Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dawn Raid interview by Kerry Buchanan, 2001

A Southside story.

Dawn Raid by Kerry Buchanan, Real Groove, May 2001

“Who can you compare Brotha D and me to?” says Andy Murnane (aka Y.D.N.A.), co-CEO of South Auckland hiphop label Dawn Raid Entertainment. “Can you compare us to Che and Kapisi, can you compare us to Master P and Russell Simmons, because they are two who built an empire? We aren’t just trying to build rap.”

Staunch words, but Y.D.N.A. and Danny Leaosavaii (aka Brotha D) can back it up. Similar to that old movie about a two-headed transplant, but in this case with one brain; the duo think and do the same. One’s Irish, the other Samoan, but that hasn’t got much to do with it - it’s more about community, pride and respect to the culture that nurtured them.

The seeds of Dawn Raid began in 1996, at Manukau Polytech in Otara, where the two met while studying for a business degree. “Brotha D sort of took me under his wing,“ explains Y.D.N.A., “he was already in Lost Tribe, and took me on tour with UPR [Phil Fuemana’s Urban Pacifika Records]. I was only 16, I'm only 22 now, we started evolving from there.”

That tour and the subsequent interest in Lost Tribe contained certain lessons, recalls Brotha D. “ The trip with UPR taught us heaps about the industry and the bullshit... lots of cats took it for the one side and didn't actually see the full picture of it all. We evolved from that tour, because we saw it and knew we could further it, we started to look at it like a business straight away. I saw that with Lost Tribe, so many only had so much power. Here's me coming from a background of where I don't let anybody step to me and control my shit... and yet I'm in this music thing and these people are fucking stopping me.”

Control and ownership in all areas, be it music or business, was the key concept learnt by the duo. Around this time, several entrepreneurial opportunities presented themselves,and Brotha D and Y.D.N.A. were quick to capitalise. Firstly, there was a discount phone card deal, referred to as “Island Life.” The arrangement offered cheap calls to the ISlands with the ability to bypass the toll bar. Then came the clothing business, an idea of Y.D.N.A.’s.

“We had talented people like Johnny Sagala who had made the original Lost Tribe t-shirt. What happened was that me and my friends said ‘I can make those shirts, let’s do it.’ We all just had a dab at it all.”

At that stage it was just that, dabbling. To pay the rent, Brotha D was running a bar in South Auckland while Y.D.N.A. was working at Auckland Airport, pumping bags. Both were keen for a concept to work on, something to mold, something to build on. Y.D.N.A. went looking in Australia, but missed all the acton his homeboys were enjoying in Aotearoa.

“These guys are getting famous,” he remembers. “I’m ringing up and they’re like ‘you missed that and this.’ I cut my trip very short, knocked on the garage door in Otara… I’m back.”

And not just to hang out. Y.D.N.A. returned with a new idea to put into reality. “That next week I came to Brotha D and said ‘bro, I got a new company called Dawn Raid.’ That was the one.” Other names were considered, says Brotha D, but with the political and emotional resonance of the name , in relation to the notorious dawn raids carried out by the Government on Polynesian families in the 1970s, the name stuck. “It meant a lot to me, because it actually happened to my family. I explained to Andy all about that, and when I used to write my rhymes and shit, he knew it off by heart and he knew what those rhymes meant to me.”

By 1998, although UPR remained a going concern at the time, Dawn Raid was the duo’s first priority. Initially they planned to do a mixtape with other established acts, but decided instead to focus on the fledgling rappers around the local neighbourhood. ‘Why not use them and bring up some raw and unknown talent’ was the general idea.

Y.D.N.A. picks up the flow; “We started to apply for grants, but we didn’t get any. I said to D ‘fuck it, let’s go in the paper and say we’re doing this shit. So we said we were going to make an album… we used the Lost Tribe name, had a photo of him and me - Lost Tribe looking for talent.”

After Brotha D and Y.D.N.A. conducted a bunch of interviews in their garage and unearthed some skilled performers, they secured a mere $2000 from Manukau City Council to start the ball rolling. Soon both realised the only way to see the proposed album through to fruition was if they hooked up with a recording studio sympathetic to the logistical and financial problems they faced, and believed in what they were attempting to do.
The duo approached Kev Rangihuna, owner of One Luv Studios in Grey Lynn. “We said to him, ‘Kev, we aint got shit…’ he helped and we owe him a lot. Nothing but love there.”

Dawn Raid purchased a truck to transport the kids from out south to the central city to record, and the end result was a great album made with little money and a lot of hard work. Even more than that, Southside Story made a statement. From the map of Otara on the front to the homeboys on the back, it was infused with geographical pride.

“The thing about the South,” says Brotha D, “for so long they just be bagging our shit. So why can’t we come out and say ‘well we’re quite good too… we’re good at our music, our clothing, we’re good at this and that.’ It’s been a massive learning curve for my people, for those who stay there.”

Since the release of Southside Story in 1999, Dawn Raid has consolidated and grown. Nowadays there’s the successful Cocoland clothing label, a clothing store, a hair salon and a new recording studio, all based in Papatoetoe. Although the Dawn Raid crew maintain control over every aspect of their business, the hustle continues. Brotha D and Y.D.N.A. are only two papers away from securing business diplomas, and there’s at least one more company in the pipeline (look forward to Infamous Jewellery for a little bling bling in your life).

In the meantime, the release of Southside Story II is imminent, a compilation that will feature local artists like the Deceptikonz, Ill Semantics, 275 and Kaos, plus several independent American hiphop acts that Y.D.N.A. met on a trip to the US last year. “It was a case of, I’ll distribute it in my hood, you distribute it in your hood,” he says. Dawn Raid also did the mad hookup with acts like Boo-Ya Tribe, JT Tha Bigger Figure, and Daz Dillinger, to arrange distribution of their recordings in New Zealand.

Brotha D and Y.D.N.A. both agree that the sense of pride in their success harks back to the hard work they invested in the early stages of Dawn Raid. Both are hardcore and socially motivated on this score. “We’re ruthless in business, ruthless and respectful,” says Y.D.N.A. “You’re in our house, motherfucker… people ask us ‘how did you fund this shit?’ We fucking broke our arse.”

Brotha D: “We're not saying we want all the money and the Mercs and shit. We’re saying, get your brother involved, get your cousin involved, we gave you this piece… do you know what that means? That’s a piece I could have kept to myself, but I gave it to you so that we can build together. We are just trying to get ours, like everybody else… but with what we love doing.”

Which is of course, hiphop. Not just part of it, but the whole matrix of cultural concerns. Dawn Raid represent the importance and influence of the culture. Having met and played alongside Bone Thugs N-Harmony, Naughty By Nature, and Snoop Dogg in Auckland, and taken trips to Compton in south central LA, Brotha D and Y.D.N.A. know that the links between Black America and themselves are stronger than their relationship to white New Zealanders. Dawn Raid live the life and know the truths.

“If you look at the hiphop coming from the States,” says Y.D.N.A., “they accept it as a way of life. And you get a kid like me, who from the moment I was born, all I heard was rap, I was brought up in it. I would say that Dawn Raid, the way we are, are the only people in New Zealand who live like hiphop, and we go out and say that’s what we do every day. My kids know it.

“We can say we got the shops, did the clothing, made our own label to wear, and be proud that it is hiphop to us - that we made our own company that evolved around hiphop. We look at it as a hiphop business and life. We don’t go out and say ‘it’s hiphop, we want two turntables and breakdancing.’ Fuck that! We say ‘hip hop and life.’and that’s the life we live. It’s the Polynesian life, me and D say we are all Polynesians, we’re all ‘nesians.”

This is hiphop 2001, Polynesian style. Beautiful.

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