SPYCC Opens Up About New Zealand's Toxic Masculinity
"The whole damn culture needs reforming" he raps on SWIDT's new track.
Onehunga’s hometown heroes SWIDT returned recently not just with a new EP, The Most Electrifying, but with one of their most confronting songs yet. ‘No Emotions In The Wild’, one of six new songs from the record, features an eye-opening verse from SPYCC about toxic masculinity and the country’s appalling youth suicide rates. “Way too many of my people falling cause they’re not supported / the whole damn culture needs reforming / not tomorrow but this morning / stop conforming, stop ignoring.” Local rap legend Sid Diamond has called it the song of the year.
The track, says SPYCC aka Daniel Latu, was penned after he learned that the youth suicide rate in New Zealand is the highest in the developed world and Pacific youth are three times more likely than European youth to attempt suicide. “I was like, maybe that's part of our culture of being silent around that kind of thing. Or it being a tapu-like topic to talk about.” Back when he went to Onehunga High School, he remembers four or five students committing suicide.
“There's still that belief that mental illness doesn't exist,” he says. “Like, just get over. I feel like there needs to be more awareness and more support in that aspect. Say you're a teenager and a Pacific Islander; who can you really talk to about those issues? Because all your role models and the people you look up to, they're spitting that whole ‘harden up’ thing.”
Toxic masculinity is something SPYCC experienced himself after his grandmother passed away. Losing her was a traumatic experience. He was 12 or 13 at the time and she had been like another parent to him. “I was over there all the time, especially when my mum was working. So losing her was the first time I actually dealt with death, especially with someone that I loved so much.”
Her death is referenced on both ‘No Emotions In The Wild’ and STONEYHUNGA cut ‘Before Tears Dry’, a song which details how he broke down and cried when it happened. “Then my cousin was like ‘keep it gangsta’. As in don't cry, don't show any emotion. That really stuck with me for ages.”
He had just had the same message delivered to him from his uncle in the hospital foyer shortly after she died.
“He started talking to me about when my grandfather had passed–because I had never met him, he passed before I was born—and he was saying he had never cried and he won't cry now that my grandmother has passed. I was just standing there quietly, coming to the realisation that I'll never see this woman again and then he just started talking and that's what he decided to say.
It was like having mixed emotions. It was like, ‘I feel real sad right now but these people are telling me to bite the bullet and harden up. To keep my composure’.”
Songwriting is like a form of therapy for SPYCC, a way for him to process everything he’s been through. Sometimes when he’s got a lot on his mind, he throws on an instrumental track and starts writing to it. “Instantly it alleviates the stress and the pain of whatever's going on,” he says. His mum’s a social worker and his dad’s a counsellor, so he’s always been aware of the issues plaguing his community. When he got to work on The Most Electrifying with bandmates INF, Smokey Beatz, JAMAL, AZA and Boomer-Tha-God, the youth suicide rate was weighing on his mind.
‘No Emotions In The Wild’ is essentially two songs in one, with SPYCC’s impassioned verse followed by a beat shift mid-way through and a verse from INF that pushes the song in a new direction. “I feel like we're always doing that duality type thing,” explains SPYCC, “where it's like we're being conscious and then being ignorant. Because that's human beings.” The dichotomy between SPYCC’s vulnerability and INF’s bravado is what carries the song. By the end of SPYCC’s verse, he’s come to the realisation that the king of the jungle mentality isn’t for him. Out in the wild, it’s about who can beat their chest the hardest; it’s do or die; kill or be killed. “Then it's like I put that mask on when I leave the house. It's knowing that and then not really acting on it.”
Behind it all is a bold message that this ‘harden up’ mentality needs to stop before more people die. “We're all about trying to uplift our people and the culture,” says SPYCC. “In some little way, if we could influence someone to feel better about expressing themselves or putting an end to that cycle of dismissing mental health, then that's cool for us.”
Need to talk?
Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
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