4.5 out of 5
If the release of Scribe’s Crusader album in late 2003 signalled the entry of Aotearoa Hip Hop into New Zealand’s commercial and media conciousness, Smashproof’s latest album, The Weekend, feels like the beginning of a new wave. Not to discount Savage’s phenomenal success in the US, but even million-plus sales in a foreign land didn’t seem to wake the local love for homemade urban that was rampant in those Scribe heydays.
The Smashproof story began three years back, with the signing of Papatoetoe rapper Tyree to MTC Records. The lukewarm reception his Now Or Never set received was partially due to some weak song selections, and also New Zealand’s inherent love-to-hate relationship with it’s own talent. When Tyree came out as a solo act, Smashproof was established as a crew, but wasn’t really known to the public. Enter Young Sid and his album The Truth, the release of which coincided with the beginning of a tumultuous couple of years in New Zealand. Society witnessed an explosion of gang activity, murder and violence, and, like it or not, The Truth was the perfect soundtrack. Sid’s elevation to hood hero/middle New Zealand enemy was pivotal to Smashproof’s success.
Now in 2009, Tyree, Deach and Sid are back as a unit and have delivered what is essentially a local Hip Hop classic. Screw what the purists say, because this is not only produced well, it’s also exactly what people want to hear. By ‘people’ I’m talking about seventies head nod babies, eighties b-boys, nineties newjacks and even my kids. It appeals to literally everyone. The flow of the album is basic - it’s about a weekend. From knocking off work on Friday to the back to work Monday anthem ‘Ordinary Life’, The Weekend a journey in song.
The title track is the perfect beginning; it’s celebratory tone not only matches every person’s elation at getting off work each Friday afternoon, it also feels like the group are taking a collective sigh of relief - perhaps at the arrival of their album. ‘Brother’ is an unconventional pop anthem, although featuring vocalist Gin Wigmore was the stroke of genius that lead to countless radio and TV spins. I wasn’t overly into ‘Hot Boy’ and it’s clubby tone, but the summer feel of ‘I Could Take You There’ with MZJ, Stunner and Mr. Sicc is sublime. Chasing it is my favourite track, ‘Somebody Like Me’. Over a hot Shuko beat, all three MCs spit hard about their journey to date, especially Sid who fires “the Truth dropped/I had the hardest s*** with no chick songs/but get two rows of chicks each time I perform”, and clears up the media accusations with a few choice words: “and for the record/I’m not with any gang/I grew up with many gangs/respected by plenty Gs”. ‘All Night Long’ featuring New York twins Nina Sky is an obvious club banger, and ‘My Crib’ gets local soulsters Awa and Pieter T in on the action. The set rounds out with the heavy ‘Sunday Star Times’. This moody Khaled produced cut addresses multiple hood issues and offers hope to those less fortunate. Sid kills it with some vivid wordplay and visual lines like “slugs in his lungs”, cementing his place as one of the top three MCs in New Zealand.
Overall, some of the interludes don’t quite work and ‘Ordinary Life’ is nearly too much, but these are minor flaws. From the multiple gang references, to the youthful free-for-all attitude, to the sudden politically righteousness, Smashproof embody everything you love to hate. It feels like little or no thought was put into the conceptualisation of the overall project (although I know there was), and that’s the genius of it. It simply is what it is. It’s not concocted, pompous or fictitious. It’s three South Auckland friends telling it exactly as they see and feel it. Their honesty and commitment to accurate rhyme will capture you, and - as well as all three MCs being completely on top of their game - they’ve also chosen some stunning beats to work with.
The Weekend is a modern day classic. Get it on Friday, listen to it Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday you’ll realise it’s one of the best weekends you ever had.