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When Hamilton based Rwandan rapper Raiza Biza’s smooth baritone and contemplative storytelling blurs into the jazz/soul tinged beats he favours, it’s hard to not be swept away. Quickly, you’re drawn into the story of a young immigrant who made New Zealand his home, while simultaneously reaching out to a global audience, and all through music.

Shades of the emotional delivery of Tupac Shakur rub against the reflective storytelling of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, beautifully underscored by nostalgic-yet-futuristic instrumentals. Yet while the aesthetic references within Raiza Biza’s music speak to Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz and beats. His meticulously placed rhymes tackle the experiences of growing up in Zambia and South Africa, before coming of age down under.

Over five albums, and a relentless touring schedule, Raiza Biza has entertained live audiences across New Zealand. Outside of New Zealand, his recordings have resonated with listeners across Europe, Africa, Australia, and the US.

Of late, Raiza has been hitting the festival circuit, often bringing along his AmmoNation collective for the ride. In the process, he’s seen his music reach commercial radio and joined the Red Bull Sound Select platform. With his momentum building, taking things to the next level feels inevitable.

Who is Raiza Biza?
I’m a musician and observer. I try and document the world as I see it in my music.

What are your earliest memories of music?
Michael Jackson. My parents played a lot of Michael Jackson when I was very young. We couldn’t really understand what he was saying but we could feel the music. Later on when I was introduced to Tupac, I realized how music could be a communicator that transcended language and I was hooked.

Who were your influences coming up?
Nas, Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco. The whole Duckdown New York scene of the late 90s, early 2000’s. Homebrew, Mareko, too many to name. I feel like I am missing a lot of names here, but I was a real Hip Hop fan as a teenager, I would collect CD’s and trade with my friends etc.

You and your family initially moved around Africa and New Zealand was your final destination. Describe your journey and what was it about New Zealand that made your parents choose that as your final destination?
My family’s journey was about my father trying to find a safe place to raise his family. Everytime we would move to a new country, he would realise that he could do better. He was always ambitious. I think he chose NZ because it seemed like it hadn’t been tainted by the coldness and separation that we would often see in the big cities. It was safe, and it seemed like a good place to raise a family.

Was it hard adjusting to life in New Zealand and what were your expectations when you first arrived?
I had no expectations when I moved to New Zealand. I actually thought NZ was in Australia, so I had no idea. It was very hard to adjust. I was 13. I had started developing my own idea of what the world was, then when we moved, I had to start from scratch. Having moved around so much, I was almost used to it, but I always felt like I lacked a certain part of my roots, and it manifested itself in negative ways with the trouble myself and my friends would get into.

You now live in Hamilton what are the pros and cons of living there compared to the bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington?
The main factor is that rent is much cheaper. Its close to Auckland, without having the non-stop hustle involved in living in the big city. And that calm gives me a good place to create. I find it hard creating when there is too much happening around me, so Hamilton provides that perfect middle ground for me.

When did you first realise you had the talent to be a MC?
Pretty much when I released my debut album ‘Dream Something’. I knew I was a good MC since I was in my early teens but it was just a fantasy until I released DS and people actually started listening. Then I knew I could potentially build something real.

How did you first manage to break into the NZ Hip Hop scene?
It was a very organic process, I was very consistent with releasing singles, projects, videos. My buzz slowly grew via the internet and word of mouth, and I was doing my best to play as many shows as possible, in as many towns as possible. So there was no ‘break-in’. Every fan I have, I worked for, one by one. And its just kept growing since then.

You are affiliated with the Young Gifted & Broke collective what it’s like being part of the crew and have you felt it being a help for your career?
YGB is a family. We all help each other out where we can, and we have this kind of internal support network where we use each other for show support, for collabs, production etc. So its been dope and it has definitely helped my career. Having Tom and Haz to advise me on situations they have already been through is invaluable.

You also have your own crew in AmmoNation who is a part of that and what do they each bring to the table?
Yea the squad consists of myself, Jane Deezy (singer/rapper), Bianca Paulus (singer), Munashe (rapper/producer), Blaze the Emperor (rapper), Ill Baz (DJ/producer). Similarly to YGB, we are a collective of like-minded creatives with similar goals who try and help each other reach them.

What one thing does Hip Hop in New Zealand need right now?
I think the artists in NZ need to be more ambitious. We have some great talent, but there is this perception that the world is too big to venture out into. I think its because we are so far from everything. But we have had artists who broke that barrier before, and I intend to further enforce that.

Your new EP “Day & Night” is out now what do you want the listeners to take away from it?
I guess the main theme is the contrast between light and dark, pleasure and pain, good and bad. Which I think is a recurring theme in life, so if listeners can relate to that, then I’m happy.

What’s your favourite track off the EP and why?
My favourite track from the EP is “Inception”. It was inspired by the movie, and I hid a lot of gems in the lyrics, most of which haven’t been unearthed, so that is my favourite for now.

What inspires you to write?
Everything and anything. Experiences, losses, victories, tragedy, joy. The world is my muse and I just write about it.

How would you describe the Raiza Biza sound?
Emotive, thoughtful, soul influenced rap.

You recently came back from a European tour run to promote the EP how were you received and what experiences did you take away from it?
I was received a lot better than I thought I would be. Audiences are very open minded there. My biggest realisation was how big the Hip Hop world is. I spent a lot of time focusing on the NZ market, when I could have focused on Europe, and by default, NZ would be exposed to me to. So I learnt a lot about how to strategise in the future.

What new and upcoming NZ artists should we be on the lookout for?
My picks are Munashe, Omni Potent, NXVA, & Bianca Paulus. But there are so many more so its a hard one.

What is the best piece of advice ever given to you?
See the world. Oddisee told me that, and that was the best thing I’ve done in my life.

What does the future hold for Raiza Biza?
New project early next year, another Europe tour and hopefully Australia. And more collaborations and videos. Next 2 years are going to be big for me. We’ve laid down a solid foundation, and I’m looking forward to building on that.

What is your definition of Grindin’?

Going for what you believe you deserve. And knowing that no one should want it more than you.

Interview by Duggs.