In 1994, Kiwis were ‘still wearing stubbies and listening to rock and roll’ when 3 The Hard Way’s ‘Hip Hop Holiday’ hit number one and helped usher the genre into the New Zealand mainstream.
“Radio slogans back then were no rap, no crap,” Mike Paton says.
When 3 The Hard Way formed in 1993, New Zealand’s hip hop scene was still “definitely underground”. Group members Chris Ma'ia'i, Lance Manuel and Mike Paton found themselves producing within a genre that had few expectations but scorn in the mainstream.
“When you got a Māori boy breakdancing on the side of the road, they thought, ‘look at these street kids; what are they up to? No good,’” Lance says, recalling the racism of the era.
All three were part of Tāmaki Makaurau’s underground dance party scene in the 1980s and found themselves in a group of musicians who would go on to define the genre in the upcoming decade.
Inspired by the reggae they listened to as youth, Lance was working with a melody from a replayed sample of British band 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ as the basis of the group’s first track. Once he’d gotten a beat down, Chris then suggested that the trio should “loop it and put some rhymes on it”.
With that, the newly-formed group had unknowingly created the song that would see them headlining packed-out shows across the ditch within months.
Coming six years after Upper Hutt Posse’s pioneering ‘E Tū’, the summery beat of Hip Hop Holiday was the first Kiwi hip-hop track to reach gold status, having also spent several weeks at number one on the charts.
“There were never any aspirations, there was never any plan,” Chris says, who added that suddenly fronting for thousands of fans never came naturally to him.
While sampling rights meant the group had trouble collecting royalties, the visible success of the group’s song helped pave a path for other rap and hip hop legends who would go on to achieve commercial success.
3 The Hard Way went on to release their debut album Old School Prankstas while touring in Australia and New Zealand in 1994. Following this, the trio took an extended break with Lance later leaving the group to focus on a life outside of music. A comeback in 2003 saw Ma'ia'i and Paton once again top the charts with their hit single ‘It’s On’.
This episode tracks 3 The Hard Way from their Westie origins to headlining shows with their breakthrough track. It explores what inspired Hip Hop Holiday and how its unexpected success impacted the trio as the first hip hop artists to reach the mainstream.
3 The Hard Way
Forming in 1993, 3 The Hard Way were the first hip hop group to break into the New Zealand mainstream. Hailing from West Auckland, the three band members’ success with Hip Hop Holiday paved the path for a new generation of rap artists.
After a hiatus, the group returned in 2003 with their second album ‘Eyes on the Prize’. The album peaked at number four on the charts while single ‘It’s On’ went on to give the group its second chart-topping single. Their first album, Old School Prankstas, was reissued in 2012.
Chris “Mighty Boy C” Ma'ia'i grew up in West Auckland and attended Waitakere College as a teenager. Chris had met Lance Manuel while still in school and formed 3 The Hard Way with Lance’s friend Mike Paton in 1993. He returned for the group’s comeback in 2003 and was the group’s primary vocalist.
Lance ”'DJ Damage” Manuel had attended Henderson High School and was a turntablist in 3 The Hard Way. He knew both Chris Ma'ia'i and Mike Paton as a young Westie. With a strong interest in DJing, he left the group on good terms after the success of Hip Hop Holiday and Old School Prankstas.
Mike “DJ Mike Mixx” Paton also attended Waitakere College and grew up in West Auckland. He had worked with Lance Manuel before forming 3 The Hard Way as a DJ in the Auckland dance party scene. He returned for the group’s comeback in 2003.