Welcome to the Weekend
Author: Andrew Hughes
Like-minded MCs Deach, Young Sid and Tyree make up Smashproof, a kind of super group who are currently enjoying the status of New Zealand's favourite homegrown hip hop act. Released late in March, Smashproof's debut album 'The Weekend' is considerably more than just home for a number one hit single - and that itself was no lucky strike. The trio talked with Andrew Hughes about rapping about their world and taking over the local hip hop scene.
Smashproof appeared in 2005, signing to Auckland/US label Move The Crowd Records (MTC). They released a slew of street-level mixtapes here and in Australia, including 'Tales Of The Southside' hosted by international RnB phenomenon Akon, and a follow on series called 'Speed Of Sound'.
The group came into the game as underdogs. At the time there was a strict hip hop hierarchy and exclusive scene in Auckland which revolved around K'Rd club 4:20. The South Auckland crew fought for their place in the spotlight early on and proved themselves through touring and hard work, gaining the respect of some key industry figures including the super well-connected MTC co-owner Kirk Harding.
Four years later Smashproof have sat atop the NZ Top 40 Singles chart for over a month, their social commentary crossover success Brother giving their debut album 'The Weekend' a healthy foundation for release.
'Notify the king of the city, we're coming to take his crown', spits Young Sid on the opening bars of the album, and he is right on point judging by the charts. Brother (which brilliantly includes the counterpoint of North Shore-gone international girl Gin Wigmore) has pushed local and international competition aside in its highly impressive chart involvement, five weeks spent sitting in the number one spot.
Little wonder the song has enjoyed heavy rotation on radio and TV given the publicity generated by the accompanying Chris Graham video that quickly had well over 200,000 views on YouTube. Shot in East Tamaki, the video includes Gin and notably a scene re-enacting the controversial Pihema Cameron/Bruce Emery case, showing a middle-aged man chasing a kid who has tagged his fence. Extensive mainstream media coverage of the video aided Brother to quickly achieve gold single sales, also bringing welcome attention to the kind of South Auckland issues which loom large in their writing.
Tyree wrote and sung the hook in the original version, Gin Wigmore's involvement an afterthought.
"Tyree didn't want to do the part that he's singing, he was meant to do Gin's part", reveals Young Sid. "We laid our verses down during the day," Tyree picks up. "It was serious…[and then] when it came to the night we were just mucking around, and we came up with a masterpiece!" Tyree explains that Brother is more than just a song, and the group's message more than hip hop frippery.
"I had a dude hit me up on Bebo and his wife had just died. He said it was hard for him and his daughter and Brother helped him out. I was touched for real… for our music to help other people out, I'm happy, I'm ecstatic."
'The Weekend' is MTC's most important release to date, there is a lot riding on it for the group and the label. Despite around 30 songs not making the final cut, the album is still a comprehensive 15 tracks. At Harding's recommendation, it is a journey in time, taking listeners through a rowdy weekend where three friends find themselves in some sticky, scary and surreal situations.
The album was recorded in its entirety at Woodcut Studio's in Eden Terrace by Juse, who says the album took around a year to record. Producer Cochise lent his hand to recording, and also helped with the mixing in New York, alongside Benjamin Wollner in France, while Angus McNaughton handled mastering duties.
Breaking in waves, the album begins with the high-energy title track, moving toward more contemplative topics at its conclusion, in the form of Sunday Star-Times and Ordinary Life which shows the group's recognition of their position as influential local leaders.
Following the album's theme concept each track leads into the next, Hot Boy for example leading into The Morning After where Tyree spits, '… that's when the police came, try to put me in chains, I swung and hit one in the face'. Blacking out shortly after, he wakes up with a headache in 'a fucked up jail cell… guess that's what happens when I try fighting with the cops'.
The subject matter is well balanced with RnB tracks like My Crib and I Could Take You There countering solid hip hop joints like the Dr. Dre-esque Somebody Like Me and the infectious Breathe In, Breathe Out. Second single It's Friday is more club oriented than Brother and demonstrates the (still young) crew's party-starting demeanour. Full of energy, synthy sounds, 808 percussion, gang vocals and seismic kick drums, the result is adrenaline laced. Video director Tim Van Dammen used a complex point-of-view concept, with shot filmed in the first person, similar to Kanye West's All Falls Down video.
Inevitably the next question is whether Smashproof secure another Top 10 hit? And if they do, will it signify the beginning of another hip hop movement such as that which Scribe's 'The Crusader' began in 2003?
"We're more than Brother because we've paid our dues in terms of songs," Tyree says enthusiastically. "How many songs have we done, before 'Tales Of The Southside?' We were spitting the truth before Brother, we were spitting that real shit, before Brother! I'm telling you man, I stress that to anyone that's reading this!"
Move The Crowd have dropped five albums to date, two of which were the solo albums of Young Sid and Tyree. They gained personal acclaim with Sid's nomination for Best Urban Album at the 2008 NZ Music Awards, while Tyree won Best Male Artist at the 2007 Australasian Urban Music Awards.
Tyree explains that MTC's vision from the start was to slowly build momentum for the debut Smashproof album.
"All the albums that came out on MTC, including Ethical's album, were all leading up to this album now, and it shows because this is MTC's first number one hit."
Sid continues. "Juse set a platform for (Tyree), he set a platform for me, I set a platform for all of us and Smashproof will set a platform for whatever else we got coming next."
Many of the artists featured on the album come by way of international connections. MTC regulars Cochise, F.B.I and Shuko are all active in the U.S market and have themselves worked with various big name artists from Ice Cube to Raphael Saadiq.
Largely unknown in NZ, beat maker Khaled of Australian group The Formula, who constantly works with Tyree, drops in to assist on three of the album's standout tracks. New York-based RnB duo Nina Sky came to international attention with Move Ya Body in 2004, which blazed urban radio worldwide. A surprising big ticket cameo, the group feature on the dancehall-inspired All Night Long.
MTC co-owner Kirk Harding, whose day job is as Senior Vice President of Universal Motown in the U.S has guided the group since the start, and although his criticism and honesty can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow, especially after working so hard, it has clearly paid off.
"I'd just finish sending him six tracks, that's just on the regular. It's a matter of getting his approval, his advice and his opinion", says Tyree. "And then you enhance the track and re-send it and he goes 'I'm still not sold on it'. It's like, 'What the fuck man?' It's unpredictable sometimes," he laughs.
'The Weekend' will be released in Australia with Universal, there are also rumours of Brother dropping in the U.S, and with the new single hitting local radio, the next few weeks will be closely scrutinised by the hip hop market. No matter what, Smashproof believe in investing in the future as Tyree concludes.
"This was so important for us to drop this. It's the benchmark for NZ hip hop at the moment… it's going to open up a lot of NZ artists to think like, 'I've got to do this as well'."