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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Pop CultureMay 5, 2023

‘Riii-ders, come out and plaaay-ay’: The oral history of Dei Hamo’s ‘We Gon’ Ride’

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Five weeks at number one, an unprecedented $60,000 music video, and one man who came out of retirement to make the whole thing happen. This is the incredible story of Dei Hamo’s smash hit single ‘We Gon’ Ride’. 

Cast your mind back to 2004 in Aotearoa. The nation swooned as smooth operator Ben Lummis beat pop-rocker Michael Murphy to become the very first winner of New Zealand Idol. Groundbreaking animated local comedy Bro’Town premiered on TV3. The lights went on at Māori Television and dedicated music station C4 was just a few months old. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won all 11 of the Academy Awards it was nominated for. Paul Holmes resigned after nearly two decades of the Holmes show on TVNZ. 

Popular culture was firing on all cylinders – but there was one scene in 2004 that went, to borrow viral phrase from later in the decade, thermonuclear. The early 2000s hip hop scene in Aotearoa had exploded into the mainstream, with names like Savage, Scribe and David Dallas and vehicles like the Boost Mobile campaign, the Holla Hour, and Major Flavours known up and down the country. The scene was set for something big, something bold, something that would still be called a “fucking banger” two decades later. 

In September, the moment arrived with the clash of a gong and an invitation (an homage to an iconic scene from cult 1979 film The Warriors): “Riii-ders, come out and plaaay-ay”. This is the story of Dei Hamo’s ‘We Gon’ Ride’, a song that spent five weeks at number one in New Zealand, became the highest selling local single of the year, and had a music video as famous for its unprecedented budget of $60,000 as its unprecedented number of costume changes, cars and celebrity cameos. 

Alex, Jane and Duncan discuss the impact of ‘We Gon’ Ride’ on a bonus episode of  The Real Pod – listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.


Long before ‘We Gon’ Ride’, Sani Sagala, aka Dei Hamo, was a constant presence in the local hip hop scene. Coming up under the tutelage of Phil Fuemana (OMC) and alongside the likes of Phil Bell (DJ Sir-Vere), Matty J. Ruys and John Chong Nee, Sagala had been performing under a range of stage names since the early 90s. 

Sani Sagala (Dei Hamo): I had been doing music since I was a kid in school, it’s basically all I ever wanted to do. I was in the school choir for six years, and then after school I started a rap group in the early 90s with my brother called the Pasifika Descendents, and we did a tour around New Zealand in ‘94. After that, I went solo and changed my name to Dei Hamo. It was actually originally a duo, but my friend decided he couldn’t pursue with the group. So I was stuck with the name. 

Matty J Ruys: Sani was the young guy who was rapping all over the place and we’d quite often end up around the same gigs and things. I was always really impressed by him. When I made my solo record in 1995, I actually had him rap on a song called ‘Somewhere You’re There’ on the album. He was very young then, just a teenager, and he was performing under the name The Madd Coconut. I always just thought he was an incredibly talented guy.

Sani Sagala appears in the Nathan Haines video ‘Lady J’ in 1995.

Sagala: I have a funny story from around 1998 when Urban Pacifika toured around New Zealand. We performed in Christchurch at some hall and when we came out afterwards, there was this kid waiting with an “S” on his cap and an “S” on his sweatshirt. He had a pen and paper and he asked for our autographs and said he was a huge fan of our music. That kid was Scribe. 

Phil Bell (DJ Sir-Vere): I’ve known Sani forever, but it wasn’t until we made the Aotearoa hip hop podcast that I realised just how essential he was to the progression of the scene, because his name kept coming up. He was a really key part, and always has been for so long. He’s just the man. He was at the Run DMC concert in 1988. He was at the first ever MC battle in New Zealand. He was at the first Hip Hop summit. He was there for all of it, the guy’s actually incredible. 

Ruys: I’d worked with Sani a number of times over the years, and I always thought he was a huge talent. Not just as an MC and a rapper, but also as a performer and as a person who really thinks about arrangements in songs. Everything that he ever did sounded great to me. I remember always thinking it was crazy that, in all the years I’d known him, he’d only had a couple of singles, but not much else to show for his incredible talent.

Sagala: I stayed with Urban Pacifika until about a year later in 1999. But then I actually decided to retire myself from music. My son was born, I stopped writing, and I sort of gave up the dream.


While Sagala retired from music to work in a South Auckland bakery, Aotearoa hip hop was on the rise. In 2003, Scribe’s ‘Not Many’ and ’Stand Up’ exploded. Director Chris Graham had returned from working with hip hop artists in New York City to make Scribe’s music videos and Adam Holt, boss at Universal Music, saw a new genre poised to take over the mainstream. 

Bell: The rise of Scribe is probably the key factor here. Because as he rose, the entire hip hop community had all this momentum. As his star literally exploded, everyone was kind of benefiting from it. So everything was just so busy. The Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit was a huge part of that rise for everybody as well. From ‘96 onwards, it felt like it was this total pressure cooker that was gonna blow. 

Chris Graham: ‘Stand Up’ was a real call to action for everyone, you just have to listen to the lyrics: “We cannot stop now, New Zealand hip hop, stand the fuck up, we’ve got it locked down.” Then he was literally name calling every crew as if to tell them it was time to do this as a movement, that we are a community, we can do this. Everything just felt like it went upwards from there. 

Adam Holt: People like Scribe were just total stars and the Boost Mobile tour just took everything to the next level. There was this real amazing buzz and energy. And the other thing I noticed – the same thing that happened with Flying Nun, the same thing that happened over in Manchester and Liverpool – is that when you get scenes happening, competition starts. So there was this amazing thing where people were just getting better and better. 

Graham: It felt like it went from radio stations having the slogan “No rap, no crap” on billboards to hip hop just suddenly breaking through in the early 2000s and really being embraced on radio in New Zealand. There were a lot of good singles and albums being released at the time, but it probably was Scribe kicking open the door for everybody else that did it. 

Holt: It was just amazing how really progressive and fertile the market was for hip hop at that time. Because this wasn’t just brown New Zealand, but white New Zealand was really into it too. You had white North Shore kids playing hip hop, and this was pre-iTunes, so it was still a CD market and people were still buying albums. Culturally, it was really important. It allowed all these new artists to come through, and that was something I hadn’t seen since OMC.


Producer and musician Matty J. Ruys had been instrumental in the music industry, from first coining the name “Otara Millionaire’s Club”, aka OMC, to discovering and launching Brooke Fraser. In 2003, amid the hip hop boom, he was approached by Universal to start his own label. He immediately knew the first artist he wanted to sign to HiRuys Records.

Ruys: My very first thought was to sign Dei Hamo. As I said, I always thought it was crazy that he had never put an album out, so it was just a no-brainer. He was the guy I wanted. 

Sagala: Sometime in 2003, Matty called me up and said, “Hey, I’m starting an independent label and I would love to sign you as our first artist.” I’d known Matty for years, so I was totally honest with him and told him I had gone into retirement. 

Ruys: I knew he had gone through a period where the dream of being an artist had faded and he told me that he thought those days were behind him. But obviously, I was like, “No, no, no, this dream is in front of you, let’s go and do it.”

Sagala: I had basically forgotten about music at this point and hadn’t written anything in years. Mostly out of curiosity, I just wanted to know if I could still write. I found this CD with instrumentals on it and lo and behold, I started writing again. It was just like riding a bike. 

This was happening around the time that I saw Scribe’s ‘Not Many’ and ‘Stand Up’ and I just thought it was so amazing to see that kid now coming up with P Money. I would say he was actually the catalyst for me getting back into it, and actually believing that I could do it. He was the top guy, and I wanted to get up there too. It really inspired me to want to be the best. 

Sani Sagala at the Aotearoa Hip Hop summit in 2003. (Image: Gareh Shute collection)


If Scribe was a key catalyst in Sagala getting back in the studio, he also provided a fortuitous roadblock. The release of his debut album The Crusader in late 2003 meant that the Dei Hamo album got pushed back by the label for six months, allowing him more time to record some new songs with his producer and longtime collaborator Chong Nee. 

Sagala: I remember there was concern that some of the material we had already made might date, so Universal just said: “Here’s some money, go to the studio, record some new songs”. That’s when I was watching and studying Scribe really closely, and I realised that I pretty much wanted to do the opposite of what he was doing. He was this really tough guy, and so I was like “I’m not going to be tough, I’m going to be funny”. He would dress in all black, so I would dress colourful. 

John Chong Nee: I remember Hamo being like “Yo, let’s get together and make some more beats”. The funny thing is that the original beat for ‘We Gon’ Ride’ first came from my cousin Francis who used to make beats back in the day and now plays with the Black Seeds. He gave me this beat, but what I didn’t realise is that it came from a Playstation game. We just rolled with it, adding heaps of things to it, slamming doors and all of that, and then we took it to another level. 

It was when I started adding the clapping to the beat that, for me, it really became something else. I just knew it would be a hit because it was so much fun. It wasn’t just a sound from a game any more, it was something really awesome. Especially when Hamo then came across and started doing his thing and spitting on the track. I remember we just looked at each other in the studio like “Yo, this is beautiful, we need to carry on with this one”.

Sani and Chong Nee were longtime collaborators. (Image: Supplied)

Sagala: I knew it needed some kind of theme. Scribe had just made ‘Stand Up’, and the theme of that was for all the New Zealand artists to stand up, and I thought, OK, if he’s talking to the artists then I need to talk to the common man. What was a community I could get on board with? Boy racers. Everyone loves their cars, so for a long time I had been thinking about doing a song with cars. That idea was germinating when I got this instrumental off Chong Nee and the chorus immediately came to me: “We gon’ ride tonight”.

So now I had this phrase and I quickly had the chorus. The next step was that I actually started imagining what the music video would be, and wrote the verses almost like a treatment for the video within the song. I knew what I wanted to see visually, so I was trying to write the most ridiculous lyrics possible – I want to be 50 Cent, I want snakeskin Timberlands, I want Anna Pacquin, I want X-Men, I want Paul Holmes. I wanted to be topical and funny and make the content feel really New Zealand-focussed.

Chong Nee: One of my favourite lyrics Sani came up with was “Chong Nee on the board, he the captain”. I was like “Yo, can you just say that again, I need some confirmation”. And he said it again, and I swear my head grew as much as a balloon, as big as any man’s head would be able to grow. I was so happy about that one, because I am Samoan, Chinese and Māori. Chong Nee was my Dad’s name, so that line was a really beautiful thing for me. Hamo gave me a spot, he let me shine, and that’s always stuck with me. 

The rest of the song came together quick, because me and Hamo worked very fast together. We would be hanging out every day making music, and we were so fast we would have the product at your doorstep the next day. We stayed up all night and just worked and worked and worked and showed up the next day like “Here it is”. The end result was what you hear today.

Ruys: When it arrived, ‘We Gon’ Ride’ was an instant yes, because it was just fantastic. Every time I listened to it, I thought it was such an international sounding song. There was obviously some great R&B and hip hop around at the time, but there was something about ‘We Gon’ Ride’ that had a very international flavour, even though the lyrics were talking about very Kiwi things. It was pretty obvious pretty quickly that the first big single was going to be ‘We Gon’ Ride’. 

Bell: I remember Matty playing this song for me, and thinking at the time that it was exactly what hip hop needed. Because even though it was a pop song, I thought it was a good move to have a song like that in among what the rest of us were doing. Even though it was quite Americanised, we kind of needed a little bit of that. Everyone was doing the true school shit but, in reality, we needed a pop rapper. I looked at the song as a very necessary progression for us. 

Holt: It was that magic mixture of Matty’s pop dream, Sani’s street and Chong Nee’s beats that created this song that didn’t sound like anything else. But what is actually amazing about ‘We Gon’ Ride’ – I was just listening to it the other day – is that it still stands up. Not only is Sani’s flow amazing, it always was, but the production that Chong Nee did is just so good. It was just so infectious, we felt immediately that it was going to be a huge opportunity for Universal and agreed it had to be the first single. 

Ruys: So we had this great song, and then the idea came up to make a music video that reflects the sound of the song. And so the crazy idea was to try and make something bigger and more international looking than any of the other local music videos that were out at that time. And then it was like “Great, so how are we going to do it?”


Everyone was in agreement that they wanted the ‘We Gon’ Ride’ video to be big, loud and world class. This was a time when there was no YouTube, and MySpace had only just launched. Music television ruled the airwaves – if you wanted people to talk about your song, you needed a talkable video. When it came to potential directors, there was only one name thrown in the ring.

Sagala: Matty asked me who I wanted to shoot the video and I immediately told him I wanted whoever shot Scribe’s video, because that guy was amazing.  

Ruys: In my mind, and Sani’s mind, Chris Graham was the only person who could make this thing happen. There was no other choice, it had to be Chris. And he’d proven it with the work that he’d done already. Even on very limited budgets, he was able to make things look amazing. We thought, if we could pull a little bit more budget together and go crazy with this video, he could absolutely knock it out of the park. 

Graham: I vividly remember when Matty came into our office to play ‘We Gon’ Ride’ for us through a sound system. He was saying “Turn it up really loud” and he was so enthusiastic about it. We blasted the song, and it was one of those rare moments, like ‘Not Many’, where you just knew it was going to become an anthem. I got totally wrapped up in the song and I knew I wanted to make the video, and I hadn’t even met Dei Hamo yet.

Sagala: I eventually sat down with Chris and told him all my ideas – the cars, the snakeskin Timberlands, 50 Cent, Paul Holmes – and he was like “This is crazy”, but he loved it. 

Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre with a classic car shot in ‘Still D.R.E’ in 1999

Graham: I immediately saw this big epic car video with Sani and Chong Nee driving around. In some ways, we were both emulating and kind of making a parody of classic car videos we’d already seen out of America. Whether it was Eminem and Dr Dre, Snoop or whoever, there was always two guys in the car nodding their heads to the beat, and we’ve seen it 100 times. We knew we wanted to do that, but in our own way.

Half the script was basically already written lyrically, and I was just trying to maximise the comedy from those moments. And so I pitched it back to Matty and Sani that I thought we should make this epic, macho, bravado-filled hip hop car video that could look like it was coming from America, but it’s a little bit tongue in cheek and we’re actually taking the piss out of ourselves because we know this doesn’t actually exist in New Zealand. 

Ruys: We had an NZ On Air grant, which was the same grant that everybody gets, but there was no way we were gonna be able to make that music video with that money. We started looking for sponsorships to pull some extra finances together – I took meetings with Mag and Turbo, for instance, and Playstation. If you watch the video, you can see there’s a bit of product placement in there, it was a real group effort to make it happen. So there was the NZ On Air grant, all the sponsorship, and obviously Universal put a lot of money in. 

The Universal Music NZ offices today.

Sagala: I remember when we had to take our idea to Universal. We typed up three full pages of the treatment and went into the meeting with Adam Holt and Matty Ruys. We sat down and gave them the treatment to have a read through. On the very last page there was a budget breakdown, and I think the total was around $60,000. Because we knew this, we were really looking at Adam Holt’s face for a reaction, possibly a laugh, when he got to the last page. When he got there he said “Uh, what? Are we reading this correctly? $60,000?”

Holt: I absolutely remember that meeting and I remember thinking “Shit that’s a lot of money”. In terms of New Zealand videos back then, $15,000 was a big budget, $20,000 was real big, and then there was ‘We Gon’ Ride’ with around $60,000. With that said, I don’t actually remember sweating the decision particularly hard. We knew the song was good, we believed in Sani, and I knew Chris could deliver what he said he would. So I just took a big gulp.

Sagala: I remember Adam Holt looked at me and he said “Sani, can you deliver this video?” And I looked him dead in the eyes and just said “Yes Adam, I can.” I was more excited than anything. I had been waiting for this since I left school and I had already retired myself from music once, so this was like a rebirth. It was finally time to show New Zealand what I could do.


Within a few weeks, ‘We Gon’ Ride’ was shooting down at the newly-opened Britomart precinct at the bottom of Auckland’s Queen Street. Taking place over three nights in the middle of New Zealand winter, the quiet streets of downtown were shut down and taken over by dancers, cameras, lights, cranes and cars. Lots and lots of cars. 

Ruys: I just remember thinking that, up until then, this was about as close as the New Zealand music industry had ever got to having a Hollywood set. We closed entire streets, we had cameras on cranes, there was a makeup and costume department, all these crazy rigs and cars and lighting and everything, there was just so much involved. I just thought this was crazy that we were actually doing it. And it still feels crazy now when I think back to it. 

Filming the ‘We Gon’ Ride’ video. (Photo: Supplied)

Sagala: It was so surreal. I wrote a song with all these ideas in it, and now everyone’s just going with ideas that I wrote. I was literally living out a dream. I brought some friends along, my brother was there, just all the people who supported me along the way. I just really wanted to thank the guys who helped me, and they were all having a Hollywood moment going, “Wow, we’re on set? There’s catering? Wow.”

Graham: We had the money to do things that we just wouldn’t have been able to on any other video at that time. When the guys are driving in that red truck, we’ve got a crane arm with a camera on it so that we shoot from any angle. We could do all these crazy moves that you didn’t normally see in a local production. 

That’s also a great example of Sani and Chong Nee being such great performers – we did one shot where we basically just drove that red truck in a loop around Queen Street while they were rapping to camera and doing all the gags. It worked so well that it actually became a one-shot music video for a remix version done by a DJ Ali, who is also in the opening car scene. You can see it on YouTube – one shot, totally unedited, just them doing the entire song. 

Sagala: I remember there was another really funny moment when we filmed the opening car door scene in front of Britomart, because we didn’t know that Britomart’s cool lights switched off at around 11pm because it was all still brand new. 

Graham: That lighting grid of Britomart was the entire reason we were there, but there was stress around it because they turned off the lights at a certain time, so we were really racing the clock to get all these angles for the opening sequence. And I remember the producer freaking out that they were going to turn off the lights and we only had about 20 minutes left. I was like “Go find the guy and bribe him with a box of beers to keep the lights on”.

Bell: I remember shooting that opening scene down where the train station is, but I honestly didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I just remember when I got there, I was wearing this big puffer jacket because it was quite cold. They were trying to style us and I remember thinking “I’m not taking this jacket off, it is fucking freezing”. And then when they got me to slam the doors and everything, I was just really puzzled by what I was doing. I didn’t understand it. 

DJ Sir-Vere, cut up and destroyed by having to slam a door. (Image: Supplied)

Also in that scene they said “You’re supposed to make the sound of a boy racer car here”, but I didn’t hear the brief, so everyone started making this noise and I was just like “What the fuck are we doing”. And they kept trying to explain to me and I’m just going “What” and I’m looking at DJ Ali next to me and he’s saying “Just do it” and I just didn’t understand what was happening at all. That was quite a cringe moment for me, but I knew I had to trust Chris Graham.


It wasn’t just DJ Sir-Vere who found himself thrown into the guest star whirlwind of ‘We Gon’ Ride’ – his manager Jess Peters also did the casting for the video, and ended up making an unplanned appearance alongside music TV presenter Jane Yee. Dancer Charene Siakimotu had wandered down to set to support a friend, and also found herself joining the cast at the last minute. And that’s before we even get to the Matthew Ridge and “Paul Holmes” cameos. 

Charene Siakimotu: I thought I would just go along and watch because my friend was going to be in it, but then we got there and they were like “Cool, let’s get you into makeup”. I told them I hadn’t done an audition or anything, but then they said they would pay me. That was quite rare at that time, because no one was getting paid for video clips. Usually you showed up and everyone just jumped in, but this was such a big budget video, the dancers and extras actually got paid. It was about 200 bucks, but for a dancer back in the day that was pretty awesome. 

Charene Siakimotu, right, was roped in at the very last minute.

I’m in the scene where the car drives past with the four girls in it and I’m sitting in the back. The next day we all came back again to shoot the big scene on the main street. That was such a cool vibe to be a part of. It seemed very Hollywood and big and not what we were used to at all. It was all looking very flash. They would just crank the music, make the cars start running, and then we just have to kind of dance near the cars. The track was so awesome too, so everyone was having a really good time. And again, I was never even supposed to be there. 

Jess Peters: Honestly, I don’t even remember how I ended up in that fucking video. But we were all mates, we were all part of the same crowd, and I just think we were on location, it was late, and Chris just needed someone to play that reporter part. I mean, Jane Yee was obviously a very respected journalist and media personality, so her casting makes sense. Mine? Not so much. I think I just wore glasses and could look like a reporter. 

Jane Yee: I was working full time as a music TV presenter for a show called Squeeze, where we profiled different elements of the local music industry. And of course, once we caught wind of this big budget video, we knew we had to be part of it. We requested to do a behind-the-scenes exclusive and they said yes, but under one condition. And that one condition was that I would cameo in it. It was a contra deal, essentially.

The original Yeezy in a way.

I turned up in what I thought was a perfectly fine outfit, but a stylist promptly came along and popped me in this big Nom*d vest that said “Don’t Shoot” on it, which people commented was appropriate given that we were shooting a music video. Also, there was actually a health and safety incident. You know when a crane comes swooping down in an arc and then goes up again? Just before it swept up again, it hit me on the head. I was probably loitering in the way, but if this was the States I would’ve been hitting Dei Hamo up for some of that 60K. 

Sagala: We had always planned for Jane in the press conference scene, so it was really cool that we got her. And then a little bit later on in the shoot, Matty gave Matthew Ridge a call to come down. He was so cool, we had never met him, and he arrived and was just like “This is awesome, what do you want me to do?” We got Chong Nee to give him his jacket, and then we just played the music and fooled around and acted like we were buddies. Then Chong Nee bumped him so then he bumped Chong Nee right back. 

Chong Nee: Man, Matthew Ridge honestly banged me so hard that I fell over like a pancake because he was so strong. These rugby league players don’t play. You can see it in the video, it’s me and Matthew Ridge and then he shoulder-barges me and I fall out of the frame. That was for real. I fell down hard and then Chris Graham went “CUT” and Matthew Ridge runs over like “I’m sorry mate, I’m so sorry bro, are you OK?” It was cool, but I thought we were just having a dance but then, all of a sudden, BANG.

Hamo, Ridgey and Chong Nee’s big adventure.

Sagala: I think even Paul Holmes might have agreed to do a cameo, but then he declined. That’s when Chris said “Well, why don’t we dress you up, put white makeup on you, and you can be Paul Holmes?” He said it would be funny, and I said “Alright, but if it’s not funny then don’t use it”. I got in the makeup chair, and once I saw myself in the monitor, I realised it was kind of funny. We did a couple of takes which were good, but we needed something bigger. And so then I decided to do the fingers and jump off the table. And that’s the take we ended up using in the video. 

Graham: I still remember it fondly as the most fun I’ve ever had making a music video. There’s the creative fun and creative satisfaction in executing an idea just as you had it in your mind, but I just remember never laughing as hard as we did on that set. Anytime we had any downtime, it was just Sani and Chong Nee being the funniest guys you’ve ever met, cracking jokes the whole time. I completely credit them as really being the conductors of the good vibe and energy on set. They just had everybody laughing their heads off the entire time. 

Dei Hamo and Chris Graham: ‘It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a music video’ (Photo: Supplied)


The footage, back then shot on film, was sent to the lab for processing and was then transferred over to digital for the edit. Chris Graham cut the ‘We Gon’ Ride’ video himself over four days, and then presented the final cut to Sani, Matty and Chong Nee, followed by Adam Holt at Universal. With a live TV premiere breathing down their necks, thankfully nobody had any notes. 

Graham: I had actually edited the Scribe ‘Stand Up’ video too, which is the black and white one with the rock guitar and stuff. I actually won Best Editor [at the Kodak Music Clip Awards] for that Scribe video, but I became kind of the laughing stock because that video only had about 50 edits in it, which is hardly any for a music video. So all these different editors and directors were teasing me about that, so then the macho side of me was like, “OK, I’m gonna show everyone how well I can edit”, and ‘We Gon Ride’ ended up having over 500 edits in it. 

Sagala: I just couldn’t believe it. It was an idea completely come to fruition, you know? And it was perfect. I was just speechless. It was better than I imagined. 

Chong Nee: We saw the finished product and I was just like “Yo. YO. YOOOOO.” It was just amazing. And Chris just said to me “I told you Neezy, I told you!” He was right. It was incredible. 

Can’t talk on the landline, too deep in the edit for ‘We Gon’ Ride’. (Image: Supplied)

Ruys: Everything was ready to go, but I remember there was a little bit of a panic attack because there was a rule on New Zealand television that you couldn’t show someone in a car without a seatbelt on. And I believe that we had Dei Hamo in the car with no seatbelt on and there was a moment of panic that it wouldn’t be allowed to get played because of it. But it was clearly OK because it ended up coming out and getting played everywhere, all the time.

Bell: Back then, music TV shows were quite competitive, and I know there were other people who wanted the premiere. But I think that Chris and Sani wanted me to do it on the Holla Hour on C4, because that show was huge and they would get maximum eyeballs on it, all at the same time. Also prior to that, while Sani was getting his momentum up, we actually made a video in-house for one of his songs, just him rapping to the camera. So I was already a big part of his cheerleading squad at that point, and the Holla Hour audience already knew him. 

Graham: Sani, myself and Chong Nee went into the Holla Hour studio, which was just a small white site at C4, and got interviewed by Sir-Vere. We announced the video and premiered it there live, and then almost certainly had a party somewhere and celebrated the video.

The Holla Hour on C4 was the biggest hip hop show in the country

Sagala: I remember being a little nervous about it, because I knew that once we give it to the public, it’s not mine anymore. It belongs to the people. I knew the song was good. I knew the video was good, but you can’t always predict how people will react, and so I was just like “Well, you know, I just hope that they receive it well”. 

Bell: We had a direct line in the C4 studio and we were getting pretty awesome feedback straightaway. And after that, it was just huge. I had to play it every week for a month. It was just non-stop, it got thrashed on Mai, it was on every music TV show. It’s interesting, because from that moment Sani suddenly became really relevant, really fast, this was the middle of the storm of Aotearoa hip hop and he planted himself pretty squarely in the centre of it. 

Sagala: The day after the release, it felt like the whole world changed. Everywhere I went, people were suddenly looking at me. I was like “Wow, is this what the Hollywood guys go through everyday? Is this what being famous feels like? Because I’m not sure I like this.” And this was on a small scale, I was just walking around Manukau Mall. But people would come right up and take photos of me without me asking, it was really, really weird. That’s how I knew it was a hit, because everywhere I went people would yell out “WE GON’ RIDE” at me.

Dei Hamo performs for a crowd after the release of ‘We Gon’ Ride’ (Photo: Supplied)

That said, there was another funny moment. I went to my local Video Ezy in Hunter’s Corner after the song had come out. I wanted to get a video out, but all the screens around the store were playing ‘We Gon’ Ride’. And so I take my videos to the counter and you know, the girl is looking at the screen, looks at me, does my order, passes my videos to me, and then looks back at the screen and keeps watching ‘We Gon’ Ride’. I just laughed, like, “Alrighty then” – I was right there! But that was cool, I was laughing all the way home. 

Ruys: I just remember being extremely proud when it all came out. Proud that people loved it and thought it was hilarious and entertaining. And it got played a lot, and the song stayed at number one for weeks and weeks. It was incredible, it was a total juggernaut and it was just great to see Sani finally get his success and for people to know who he is and call out his name on the street. But then, of course, the thought in the back of our minds was: how on earth are we ever going to follow that up?


‘We Gon’ Ride’ quickly knocked NZ Idol runner-up Michael Murphy’s debut single off number one in the singles charts, and stayed there for five weeks. Dei Hamo became a headline act on the Boost Mobile tour, opened for both D12 and the Black Eyed Peas, played the Big Day Out, and won a New Zealand Music Award for Best Music Video and Highest Selling Single in 2005. 

Sagala: To be honest, I was just really enjoying the ride. The funny thing was, I had already come out of retirement to make it, so I just thought I would ride it until the wheels came off. It felt like kind of a sendoff for me, because I didn’t have anything planned after it, and I was cool with that. I had never expected anything more from music anyway. I was already 29 and I had been around for quite a long time already, even though most people didn’t know that.

Ruys: The next single we released off the album was ‘To The Floor’. Because we had such a great time working on ‘We Gon’ Ride’, we came up with a new concept with Chris Graham that was meant to be the party to end all parties. And that was when we got the late, great, good friend Jonah Lomu in the clip and a number of other celebrities. It was a great single and people loved it, but ‘We Gon’ Ride’ was just such a beast that there was just no repeating it. 

Holt: The rest of the album just didn’t connect the same, which was sort of a mystery because it was a really good record. I get the sense that possibly the single was almost too big and too special, that it sort of overshadowed the rest of the project. I mean, we had Tim Finn feature on one of the songs ‘Cry Again’. We felt so bullish about it, but you can never, ever, take that big hit away from Sani and Chong Nee. It was theirs, and here we are talking about it, nearly 20 years later.

Bell: The whole thing just bottomed out for everyone not long after this. It wasn’t that the popularity of hip hop died, it just sort of plateaued. I believe that Sani, Scribe, Savage, Mareko, everyone just managed to ride the wave of their time and then it just kind of washed out. People started looking elsewhere and suddenly becoming a goth was the cool thing with My Chemical Romance or whatever. It’s not necessarily bad, things just changed. 


These days, Sagala is still making music and has carved out a career as a music video and short film director. Chris Graham went on to direct film and television projects including Sione’s Wedding and most recently Scribe: Return of the Crusader. Both Chong Nee and Matty Ruys are still making music, and the group still catch up anytime they are in the same city. 

Chong Nee: I’m going to champion ‘We Gon’ Ride’ forever because I love what we did. Like Biggie says, it was all a dream. I loved every step of everything that we did. Everything on the track, every one of our nights shooting together, everything we laughed about. That video was one of the pinnacles of my life and, if I could do it all again, I would do it 200 times. Not because of the money or the fame, but I’d do it 200 times because of my brothers. I’m very happy I still have Dei Hamo and Chris and Matty around, I love them so much.

Ruys: It was crazy to be a part of it. We all just said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this?” and then we made it happen, and everybody loved it. I think one of the things that told the industry was that we can do whatever we want, we can make things that are international quality and no dream is too big. With Dei Hamo, we proved that we could do it. We can make a really commercial, fun, international sounding hip hop record and music video in New Zealand. It can be done. There’s no reason why we can’t. 

Graham: It was special at the time, but it’s even more special now because there’s a gold filter of nostalgia over all of it. You make all the stuff and you’re great at what you do and you’re enjoying yourself, and you might have your heyday without realising it. We didn’t know this was the apex of commercial hip hop, and music video budgets, and shooting on film, and CD sales and everything else at the time. Looking back now, it’s clear how fortunate we were to all be involved. It was truly just the right place, the right time, the right people. 

Matty J Ruys, Sani Sagala and Chris Graham in 2023. (Image: Supplied)

Bell: It was a watershed moment. There was a very clear period of time where we had been setting up for some pretty astronomical success in our scene. And it just so happened that Sani made that record at the right time, with the right momentum, and his was possibly the most complete and polished commercial project of them all. I think what’s important is that people know that the Aotearoa hip hop legacy is Sani – not just that song, but the man. He’s been a very important part of hip hop from the very first MC battle in New Zealand The song is obviously incredible, but people need to recognise that Sani is basically the sum total of it all. 

I have just one more funny story about Sani from years after ‘We Gon’ Ride’ came out. At Mediaworks we had these radio survey release parties. And one year they decided to have a DJ competition. Now, I’m so competitive that I was like, “We’re gonna bury everyone else”. So I rang Sani and asked him if he could please turn up at our survey party and feature on my set. And he fucking did it. That’s the kind of guy he is. He drove all the way into town, sat out there in the carpark, walked in when I gave him a wave and performed ‘We Gon’ Ride’, got in his car and drove home. Who takes hours out of their day to do that? Only a fucking legend. 

Sagala: Looking back is bittersweet for me. Because I would love to relive it all again, but at the same time it was this beautiful, perfect moment in time. I honestly thought I would have achieved my ‘We Gon’ Ride’ before 1999, but looking back it wasn’t the right time yet. New Zealand wasn’t mature enough, the market wasn’t mature enough, and I probably wasn’t mature enough. My son was born, I retired myself from music with no plans of coming back, and then I got that call from Matty out of the blue in 2003. I am a great believer in the universe’s timing. It may have seemed like the moment came late for me, but really it was right on time. 

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