by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Ranuimarz: Working For Change

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Ranuimarz: Working For Change

Although Katchafire’s classic Working is now over a decade old, its infectious hook and timeless themes of toil and oppression make it still relevant today and tomorrow. Tāmaki Makaurau rappers Ranuimarz and Brandn Shiraz, alongside producer LSJ Lightskinjohn, proved this when they reimagined the song in December 2023. Their version of Working samples the instrumental and interpolates the hook, but turns the confrontational explosiveness meter up to 10, making the original Katchafire track seem tame by comparison. Nur Lajunen-Tal chats here with Te Maramatanga Nathan, aka Ranuimarz. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.

Currently residing in Papakura, Ranuimarz originally hails from – you guessed it – Ranui, the west Auckland suburb located between Henderson and Massey. Brandon Rangi-Dixon (Brandn Shiraz) and Tuhoea Tutaeao (Lightskinjohn) are regular collaborators. They are three quarters of the rap group Risera which also includes rapper Soufsyde P.

“I basically met Brandon through Lightskinjohn, who was a producer for Brandon back in the day,” says Nathan. “He comes off as a real shy sort of guy. He’s not really talkative, but once you really get to know him you get used to his vibe. Brandon’s helped me a lot with music, as far as flows and technique. He’s got a lot to do with my style and the way that I rap and how I make music. He’s very inspiring as well for me as a rap artist, just seeing the way that he does things. Especially how consistent he is. Him and Lightskinjohn, they all went to school together. I didn’t have a personal bond with him until later on down the track. It was music that brought us together.”

Speaking to Nathan, it becomes clear how huge his bandmates’ influence is, he even owes his rapper name to Tutaeao.

“We were performing at Ihumātao, and it was at the very first festival,” Nathan reminisces. “This was before all the protests and stuff like that. We were part of the group that had created this event at Ihumātao. We asked if we could be on the line-up, and we had to figure out a name for our group. We chose Risera, and along with that, the bros were figuring out, ‘Ooh, what would my rap name be?’ Lightskin is really good at, he just says random names, and sometimes it just works, you know? He just randomly said, ‘Why not Ranuimarz?’ I didn’t like it at first, but he just kept saying it, kept saying it, and from then on I just kept rolling with it, and it kind of worked out in the end, to be honest!”

Nathan describes the writing of Working as largely driven by Rangi-Dixon.

“Brandon is basically the spark to that track. Honestly, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you about this without Brandon being on it. He’s the spark to a lot of tracks. He’s the one that came up with the hook. I’m not even in the studio when Brandon’s doing this stuff sometimes, so that’s kind’a how this session went. Lightskinjohn showed him the beat and he thought he would just make something fun out of it. Lightskinjohn sent me that beat, and then sent me Brandon’s hook and his verse on it, and from then I went and met up with Lightskinjohn, and then I recorded the track with him.”

The result is a gritty but undeniably real slice of life, which doesn’t shy away from tackling larger issues relating to Māori.

“The song is literally just about working. You know your average father or mother who does a 9-5 and works hard to provide, feed the family and things like that. It’s also about the system that we have to evolve in, a system where we need to adapt to what’s around us in order to survive. A system where we need to follow certain rules, and try not to break certain rules because we’ll end up behind bars. It’s just about working. Working hard for your families, but at the same time letting it be known that with the working comes the oppression as well, of our people due to colonisation and past things that we’ve had done to our country, and things that had been done to our people as well. One side’s basically about working real hard for your family, and the other side is basically saying that due to colonisation this is the way the system has made it out to be. That we’ve gotta live like this or else we will die. We won’t survive.”

Nathan’s impassioned verse makes it clear that this topic holds deep personal resonance. “You represent for the racists/ who be claiming they’re neighbours/ But they’re taking the acres,” he raps.

“It’s talking, like I said, again about that oppression,” he explains. “About people who welcome somebody with open arms, but in reality, they’ve got this evil mindset or plan that they’re not telling you about. Claiming to be allies, or claiming to be somebody that you can trust, that you can leave your stuff with and come back and it will still be there, you can trust that they will provide for you as much as we had opened our arms to them. It’s more just that history stuff. The Māori battalion, for example. How they were sent to war, and came back and all their land was taken off them. They were promised housing and things like that, but unfortunately, that’s not what happened when they got back. It’s basically just about giving to people that didn’t give back.”

The single’s cover art features a house of special importance to Nathan.

“That’s the house I grew up in,” he says. “To me that house symbolises my childhood and a lot of the things that I’ve been through. One main thing in that household was work. My old man, he was a very hard worker. Ever since I was 13 he was a single father looking after five kids. No matter what, he always made sure we were fed, that we were taken care of. He was just a real hard-working man.

“That house there is basically where the foundation of Ranuimarz came from. That was the house where I wrote my first rap. The same household where I experienced traumatic things that happened in my family, both of my brothers’ passing. It holds a lot of symbolism, that house, for me. Whenever I look at it I always think about my childhood, and the things that my dad had done for us as kids. How hard he worked for our family to thrive. But sometimes, those working days, it wasn’t enough at times. Sometimes the hardship is the foundation to a lot of heartiness in our people. It’s where we get the strength to keep on going, through all the hardship, and that’s what I’ve learnt from going through a lot of that stuff.”

When he isn’t making music, Nathan works at the Auckland port and is by now a proud family man himself.

“I think I’m a little different to a lot of other rappers, but at the same time the family sort of stuff is what I get up to other than the music. There’s no better time than spending it with your family, to be honest. Back in the day I would have done this music thing because I was hungry, and it’s just the same reason now. I’m still just hungry, and I just wanna see the people around me eat and sing. Seeing them is basically the core inspiration for me.

“To me it’s just looking at my son, really. Even that’s enough to spark inspiration in me to change, or to be better, or to fight for his future, or things like that. Even the presence of somebody is inspiring enough for me to spark an idea in my head to create something, just from looking at my son, looking at my wife. All that’s inspiring to me. In this world, if we look at the Palestine stuff and things like that, there’s some dads out there that won’t be able to look at their child no more, and there’s some mothers out there that won’t be able to look at their child no more, and there’s children that won’t be able to look at their mother and look at their father, so you can’t take this for granted, ‘cos we don’t know when life’s gonna end. I relate back to a lot of what people don’t have, and it brings me down to earth again, and makes me realise what I do have now, and how grateful we all should be for it.”