Hip-hop has inspired generations of self-taught artists and executives around the world. A moving new film, Search, takes fans to Aotearoa (the native Maori name for New Zealand) and documents the island nation’s most successful rap and R&B label. Search dives deep into the history of friends and business partners, founders Andy Murnane and Tanielu ‘Brotha D’ Leaosavai’i. The former is a music-loving businessman and the latter is a musician who understands business (think Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, or Strange Music’s Travis O’Guin and Tech N9ne).
Following in the footsteps of independent record labels like Houston’s Rap-A-Lot and New Orleans’ No Limit, in just a few years the charismatic duo went from selling unlicensed merchandise in outside markets to creating Dawn. RaidEntertainment. In the early to mid-2000s, the brand would boast an elite roster with a number of artists signed to major labels, as well as a recording studio, touring company, music lounges hairstyle, official clothing and more.
Through Search, Murnane and Leaosavai’i’s mission was clear: to shine a light on the raw talent of their South Auckland neighborhood and raise awareness of Pacific Island history. Murnane told VIBE, “We wanted the name Dawn Raid to be a constant reminder to the people of our country, especially those in government, and what they did to Polynesians.” The ‘Dawn Raids’ were a harsh crackdown from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s on Pacific Islanders who overstayed New Zealand work visas, although the majority of overstayers at the time were British, South African or American. Police were entering properties without warrants early in the morning, evicting thousands of workers originally brought in to stimulate the economy. In August last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern formally apologized for the dawn raids.
In addition to their cultural pride, through the Murnane movement and Leaosavai’i were committed to making a name for themselves in the birthplace of the music they revered. “Making a splash in the United States was a pilgrimage for us,” says Murnane. “Paying homage to the ancestors of hip-hop in Bronx, New York – the people who gave us ghetto kids everywhere something to believe in – was crucial.”
This “splash” came in different waves. Through their closest contact with the American industry, South Auckland-born Kirk Harding (who was then Executive Vice President of SRC Records), Search were able to feature a relatively unknown crooner named Akon on their flagship band Savage’s debut album in 2005, Bootleg alcohol. The pair’s single of the same name spent seven weeks atop the New Zealand charts, yielding Akon’s first number one hit. Two years later, director Judd Apatow (who appears in the documentary) included Savage’s “Swing” in his romantic comedy, knocked up, leading to significant success in the United States (and internationally).
“Paying homage to the ancestors of hip-hop in the Bronx, New York, people
it gave us ghetto children around the world something to believe in – was crucial.
The film tells how Searches the fairy tale run, including other acts like The Deceptikonz, Mareko, Adeaze, and Aaradhna, were eventually terminated due to poor business decisions and inner strife. Recently, some of the label’s former artists have spoken out on social media regarding their portrayal in the Oscar Kightley-directed project.
Adeaze’s Nainz Tupai, whose 2004 song “A Life With You” was sampled a year later by producer Scram Jones for Mariah Carey’s “Your Girl,” wrote in a recent Instagram post: “I feel so frustrated [and] angry… for everyone to share what a great movie this is and thank us for sharing our story – [it] is still NOT OUR WHOLE TRUTH. Murnane readily admits that “all was not rosy, all the time” with the label’s artists. “The responsibility of leading a ship is a difficult task. Some of the decisions Brotha D and I made may not always have been right for everyone.
“We taught our artists how to make money, we made sure they owned their edition and half their masters,” he says. “In the long run, their families will benefit from their hard work. I can only speak for our character. When others speak from their point of view, I can’t control that. I know what we’ve done, what our heritage is and how, as a people, as a label, we stood up to be counted.
Search is available for the public to view digitally on demand in the United States on Apple
TV+ and other platforms via the film’s site starting today.