Hoku, which means "star" in Hawaiian, was born on June 10, 1981 in Oahu, Hawaii. She is the seventh of singer Don Ho's ten children, and the older of two born to Ho and Patricia Swallie Choy, a background singer who once sang with Ho in his performances. She grew up in the affluent Diamond Head neighborhood with Choy, sister Kaimana, Elizabeth Guevara (who also had two children by Ho), and half-sisters Kea and KeaLii. "We spent a lot of time trying to make it okay for the children, but I knew I had to get out of it," recalled Choy, who left Ho in 1997 after tiring of the living arrangement, taking Hoku and Kaimana with her.
Hoku frequently performed with her father, who taught her how to write songs, as a child. She was initially unaware of her father's fame, learning from people's reactions after realizing who her father was. "I thought everyone's parents had shows at night," she said. She graduated from La Pietra.
Hoku credits her father for her discovery. "People helped me a lot, because of who my dad was," she said. She caught the attention of songwriter and producer Antonina Armato, who encouraged her to move to Los Angeles to meet with other producers. "She has a pure voice," Armato said. "I don't have to doctor it and use all the tricks of the studio." Hoku was attending Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, dropping her last name when she moved from Hawaii, when she was offered a $300,000 contract from Geffen Records. Armato assisted Hoku in securing the deal, and Ho insisted that he and his lawyers review it before she signed. "I didn't want her signing something that wasn't good," he said.
Hoku's debut single, "Another Dumb Blonde" (the theme song to the 2000 film Snow Day), was released on January 18, 2000. A day after its music video premiered on MTV, it was the network's tenth most-requested video. The song was a top ten sales hit in the United States and peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, additionally charting at number 47 in New Zealand. Shocked by the single's success, Hoku dropped out of Point Loma Nazarene and began recording her first album Hoku (2000). The album was released on April 18, 2000 by Geffen and Interscope Records and peaked at number 151 on the Billboard 200.
Hoku planned to work on a second album for Interscope after the March 2001 release of her single "Perfect Day". Struggling to find a niche in the pop music industry, she left the label, disagreeing with them regarding her image and marketing. She wrote and funded an EP, Listen Up, which was released on August 1, 2007 through the singer's own Ola Vista Records. She opened for Gwen Stefani's Neal S. Blaisdell Center shows of The Sweet Escape Tour later that month.