Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

SWIDT putting Onehunga on the musical map

A group of school friends want to put Onehunga rap back on the map. Chris Schulz meets six-strong hip-hop crew SWIDT.
Onehunga rap crew SWIDT (See What I Did There?) outside the house where they recorded their debut album.
Onehunga rap crew SWIDT (See What I Did There?) outside the house where they recorded their debut album.

In a humble room on the top floor of a state house in Onehunga, magic is being made.

A complicated arrangement of Middle Eastern strings and slabs of bass blast out of speakers connected to a basic music studio, flooding the sparse room and spilling out of the window and on to the street below.

Leaning over the system nodding his head in time is Isaiah Libeau, the Kiwi producer known as Smokey who has used this simple set-up - just a keyboard and sample pad - to make music for top MCs like Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock to rhyme over.

"It's everything I need really. You could have the shittiest set-up but still make better music than people who have better equipment. I just go off what you have, not what you need," he says, queing up another track.

His next song - an adrenalised chestbeater called Level Up currently being remixed by New York upstart Joey Bada$ - shows exactly what Libeau has been up to lately.

It's part of his latest project, an album with Onehunga rap collective SWIDT (it stands for "See What I Did There?"), fearing Libeau and five high school friends.

Together, they're trying to put their suburb on the musical map.

"We've been working on a (local) movement, on a national scale," is their ambitious mission statement. But they're starting strong, with their debut album SWIDT vs Everybody channelling the classic backpack rap of fellow Kiwi rap acts Dubious Brothers and Home Brew.

If you can hear a harder edge on some tracks, like Level Up, that comes courtesy of RES, the dark and sadly defunct Kiwi rap trio who share family ties with several members of SWIDT.

Downstairs from Libeau's bedroom studio, all six members have gathered to explain how they're going about business.

Labelling themselves "the Onehunga massive", references to their home suburb ripple through their rhymes.

First single No More Parties in Stoneyhunga opens with the lyric, "Onehunga bringing the fire" and the video features the group rapping from a nearby motorway overpass, then dancing on the roof of the house Libeau's studio is based in.

"That was one of the best shoots we've done, it was super-hot, it was 8.30 in the morning and I was on the roof sweating," says Daniel Latu, the group's front man and most confident speaker, who also goes by the name Spycc.

He's joined in the group by Amon McGoram (INF), Asher Schwencke (Boomer), Jamal Muavae (JAMAL) and Aaryn Orchard (A.Z.A).

There's also references to Penny Lane Bakery, a local pie shop that supplied the group's breakfast today.

"That's our point of difference, we're from Onehunga, we're from New Zealand," says Latu, through a mouthful of pastry.

"We're not from America, we're not trying to sound like that, we're trying to sound like where we come from ...

"We're not trying to glamourise our area, we're just really proud of it.

"Some people want to have flash cars in their clips. We're just on the roof of our house."

They've been together since high school, but this is their first serious attempt at pushing the group forward.

Solo albums are planned after SWIDT vs Everybody, in the style of overseas rap collectives like Wu-Tang Clan or A$AP Mob.

"For the longest time, we were toying with the words, 'What if? Maybe?' But now we're like, you're either doing it or you're not doing it. We want to take it forward, we're serious," says Latu.

But they're not too serious. Latu ends the interview by lowering his voice and saying: "I want to be the mayor of Onehunga. I want to run Onehunga ... on a formal basis."

There's a pause, and the entire group erupts with laughter.

You can't help but think that in Libeau, Latu and the rest of the SWIDT crew, Onehunga's streets are in safe hands.

Lowdown

Who: Onehunga rap brats SWIDT featuring Spycc (above red jacket) and Smokey (black t-shirt)
What: Debut album SWIDT vs Everybody, out now

- TimeOut

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