Vodafone New Zealand Music Award nominee Rei on his viral fame and bilingual music

Producer, singer, songwriter, rapper - there isn't a lot Rei can't do. Oh, and he's also bilingual.

Fluent in both English and Te Reo Māori, he often freely switches between them mid-song.

"Even in my English stuff I still a drop the odd Reo-bomb in there to keep people on their toes! And people know me for that now, that dude who mixes Te Reo in his music," he says.

It's this fluidity that's inspired the name of his latest album, The Bridge.

"My whole thing is I'm a bridge. Like, I don't have to be just doing Te Reo music or English music. I'm always gonna do both cos that's who I am," he explains.

Despite a degree in Te Reo Māori, he says his approach to using it in his music isn't formal.

"It's more slangy, and I'll be a bit more cheeky with it. And not many people do that so it's cool to be able to push the boundaries like that."

To get The Bridge done, he relocated to a small whare at the bottom of a hill in Titirangi.

"No wi-fi or nothing, I was just living down there and just finishing the album, so I was really able just to go deep on this project and cut out all the external stuff," he says.    

Rei's road to success hasn't been easy but he's finally achieving it. 

He's been making music for twelve years but in the last twelve months he's knocked Ariana Grande off a US chart - and now he's nominated for two Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. 

"I did think I'd have a bit more success earlier on. I had a few harder years in my early twenties where I was quite frustrated with how slow my career was going," he told Newshub.

He says that slow burn has helped him hone his craft, and learn how to make it more relatable to people.

The Bridge's lead single "Good Mood" hit number one on the US Spotify viral charts last summer - displacing Grande's megahit "Thank U, Next"

"Yeah that was a surreal feeling. I've still got more Spotify listeners in the States than I do in NZ or Australia," he reveals.

For this year's Vodafone New Zealand Music awards he's been nominated in both the Māori and Soul and R&B categories - but just like he bridges languages, he bridges genres too.

"It's cool being an artist now and not being contained to one thing. Cos I listen to a whole bunch of music, that's why my music is varied the way it is," he says.

And when he found out about his nominations, he got a bit emotional.

"Yeah, pretty good moment. May have cried a little bit. Just a little bit. A few tears!"

In both categories, he's up against someone he looked up to at school: fellow former Wellington College choirboy Louis Baker.

"It'd be pretty weird for me if I won and he didn't!" Rei admits. 

Rei says the fact he can hold his own in Māori and more mainstream awards shows the growth of the language in modern New Zealand hip-hop, and his pride in reaching the top.

"It definitely feels like we're on a new wave of cultural renaissance with the language, which is awesome. You're hearing it more in mainstream media as well as Māori media. It's cool to be helping, or being at the forefront of that wave by being a part of Māori music at the moment."

Rei's currently preparing a second EP of solely Te Reo music for a Feburary release, some more English singles, and a remix album.

It's best to believe him when he says even after twelve years - he's just getting started.


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