‘We’ve made a Kiwiana kung fu flick’Auckland hip-hop trio recruit a legend of the NZ scene for killer hooks and video villainy
At 7.30am the other morning, on some land just behind a house in Mission Bay, a kung fu film was being made. An homage to classic movies of the genre – shadowy imagery, outrageous martial artistry, a clear line drawn between Good and Evil – it’s also the promo for a song that brings together a man whose name is on 11 NZ Music Awards and a hip-hop trio just two albums into what they hope will be an equally glittering career.
Our hero is played by Tony Tz, one third of Team Dynamite, along with Lucky Lance and Haz Beats. The 11-gong guy is Che Fu, and at this early hour he’s already in costume as the sensei who will guide our hero in his attempt to defeat the head of the Dragons, a villainous kung fu crew. “I know that Che is into that culture,” says Lucky, also robed up for the shoot. “So it was only right that we got him to be the sensei, the sifu, for a Kiwiana kung fu flick.” There’s also a visual link between the video for Che-Fu’s 1998 single Scenes III, with its Eastern-tinged aesthetic, and the one being shot 16 years later, for a song called Coconut Lime.
The latter’s director, Eddy Fifield, has cribbed props from the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny, the just-shot-in-New Zealand sequel to Ang Lee’s 2000 martial arts epic. There are bamboo fronds, a water gourd, lanterns, and even the buckets sourced from the Weinstein Company’s multimillion-dollar production. The video, by contrast, is being shot on the smell of an oily rag, but the charms of vintage martial arts flicks are being replicated in suburban Auckland.
Team Dynamite are part of the Young Gifted & Broke collective of artists and musicians that also includes Raiza Biza, Home Brew and Tom Gould. Che Fu, of course, was the soul-powered voice of Auckland funk-rock outfit Supergroove in the early 1990s before stepping out solo with his 1996 No 1, Chains. He swapped plain old Che Ness for Che Fu in tribute to his beloved kung fu films, and peppers his rhymes and songs – he is that rare rapper who can also sing – with martial arts references.
“Kung fu movies have been within my vein of interests for a long time, so this role is perfect for me,” he says. “It’s been great working on the video with Eddy, the director, because he was saying stuff, ‘It’s going to be like The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin,’” a reference to the classic 1978 kung fu film, which is also an touchstone for hip-hop’s most famous martial arts fans, the Wu-Tang Clan.
Team Dynamite’s summery vibe is the yin to the yang of the Wu-Tang’s harder, gangsta-heavy tone, but both groups share a love of melodic samples and rich beats. It has taken the former four years to follow up their debut album, The Demo Tape, with the recently released Shepherd’s Delight. The sweet spot on that collection of certified bangers is Coconut Lime (feat. Che Fu), a track showcasing Ness’s honeyed vocals and raps by Lucky and Tony Tz.
Coconut Lime is also, says Haz Beats, the name of the climactic action of the song’s video. “The whole story is pretty much Tony has a fight with me; I’m like the villain, he’s the good guy,” he continues. “He loses and then he goes running to Che Fu and Che teaches him the Coconut Lime, which is a finishing move. Then Tony comes back and his house is burned down, then he challenges me – and he wins in the end.”
Coconut Lime is also, says Lucky, the name of the song’s beat, which was given to Team Dynamite by a fellow member of the Young, Gifted & Broke collective, B.Haru of the hip-hop group @Peace. (Exactly the sort of help-one-another collaboration that the collective was founded to foster.) “I just wrote to whatever ‘coconut lime’ meant to me,” he continues. “It sounds like a refreshing drink. When I gave Che the beat, he said ‘What’s coconut lime?’ I just shrugged my shoulders and said ‘What does it mean to you?’ He came back with his hook based on that. That, and this video, are perfect for it, I reckon.