When Smashproof’s hit song Brother was released in 2009, it was met with controversy. The song’s music video depicts the tragic circumstances of Pihema Cameron’s death when, a year before the song’s release, he was stabbed for tagging.
“It had to be said in a song and it’s unfortunate that some people got offended,”
Smashproof member Tyree says. “It definitely stirred some huge topics that we face in society today and that’s, pretty much, racism.”
The topic hit home. Brother quickly shot to number one, and now holds the record for the kiwi song which has spent the most consecutive weeks topping Aotearoa’s charts.
The hit, with its unusual vocals, catchy beat, and verses depicting life in South Auckland, critiqued systems of crime and poverty in New Zealand. On it, Smashproof spoke about loss, about inequality, about the challenges facing their community.
Hip hop artist Tipene explains Bother’s impact: “in terms of the timing, when they came through, that was speaking to the hearts of people, man. And I understand why that song went on to do what it’s done. It broke records, but it also mended hearts.”
After the single’s release, the crew felt like “the Beatles of New Zealand” when performing. Smashproof member Sid Diamond was surprised at the popularity of such a personal song.
They were a group of three South Auckland teenagers speaking about what South Auckland was like for them and the racism they encountered. But the song stretched beyond this focus.
“You know, it happens everywhere, it’s not just South Auckland,” explains Smashproof member Deach. “Even though we use brother as a metaphor for South Auckland, ‘brother’ is just a metaphor for a small community, or for someone that’s struggling, that needs help.”
And just as the song speaks to places beyond South Aucklandit also reaches beyond the time it was written in. The problems Smashproof highlighted in brother are still relevant to New Zealand today.
“It was a really good insight into what was happening at the time, and I guarantee not much has changed.” says Sid Diamond.
In this episode, Smashproof grapple with issues of inequality, racism, and grief. The episode tracks the creation of brother, the controversy surrounding the music video, and the resounding impact of the song, both in hip hop and in the wider New Zealand society.
NZ Hip Hop Stand Up was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.