The camera rolls on three people at Punchbowl Coffee shop in Waikīkī. Two large speakers flank a tattooed DJ fiddling with switches on a soundboard to the left of the coffee bar. To the right, Eric de Mendonca—from the popular Japanese reality show Terrace House—pours coffee and bobs his head with casual confidence, like he owns the place, because he does.
Between them is Tassho Pearce. At first glance nothing really sticks out about him. He’s youngish—somewhere between a university super-senior and a new dad—lightly tanned and rocking a neatly trimmed moustache, Hawai‘i’s signature facial hair. He looks like countless dudes you pass on the streets of Honolulu, but when the beat starts, Pearce becomes something else, diving into song and wielding the mike with effortless confidence. “Shall I start like Moses? I’ll part the seas, put Next Coast on the charts for you all to see.”
A smile blooms across his face as he rhymes. The song sounds as fresh as it did when it was first released fifteen years ago. “They all thought we livin’ in shacks/Rippin’ the track so much doctor’s stitchin’ it back/Throw your H’s up in the air, keep’em sky-high/Reppin’ the H-A-W-A-I-I.” That song, “Honolulu,” appeared on Pearce’s 2003 album Rhyme and Punishment, when he rapped under the name Emirc. Since then he’s toured the globe and worked with artists like Kanye West and Kid Cudi. But “Honolulu” is still the pinnacle, a joyous love letter to Hawai‘i that became a genuine classic and the first song from a local MC (“master of ceremonies”) to get regular rotation on hip-hop radio stations, both at home and beyond.