Listen Up! – Hip-Hop

DJ-XL at TooGruvz Records in Mo‘ili‘ili. photo: Karin Kovalsky


Good DJs can pack a dance floor in a matter of seconds; bad ones can clear it just as fast. Cary Harada, better known as DJ-XL, belongs to the former set. Blessed with a gift for mixing songs and a razor-sharp ability to read a crowd, Harada never fails to move club-goers at The Living Room and Chai’s in Aloha Tower Marketplace, where he spins on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. With more than 15 years of experience, Harada blends grooves from today’s rap and R&B stars—Common, Talib Kweli and Mary J. Blige—with those of such soul greats as Marvin Gaye and James Brown. “It’s all about the tempo, figuring out which songs actually go together by matching the beats—like a drummer playing along to a band’s music,” says Harada. His talent for heating up the crowd has earned him opening spots for high-profile hip-hop concerts, including The Roots and the Wu Tang Clan. Not much of a night owl? You can still catch Harada on KIKI-FM 93.9’s “Flashback Friday” mix show at 6 p.m.

In April, Emirc (right) opened for Kanye West at the Blaisdell Arena. photo: courtesy of Emirc


In 2004, Emirc took the local hip-hop scene by storm, when he managed to score heavy rotation on several Hawai‘i commercial radio stations—a feat typically accomplished only by local artists playing Hawaiian or Jawaiian music. But even corporate-owned stations couldn’t ignore the popularity of “Honolulu,” a party anthem that sampled from the Beamers’ classic “Honolulu City Lights.”

No Island emcee reps his home state better than Emirc, who name-checks Hawai‘i peeps and streets—from Kamehameha to Kapahulu—every chance he gets. But the charismatic lyricist plans to make it big beyond Hawai‘i. “I’ve always had this confidence, that the whole world should be hearing what I’m doing right now,” says Emirc. He’s on the right path. In April, he opened for Kanye West at the Blaisdell Arena. This summer, he’ll drop the first single from his second album (due out this year), half of which was produced by the seminal West Coast rap trio Dilated Peoples.

Emirc – “Dragon Laughter” (explicit lyrics)
Tungs’ members (from left to right) Jay Peace Pipe, Jai Freedom Lewis, Quest Eons, Chef Strum and Beau Sun. photo: Sean Michael Hower Medias


Although Amphibeus Tungs has never released a full-length album, its polished prod-uctions sound as radio-ready as any other hip-hop act in Hawai‘i. What sets the Maui-based group apart from other acts is its musical formula, which melds old-school hip-hop beats with soul, jazz and Island melodies. Beau Sun and Quest Eons, who compose all of the Tungs’ lyrics, can rap over almost anything—obscure samples altered by turntablists Pazess 1 and Jay Peace Pipe, live roots rock guitar and jazz piano provided by musician-producer Jai Freedom Lewis, even the ‘ukulele, played by the newest member, Chef Strum. Amazingly, it all works—to hypnotic, head-nodding effect. “We like to keep it all original, not just copy what everyone else on the Mainland is doing,” says Beau Sun. The Tungs’ debut album, 1st Impressions, is due out this year. Until then, look out for its high-energy live shows on Maui and, possibly, O‘ahu.

Amphibeus Tungs – “Running Away”


Hip-hop is almost ubiquitous in Hawai‘i. Here are some of our favorites:

“Cheddar,” The Living Room (Fisherman’s Wharf, 1009 Ala Moana Blvd.,, featuring DJ-XL, Fridays, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“Chinatown Sessions,” Next Door (43 N. Hotel St., 548-NEXT,, live hip hop music from local and Mainland artists, Saturdays, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“The genuineHI Show,” hosted by Jake the Snake, KTUH-FM 90.3, Saturdays, 3 to 4:30 a.m., all Hawai‘i hip hop.