Sandwiched between the suburbs of One Tree Hill, Te Papapa, Mangere and Hillsborough, Onehunga has long been a locale on the rise. Once a working-class stronghold, soaring property prices and demographic shifts have gentrified the Auckland Central neighbourhood within an inch of its life—not something you would have gauged if you'd only experienced it through the lens of rising rap collective SWIDT.
Made up of Spycc, INF, Smokey Beatz, JAMAL, AZA and Boomer-tha-God, the diehard Onehunga locals have religiously used 312 icons—the bus line, Penny Lane pie shop, the Mecca that is Dress-Smart mall—as talismans in their songs. But it's SWIDT's latest roll-out of four back-to-back tracks that are fully transporting fans to the Onehunga of their teenhoods.
Spearheaded by first single 'Alfred & Church', the song cycle presents an unfolding narrative of misspent youth, with Spycc and INF's recollections divorced from the unwanted urban renewal that has transformed their original stomping ground.
Take a first look at SWIDT's entire short film with tracks 'Little Did She Know ' and 'Close One', directed by Connor Pritchard.
"We want to paint a picture of what it was like growing up in the neighbourhood during our time, the late 90s, early 2000s," says Spycc, a third gen Onehungian. "That's the beauty of what we're doing right now—we're trying to bring those memories to life and bring people into our story."
With immaculate in-house production from Smokey and TDE's Tae Beast plus a lyrical assist courtesy of Pro Era's CJ Fly, the penmanship of Spycc and INF has been further enhanced by an accompanying bundle of videos. And, in an era of pared-down video treatments and scaled-back budgets, the latest SWIDT visual ups the ante, with 19-year-old Napier director Connor Pritchard rendering 'Little Did She Know' and 'Close One' as one complete short film.
"'Little Did She Know' sees us sneaking out of the house, telling Mum we're going to play games at our friend's house when we're actually off to a party," INF explains. "'Close One' is the aftermath—it's what happens when you're walking home with friends and you get caught up in some sticky situations. It's a real scenario and we filmed it where it actually happened. I was getting anxiety, like, oh shit, this is bringing back memories."
Taking inspiration from 1990's House Party, the Kid 'n Play vehicle that saw the rap duo branch into acting, SWIDT's double-video brings both singles to life, with a hazy night of liquor and KFC, a spot of tagging and a lock-in followed by the drunk and disorderly aftermath. In Spycc's telling, it's the consequences laid out in 'Close Ones' that makes it so relatable.
"People are drawn to vulnerability," he says. "In hip hop there's a common theme of being, 'I'm the man', so it's cool to put it out there that shit can go bad sometimes. That's life, everyone goes through that shit, and we survived it—unfortunately for the rap game we survived it."
While fully versed in New Zealand hip hop history and Onehunga's part in it, SWIDT's Hawaiian-shirted movement is one they've built as a standalone brand, untethered to the past or present of Aotearoa rap. That approach has freed the collective to release what they want, when they want, with this latest clutch of songs designed to feed their fan base over a 12-week period.
"I never felt we fitted in a certain group," Spycc says. "We were never part of a real underground scene but we had elements of that. And we were never too mainstream but we had mainstream appeal. It's a different climate out here and people are digesting music faster. We're releasing songs that we fuck with, that we think are hard. We just want to flood the game."
Unconstrained by outmoded release strategies, SWIDT's deluge of new music is impacting the charts nevertheless. All the singles released so far have hit the iTunes Hip Hop Top 10 and made the official New Zealand Music Heatseekers Chart, claiming the number 1 and 2 positions. With a debut album scheduled for a 7 July worldwide release and plans for the crew to travel to Los Angeles to put in more work with their TDE and Pro Era collaborators, SWIDT's unorthodox content strategies are paying dividends.
And while their nimble approach to music and merch drops will continue to pivot to stay ahead of the industry curve, the one consistent underpinning the group's output will be the values instilled in them by the neighbourhood that raised them, a fact Spycc is firm on.
"The Onehunga of today doesn't reflect the Onehunga we grew up in, but we're going to stay here and keep telling the stories of what it was like back then. People have always gone, 'Oh, you're from Onehunga—that's where Dress-Smart is.' And now they say, 'That's where SWIDT is'."
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