Papatoetoe-born and raised (and proud Niuean descendant) rapper-turned singer Tyree achieved fame as a member of the super-successful hip hop trio Smashproof after their first single Brother became the longest running #1 single since whenever. His own debut release ‘Now Or Never’ came a few years earlier and is about to be updated with the release of a new album called ‘Motivation’. With singles including Fighter (featuring up and comer Stella), the anthemic I Do It For My City (starring his Nan in the video), and Saviour ‘Motivation’ is a hook-laden, funky, and intoxicating mix of hip hop and RnB. Still street enough to come from a member of Smashproof, but with silky vocals that will make you wanna tear up the dance floor. Natalie Pease talked with Tyree Tautogia.
There has been a six-year gap between the release of ‘Now Or Never’ and Tyree’s new album ‘Motivation’, and four years since his hip hop supergroup Smashproof were riding high in our charts.
What goes way up typically comes down and in time Tyree found himself disillusioned with the business, feeling that he had needed to take a break. Heading to Australia with his partner was the start of some major changes, including becoming a father to daughter Mila. Taking a step away from the music industry and focusing on family helped him figure out where to go – and now he’s back.
“Moving out of home and away from family to go to Australia was really difficult you know? It was just us two and we had to grow together. We had a daughter together, so it was a series of just life-changing experiences and maturing.”
Making music was never far away from his mind, as he raps in I Do It For The City. “I went MIA, but never took a year off. I was cooking up the Tyson flow to bite your ear off.”
One of the most important experiences of taking a break and getting back into making music, has not only been growing as a man and a father, but musically has been the maturing of his voice, and being comfortable with using that voice effectively. Back in the day he says that he didn’t want to be known as singer at all, instead he just wanted people to see him as a rapper. He definitely didn’t want to sing the chorus on Smashproof’s 2009 mega-hit Brother. Now, he says maturity, and gaining experience writing and recording, has caused him to be more comfortable with combining the two skills, and he is more than happy to be seen as a singer.
“Now it’s not a problem. Now I’m like, ‘Sure I’ll sing bro!’”
He credits both the creative process of recording the last Smashproof album ‘Weekend’ (particularly the single Ordinary Life), and the encouragement and support of US-based Move The Crowd Records co-owner Kirk Harding, with getting him out of his funk and motivating him to make a new album.
“That really ignited the old flame. Kirk and the guys from Universal Music were really impressed with what we were doing and Kirk said, ‘Hey, how about a new Tyree album?’ That was really cool to hear.”
The album, out here on MTC, has a stellar line-up of guest artists including Che Fu, Pieter T and Scribe, along with his Smashproof mates Deach and Young Sid.
“I just wanted the best of the best to be on the album. I really wanted to have people on the album that inspired me. Che has been a big influence since the beginning, I loved the fact that he was Niuean (like me), and I also loved the fact that he sang and rapped as well. That was a big inspiration to me. I’ve also been inspired by a lot American artists that I heard growing up too. NWA and Snoop Dogg have been huge influences.”
Projecting positivity and creating an album of powerful, uplifting songs was an important aim of ‘Motivation’ – hence the title.
“Number one for me is giving back, getting involved in my community. That’s why I do a lot of work, lots of free gigs. I grew up around a lot of kids inspired by gang life. I wanted to inspire those kids. I came from that place and I could have ended up in jail or dead.”
The interesting and impressive quality of Tyree’s solo jams is the ease with which he interweaves the vocal melodies with the rhymes. It’s rare that a musician can combine these two art forms effortlessly and with skill, and there are few who do it this well – Pharrell Williams is one that immediately springs to mind. Tyree might not possess the lush sweetness of Pharrell’s vocals, but more than makes up for it with power and soul. Listen to the duet with Stella in Fighter to hear a supreme example.
I Do It For My City is a paean to the suburb of Papatoetoe and the city of Auckland. A powerful, uplifting song extolling the virtues of hard work and the importance of whanau. ‘I put in work till my back hurt, mind frame, fam first.’ The video (directed by Roko Babich for Fleet Street Productions) is a combination of images of Papatoetoe streets, landmarks and locals – the people that Tyree is directly speaking about and to. It includes members of his own family, his Nan, his daughter Mila and a cameo by Warrior Manu Vatuvei. A powerful and emotional video, showcasing the things that Tyree holds dear.
2013 sees a lot of exciting things ahead musically, though he is not entirely sure what form these musical adventures will take.
“The music business is really changing, people are not really buying albums anymore, they’re just downloading singles. So I don’t know what I’ll be doing in terms of making albums. This could be my last album? I don’t know, I might just do singles. I’m sure I’ll still be making music, but in what form I don’t know. It was really important to get this right, if this is the last album I want to go out with a bang.”
He says he is blessed to have a supportive family (particularly his parents and partner), supportive band mates, a fantastic label and that without them none of the opportunities or success he has had would have been possible.
Tyree has a burgeoning career ahead as a producer, running the fledgling urban/pop label Empire Records along with Deach. When we talk he had just been shooting a video for musician and television presenter Drew Neemia’s new album. He’ll be spending a lot of time working with the musicians signed to his label, Abbey Lee, Drew, Jae-O, Stella (amongst others).
He is also 12 songs deep into another Smashproof album which they’ve been recording at Waihi Beach. Tyree reckons another session or two there and the album will be ready to drop. He’s looking forward to releasing the singles, touring the album, and making new music with Smashproof to rip 2013 up.