The story of Smashproof starts when Tyree (aka TY) Tautogia first sang in front of an audience at a talent quest held by his intermediate school. He was hooked immediately and by high school was already writing his own songs.
Tyree taught himself the basics of playing guitar by noting down in a book where to put his fingers for each song, along with lyrical ideas. Soon he was using the family stereo to record vocals over his headphones and then bouncing the track from one cassette deck to the other to add new parts – even working out he needed to sing quieter each time, so each new vocal would be a similar volume.
Tyree eventually met Sidney Diamond, a fellow student who had also been doing music since a young age.
“Sid came to my school. I’d seen him and Deach [Fred Fa’afou] rapping at a breakdancing battle – they were part of a group called Sidre that I thought were good, though I had no idea one day we’d be in a group together … I started making beats on Music 2000 [PlayStation software] and so did Sid. All my beats were the mainstream style you’d hear on radio, whereas Sid’s beats were dark, kill-you type of beats! When we first met, I would jump on Sid’s beats and he would jump on mine. We’d carry around our tapes to parties – Deach would bring his tapes too – and we’d play our own music on the cassette player. It all started from there.”
Fortunately Papatoetoe High School built its own music studio in 2002, so it was perfect timing for Tyree and Sid. Their music teacher allowed them a great deal of time in the studio, so Tyree was able to bring in his PlayStation (along with a television) and feed it into the recording software to record more parts. There was also a keyboard which could record eight tracks at a time, though it wasn’t able to quantise – make corrections – so Tyree had to play carefully. “If I mucked up a part after three minutes, I’d ruin the whole song!”
Tyree and Sid performed
‘Party Scene’ at their school talent quest, and won; Blindspott were the judges.
Tyree then taught himself to use Fruity Loops music software on a friend’s computer. This led to the track ‘Party Scene’ which he and Sid performed at their school talent quest. As Tyree recalls, “It was the first song me and Sid did together, and we won! Blindspott were the judges and when we later became famous, we met them at the awards. They said ‘Bro, we remember you guys when we came to your school!’ That was one of those moments where you think – wow, hard work pays off, ya know?”
The group took a while to settle on a name, though Tyree had long had an idea in mind.
“I believe it was back in 2001 that I came up with the name Smashproof. Since we entered so many talent quests, we would always change our name – at that time a name wasn’t important to us. I always had Smashproof at the back of my mind but didn’t really want to give it away because I held it dear to my heart. I was young and I dreamed big. But as time went on and the more performances/talent quests we did, I ended up giving the name to the group.”
At the time, Mai FM were running a “Rhythm Nation” competition to give exposure to new hip hop and R’n’B acts. Tyree decided they should enter. “We sent in ‘Party Theme’ and came second. We were a bit disheartened, but I said to Sid, ‘We should do this other song I’ve got.’ I played him ‘Friday Night’ and asked him to jump on it. He loved it, but he was like, ‘It’s not me.’ It was super mainstream. So I just did it solo and ended up winning.”
The win led to Tyree having a music video made for him by Māori Television and one of the people who saw it was Justin “Juse” Ferguson from Woodcut Productions/Studios, who got in touch soon after. Tyree not only accepted his offer to record a track, but also brought Sid and Deach along with him so it ended up being the whole of Smashproof on the cut.
Juse took the demos for an album with him when he passed through New York and his friend Jim Pinckney (aka DJ Stinky Jim) put him in touch with Kirk Harding, an expat Kiwi with deep connections in the hip hop scene there. At the time, Harding was working for Loud records, a groundbreaking hip hop label. He was impressed with Juse’s demos, so they decided to form a label together, Move The Crowd (MTC), along with Juse’s partner at Woodcut, Aaron Christie. MTC’s first release was Juse’s Global Casino (2005) and the first single was ‘Ride Til I Die’, which featured Smashproof, putting the trio front and centre for the label.
MTC’s next project was a solo album for Tyree, Now Or Never (2006), with Harding bringing in big talent from the US for the project. Two beats were provided by Emile, who went on to produce ‘Runaway’ for Kanye West and work with Eminem and Lady Gaga. One of the guest rappers was Black Rob, most known for his verse on P Diddy’s mega-hit, ‘Bad Boy for Life’.
MTC inked a deal with Universal Music Group (UMG) in Australia so they had sufficient budget to back up the international sound of the album with a solid promotional campaign. The first single, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, featured Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishal, so Tyree soon found himself flying to Canada with Deach and Sid to shoot a music video.
Tyree flew to Canada with Deach and Sid to shoot a music video with star local rapper Kardinal Offishal.
“This was my dream come true! It was a beautiful experience because I got to take my boys with me … Kardinall Offishal rocked up to the video shoot and he didn’t even know his verse – he had to learn it off MySpace and his verse was pretty fast bro! The video shoot gave me the impression that we hit the big time, though the song didn’t quite do as well as we’d hoped.”
Nonetheless, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ hit No.21 on the New Zealand charts and the album reached No.24. Tyree also pushed hard in the Australian market over the next few years and this led to him being awarded Best Male Artist at the 2007 Australasian Urban Music Awards. When DJ Sir-Vere (Phil Bell) had the chance to release one of his Major Flavours compilation albums in Australia, he had Smashproof appear on the promotional single ‘Turn It Up (Major Flavours)’ since both were on UMG Australia. The album was a huge seller and Tyree joined Sir-Vere for an extensive Australian tour on the back of it.
One of the ways that MTC spread the word about Smashproof to local rap fans was through the release of a run of mixtapes. It was via this route that Sid emerged as a star in his own right, becoming a lyrical spokesman for South Auckland, so he was given the next opportunity to do an album. On the way back from the video shoot in Canada, Sid stopped in New York to record tracks at the studio of experienced engineer, Cochise, who’d previously supplied a beat for Tyree’s album (though his reputation was built on working with big name US acts including Beatnuts and Lordz of Brooklyn).
Sid found being in the heartland of hip hop was both daunting and inspiring. “I was 19 at the time and I wrote everything there. It was hard – there was a lot of pressure and I was shy at first. But Cochise was really good. He appreciated what I was talking about, where I was coming from with my music and what I wanted to do. I learnt a lot from him. I learnt to be clear and concise with my verses. It was really helpful.”
Sid returned home with eight songs, though only ended up using five on the album, so he recorded seven more back at home. The resulting album, The Truth (2007), was one of the most genuine to come out of South Auckland, with tracks about a deceased friend (‘The Letter’), the foolishness of bringing a weapon to a fist fight (‘The Axe’), and growing up in a deprived neighbourhood (‘Too Much Pain’). However, Sid was proud of where he was from and represented this to the fullest on tracks such as ‘Hood Like Me’ and ‘Come and Ride’ (which featured Chamillionaire, whose album was already on the way to platinum in the US).
Sid knew what he was talking about: it was no secret his father had been president of the South Auckland chapter of the Tribesman gang in the 1990s and his brother affiliated with a more recent gang (though he also turned to rap under the MC name, Mr Sicc). There was controversy when Sid agreed to rap on a track put out by Colourway Records, which was run by street gang The Killa Beez. Sid just saw it as helping people he’d grown up with to focus their minds on music rather than illegal activities.
The Truth was a modest commercial success (reaching No.27 in the charts) but is considered a classic among local hip hop fans. It was nominated for Best Urban Release at the NZ Music Awards and received the Waiata Māori Award for Best Urban Album. It also featured Deach and Tyree doing guest spots, so it continued building the platform for Smashproof to launch themselves as a group.
When it finally arrived, Smashproof’s debut album was one of the most ambitious hip hop releases to come out of Aotearoa. For a start, it was a concept album that tracked the progress of a weekend, an idea that Tyree believes first came from Kirk Harding. The intro had the trio ‘Clocking Out’ from work and moving into ‘The Weekend’ with the party cry ‘It’s Friday’ (which of course led to hangovers and regrets on ‘The Morning After’). A Saturday night liaison (‘All Night Long’ and ‘My Crib’) showed a more romantic side to their music, but reality once again dawned the next morning with bad news stories about people from their hood plastered on the front cover of the Sunday Star-Times.
The album also had a potential hit in ‘Brother’ with FBI supplying a beat and Tyree providing heartfelt melodic hooks for the chorus.
Tyree: “When I write music, even to this day, when I hear the beat I always go into melody mode.”
“When I write music, even to this day, when I hear the beat I always go into melody mode. We were all around the table and I was just yelling out the melodies. Sometimes when I get on my tangent, no one can tell me anything. I know what it should be, so I have to tell them ‘Just trust me, just trust me!’ Then I started putting the words together, making it all fit … It was amazing because we had the vocal booth in the lounge, with mattresses up all around it. We had a bit of an audience because Sid’s aunty and some nieces were outside drinking, so it was cool – a real good experience. ‘Ordinary Life’ came about the same way with me just hearing the beat and yelling out some melodies, then all of us piecing the puzzle together.”
The staff at UMG knew it could provide the breakthrough the group needed and came up with the idea of featuring one of their rising stars, Gin Wigmore, on the track (taking over one of Tyree’s sections). The gambit worked and the single was unbelievably successful, selling over 30,000 units and remaining at No.1 for 11 weeks from late February to early May 2009 – longer than any other local single.
The slick production didn’t take away from the fact that the track dealt with heavy subject matter and referenced events from the news – whether it was 15-year old Pihema Cameron being killed for tagging a fence by Bruce Emery (who served less than two years for the crime) or policemen Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum, who were acquitted of a rape charge.
Tyree was blown away with the reaction. “I was living in Australia and moved back when ‘Brother’ had been at No.1 for one week. I didn’t know how big No.1 actually was. None of us did. We had a show the week I flew back at Botany shopping centre – a guest appearance just doing a couple of songs. It was packed bro! I just remember getting off the stage and running to the car, because everyone was running up to us. I could not believe the reception we got. This is what we’d been chasing all our careers. When we were 18, we were already saying we were the best in our songs. Then it actually came to fruition, it was amazing!”
The Weekend hit No.3 on the charts and produced two more hits: ‘It’s Friday’ reached No.18 and ‘Ordinary Life’ reached No.7. The group even signed a deal to release their music in Germany (via UMG), which led to ‘Brother’ dipping in at No.81 on the chart there. In Australia, Tyree was given the support slot for Jay-Z for a run of dates across the country.
“Jay-Z was another thing where I could bring my boys. I got to bring my friend Jae’O, who’s a singer, plus Ethical, Deach and Sid. Also Aaron and Juse from the label. We got to experience the whole lifestyle: hotels and massive shows. It was so surreal to be backstage and Ne-Yo and Rihanna were walking up and down the hallway.”
Smashproof were a remarkable success in an era when the music industry was flagging (due to illegal downloading) and local hip hop had moved out of its golden years. The big question was what to do next.
The members of Smashproof were buoyed by the success of The Weekend. However, Tyree found they each felt motivated to “carve out our own identity” rather than focus on the group – though he later came to see this was an unfortunate decision, given Smashproof’s popularity.
After ‘The Weekend’ each member of Smashproof
felt motivated to carve out their own identity.
Young Sid was the first to release a new collection, What Doesn’t Kill Me ... (2010). Emile again provided production on the album (five tracks), one of which put Sid together with singer Stan Walker, and the resulting track, ‘Stuck In A Box’, reached No.15 (while the album hit No.11).
The following year it was Deach’s turn with his nine-track EP, Vision (2011). However, it was his subsequent single in 2013, ‘Be With You’, that seriously showed his potential as a solo act: it gained great radio play and racked up over three million streams on streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music.
By that stage, Tyree had also put out a solo album, Motivation (2013). In the intervening years, he’d become disillusioned by the local music industry and spent some time living in Australia, but the album showed he’d lost none of his skills at rapping and was now comfortable to fully show off his remarkable singing skills – something he’d been wary of on earlier projects.
A couple of years later, Smashproof finally felt enough distance from their last album to begin work on the follow-up and so met up at Sid’s bach in Waihi. Tyree recalls: “The aim was just to have fun making the album. Smashproof was a pretty serious group, but we wanted to enjoy ourselves while still having that element of seriousness as well ... It wasn’t as well received as the first album, but that’s to be expected when you set the bar so high, it’s hard to even come near.”
The trio were helped in the process by Josh Fountain (Kidz In Space, LEISURE) who provided a couple of beats and helped combine their vocal parts with those provided by overseas producers.
When they had trouble writing a chorus for one track, ‘Paint Fade’, Harding arranged a US songwriter to provide a hook. It turned out to be too high for any of them to sing, so they brought on board television-presenter-turned-singer, Drew Neemia. It resulted in a No.6 placing on the charts (and the top spot on iTunes), while the album Forever (2016) dipped into the Top 30. One of the most moving tracks off the album, ‘Survivors’, also won Best Pacific Song and Best Pacific Video.
The years that followed saw their priorities change as group members had families and settled down. However, their strong run of releases as solo artists continued, although with two of the crew taking slightly new artist names. Tyree became known as “TY” and released million-streaming tracks ‘Turn Me On’ and ‘It’s Nothing.’ Sid ditched the “Young” from his name and put out new music as “Sid Diamond” – most notably the single ‘Switch On ’Em’ which surpassed half a million streams – and Deach also had a run of tracks reach a similar milestone (‘Slow It Down remix’, ‘Tell No Lie’, ‘Be With You remix’, and ‘Just For You’).
By 2020, Tyree had found a new lease on life as a musician, having kicked a substance abuse problem that plagued him for many years and which kept him from fully enjoying the biggest moments of his career and that of Smashproof. Going through this struggle has left him feeling more motivated than ever to make music, whether as a solo act or as part of Smashproof.
“I went through an ordeal last year – the darkest year of my life. I’m a born-again Christian, so all the music I do now is to glorify God. I listen to what my 10-year-old is hearing on the radio sometimes and when I break down the lyrics, I find they’re all just talking about nothing! They’re glorifying the game and all that gangsta shit that comes with it. My approach to it now is: what am I going to leave behind? When it’s all said and done, will my integrity still be intact? I just want to have a message of hope in my music. That’s the whole kaupapa behind my music for the rest of my life moving forward. Experience, strength, and hope.”
Chris Graham directed the music video for ‘Brother’ and also the award-winning clip for ‘Survivors.’
Fred Fa'afou - MC, producer
Tyree Tautogia - MC, producer
Sid Diamond - MC, producer
Move the Crowd