Their first track appeared in 2000, on a Dawn Raid debut compilation (Southside Story – ‘No Foes’) and they appeared alongside Scribe on ‘Synchronize Thoughts’, a breakthrough single by P-Money. 4 Corners’ album, Foundations, cemented their place as originators within the local scene, with a formidable track record of live shows and feature slots against their name.
A few years before 4 Corners got started, Brett Wagner (aka Omega-B) was making a name for himself as a DJ on the Hip Hop Impact Show on University of Waikato student radio station Contact FM. The show ran from 1993 to 1996. He also worked at the Sounds record store in Hamilton, where he could order in new releases and thereby keep his radio audience up to date with the latest hip hop tunes from overseas.
Through this work, Omega-B met Charles Ngakoma “Koma” Conner, whose friends had encouraged him to try out his rapping on the Hip Hop Impact Show, since he’d already developed a skill at freestyling. The pair bonded over their love of hip hop, but initially started out in separate crews. Omega-B was in R.E.A.L. (Rappers Explore Authentic Lyrics), while Koma went through a run of groups: As Is, Enderley, and Brown 100% (with Marcus Taukiri from Native Sons).
Koma would also drive up to Auckland to catch the Token Village crew and take part in their impromptu rap battles. “I used to come up to the Box with B [Omega-B] so I could test myself and my skills and hook up with the established crews – see where their skills were at. I’d get dissed by King Kaps [King Kapisi] – he used to eat anyone that came down and tried to approach the mic. Every time I’d get dissed, I’d go home, work on my style and come back. I kept doing that for ages until I won one, then I decided to move on to writing songs.”
In 1997, Koma and Omega-B finally came together in the same group, Time Bandits, which was named after an 80s breakdancing crew from their hometown (and not to be confused with a similarly named crew that came up later in Wellington). The group only lasted a few years due to the wavering interest of other members, but Omega-B had already started a new crew called 4 Corners based on the four pillars of hip hop: MCing, DJing, graffiti art and breakin’.
Omega-B sought out whoever he thought was the best in each realm within the Hamilton hip hop scene, which meant upwards of a dozen members went through the group over the years. When Omega-B decided 4 Corners should enter the rap competition held by DLT and Sir-Vere in 1997 for their MTV show, Wreckognize, he arranged for MC Mutz (Matutaera Herangi) from Flax Roots to MC, and got a b-boy called Asia (Peter Taka) to break and do graf art for the background of the shot. Omega-B did beatboxing, breaking and the scratching himself on the 30 second video.
4 Corners became the support act of choice when groups from out-of-town came through Hamilton.
They came third in the competition and through their live shows became the go-to support act for when groups from out-of-town came through Hamilton (such as Joint Force and Dam Native). Omega-B worked alongside other local DJs, including Freeman “DJ Freeman” Fatu and Stacey “DJ Militia” Adams, while Koma came on board as a rapper for the crew. However Koma wanted to find a regular rapping partner and eventually found a perfect foil in Hohepa “Hepaklypz” Morgan.
Hepaklypz had first been inspired to rap after seeing the Proud Tour, which was put together by Phil Fuemana in 1994 and featured OMC, Sisters Underground and Dei Hamo’s Pacifican Descendants. “Up to that point I’d never really seen any New Zealand rappers on stage and when I saw them it opened up possibilities. From then on, I thought, yeah, you can do this.”
Omega-B first came across Hepaklypz via a competition he’d run on his radio show. “We had a rap competition where you had to ring up and rap live over the telephone. Whoever won got tickets to the Fugees. We only had two rules, you weren’t allowed to swear and you weren’t allowed to say [the N word], because back then everyone was trying to be gangsta. So it was an easy way to weed out the good ones from the bad ones. I was quite vicious, as soon as anyone broke one of those rules, I’d just hang up on them. Hepz was incredible, he totally floored the competition. I contacted him to say he’d won and met up with him to give him the tickets. He was like, ‘I can’t get to Auckland to use the tickets, can I get money instead?’”
When Omega-B suggested Hepaklypz to Koma as a rapping partner, it turned out the pair were already acquaintances and through this the core trio that would represent 4 Corners nationally came together. The group was given its first chance to record by a new South Auckland label, Dawn Raid, which was trying to extend on the work that had been done by Proud and Phil Fuemana’s subsequent project, Urban Pacifika (Dawn Raid co-owner Brotha D had featured on the latter in his group Lost Tribe). However, Koma found they made things difficult for themselves by writing their verses over a beat that they had no chance of clearing.
“We wrote our track to ‘Watch Out Now’ by Beatnuts and the song we did was ‘No Foes’. We recorded it with Brotha D and left without hearing what they had done to it. They made a whole different beat for the track. They had our permission, but it meant we didn’t get to hear the finished song until the day we had to perform it!”
By the start of the new millennium, the local hip hop scene was gaining ground. Che Fu and DLT had shown it was possible to take a rap track to No.1 and a touring circuit had been created throughout the country by three DJs – Sir-Vere (Auckland), Ali (Christchurch) and Shan (Dunedin). Omega-B was a natural organiser and helped them arrange shows in Hamilton, which he promoted through his new UFM radio show, All City Hip Hop Show (with Koma, DJ Militia, and Richie “Richie Rich” Wade). He was also involved the Lyricist Lounge club night at Catalyst, alongside Tyna Keelan and DJ SMV (Mel James).
When Ali put on the first hip hop summit in Christchurch in 2000, 4 Corners both opened and closed the event. At the summit the following year in Auckland, Omega-B launched a magazine about the local hip hop scene, Back2Basics, co-created with his wife Ayesha Kee and Wellingtonian Sen “Khmer” Thong. The members of 4 Corners also expanded their notoriety via MC battles. Hepaklypz was a finalist in the MC Battle for Supremacy in 2001 and 2002, while Koma was a finalist in the MC-1 Battle in 2002.
The members of 4 Corners also expanded their notoriety via MC battles.
Their reputation made them the obvious support act when Che Fu and the Krates performed a University of Waikato orientation gig and this led to them talking with P-Money, who was manning the decks for the Krates and looking for rappers to work with. As a result, Koma and Hepaklypz appeared on two of the earliest demos P Money made as a producer, ‘The Whole Truth’ and ‘Style Projects’. Both received decent play on student radio stations throughout the country. It was therefore a no-brainer that they would appear on his subsequent album.
P-Money’s Big Things (2002) featured 4 Corners on one of its punchiest tracks, ‘The Xpedition’, and they also appeared amongst the group of rappers on the title track. More importantly, they fronted one of the singles, ‘Synchronize Thoughts,’ alongside Scribe. The beat was a banger, providing a perfect backing for Koma and Hepaklypz to show off their skills at fast, precise rapping, while the chorus had Scribe shouting out their name and wearing a 4 Corners cap in the video – a handy endorsement given how quickly his star was rising.
Sales of Big Things slowly crept to a gold certification, riding the wave of local hip hop that was about to burst into the mainstream. 4 Corners kept their name out with more features which included two tracks on the album, Trade Secrets (2002), by Dubious Brothers (alongside their old friend Tyna Keelan) and, most importantly, freestyle slots for both Koma and Hepaklypz on Sir-Vere’s mix album, Major Flavours 4 (2003), which ended up going triple platinum.
Koma was stunned by the new acceptance of local rap, especially given how hard it had been when they first started: “Me and B used to try to run gigs in the early nineties and we used to have a whole club and just our girlfriends there! … And we were doing that in ’93, ’94, ’95, all the way through.”
Their deep connections in the local scene bore fruit with DJ Sir-Vere getting them to appear with him when he opened for Missy Elliott and again when Scribe got them onstage during his support slots with De La Soul and 50 Cent. When Dawn Raid put on the first Boost Mobile tour in 2004, 4 Corners appeared on the television ad, flanking Savage as he stepped down off the tour bus and walked into the venue. They also had repeated slots at the Hip Hop Summit and Big Day Out, as well as touring the country with chart-toppers Nesian Mystik and Misfits of Science.
4 Corners initially began putting together tracks for an album by working with some producers at electronica label Kog via their connection with P-Money (his label Dirty Records started in collaboration with Kog). However, when Dirty Records separated from Kog, 4 Corners decided to move in a different direction. They collected together the best of the recordings which they’d made up until that point and they compiled these as the Rap Related mixtape which they gave away at shows.
In 2005, 4 Corners released their first official single, ‘In The Game 4 Life’ (produced by P Money) and they shot a music video for it at breaking event Bodyrock, in Wellington. Soon after, they finally moved onto recording an album.
Their aims were given a boost when Stacey “DJ Militia” Adams set up his own studio, K-Town.
Their aims were given a boost when a founding member of 4 Corners, Stacey “DJ Militia” Adams, returned to Hamilton after three years in Auckland studying at MAINZ and set up his own studio, K-Town. This was fortuitous timing since 4 Corners had just received their first funding – an NZ On Air new recording grant for ‘On The Downlow’ (in December 2004). They brought Militia with them to record the single at York Street Recording Studios and he was able to further his skills by working alongside their in-house producer, Steve Roberts (who later mixed the 4 Corners album).
‘On The Downlow’ dipped into the Top 40 and the crew were off to a good start.
The following year, Koma found the album recording getting into full swing at K-Town, with Militia providing a raft of beats for them to consider. “He’d give us beat CDs that we’d choose from and use to make demos. Three or four tracks developed like that. Other times he’d play us a beat and we’d write something to go with it, then talk to him about how we thought the instruments should be … we spent two weeks doing demos for the album. Once we knew which songs we wanted to use, we went through the process of re-recording everything properly.”
Omega-B acted as executive producer on the album, organising the sessions and arranging an impressive list of guest appearances – Ladi6 on the soulful conscious track ‘Now I Know’, Tyra Hammond (Opensouls) on the super-funky ‘Get Back Down’, and Che Fu on their heartfelt meditation on suicide, ‘Live It Again’. Tyna Keelan not only rapped on the album, but added guitars where needed. Militia created the majority of the beats, but they also had contributions from P-Money, Ali, Hemz, Juse (whose album they also appeared on), and young up-and-comers Fire & Ice (who later had hits with David Dallas and PNC).
The resulting album, The Foundations (2006), was a powerful statement, especially the first two tracks which went from opening mihi/waiata ‘Intro’ through to hard-hitting track ‘Urban Māori’ that traced the effects of colonisation through to the present without pulling any punches: “My ancestors fought wars so we could have a place, the crown sold us muskets so we shot them in the face.” It also produced another near-hit, ‘By My Side (feat. Maia Rata)’ spent a few weeks in the Top 40 in mid-2006.
The album was released on Disruptiv, which was a label set up by the same crew behind graf art gallery and magazine, Disrupt – Elliot “Askew” O’Donnell, Johnny “Pest5” Wartmann, and Deirdre Dawson. One bonus of this connection was having their CD cover designed by award-winning artist Askew. The album received solid reviews and 4 Corners were nominated in the Best Urban/Hip Hop album category at the NZ Music Awards (although they were beaten out by PNC).
4 Corners landed another big support slot in 2006, playing before Busta Rhymes at Mt Smart Stadium. Their talent for doing great feature slots continued with Koma and Hepaklypz appearing on a remix for US rapper Cyssero’s track ‘Natural Born Hustla’ in 2007, which also featured Akon.
Before The Foundations came out, Omega-B and his wife and group manager Ayesha Kee visited Australia to see if they could organise a record deal. P-Money suggested that they contact Sam Dutch who ran Grindin’ Records (a hip hop offshoot of dance label, Central Station Records). Rather than just bringing a few demos, 4 Corners had arranged for all of their previous recordings to be properly cut together into the Transitions mixtape by SMV. The gambit worked and they signed to Grindin’.
This led to multiple tours through Australia, which included slots on Sir-Vere’s Major Flavours tour and supporting Nesian Mystik. They were nominated in two categories at Australia’s Urban Music Awards and the show included Koma performing in a star-studded line-up for PNC’s song ‘Who Betta Than This remix’ (alongside Scribe, Mareko, Louie Knuxx etc).
An offer arrived inviting 4 Corners to play in Laos. It seemed too good to be true.
However, their biggest show overseas was still ahead of them. An offer came out of the blue from the brother of a friend for them to play in Laos, at a festival run by a telecommunications company he was working for. Members of the group were suspicious at first, since the offer seemed too good to be true, but sure enough the air tickets arrived and so they set off, unsure of what to expect. They were introduced to a local crew, Lao Original Gangstas (L.O.G.) who showed them around the city and were given accommodation in the upmarket Don Chan Palace Hotel.
Their first show was at a local club in front of 200 people and went well, but their trip reached new heights when they arrived at the festival later in the week to find a crowd of 10,000. Performances by overseas groups were a rarity in Laos at the time, so the audience were rapt to see them. L.O.G. had also arranged breakers for their show and Koma came up with the idea of starting their set with a haka to represent Aotearoa. 4 Corners even managed to squeeze in a recording with a group of local rappers, and Hepaklypz and Koma were honoured by having their lyrics translated into Laotian for the session.
By 2008, 4 Corners found themselves working in quite a different landscape. The buzz around local hip hop had cooled and their label had all but folded, with the owners drawn away by other projects. Omega-B moved to Wellington for his work and the group’s progress slowed to a standstill. However, they continued to do the odd show over the years that followed, most notably playing at a charity event for their friend, DJ Spell, who had been playing shows with them since he was 15 years old. He was raising money to compete at the DMC champs overseas (he was crowned world champ in 2017).
Omega B continued to DJ regularly, while Koma focused on solo material and his work with a new group, Villains. Looking back, Omega B is proud of their legacy. “It was an epic time. A lot of times over the years we’d be sitting in a garage in Hamilton talking about what we wanted to do and it seemed impossible at first, but then each time we would achieve it. Everything we wanted to do, we did. We never had aspirations beyond New Zealand and possibly Australia.
“These days, when our old work pops up online, there’s nothing that we cringe at. Looking back on our releases and our music videos, we’re proud of all of them and that’s the main thing to me, and that we represented Hamilton hip hop culture to the fullest.”
Charles Ngakoma “Koma” Conner - MC
Hohepa “Hepaklypz” Morgan - MC
Brett “Omega B” Wagner - DJ
Stacey “DJ Militia” Adams - DJ
Jor’el “Delite” Mcqueen - b-boy
Royce “Are-K” Kerapa - b-boy
Freeman “DJ Freeman” Fatu - DJ
Haden “DJ Spell” Gilgen - DJ
Peter “Asia” Taka - graff
Matehoia “Kid Swarm” Paekau
John “Viln” MacMillan
Mel “DJ SMV” James - DJ
One of 4 Corners’ more surprising feature slots was on the breakbeat album, Wall of Bass Technique (2005) by Baitercell and Schumacher.
Two extra tracks produced by P-Money appeared on the Australian version of Foundations: ‘The Game For Life’ and ‘The Xpedition.’