’t have any solid plans yet, he’s excited about what the future holds.
“I know one thing,” he says. “It will be something completely different. This year was an important year for me to get my foot in the door, next year I'll be breaking that door down.”