The Brag Media
Features January 20, 2021

DAWN RAID: How an independent NZ label took Polynesian hip hop to Australia and the world

Sosefina Fuamoli
DAWN RAID: How an independent NZ label took Polynesian hip hop to Australia and the world
Image: Dawn Raid artist Aaradhna

For much of the early 2000s, independent hip hop label Dawn Raid Entertainment commanded the attention and respect of the industry, first on home turf in New Zealand, then in Australia and soon enough, the global market. 

With the success of artists like Adeaze, Mareko and Aaradhna in the domestic markets, and then the widespread international success of Savage circa 2005, the South Auckland crew were unstoppable. But with most epic success stories, there also comes a fall; a journey that is explored through a new documentary, simply titled Dawn Raid, released this week.

savage dawn raid


The film is an interesting look at the establishment and development of a music label from the ground up, not to mention a snapshot of how the music industry was operating in this specific timeframe. Back when hip hop’s success rode largely on the backs of artists in the American market, the emergence of an independent Polynesian label in this space was unheard of.

Fast forward to 2021, where more and more voices from the diaspora are achieving international success and momentum earlier in their careers, the arrival of a documentary like Dawn Raid is a must watch. Much has changed since Dawn Raid was founded, but what has remained the same is a strong connection to community. 

Check out the DAWN RAID Trailer:

Speaking with label co-founders Danny ‘Brotha D’ Leaosavai’i and Andy ‘YDNA’ Murnane, they put the success of the label down to their tight bond with their artists. 

“Andy and I, that’s all we knew,” Brotha D says. “Whoever’s project was up, that was it. The whole label just zoomed in; every resource, everybody became part of the roll out. It’s very special.”

With multiple ties to the Polynesian community that extended to merch, clothing lines and a Community Trust program that brought educational and vocational opportunities to youth, the early days of the crew didn’t rest on riding the backs of clout or viral success.

dawn raid founders

Dawn Raid Founders Danny ‘Brotha D’ Leaosavai’i and Andy ‘YDNA’ Murnane

“Even the independent labels back then, they didn’t roll like we did,” Brotha D explains. 

“Every Saturday we were at the markets, you could catch us every day at the shop. You could come up to the office, you could be part of the Community Trust, you could bring your kids in and learn. We were so entrenched in our community that nobody could not know about Dawn Raid.”

Check out BROTHA D ‘Take It Out South’:

In later years, the label would enjoy multiple wins overseas (Savage became the first NZ hip hop artist to go Platinum in the U.S.), but in 2007, various challenges and stumbles on the business side of things forced Dawn Raid to go into liquidation. The documentary explores the ins and outs of this period of the label’s history openly, while also detailing their resurgence and comeback. 

Fostering a New Zealand-Australian connection for years, both Brotha D and YDNA have been watching the rise of artists including ONEFOUR, HP Boyz, Hooligan Hefs and more with excitement and pride. 

“HP Boyz came and performed at Bay Of Dreams and it was the biggest set,” YDNA says.

“They reminded me of Scribe and Savage at the Big Day Out in Australia. When we had our moment, probably 2004 was the pinnacle point, and now they’re having their moment right now. It’s awesome to see Polynesian kids going ham on an international level.”

“We used to laugh at our nephews out in Australia, their accents and now five years later, it’s the hottest accent in the world. The Polynesian-Australian vibe.”

Check out HP BOYZ ‘Rumours’:

The pride extends to Australian producers going large internationally, too.

“Our ‘son’ from Melbourne, Nick Audino [Twice as Nice], went on to produce for DJ Mustard,” YDNA says. 

“Well his guy Khaled [Rohaim] is producing much of his [The Kid LAROI‘s] music. These are young producers who sold their first beats to us for the Deceptikonz album! I’d bump into them in studios trying to give us demos. For us, to see it all prosper… Jessica Mauboy, Stan Walker, they all crashed at mine and Aaradhna’s apartment in Hollywood. We saw them all coming through.”

Check out THE KID LAROI ‘So Done’:

Releasing Aaradhna’s 2016 album Brown Girl in Australia through Golden Era (arguably an Australian counterpart) brought the R&B singer to new audiences over the pond. Says label manager Ben Martin, the label’s legacy was well known from the jump.

“Aaradhna is insanely talented and a lovely person,” he says. “The Dawn Raid team is fiercely loyal and were interesting to work with, knowing their legendary history in the NZ music scene.”

Check out AARADHNA ‘Brown Girl’: 

Now we’re in a time in the industry where a more diverse cast of names are taking hip hop made in Australia out to the world, it’s timely to be able to look back and consider the early 2000’s terrain a label like Dawn Raid was building within. 

Dawn Raid director Oscar Kightley notes that although he’s been a collaborator of the label’s for years, making the documentary was a learning experience for him as well.

“I was as curious as anyone to get the inside story,” he says. “It was all completely surprising. I didn’t know the exact extent of how they took it to the world, their incredible success. But also, they really were from the hood. It’s that survival street mentality, where you do what you need to do. It’s amazing when the whole country jumps on. Conquering Australia too, that was awesome.”

And with the release of Dawn Raid in Australia this week, more newcomers are set to learn about how two school friends would navigate their way through the music industry from their roots in South Auckland. The music that has left an undeniable impact on following generations of hip hop and R&B artists in New Zealand and beyond, ripple effects we’re still seeing today. 

“As an islander growing up in Australia, it was super inspiring to see,” triple j’s Hau Latukefu remembers. 

“NZ always had great artists to look up to like Che Fu and King Kapisi, but Dawn Raid was a movement. It was a label, a company and a community. They showed us how to do it and 20 plus years later, we’re still following that blueprint.”

Dawn Raid is in Australian cinemas from this Thursday, January 21st.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

Related articles