Equally inspired by their home suburb, and the storied West Coast US rap scene, Onehunga’s SWIDT crew are some of the most colourful characters currently active in the New Zealand rap scene. They’re Hawaiian shirt rocking jokers who’ll bust your balls with a comedy routine one minute, before going off on a serious music or culture tangent the next. Since the release of their crew compilation SmokeyGotBeatz Presents SWIDT vs. Everybody, SWIDT has been tearing down festivals around the country and building their links overseas. We spent some time with SWIDT members Spycc & INF in Onehunga to celebrate the most infamous swoosh of all time – Nike Air Max’s 30th Anniversary. A true innovation that spawned thousands of iterations and launched a revolution of freedom, creativity, and rebellion.
I want to start by talking about Onehunga. What is it about this suburb that set you up to grow into who you are?
Spycc: I think the main thing is the diversity in the community. You’ll have churches across from liquor stores, state houses with real expensive houses opposite them. It’s like that everywhere in Onehunga. There is a big Polynesian community in Onehunga, but it’s really ethnically mixed as well. Onehunga is like a big food court. Everything is there.
INF: It’s kept our minds open and let us see what other people’s lives are like.
You guys are rap guys, but you’ve also got wider musical interests. How did Onehunga inform that?
Spycc: The common theme on the streets was hip-hop, reggae, and disco. But in my household, it was that, but also techno, rock, and random tunes. My mum would clean the house listening to techno.
INF: That was like my house. We’d be playing jazz or classic rock groups like Queen, but my sister listened to drum and bass, techno, and trip-hop. Things like The Prodigy, Portishead, and those old Gatecrasher CDs. It was never just one thing. We always had a wider palette.
Traditionally, West Coast rap music has always been popular in Onehunga, but now, thanks to the efforts of people like Smokey Got Beatz, Onehunga music is becoming an influence in Los Angeles. What are your thoughts on the relationship between these two places?
Spycc: I think a lot of it stems back to the idea of gangs. A gang is essentially a family or tribe, and for Polynesians, that’s the sort of structure our ancestors come from. So it’s all familiar to us. That pride in representing where you are from, and protecting where you are from. We’re from different countries, but the same unwritten rules apply. Like you said, when I was growing up, people I was around bumped West Coast music. We were on that G-Funk vibe, and our parents listened to disco and funk. G-Funk was built on samples from those genres.
INF: A while ago, I was in Ponsonby. I was talking to this dude from California who had been living here for a few years. He said that Auckland feels like an unglorified California. He said the vibe is equal. Things were different, but he felt at home. He found it really easy to adapt here.
INF wears Nike Air Max 90 Flyknit // Spycc wears Nike Air Max 1 ‘Master’
INF, you actually did some production work for a rapper from Compton a couple of years before things really kicked off for Smokey right?
INF: Carter! Yeah, she followed me on Twitter, went through my beats and hit me up like “I fuck with the vision fam!” You know, it was along those lines. I wasn’t about getting famous; I just wanted to work. She was fire as well.
It was interesting, right? People over there having to contact people over here to get the vibe they wanted. It was the same with Smokey I guess?
INF: I guess it comes down to that ten thousand hours thing. Smokey put in the time and worked on his craft. Now he can create with that calibre.
Spycc: You know, part of it is he does this sound that relates to where they are from, but it’s slightly different. So when it adds his own perspective and taste into it, it makes it punch. Over there your next door neighbour makes those kinda beats, but Smokey’s stuff has that other feel to it. They fuck with it.
How do you view the relationship between music, sports, and fashion?
Spycc: Drake’s line from the song ‘Thank Me Later’ pretty much nails it on the head. “Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” Both lanes influence culture and are reciprocal of one another, especially when it comes to fashion. Basketball is also real competitive, so is rap. When we hit the booth a.k.a the court, we’re going for the kill a.k.a the slam dunk, the buzzer beater, the game-winning point.
Basketball, sneakers, rap, it’s a package deal sometimes.
Spycc: I know for sure that INF has been a sneakerhead for ages. We’ve always been fashionable dudes. We fuck with wearing different brands, but for us, Nike has always been the shoe. You know what I mean?
INF: We used to steal my brother’s Shox. I remember seeing RZA wearing them in a Wu-Tang video. I thought fuck; I want some of those. I got into shoes when I was 16, 17. One of my first jobs was at an And1 Basketball store. My boss used to have different shoes on every day, and they were always fresh. He schooled me on the knowledge behind them and that. Then one day, I went and bought me a pair of Air Force 1’s. It started from there.
Spycc: When we were growing up, all our influences rocked them. Whether it was the rap game or basketball, it was always Nike. We grew up in the 90s, and I felt like it was everywhere, even in movies. “Just do it” is the best advice ever. You can apply that to everything.
Spycc wears Nike Air Max 1 ‘Master’ // INF wears Nike Air Max 90 Flyknit
You guys dropped your first EP together six years ago. What were your feelings towards making music at the time?
Spycc: We were making music for fun. David Dallas was bigging us up heavy then, which was buzzy as well. We had a bandanna over our laptop mic and were rapping with a mattress against the wall. Getting a reception and people fucking with it was just extra.
INF: It was exciting.
Spycc: People thought we were really calculated with it. People expect too much. They put all this work in, so they think they’re gonna blow. We just put it together without any expectations and put it out because we enjoyed it.
When you did your first solo EPs, things appeared more strategized. Were they?
Spycc: Kinda, but I think it’s more about idealism. We need things to be right so that we can feel right. There was no OG guiding us.
INF: We were like illusionists. People thought we were up to something. We were just figuring it out.
Spycc: We’d just try and think up ideas, then meet people who could help us do them. We link, find common ground, and go from there. A lot of it was just common sense. You got to build demand for your music. You’ve got to study the game, all the info you could need or want is out there for you to access.
A lot of things changed for you guys when you made the Smokey Got Beatz Presents: SWIDT vs. Everybody compilation.
Spycc: We were just doing our thing. It was just a hobby, but when Smokey got that Jay Rock placement, we realised this could be real. He levelled up, and it brought us together in a new way.
INF: It was a wake-up call. When he came back from doing those studios sessions in Los Angeles, he was a whole new person. He brought back all this new knowledge, perspective and skills. He sat us down and made us believe we could really do this. One thing led to another. We tried to keep our focus on the fun shit, the music making, next thing we knew, we had management and a deal with Universal NZ.
Spycc: Before then, we lacked structure. Now we have a framework. We have roundtable discussions and plan our movements out in advance.