To mark the 10th anniversary of The Truth, the debut album from Sid Diamond (FKA Young Sid), Sam Wicks talks to Sid and the team that helped capture his Otara state of mind.
In September 2007, Young Sid released his landmark street rap album on Move the Crowd Records, a label set up by ex-pat music executive Kirk Harding in partnership with Justin ‘Juse’ Ferguson and Aaron Christie. While The Truth was named the Urban Album of the Year at the 2008 Waiata Māori Music Awards and earned critical and commercial success, it also attracted attention for the wrong reasons. This is the story of how a gang-affiliated youth from Otara, South Auckland broadened his vision and created a New Zealand hip-hop classic in the process.
Kirk Harding (Move the Crowd Records, ex-Universal Motown, Bad Habit): Stinky Jim reached out to me and said, ‘I know you know Juse from back in the Token Village/Che Fu days. I’m signing him to my label to do a solo album and I think the best thing would be to bring him to New York to put some features on there’. Because I signed Supergroove and I knew all the brothers around Che and Token Village, somehow that turned into, would it be okay if he stayed at your place? While he was putting it together, Juse told me, ‘I’ve found [Smashproof – Tyree, Deach and Young Sid] and I think they’re going anchor the album. Would you like to work with me on them?’
Justin ‘Juse’ Ferguson (Move the Crowd Records, Woodcut Music): The way I remember it, I first came across Tyree when he won some Mai FM Coca-Cola talent quest. I got hold of him and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got two guys that I work with and I’m going to bring them in.’
Kirk Harding: Tyree was the one who stood out because he had a kind of Nelly singing-rapping thing to him. Sid was the lieutenant to Tyree; he was still trying to find his confidence. It’s Sid’s confidence that makes him who he is. No one’s messing with him when he’s confident.
Sid ‘Young Sid’ Diamond: At that time, my older brother was part of the Killa Beez. My eldest brother Mr Sicc is a BTW, which is an Otara street gang called Bad Troublesome Ward. My father’s an ex-Tribesman – he was the president of the Otara chapter in the ’90s. In terms of going to school and that, I was pretty sweet. I’d just seen so much shit growing up to know exactly what kind of person I didn’t want to be. I graduated high school and went on to do a certificate in health sciences at uni. I was doing alright for the first half of the year and then I just wanted to go hard on this music thing.
Justin Ferguson: Every man and his dog can rap out in South Auckland but how many of them turn up on time, if you ask them to do something they do it. Sid had the professionalism, the hunger and a big brain. You’d tell him something and he’d take it on.
Kirk Harding: I’m not going to take credit for him moving up the ranks in Smashproof. We went on a bit of a mixtape blitzkrieg and the people spoke. I remember Juse saying, ‘Hey bro, people are really starting to talk about this guy.’
Sid Diamond: Before I met [Kirk], I knew fuck all about him, eh. I didn’t research him or research the industry. I was just a dude from the street who got lucky. He probably saw somebody with a story who can actually back it up. And – this is not cocky or nothing – he might have seen a person who has a look and could cross over and sell records, not just to the streets but to females as well. Or it could have just been, we want to fuck with this guy from South Auckland who deserves a chance to better himself and his family.
Kirk Harding: We got a deal with Universal Australia, which got us a pretty good budget per album. I knew Sid was too hard for Australia and that was part of the difficulty. And having done this a few times, I knew it was key to get him out of New Zealand early because there’s a tipping point whereby people just become big fish in a small pond. There was money to get Sid to New York. And I had two producers ready – Emile Haynie (Eminem, Lana Del Ray, Lady Gaga) and Cochise (The Notorious B.I.G., 50 Cent, Akon). Cochise lived right across the street from me. And those guys were like, “Yeah, I’ll work with him’.
Justin Ferguson: With Kirk’s giant brain, he just formulates things. Even before Sid got to New York, Kirk worked out who he was going to work with and who he wanted him around. He put in a lot of work and pulled a lot of favours for all the boys.
Jeremy ‘Cochise’ Ball (producer, executive producer of The Truth): We weren’t planning on doing the Young Sid thing first, but for some reason I kept telling Kirk, this Sid guy is my favourite. I’ve always had different friends from different places so it wasn’t a stretch to listen to rappers from other countries. As soon as I heard Sid he stood out because of his voice and his flow, and there was a sincerity and a wisdom. And, you know, a young person with wisdom is an intriguing phenomenon.
Sid Diamond: As a 19-year-old kid from Otara, I still had my South Auckland attitude, which was, fuck, I’m not scared of anything-type shit. These people are just people to me so it is what it is if something happens. When I got there, I got sent to this radio show, which was on the block, hosted by F.B.I. (producers French Beats International). I went down to their basement station and Ne-Yo walks out. Apart from that, I only met the artists I was working with.
Jeremy Ball: When Sid first came into my studio, I happened to have some street dudes from Brooklyn, a rap group I really like. It was Sid’s first time in New York and I imagine him being young and from New Zealand, it was probably a surprising situation to be in. They were spitting their rhymes and it came his turn to jump in. I know he might have been a little nervous but he really pushed through. He jumped in the cypher and did his thing and everyone immediately embraced him.
Kirk Harding: When you first meet Sid, he’s the guy who won’t say anything at the meeting. You don’t know there’s a star quality because you’re barely getting a conversation. But once you start peeling back the layers, you understand there’s a super confident, cocky kid who was from a family that wasn’t to be messed with.
Sid Diamond: It was a big eye opener for me ’cause people would come to the studio and work 24/7. I never really saw that in New Zealand. People haven’t got the luxury of going back to their normal lives, or their mum or dad looking after them, or they’ve got actual jobs. People over there basically live music. They’re so passionate it’s crazy.
Jeremy Ball: We really didn’t sleep too much and Sid didn’t get to see much of the city, but that’s New York for you. I spent 10 years there and I don’t think I left the lab for 10 years.
Kirk Harding: We had a lot of Scarface conversations. Scarface is one of his favourite rappers of all time, so we just set out to make the Otara equivalent of that blueprint.
Jeremy Ball: I had an idea about the best beats for his voice based on what I’d heard him on and I had a lot of friends who were sending me a lot of beats. There were some really dramatic, orchestral things going on. That was a big sound in that time in New York City. This is coming in right after Jay-Z and Just Blaze, and it was a competitive environment where people were trying to conjure up this high energy hip hop. And Sid was on that.
Sid Diamond: I already had [‘Hood Like Me’] before I got there, so that song was done when I was 18. That was produced by a German producer called Shuko. Kirk would send us CDs of beats from producers from everywhere, so we were spoilt. I didn’t really listen to New Zealand hip hop – I didn’t listen to Mareko or Scribe’s albums or nothing like that. I was always listening to American shit. At the same time, I wanted to use the album to say what was happening around me at the time, in my neighbourhood.
Jeremy Ball: We clicked immediately and I understood where he was coming from. I come from a rough area but got more involved in music than the other nonsense that was going on around me. He would just start writing and we would talk about what he was writing and what he was going to say.
Sid Diamond: Cochise would loop up a beat and I’d write to it. He’d bring all sorts of hook writers and singers to the studio. I ended up meeting Bradd Marquis and he blessed a couple of the tracks. He’s a good friend of mine to this day.
Kirk Harding: I was working a lot with Chamillionaire at Universal at the time and Sid was a huge fan of Texas rap because of the Scarface connection. I was doing international remixes where I got MCs from various countries to get on people’s records. I think I positioned it as a swap – I got Tyree on a NZ remix of ‘Ridin’ and Chamillionaire had to pay him back. We got that for the payback, which was a pretty big deal.
Sid Diamond: At the time, I was a South Auckland boy not really giving a shit. Thinking about it now, it was a massive opportunity to go over there and do it. At the end of the trip I had about eight songs done – three songs didn’t make the album though. And then once I got home, I returned to my factory job, and about five months later I recorded the rest.
Justin Ferguson: I remember how excited he was when he came back. You know when someone’s progressed and they’ve stepped up. That was Sid, something had clicked. He lived in the studio. He’d come in to record and then go home and write. I’d send it off to Kirk, Kirk would okay it or not okay it, and we just kept up that momentum.
Sid Diamond: Most of the strategy was handled by Kirk, Aaron [Christie, Move the Crowd] and Juse. Mainly Kirk – he was the guy with the master plan for everything, whatever he said went. He already had a big name here and he was making his moves in the States, so people took heed to what he said. And his formula worked for me.
Kirk Harding: I honestly thought Sid could be the biggest rapper out of the country ever. He had the ability to connect with the have-nots in New Zealand, because there’s a shit ton of that. And I knew that because I’d grown up in that, one town over from him in Mangere. We knew we had something we liked but in terms of chart success and stuff, I didn’t know. I knew we had the full package in Sid, but he was to all intents and purposes a reality rapper in New Zealand. He’s like Dam Native without the hardcore links to Māoridom. So there was no precedent for it.
Justin Ferguson: We needed to make sure Sid was Sid, so we really didn’t have commercial singles and we weren’t expecting a huge amount of airplay. But to my surprise it did get airplay. I guess radio got it as well – this kid’s telling a story we all know happens and we want to hear from someone who actually lived it. I remember Duncan Greive wrote a great review on it for Real Groove. He got it, he really understood Sid as a person and what he’d come from. That’s when I thought, shit, this could have legs.
Sid Diamond: I didn’t feel any pressure until [Tim Hume] did a story on me. He came to where I was staying and fucking made it out like I’m a bad person. I was out there in my community giving people someone to look up to, but he switched it around and made it look like I was a gang member. And it all just came about because I appeared in that video.
Kirk Harding: I remember we wanted to distance ourselves from the Colourway stuff. But that was really family to him. He grew up around those guys and they loved him. But in terms of MTC, we had no connections to those people.
Sid Diamond: I grew up with all those fullas, so of course I’m going to do a fucking song with them. And if any type of a music is getting you to use your brain and do some songs instead of going out there and fucking people up, that’s positive. And it did help with the street cred and that, so anywhere I went around the country I’d have street dudes come up from different gangs and they would say, ‘You’re speaking for us as well.’
Justin Ferguson: That was like, oh shit, is this going to be really damaging for us? Sid’s smart, so I asked him what’s going on? Is everything all good? He said, ‘Nah, nah, it’s all good but this is where I live. I’m not in it but I’m in it just by being there.’
Sid Diamond: That Colourway video definitely had a negative impact, I got blacklisted hard over that. Any videos I did got pulled off TV and I lost out on shows and all that type of shit. I had police at every single show. I had write-ups in other papers saying I was coming into neighbourhoods trying to recruit Killa Beez members and all that sort of carry-on. All I was trying to do was do songs with my people who put me where I’m at and this is what it’s doing to me.
Kirk Harding: We were acutely aware of [Colourway] and didn’t want them to bring Sid’s stuff down. We kind of got caught in the crosshairs. Sid didn’t need this to give him cred, he had enough edge on his own. The fact his father is who he is and Mr Sicc is who he is, he didn’t need co-signs from anyone else. He’s a truth teller and a reality rapper, and his truths are no different to Nas’ Illmatic truths. If anything, The Truth is realer because Sid was in the middle of it rather than sitting in his window watching it.
Sid Diamond: I ended up releasing it in South Korea and I went on tour there. I’m not sure what numbers it did – probably fuck-all – but it was still a mean-as opportunity. I didn’t see it as an album to take on the world with though. I just saw myself doing an album for New Zealand and that’s it.
Jeremy Ball: To me, he’s a hero. The kid grew up sleeping in a bus. And he’s not bragging about it, he’s talking it. He made a record that literally lived up to the title. I think New Zealand’s lucky that someone that special who could reveal the identity of that community. From where I’m from here in Buffalo, it didn’t happen till a few months ago when a couple of guys got signed by Eminem, Westside Gunn and Conway. So now even my hometown’s got artists to put us on the map like Sid did on The Truth.
Kirk Harding: I think it’s a top-five New Zealand hip-hop album, it just is. And hopefully, it doesn’t become a lost classic.
Sid Diamond: I just listened to the album last week from start to finish and even I think, fucking hell, how the fuck did I come up with that shit? I think it still speaks to people from South Auckland and people from those types of areas around the country. And for someone that age – it came out when I was 21 but I was 19, 20 when I recorded it all – I think it’s amazing that someone that young could say all that shit and back it up.
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