Andy Murnane, Brotha D, Savage, Mareko, Adeaze, Aaradhna
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…an invigorating look at New Zealand’s own contribution to the hip-hop ideal of the self-made hustler, using words, beats, and street knowledge to make heads nod and hearts open.
Hip-hop, a genre born out of block parties in the Bronx and a culture that grew from the disenfranchised, shaping the world in their own image, is now a global force with touchstone labels in all four corners. The United States have Def Jam, England has Boy Better Know, South Korea has FeelGhood, and even here in Australia, we have Golden Era Records. And New Zealand is no different, with this documentary by Naked Samoan Oscar Kightley (Bro’town, Sione’s Wedding) highlighting the rise and fall of South Auckland’s indie powerhouse Dawn Raid Entertainment.
Framed by interviews with label founders Danny ‘Brotha D’ Leaosavai’I and Andy Murnane, along with labelmates like the Deceptikonz, Adeaze and Aaradhna, the come-up story presented is the stuff of hip-hop folklore history. Taking the all-American trappings of the culture, refracting it through their unique geographical surroundings, what started with a dream and a small T-shirt stand at an Ōtaran market became a galvanising force for the local rap scene, rubbing shoulders and collaborating with legends like Snoop Dogg, Tech N9ne, and even the Wu-Tang Clan.
The energy created from the recollections and the expansive drone shots is infectious, locking the audience in with the subway-train momentum of Dawn Raid Entertainment’s trajectory, making the label’s necessity shine all the brighter. Following in the footsteps of their idols, Brotha D wanted to use the music as a platform for the unheard, the Polynesian population, with a name taken directly from a dark chapter in New Zealand’s immigration history. For a genre so fixated on legitimacy, the respect for the culture and its potential for social impact shows through every pore of this doco’s makeup. If an old head went through this production with a fine-toothed comb and KRS-One’s list of the 9 core elements, they’d find representation across the board.
Its depiction of the global impact is fascinating too, maybe even a little cheer-worthy from across the Tasman for how our little Oceanic pocket could make such an international splash. From uniting NZ with a little friendly competition with rising star Scribe, to the aforementioned collaborating, to soundtracking Sione’s Wedding, to a surprising appearance from Knocked Up (proving that Seth Rogen has basically spent his whole career as a magnet for astounding needle drops), right down to hard facts about the industry: Music sales ain’t what they used to be, and never underestimate the power of white chicks and frat guys making videos online.
Dawn Raid should be essential viewing for Oceanic hip-hop heads, chronicling the troubled but uplifting story of an independent stable that deserves recognition for the artists it fostered and the impact it created, both local and global. It’s an invigorating look at New Zealand’s own contribution to the hip-hop ideal of the self-made hustler, using words, beats, and street knowledge to make heads nod and hearts open. Southside, stand up!