“I’m not the young man filled with optimism that wrote Dreaming and Not Many,” rapper Scribe says part-way through the first episode of his new TVNZ docuseries. “I’ve been to hell, I’ve f****n’ been in jail. I’ve been on the edge of darkness and wanting to end my life.”
Raw and unflinching, Scribe: Return of The Crusader, shows the once young and optimistic Christchurch rapper’s highly publicised battle with drug addiction, the breakdown of his marriage, his time spent in prison and his eventual, redemptive, return to the stage and the studio after a prolonged absence.
The series, told across eight 15-minute episodes, begins three weeks before the release of Scribe’s much-anticipated album The Crusader. Smiling as he raps his iconic single Not Many, the fresh-faced hip hop artist is every inch the charismatic performer which producer and frequent collaborator P-Money calls the “next greatest New Zealand rapper in Christchurch”. It’s a glimpse of a life filled with possibility, before the dizzying highs and tumultuous lows of fame and addiction which defines his later years.
It’s also a tale of Malo Luafutu, the vulnerable man filled with self-doubt and the spectre of generational trauma - of racism, the loss of identity, the ‘that’s just how it was’ mentality - which continues into the present. His friends and family, too, have not come out unscathed. His ex-wife Kylie Taylor’s desperation to fix their crumbling marriage and protect their four children is entirely heart wrenching in her pain. There are also moments of brevity throughout, such as his touching reunion with former neighbour Judy, one of the few positive role models in his life growing up in Aranui.
The series also serves as a retrospective on the role of the media and the potential harm caused by the relentless pursuit of a story. Is it about the public interest of a court case involving a celebrated performer, the series seems to ask, or is it the schadenfreude of witnessing a private figure’s public downfall? The rapper is cynical in his view of the press, but also acknowledges its role in helping him learn how to “fight back” and show a version of himself which is more nuanced than the headlines suggest.
The Return of The Crusader is ultimately a redemption arc as he lets go of his anger and self-pity and enters rehab with the determination to get clean. When he makes his return to the stage, filled with nerves and anticipation, the exhilaration of the crowd seems to seep through the screen. His return to the recording studio, too, is a welcome one.
Recorded in March 2021, the album is a reflection of the past decade and his coming to terms with “the stories and the experiences that I’ve had, the heartbreak that I’ve felt”. It's honest and sincere in a way that is not necessarily a return to form so much as a rebirth; a Scribe who is older, wiser and more self-assured than the veneer of confidence he held in his earlier years.
“I actually love myself because I’m here and I’m not where I was three years ago which seems so impossible, to be here and to be clean and healthy, getting my career on track and finding the things that I love about life,” he says in complete earnest. “It’s impossible for me to go back to who I used to be, knowing what I know now.”
Scribe: Return of The Crusader is now airing on TVNZ OnDemand.