Hip-hop MC King Kapisi (NZ-born Samoan Bill Urale) got his start in his hometown of Wellington, playing drums in bands while at Wellington High School.
His first time rapping onstage was guesting with Wellington group Noise N Effect, who would open up the mic at their gigs for all-comers.
Kapisi began rapping under the name Bran Muffin as part of the group Gifted and Brown – other members were Gerard Tahu, DJ Raw, MC AT (Atawhai Tibble) and Mara Finau, ex-Holidaymakers. The group were signed up by Tangata Records, and did a few singles including ‘Chocolate CIty’ and ‘So Much Soul’. The latter featured on the Once Were Warriorssoundtrack.
When Gifted and Brown ended, he and DJ Raw hooked up with Kas (Tha Feelstyle) Futialo to form a new group, The Overstayers. The group were getting their beats off Christiaan Ercolano (Crispy Fresh of Noise N Effect, later in House Of Downtown), then Jeremy Geor (50Hz).
The Overstayers did a few shows and some demos, but then Urale decided to move to Auckland – his brother Tati was already based up there. When he got to Auckland, he performed as part of the group Token Village, alongside Che Fu, Andy ‘Submariner’ Morton, Ned Ngatae, Chip Matthews and others.
Kapisi started working with Andy Morton at his studio The Hut, and changed his MC name from Bran Muffin to King Kapisi (Kapisi is the Samoan word for cabbage which is a nickname his mother had for him as a kid). Their early recordings proved popular on student radio, with the song ‘Vertikal Sequels’ staying on the bFM Top 10 for eight months. This attracted some interest from record companies, and he signed with Festival Records in 1997.
‘Reverse Resistance’ won the APRA Silver Scroll in 1999, making him the first hip-hop artist to win this award.
Festival released his debut single ‘Sub-cranium Feeling’ in 1998 (with ‘Vertikal Sequels’ as the B-side). The single had a stunning video directed by his sister Sima, featuring Kapisi rapping and swirling around underwater. Follow-up single ‘Reverse Resistance’ won the APRA Silver Scroll in 1999, making him the first hip-hop artist to win this award. The award attracted some controversy amongst more traditional songwriters.
The third single ‘2nd Migration’ dropped in 2000, followed by his debut album Savage Thoughts in 2001. The album drew on his Samoan heritage, and also took aim at religion in Samoa, a subject that has sometimes landed him in hot water. The most successful song off the album was ‘Screems Of Da Old Plantation’ which made inroads at commercial radio, and featured a great video with Kapisi and DJ Raw standing on the back of a truck riding around Apia, Samoa.
Savage Thoughts was a groundbreaking recording for Aotearoa hip-hop, showing how to combine hip-hop beats with Pacific flavours and make something that could only have come from this part of the world. It went on to sell 15,000 copies.
His sophomore effort, 2nd Round Testament, came out in 2003, followed up by Dominant Species (2005). He then set up his own record label, Quabax Wax. He had earlier started his own clothing label, Overstayer Clothing, in 2002, which went on to win the Westfield Style Pasifika Designer Award in 2003 and 2004. This gave Overstayer the opportunity to participate in the coveted 2003 L'Oreal and the 2004 Air New Zealand fashion weeks. Overstayer Clothing was the first local urban street label to be made available in Farmers Trading Stores nationwide. Kapisi also established a home studio for his own recordings and production work.
Kapisi has undertaken numerous overseas tours, to the UK, Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Across 2010 and 2011 he released a number of digital singles, including collaborations with The Mint Chicks, Richard Nunns, Scalper, and Jamaican singer Luciano.
Since his last album release in 2005, Kapisi has performed at numerous music festivals around the world including Glastonbury in England, and SXSW in Austin, Texas. He has won a number of awards for his music videos, including the Flying Fish Music Video Awards, Mai Time TVNZ and Juice TV. As well as his continued presence in the music industry he coaches multiple basketball teams, is a personal trainer and works heavily with the local community with efforts in suicide prevention.
King Kapisi formed a new group, Hedlock, with Che Fu and his partner Teremoana Rapley guesting. Both Che and Kapisi take turns DJing or MCing.