Thirteen years ago, New Zealand hip hop’s king-hitters joined forces for one of the biggest tours this country has ever seen. Gareth Shute talked to many of those involved to get the inside story of what went down.
In March 2004, after years of bubbling under underground, the local hip hop scene was riding a wave of mainstream popularity. The year before, it had found its first legit superstar in Scribe – his breakthrough single ‘Not Many’ hit No.1 the previous August and had only just left the charts six months later. Dawn Raid, one of the two labels (with Dirty Records) behind nearly every hit the scene produced, seized on the mainstream success of hip hop to put together a nationwide tour to promote not only its current stars like Mareko and Adeaze, but also to introduce their future stars like Savage and Aaradhna – all while marketing Telecom’s budget cellular brand, Boost Mobile.
The Boost Mobile Hookup Tour packed out halls in 17 cities and towns across the country and was repeated the following year, though the heat had already started to fade.
Thirteen years later, the New Zealand hip hop scene is vibrant but far more fragmented and without the crossover star power of Scribe and Savage. But the Boost Mobile Hookup tour provides an intriguing snapshot of the golden era of New Zealand hip hop – when local rappers stood up en masse, taking hip hop to every corner of the country and cementing an iconic place in our popular music history.
Andy Murnane aka YDNA (co-founder, Dawn Raid): In 2003, we had a groundswell going. It started with Deceptikonz. For Dawn Raid, our focus was Mareko – we had all this New York press and had him recording with the Wu-Tang. Out of nowhere along came Scribe and blew the scene open. It was national, it was mainstream, it was the most popular music at the time. Saatchi and Saatchi came to us because Telecom [now Spark] was looking to introduce a new youth-marketed range of cell phones and cheap texting. They said “could you give us a proposal of how it could happen?” So me and Brotha D went back to them with the idea of a national hip hop tour, taking the best of the country to every single city we could and along the way we’d promote these cell phones.
Chris Graham (director): Saatchi and Saatchi contacted me quite early on. I had a brief hesitation about the commercialisation of hip hop – having grown up within the culture, I felt a little protective and a bit cynical about how it was being used. But they wanted me specifically to do it. Usually they’ll pitch projects out to different directors to compete for, but in this instance they were like, “no, you’re the person we want to do this, because you’re involved in hip hop and you understand the culture.” They started talking about Dawn Raid and the inclusion of all of their stable. Then they basically said, in a nutshell, “We want to make a 45 second ad that’s a tease of the tour, a 60 second ad, and a music video.” There was a graffiti element as well and Disruptiv were really the only graffiti company around, so Elliot [Askew One] came onboard and he designed the graf.
Andy Murnane: At the time, it was a six-figure tour. We did 18 dates with only one day off, it was hectic. It took months of organisation to get everyone on board. Also, this wasn’t the only company approaching the hip hop community to do tours, so we probably paid the highest fees to have all of these people. But we were just thinking about how we could do an amazing show, how we could blow away these communities, so we had costume changes, we had backdrops.
DJ Sir-vere (artist): It was pretty exciting. By that time I’d been to America a few times and I’d already seen tours of that nature over there. I always it would be a really good idea to do a New Zealand one, so when I heard about it I was overjoyed. I also thought it was pretty cool at the time that Telecom would commit to something of that scale. The view of hip hop now and then are two completely different things, so we were still proving ourselves. I thought it was ambitious to say the least. Though Boost were involved in my TV show too [The Holla Hour], so I was already living that world.
Chris Graham: The 60 second ad showed the first gig of the tour, which was at the St James in Auckland. The agency were shitting themselves – as I was – about shooting a live audience. We had the most expensive crane, which could move out into any position. The base of the crane was at the back of the St James under the canopy seating and we had a guy swinging the crane arm right over the crowd, as close as he could to the arms in the air. It was really important to me to treat it as a one shot thing where Savage walks in the door backstage, gets handed the mic, we follow him but we don’t know where he’s going, and, just at the right time, the camera turns around and we see the crowd. So it’s got that wow factor moment. The last shot is the crane shot rising up above the crowd, so it ends in an epic, big scale way. Though, in post-production we had to cut-and-paste some sections of the crowd to cover up people doing the fingers…
Nemesis (artist, Ill Semantics): I guess I was on the ad because they wanted to show the female contribution to the tour. I was the only female involved besides the merch girl! But it was all good memories and a huge buzz to be a part of. I think Sheeq was part of the second Boost Tour [and is the featured b-girl on the ad].
Andy Murnane: It was probably the most exciting thing everyone had done to that point in their life. We had a rap tour bus and people were chasing us to the hotels. Meanwhile, we’re selling more tickets and merchandise than we ever had – this is back when all the rap labels had clothing labels. Let’s not forget, me and Brotha D are just in our early twenties too and we’ve got this whole bus of young guys on the road. Can you imagine getting 25 young artists all on the bus for an 8 o’clock depart? It was hilarious. Who was late most often? I don’t know actually. Probably Mareko. David Dallas and 41, they were just high school kids so they were the good boys on the tour. Definitely the South Aucklanders were always late.
Savage (artist): I lost my voice on the first night of the tour. I was pretty much performing with no voice. And when we got from Christchurch, Invercargill, all the way up to Wellington, I remember performing and at that time, ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ was big, and I had nothing. Nothing was coming out, just air. I learned my lesson. On the second Boost tour, I wasn’t partying, but on the first tour, I was the life of the party, I was the first to the after-party, last to leave.
Sir-vere: So many gigs in such a short amount of time, it was fucking ridiculous. Everyone had toured to some extent, but no one had done it like that. I did Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, then had to fly back to Auckland to do my TV show, then fly back to the tour. I just remember it being heaps of fun. Everyone is going to remember the Wellington gig, it was fucking incredible. That was when I could see being into hip hop in New Zealand had become acceptable to the wider public. Up to that point, in Wellington you’d do club gigs and you’d only get hip hop purists. When it came to the Hookup tour, it was really inclusive and I really like that. My other lasting memory is getting sick halfway through the tour. I some water drank backstage in Greymouth and I didn’t know it until later, but the water had been stagnant in the pipes for a long time. I can’t even believe I finished the tour. When I got back to Auckland and got diagnosed, the doctor was like ‘what were you thinking pushing on!’
Savage: A lot of the shows, we had to do detours, because people were trying to follow us. Most of the people who were trying to follow us were because of Scribe. Just what he had started. I still remember being in Invercargill and seeing girls on the side of the road, just crying. They’d made their own Scribe t-shirts! The effect that he had was crazy. But the pull on him at that time was crucial. What people don’t know is that we was doing two other tours as well as the Boost tour, as well as other shows in between. That’s how hardworking he was. He’d be on the stage by himself for the whole hour. No backup singers, no backup rappers, no hype men, no nothing.
Nainz Tupa’i (artist, Adeaze): One of my funniest moments was wrestling Scribe in our hotel room. Showing him the true South Auckland pride to a South Islander! But also seeing the man perform and the way he owned the stage and the crowd response was a huge highlight for me.
Patriarch (artist, Ill Semantics): All I know was it’s one of the best things that have happened in my life and, for once, being a hip hop artist it felt like everyone involved was part of something great. There are so many memories but I’ll leave them in the vault. Though Dunedin is the reason I will not ever touch tequila again and will avoid it like the plague. Good times…
Savage: Look, I can’t name names, but, um the night of one show on the first Hookup Tour, someone had taken someone’s girlfriend back to the hotel and we came out and the tires on our bus were all slashed. That was in Whangarei. He knows who he is. The filthy animal.
Mareko (artist, Deceptikonz): Playing at a lot of the smaller towns you see how big gang culture is to a lot of the community. One of the stops we played at, one of the town’s patch members tried to stick up the tour merchandise guy with a shotgun for the merch sale and ticket money. Long story short, no money was taken.
Savage: In Gisborne, we had two different opposition gangs in the crowd. And right on ‘Not Many’, the encore song, apparently some gunshots went off. All the security could hear was a pinging noise off the poles, and popping coming from the crowd. So it sounded like they were shooting at the stage. And you know you have the truck that takes all the equipment, the security rushed us from stage to that truck and we had to drive out into the wop wops, but at the same time, we had people trying to follow us. So we had to meet our bus in the wop wops before we went back to the hotel. It was crazy like that.
Sir-vere: When we started, Andy and D sat us down and said – there’s gonna be no bullshit on this trip or you will get sent home. I remember antics at hotels, but not much that is printable. I remember we went to Nelson and we ran out of alcohol so someone broke into the bar in the hotel and set all the alarms off. Just crazy shit like that. But I almost got sent home on the second tour. I just got drunk on my birthday and was being an intolerable idiot. That’s all I’ll say on that one…
Chris Graham: We shot two days in Wellington for the music video. The scale of it was pretty huge – if you look at the size of crowd and the lighting crossing over it. That was at a packed Queen’s Wharf in Wellington. We flew down and shot the artists coming off the plane, so we did stuff within the airport to give it that on tour feel. We had them walking to backstage and spending time in Manner’s Mall signing autographs. Occasionally I’ll use black and white when it seems most suitable. It’s more dramatic and makes it seem timeless. The same reason I did it with Scribe’s ‘Stand Up’ video… I might’ve been a bit self-aware that it was the summit of the growth of hip hop. The fact that it was being commercially sponsored and had grown to that level. I couldn’t really picture it getting bigger than that.
Andy: The Hookup single gave us a certified hit. Dawn Raid was on a roll – we were the only independent label to have ten consecutive top ten singles and that was one of them. It’s crazy to think – it was actually enjoyable music that wasn’t perceived as a sell-out.
Savage: At that point, any hip hop artist that was dropping singles and albums, it just felt like you couldn’t do anything wrong. We did a two-minute Hookup Tour song, just to show the Boost Mobile company. [And then they said they wanted] to make a video out of it, we were just blown away, so we focused on the song again. For that song to go top ten in New Zealand, it almost felt effortless.
Andy: The 2005 tour was more refined. We’d done it, so we weren’t afraid. We relaxed a little bit. We learnt from the first tour, there was a rule book…
Savage: The first one was the one that counts. That was The One. The second one wasn’t as good. I mean that in terms of the people and the artists as well as the support behind it. The next tour, there were other dudes who came on and we weren’t connecting like how we were on the first tour. We had new acts come in who had come out of nowhere and the whole ego thing was definitely on the second tour. On the first tour, there was definitely no ego between the artists. But I was cool. I was like, ‘I’m enjoying my position, I’m happy where I’m at’.
Andy: We tried to go for three, but what happened was, Telecom changed the brand of Boost Mobile. They got a certain amount of penetration and then they moved on to the next thing. But man, I thank them all – they put money in all of our pockets and everyone got to live the dream. Remember: everyone got paid from this. Mareko got his first house on the back of the Hookup tour. People were seeing success from music and I think that went way further than hip hop. Many years later, we did the Winery Tour, which is the complete opposite of tours and I was standing in the middle of the field setting up one day and this girl in her late twenties came over to me and said: “Were you on the original Hookup tour?” I said yes and she said, “it came through our town and we hadn’t seen anything like that in our entire lives.” And that made me think: now we’re on a winery tour and we’re all grown up. It was awesome to hear.
Chris Graham: It was probably the biggest scale thing I’d done. As a barometer, I was doing ads that were about $100-150k total budget and Boost Mobile was about $380k. Thereafter I started doing other ads for different brands – I did Wrightsons, which was an agricultural brand, you couldn’t get more polar opposite – and it was even bigger. In many ways, that ad campaign raised my profile and propelled me a bit higher in my commercial reputation.
Andy: It built everyone – the entire urban market of New Zealand. For both Dawn Raid and Dirty Records, our artists got to shine on both tours. Not just the rap acts, Adeaze and Aaradhna were also on those tours. This was also the first time New Zealand is seeing Pacific R’n’B singers with a number one single.
Nainz Tupa’i (artist, Adeaze): I think people were accepting of us because we were a new sound in that era, where hip hop was dominating the NZ airwaves and our style wasn’t the same as overseas, it was a sound born and bred here, influenced by many different genres like pop, RnB and soul. Of course being on a tour like this helps your career and put our music on the map a bit more. Our track with Radz [Aradhna] is definitely a Kiwi jam and awesome to still hear it playing on the radio.
Mareko: It was awesome to see local hip hop artists tour the entire country on such a large and professional scale that was just as big as an international act and having New Zealand come out and support it. Definitely a defining moment for the local scene.
Sir-vere: To me, it remains the benchmark. It’s a bit like the hip hop summit – if you’re gonna something similar or like it, it’s gonna have to be as good as that. People can do small tours, that’s fine. But if you’re going to do a real massive tour, all inclusive, that’s what it’s going to take. It was next level.
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