When singer Pauly Fuemana was recording his debut album in the mid-’90s, there was no shortage of people lined up to inform the New Zealander — who died earlier today, according to Reuters — that he was wasting his time. “When I was making the album, there were like 30 people telling me: `Your music is no good, mate. You’re not going to go anywhere,'” Fuemena told a journalist in the summer of 1997.

But Fuemana proved the doubters wrong with the album How Bizarre and its breezy title track, which was a huge hit in the U.S. the year Fuemena gave that interview. It also topped the charts in New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Austria, Ireland, and Australia. Fuemena never came close to repeating that success, but he remained an inspiration to other New Zealand musicians, not least those from hardscrabble backgrounds.

Fuemana grew up in Otara, a rough suburb of Manukau City on New Zealand’s North Island. “Otara was a gang haven, very poor,” the singer once said. “They call it the chopping center, because it was one of those places where if you couldn’t survive, then you’re going to get hurt.” Fuemena himself spent time in a youth prison. After his release, he joined a rap-loving musical group, the ironically named Otara Millionaires Club. The group fell apart, but Fuemena kept the name for himself and released How Bizarre under the moniker of OMC, although the album was essentially put together by himself and producer Alan Jansson.

OMC split in 2000, and five years later Fuemena went bankrupt. “I bought my brother Phil a Range Rover and my sister a BMW . . . because they were at the bottom of their glass, they were struggling,” he subsequently explained. “I said, ‘Here, have some money.’ ” However, in 2007 Fuemana reformed the band and recorded a single called “4 All of Us” with New Zealand-born actress Lucy Lawless.

Fuemana had been ill for the past few months, and according to New Zealand’s Dominion Post he may have been suffering from a neurological condition.

I’ve embedded the video for “How Bizarre,” below. Feel free to pay tribute to the late Pauly Fuemana by reminding yourself of one of the ’90s most unforgettable tracks.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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