A Hip Hop husband and wife duo are inspiring the next generation of Hawaiian storytellers
Hanohano and Mailelani Naehu both come from artistic families and have continued to express themselves creatively throughout their years together as a married couple. Hano dabbled in slam poetry and rapping, while Maile practiced hula and ʻoli.
“I remember the first time we went out. He did a rap for me in the truck and I was like, ‘Wow! He’s pretty good,’” said Maile. “So throughout our relationship and our marriage, he continued to dabble, find beats, and rap to it.”
It wasn’t until the early 2010s that Maile and Hano began collaborating artistically. One day, Hano was sitting on the porch of their home rapping and writing lyrics to different beats, when Maile began hearing lyrics of her own.
“My whole life, I’ve had lyrics in my head and I was too afraid to write them down. I realized in that moment, ʻOh my gosh! I have something that might go with what you’re writing,’ and he’s like, ʻNo way!’” said Maile. “He was my safe space. He said ʻLet’s try this!’ and something really magical happened.”
From that day forward, Maile and Hano have been writing and performing Hawaiian Hip Hop music together as “The Paniolo Prince and his Queen Maile.” Their first album, The Tip of the Spear, features 15 songs about their lives together.
“We write about our life. We use music as a platform to express our activism,” Maile said. “We thought it was a really powerful tool that we could use to reach all generations and that’s how it happened. It’s been kind of amazing because it’s been really well received by all ages, even kūpuna.”
The couple has also released a series of singles since their first album ranging from topics like the Kumulipo to the occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Their songs feature Hano rapping in pidgin and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and Maile chanting in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.
“I think it makes people feel connected like ʻOh, that’s my story! I’ve never heard it told in that fashion,’ and so it’s been a really neat experience,” said Maile.
This year, the Naehus have been nominated for a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award in the “Hip Hop Album of the Year” category for their album Ho‘okupu – A Hip Hop Anthology of Hawaiian History. The album includes 13 original songs, such as Big Moʻo Energy, Mai Kahiki Mai, and more.
Their Hip Hop journey is unique to their story and has brought them closer together. However, they have also had to balance being both spouses and musical partners.
“When we’re creating, we have to be more like musical partners than husband and wife. But at the same time, we’re husband and wife so that’s a cool thing about it,” said Maile. “We have another layer of relationship, so it’s really allowed us to connect in a different way.”
Over the years, Hano and Maile’s three children have also been able to contribute to their artistic endeavors. Their son creates all the beats for their music and their oldest daughter creates the album covers and any illustrations they need.
“We planned to build this type of environment together for our three children, immersing them with all kinds of art and music around them. We did that on purpose,” Maile said. “And we noticed that they were incredible artists in their own right as well.”
Their influence goes beyond their own children, as they offer after-school clubs and programs to help Molokaʻi youth find their own voices.
“Being able to reach out to the youth, we believe, is the most powerful weapon for change,” said Maile. “We know if you don’t have a voice and if you don’t speak for yourself, someone will do it for you. ʻI ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make,’ through language there is life and through language there’s death as well. So we have to make sure we use it the right way.”
Their programs benefit students through creative empowerment and can also help them overcome personal obstacles.
“They are empowered with voice a lot of times, but we’ve had many keiki who we worked with that struggle with a speech impediment or stage fright or all those types of things,” said Maile. “Through music, through Hip Hop, through poetry, we’re creating a really safe space, which is huge for us.”
Maile and Hano hope to release their next album before Christmas, available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and other platforms. They are also working to bring more performance workshops to Molokaʻi in collaboration with the Honolulu Museum of Art. But overall, they are just continuing to aloha ʻāina on Molokaʻi.
“Our dream is to really restore the whole ahupuaʻa and that’s going to take a lot of grants, a lot of work and a lot of partnerships,” said Maile. “Yeah…big, big dreams. And in the meantime, we’ll make lots of art about it.”
For more information on the Naehu ʻOhana’s music and conservation work visit www.Huiokuapa.org.