Raiza Biza may well be Hamilton’s newest favourite son. Not because he hasn’t dropped six or so albums already, or because metal still comes to mind when picturing Hamilton music, but because the rapper is just as international as he is local. And don’t we just love it when someone is making it overseas!
He is just as happy featuring a Pineapple Lumps skit as he is dropping a verse next to Australian MCs, REMI and B Wise. The cohesiveness of his latest record ‘Bygones’ is almost exemplified by the inclusion of a feature from US and Mello Music’s hero-in-residence, Oddisee. Suffice to say, Biza has outdone himself.
There is a vibe to this record which includes touchstones of dusty soul, rich and velvety but also with a directness in delivery. His rap is certainly smooth and melodic, but Rwandan born and grappling with the African diaspora, being a father of three and “the devil in the billboard”, Biza is earnest in his music.
He builds on his storytelling skills to grow a whole world in this petri dish. Whether he is name-checking Trump or binging back embattled X-Factor winner, Beau Monga for a feature, there is a timelessness to this record.
Biza, like so many other worthy NZ artists, feels a little unsung. With the help of long-time collaborator, Crime Heat, he has produced quality release after quality release but hasn’t quite managed the success afforded similar artists in Melbourne or Sydney, let alone the States.
It might be a smidge of cultural cringe when it comes to NZ hip hop and it’s not just because every white guy you know said, “not many, if any” in the 2000s. There is something about the realism of hip hop that can be hard to look directly in the eye. The popularity of foreign/US artists that dominate most of Mai FM’s playlist may have enough physical distance to allow us to glorify their antics or maybe misread them entirely. It might be why we’re calling meth, crack in order to hark back to US street culture, but when it’s at home, whether it be SWIDT talking about suicide or Tom Scott talking about addiction, it’s potentially harder for audiences to hear.
Biza is covering the same topics he’s always covered with variance, nuance and the intelligence that makes him a great artist, but are audiences here ready to hear one of our (adopted?) own tell the truth? The track Self-Medicated is perhaps the peak of these interacting streams of cultural influence. Here, Biza is waking up to a blunt and the “fade away” bridge could quite happily be on any current hip hop record from Lil Xan to Lil Wayne.
Despite this, he is his own voice and admits that he’s trying so hard to be cool, he could go back to being an asshole. That’s the honesty and self-awareness you won’t find on a Future album. Though in fairness, the hyper-catchy Funds, might be.