Here comes the neighbourhood

Words: Sam Wicks  
Photography: Tobias Kraus

From the streets of South Auckland, a rapper whose ‘regular dude’ rhymes are something out of the ordinary 

Tuna onigiri from the DressSmart sushi stand; a steak-and-cheese pie from Summit Cafe in Onehunga Mall; ice creams from Ollie’s at Royal Oak roundabout; milk and bread from the Arthur Superette at 224 Arthur Street. In a feature on local life and style blog Lani Says, Onehunga son Spycc – the MC and producer born Daniel Latu – offers an insight into the neighbourhood that raised him, presenting some of the simple pleasures on offer in his historic South Auckland suburb. Spycc’s insider’s guide, suitably titled What’s Good In Your Hood, unpacks the small details of his home turf, in a checklist that favours go-to cheap eats over upscale restaurants and other indicators of Onehunga’s creeping gentrification. 

“Everything’s personal. Onehunga’s a big part of my life, so of course it’s in my music”

Sandwiched between the suburbs of One Tree Hill, Te Papapa, Mangere and Hillsborough, Onehunga is a neighbourhood on the rise. Once a working-class stronghold, Auckland’s booming property market has seen housing prices soar and demographics shift in the township that three generations of Latus have called home. “I always hear people calling it the ‘new Ponsonby’,” says Spycc, referencing the moneyed inner-city suburb that was once a hub of Auckland’s Pacific Island community. “There’s traditionally been a lot of Islanders in Onehunga, but as DressSmart came into play and other businesses followed, that’s changed. It’s still a very diverse community, though; it’s a got a real tribal feel to it. If you live in Onehunga, you tend to stay there.”

Spycc’s grandmother moved to Onehunga from her home in Tonga in 1971, and the Latu clan has remained here since, moving streets but holding on to their area code. Now, three EPs deep into his recording career, the 25-year-old is using his Southside take on West Coast hip-hop to present vivid snapshots of his South Auckland stomping ground.

“I can’t really just create music out of thin air, just rhyming words for the sake of it. Everything has to come from a personal place for me,” Spycc says. “Onehunga’s a big part of my life, so of course it’s in my music.” With no beat to back him, Spycc rips through a verse from You Know Me, a track taken from his self-titled Spycc EP, which captures a carefree childhood spent on the South Auckland streets: bullrush in the driveway, playing 20-cent Street Fighter, having scraps with local kids: 

My father brought me a BMX, it was pink/ Had to paint it jet black before we ever hit the street. That was me and my neighbour riding down the cul-de-sac/ He used to double me till one day my tyre caught a flatAirborne, we landed in a grass patch/ Just another memory, something we could laugh at.

By holding a magnifying glass up to the streets that raised him, Spycc has ensured that the halcyon days of his childhood are not lost to the noise of suburban renewal. “This is a neighbourhood in flux,” he says. “There’s a lot of new money creeping in here. As soon as the mall opened, it became really busy, and you don’t see kids playing out in the streets too much anymore. I’m trying to keep those memories alive.”

“I can’t really just create music out of thin air, just rhyming words for the sake of it. Everything has to come from a personal place for me,”

A skilled producer in his own right, Spycc enlisted beatmakers Smokey Beatz, AZA and High Hoops to provide rich canvases for the Onehunga narratives on his new EP. His isn’t the only voice on the record: an invite was extended to David Dallas, who added a brag-heavy verse to the set, returning the favour that saw Spycc add his two cents to the track How Long on Dallas’s 2013 album Falling Into Place.

First and foremost, Spycc’s main collaborators are the streets of his youth, which frame the sound and content of the Spycc EP. It’s a calculated move: in an industry where artists need to be seen to grant access to their histories and lifestyles through Twitter feeds and Tumblrs, Spycc knows that the key to winning over new audiences is in revealing more of his backstory. “For this EP, I really wanted to establish my brand; like who I am, where I come from,” he says. “People try to stand out these days, but I don’t feel like you need to stand out – you just need to be yourself because there’s no one else like you in this world. I feel like I’ve generalised too much in my raps in the past, but this new material could only be my story. I’m just a regular dude from Onehunga, trying to tell my life’s story through these raps.”

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08 2014 The Red Bulletin

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