Jeremy Smith

Closer than a ‘Brother’: Tyree Tautogia’s Journey to Jesus

From the outside looking in, Tyree, or TY, Tautogia achieved everything he’d ever wanted – money, fame, devoted fans and a chart-topping, record-breaking hit.

An “amazing journey far exceeding all my expectations.” 

With his own solo music career already reaching stellar heights, he and his good mates – Sid Diamond and Deach, Fred Faafou, joined forces to form hip hop group Smashproof.

The South Auckland-based trio’s track Brother, from their debut album The Weekend, went on to break a 23-year-old record for the longest consecutive run at number one by a local act on the New Zealand singles chart. 

They’d “made it”.

Yet, behind the seemingly ‘bright lights’ of fame, TY says, for him, there remained an emptiness.

And, seeking validation from the “shifting sands of success” for many years – a time during which music became his ‘god’ – left TY depressed and disillusioned with life.

But Jesus. 

In a moment of desperation, with life at “absolute rock bottom” as he felt there was no way out, TY called out to God.

And the Lord answered his prayer – taking him on a journey of redemption, restoration and revelation.Now, after Smashproof’s first performance together in almost three years – a show at an event at Manukau’s Vodafone Events Centre in late May – TY sits down to chat with Jeremy Smith. He wants to use his story to point others to Christ, as he himself has learned his identity was never meant to be placed in the ‘fickleness of fame’, but rather in the Rock that is Jesus.

“God, please help me. If You can bring me out of this, I’ll give You my all – my life, my talents, everything I have.”

As he prayed that prayer towards the end of 2019, Tyree, or TY, Tautogia was depressed and close to suicide. He was even writing a letter.

“I thought I’d hit rock bottom many times before, Jeremy, but this truly, truly was it,” he says.

It’s clear to him now just how much – in that instance – he’d “lost himself”.

Candidly, TY says by that stage he’d been both using and selling methamphetamine, or P, for about 18 months.

Truth be told though he’d battled addiction – either to drugs or alcohol – on and off for many years. Certainly, “drugs were always around” throughout his entire music career.

Looking back at that moment in 2019, TY describes himself as a “fully immersed” addict – heavily reliant on the drug each day, it had taken hold of his life.

Yet for several months, he tried to hide the fact he was using methamphetamine – keeping it a secret from everyone, including his family.

Now, he’d had enough. Not only could he no longer see the purpose of living – TY felt there was no other way out.

“I had tunnel vision. I know now I was convinced of, and believing, a lie of the enemy. He cunningly planted a seed in my mind which I began to believe – that it was best for my family and everyone else if I wasn’t here.

“Jeremy, at the time, brother, I honestly, truly, believed that was the case.”

As we began chatting, TY and I prayed that the Lord would guide our conversation – leading TY to share whatever God prompted him to.

Now, he pauses briefly, before continuing – adding another aspect of the confronting reality as he desperately called out to God.

TY’s wife Kirimangu, who he’s been married to for six years, was expecting their third child at the time – their now two-year-old son, Tyree.

Though a challenging chapter of his story for TY to share, he does so purposefully and with vulnerability – his heart is to simply tell readers this, “…Jesus is the answer, brother.”

“There in the valley, when you feel like there’s no one around, Jesus is there.”

And, as TY called out to the Lord on that day, He heard him.

“Probably only 30 seconds later, my wife’s friend drove down our long driveway. “Jeremy, I remember being so grateful and just crying tears of joy. In my darkest moment, there was a glimmer of hope – Jesus. He reached out and saved me,” TY says.

As he then explains the days and months which followed, words found in James 4:8 come to mind – “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” (ESV). 

That’s because as TY began stepping towards God, it’s as though the Lord ran towards him.

It’s a season, TY says, in which the Lord revealed to him where his true identity lay, and the importance of forgiveness.

Put simply, for the first time, TY knew his identity was found in Christ.

“In the past I’d always felt that what validated me was wrapped up in my music and how well I thought that was doing – my ‘success’. 

“Don’t get me wrong, having goals and aspirations is a good thing, if we hold them the right way before God,” TY says.

“Jesus tells us to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. But for so many years, music became my ‘god’. I was often depressed if I thought I didn’t produce great tracks and I felt validated by the number of streams and plays we got and awards and accolades we won.

“When all that was going well, it was amazing – I felt like ‘the man’. 

“But it never lasts long. It’s shifting sand – and when you’re validated by ‘success’, and anything changes, so does your sense of worth.” 

But God.

As TY reached out to Jesus, the Lord began to reveal to him a life-changing “personal revelation” of how God sees him.

And in that light, TY began to be able to lay down all of the things he’d held onto so tightly over the years.

“When the Holy Spirit began speaking to me, in a moment of clarity, it was as though – for the first time – everything made sense. I knew who I was – a child of God. 

“And you know what? All that ‘stuff’ I’d literally been chasing because I thought it validated me – those chains of money, fame, success or whatever – dropped away. Instantly, I felt so much lighter.

“I knew what I’d been searching for my whole life, without even knowing it, was found in Jesus, nowhere else. And, because our God is so merciful, He gave me a, let’s say, 1054th chance.”

Choosing his words carefully, TY wants to encourage readers.

Having caught a glimpse of God’s heart for him, he prays that others too would truly sense God’s heart for them.

“May my story be a living testimony of God’s restoration. Honestly Jeremy, realising that my true identity is in Him and who He’s called me to be really put things into perspective. “Because yes, I did attain lots of my goals and materialistic aspirations – but when I came to know our Father, it’s as though none of that mattered.

The Tautogia family. Photo: Munro Visuals

“I pray that those reading this would truly know the reality of a living Christ and how much He loves them. Because when we realise that, we can’t help but be changed.”

In TY’s story, part of the practical outworking of the ongoing change God was bringing about in his life following his prayer was then a sense that he needed to go through rehabilitation – which he completed at the end of 2019 at a Salvation Army programme in Auckland.

“Our walk with the Lord is a journey,” TY says.

“And as He began putting back together the broken pieces, I felt rehab was the next step – it was the best thing for me.

“With the Lord’s help, I came to a place of leaving rehab having forgiven everyone in my life I knew He was calling me to forgive, having asked for forgiveness from those in my life I knew I needed to, and lastly, learning to forgive myself and start seeing myself as God sees me.”

It’s a revealing inward glimpse at the heart of a man who truly knows, outwardly, what it is to have “made it” to the highest of highs of the music industry – both here in New Zealand and internationally.  

It’s no exaggeration to say TY’s reached some of the loftiest heights possible – achieving much of, and more than, what he’d dreamed of as a teenager growing up in South Auckland.

TY is one third of hip hop group Smashproof, formed alongside Sid Diamond and Deach – Fred Faafou. Among other accolades too numerous to list in full, the group holds the record for the longest consecutive run at number one by a local act on the New Zealand singles chart. 

Their first single Brother, from their debut 2009 album The Weekend and featuring Gin Wigmore, spent 11 consecutive weeks in the top spot.

In doing so, the song broke a 23-year-old record previously held by America’s Cup-themed single Sailing Away by All of Us – that track spent nine consecutive weeks at the top in 1986. 

Brother still holds that consecutive record now, 13 years after its release.

That same year too – 2009 – Smashproof won three New Zealand Music, or Tui, Awards including the People’s Choice, Highest Selling Single and Best Video accolades.

Brother went on to be certified twice platinum, selling over 30,000 copies, while The Weekend reached number three on the New Zealand Albums Chart.

The trio met as teenagers, bonding over the common ground of being “young, ambitious and hungry to pursue music”.

“I was performing rap songs in high school. I saw Sid and Deach a few times at break dancing competitions,” TY says. 

“As we started out performing together, we quickly won multiple talent quests and competitions. 

“There are so many memories from the early days of Smashproof – though one key moment was when, I think, it all began to sink in.

“During a nation-wide tour, we were in Wellington before a show. We were making copious amounts of money and were ‘famous’ in every town we went to. 

“We all looked at each other in this moment of realising, ‘…we did it boys…’
“Honestly, at the time, it was all I’d ever wanted. I still remember the days – at about 14 – of walking home from school dreaming of the day I would ‘make it big’. In many ways, looking back now, we achieved all that and more.” 

Even the name Smashproof represents an element of TY achieving his dreams. At school, one of his future goals was to start a record label of the same name.

Yet, when he, Sid and Deach began winning several of those competitions TY mentioned, they still didn’t have a set name.

So, TY suggested Smashproof.

What’s perhaps an even more striking thought to consider is that before the dizzying heights of Smashproof’s journey, TY’s solo career was stelar in its own right.

Winning accolades at the Mai Fm Coke Rhythm Nation competition saw him given the opportunity to professionally record an original song and accompanying music video.

“A track called Friday Night initially got me picked up with a record label,” TY says.

That label was Auckland’s Woodcut Productions, founded by Aaron Christie and Justin Ferguson, or Juse. TY says they initially spotted his potential when it came to music. 

He makes a special mention of Aaron. 

“Even though Aaron was my boss in music, so to speak, he’s more than that. He’s family. He has stood by my side through everything. He showed me I was more than music and that he considered me to be family too.”

In short, TY’s music has since taken him all over the world to perform. He’s toured with artists including Jay Z, Rihanna and Ne-Yo. It was TY’s solo music which then caught the eye of one of the directors at a label called Move The Crowd Records, or MTC, – Kirk Harding.

When Kirk heard TY’s music, he was sold – signing Smashproof to MTC in 2005. When Kirk did express interest, TY said he wanted to bring his ‘crew’, Sid and Deach, with him.

Born in Papatoetoe of Niuean descent‎, TY knows exactly where his early love of music came from. 

“I grew up in a family of ‘garage jam’ musicians – my uncles were all masters of the guitar. “Dad was a DJ too, so growing up I was always surrounded by music.

“My fondest memories of music as a kid are of waking up every Saturday and Sunday in the vinyl days with mum and dad already playing tracks.

“Another really special memory is from the cassette tape days. Mum and Dad would make mixes on tapes and we’d go on massive drives and road trips. Eventually, I knew all the songs on all the tapes.

“Looking back, I owe them a lot – I didn’t know how that would benefit me then, but now I think ‘wow’.

Ty and his wife, Kirimangu. Photo: Munro Visuals

“When I write songs, I draw on that background of having been immersed in music as a kid.” 

As TY now considers what it was like as the fame he’d so long desired started becoming a reality, in light of now walking with the Lord, he has a candid assessment.

His heart is to share both sides of the story, and to point readers to Jesus and His ability, and desire, to redeem any area of our lives as we submit to Him.

“You know, from the outside looking in, the ‘bright lights’ of fame look just awesome – fame seems to offer you everything the world tells you you should pursue to be happy.

“In a lot of ways too, the experience far exceeded all my expectations.

“But, what people didn’t see behind those ‘bright lights’ was my battle with addiction.”

‘Validated’ by fame, TY’s sense of worth was as “up and down” as he felt his ‘varying levels of success’ were at times.

Often becoming depressed when he felt his career wasn’t going as well as he thought it should be, TY would turn to drugs and alcohol to fill the void – for many years it was a cycle of “…the highest highs and the lowest lows…” 

“I probably first began to have a problem with methamphetamine as early as 2004, and through 2005 and 2006. 

“But then Kirimangu – who was my girlfriend then – and I moved away to Sydney. By moving, I was able to break the cycle of addiction at the time and I beat it because I physically removed myself from some destructive environments and influences.”

Not long after moving too, TY’s musical success continued – one such accolade being when his solo album Now or Never earned him the Best Male Artist award at the 2007 Australasian Urban Music Awards.

TY pauses. Again reflecting on 2019 as he explains this part of his story, he wants to highlight the importance of the company we keep and the influences we surround ourselves with.

“The honest truth is this. By that point in 2019, because, for so many years, I found my identity in music and all the stuff I was ‘doing’ –  I’d become stagnant and depressed because there was a period of time when I wasn’t really ‘doing’ anything on that front – I wasn’t releasing music or touring.” 

And so, as he’d done before, he “started dabbling” with drugs at first.

“I was in spaces and around people I simply shouldn’t have been. “Over time, I just started losing myself – I tried to hide my addiction, even from those closest to me. Eventually my deceit started catching up with me – even my kids could see something was wrong with daddy.”

Then, he makes a poignant point.

“I absolutely believe in intentionality if you’re praying for someone you know who you want to see come to Jesus. Don’t lose heart, keep praying – we may not ‘feel’ like we’re ‘seeing’ results, but God is at work, doing what might even seem like even little things in their lives – and ultimately, those little things bring them closer to Him.”

TY says that because against the backdrop of some of the destructive choices he’s just explained, there was something he became aware of.

Kirimangu, who had come to a personal relationship with Jesus in her own life, was continually praying that God would also encounter her husband. 

The pair grew up in the same circles and were initially friends for many years.

“All I can say is I’m absolutely so grateful to God for my wife,” TY says.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, as well as praying, Kirimangu began inviting TY to church.

She was joined in her prayers by many other friends and family members too.

“I did go with her from time to time, although sometimes I was turning up to church still drunk and high.”

When he looks back, TY says he did know about God from an early age.

Recently, he even caught up with an old school friend who remembered TY – at about 15 – talking about God with everyone at his high school.

But then, TY discovered parties, alcohol and other distractions.  

“Although I knew about God, I sort of fell away because of those. Over all the years, I do think I still always knew God was real – but, probably because of the destructive choices I was making, I just felt so far from Him.”

He can see, too, countless times when God protected him despite those choices.

“I was once at a house for about six hours overnight – fifteen minutes after I left early in the morning, the Armed Offenders Squad raided the home.”

“If we’re talking about God’s grace, that’s just one of many, many moments I can recall.”

TY then offers a simple encouragement as we chat – “Jeremy, what God starts He finishes.”

“My life and walk today is the result of prayer. In a lot of ways, the fruits of Kirimangu’s faith in God is me being where I am today.

“I truly believe God made my wife for me,” TY reflects. “She’s an amazing woman and an amazing mother to our kids. She continually inspires me. Even though we went through that dark time, as I was literally putting her through hell, she continually drew closer to God and leaned on Him more.

Photo supplied

“Life was just chaos, but she continued trusting Him – believing in God’s promises over me, over her, and over our children.

She’d pray, “…God You have promised so I believe…”

As he mentions his family, TY pauses.

Put simply, it’s the simple things which make up quality time spent together that he treasures every day. He and Kirimangu have three children, Mila (12), Alofa (7) and Tyree (2). TY says his family is his greatest gift.

Before God, his heart is to be the best father he can be – present in their lives and continually pointing his family to Christ.

It’s a process he continually holds before, and commits to, the Lord, TY says.

And, walking with Jesus now means TY, who was baptised at the end of 2019 after coming home from rehab, embraces the future with a sense of excitement.

He prays that God would continue to use his story to point others to the redemptive power of Jesus.

His music is, of course, one of the ways he now looks to do that. 

Considering the rest of 2022 and beyond, TY hints that new tracks are coming – he’s “eager and ready” to return to the studio.

When I ask about his approach to writing since he’s come to know Jesus, he simply says, “…it’s just all different now…”

By that he means he now writes with a new revelation the Lord placed on his heart.

“The space and realisation I’ve come to is that I know I have a responsibility to reflect God’s heart through my music. Before I start writing a song, I always pray that the Lord would speak to everyone who hears it, then I let Him lead – if it’s a rap, I’ll rap, if God wants me to sing, I’ll sing.

“Let’s say 15 years from now, when my son Tyree is studying in Bible College, or doing whatever the Lord has for him, I want him to look back at Dad’s catalogue and be proud.

“When Tyree does road trips like the ones we talked about earlier that I used to do, just jamming music, I’d love it if he was jamming my songs!

“I simply know I can’t release songs any more which don’t have God-given messages. Otherwise, what am I saying?” 

TY’s heart to reflect Jesus is clearly on display in one of his recent tracks, Never Too Far. 

It’s penned as a message to anyone who finds themselves walking the same paths he once walked, even as they might be reading this. And to tell anyone who doesn’t know where to turn that there’s only one answer – Jesus.

“In the song I simply say, ‘…you’re never too high, never too late… never too deep… there’s always today.

“When I wrote that, I wanted to express that wherever you find yourself right now, you’re never ‘high’, or too addicted to drugs, and you’re never too deeply involved in a particular lifestyle, be that in a gang or wherever, that God can’t reach you. And when you call out to Him, He is there.

“His love for us never changes – we might change, but God doesn’t. He loves us as much when we’re at our worst as He does on the days we feel we’re at our best. Wherever you are, when you come to Jesus and submit every area of your life to Him to redeem, we receive the free gift of salvation. We can’t ‘earn’ anything – Christ lives His life in us.”  

Photo: Gameday Inc

Another exciting chapter involves plans to launch some new designs in his clothing brand, TWIC – an acronym for ‘Together Walking In Christ’.

It’s a passion God gave him while he completed rehab, TY says. 

“I wrote the name and some designs down in a notepad during a class, then actually forgot all about it!

“One day, about three months later, I found the notepad – it took me back to what God laid on my heart.

TY wants TWIC to spark conversations about what God has done in people’s lives – and opportunities for people to then share Christ with others.

“If someone sees TWIC apparel and asks ‘…what does that mean?’ it gives the person wearing it a chance to share the meaning, and even just a little piece of their testimony – their walk in Christ.

The word ‘together’ always impacts him too, TY says.

“I probably didn’t realise it fully at the time, but wow – that one word is so powerful. “We are one body and God absolutely designed us for community – for fellowship with others.”

As he has journeyed with Jesus, TY says the major place in which he has valued that sense of community is through being connected to and planted in the church fellowship he spoke of earlier, where he is surrounded by people who ultimately point him to Christ.

It’s hard to know exactly where TY finds any spare time, but just a few months back too, TY – a former body builder – competed in his first ever CrossFit competition.

He and the rest of ‘Team TWIC’, as they were called, were runners up.

As our chat draws to a close, and TY prepares to go take his kids on a fun adventure for the day, he offers one final encouragement to readers.

“We’re not validated by the world, brother, we’re validated by the One – Jesus Christ.”

TY, thanks so much for sharing your powerful story as you seek to point others to Jesus.

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Written By

Jeremy Smith

About the author

Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.

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