The house on the hill
Content warning: this story has references to violence.
Note: Names and locations have been changed.
It’s not every day someone makes a diss track about you. It could even be fun given the right circumstances. Not this time. The diss track in question meant we had to evacuate our flat in 24 hours, a feat which has become a minor urban legend.
It all started on Facebook marketplace. My best friend Harry found this beautiful spot just off Jervois Road in Herne Bay – a huge old villa with views of the Tāmaki skyline and across the city, all the way to Maungawhau. It was really cheap for the area. Harry invited me over for a beer and to see the place, as there was a room opening up soon. As soon as I walked through the French doors onto the deck and tranquil garden, I realised this area alone was bigger than my last place in Kingsland; and I knew it was too good to pass on. Harry pulled some strings and held the room for two weeks so I could afford the bond and I was thrilled. My new room looked out onto the garden, the kitchen was new and the bathroom had a skylight that filled it with sun.
When you think you’ve struck gold, it’s a good idea to ask yourself “what’s the catch?”. In our case, it was how the place came with a ‘head tenant’, or as we soon learnt, the landlord’s kid, Sean. We were keen to get to know him, so we asked what he was studying, what he did for work and got up to in the weekends. But Sean’s answer was nothing ... to all of the above. Before we moved in, Sean was practically squatting in each of the four rooms – it was one big hotbox. This should have been a huge red flag, but we were optimistic. He seemed nice enough and we didn’t need to be best mates.
After living there for a while, we started to notice some of Sean’s weird behaviour. He’d rap late at night, when we all had work in the morning, and get angry when we asked him to turn it down. He never said please or thank you and he would help himself to our food. He often took my guitar without asking and thrashed it around, knocking it on the furniture. He never did his share of chores or chipped into flat expenses. It was like no one had ever said no to him. We didn’t think he respected the space, or knew how lucky he was to be given a house at the age of 23.
One of the biggest mysteries was what Sean did for money. We were sceptical about how he got takeout most nights, had endless amounts of weed and managed to take his ex-girlfriend to Hanmer Springs for some “Much needed R&R”, from a lifestyle that was almost strictly R&R. Eventually, he told us that he was on the benefit, from which he paid rent to parents. This seemed very shady to me - his lifestyle was expensive and not like someone struggling to get by.
We were stoked when my friend from uni, Levi, moved into the house on the hill with us. Harry, Levi and I were all working full-time, sometimes several jobs at once. But Sean didn’t pick up on our habits. Instead, he kept telling people that he worked for his parents – painting the house and doing maintenance. In reality, it meant green tape and dirty tarps strewn around the house for days. Or as he liked to put it, “My schedule’s pretty flexible.” One time his mum came up to make sure he was doing his job. But all Sean did was yell at her and go to his room to smoke cones. We thought it was crazy that they let Sean live there with no job and nothing to do.
Later that year, I was getting ready for my grad ceremony and looked outside to see a red Tesla gleaming in our driveway. Living in Herne Bay, you see Teslas around all the time. But when I saw this grumpy old man hop out, I realised Sean’s dad, our landlord, had decided to swing by. It instantly put me on edge. He was mean-looking, like Ned Flanders but without the cheerfulness. I don’t think Sean had the best relationship with his dad and I felt bad for him. That day, Sean was showing his dad his music and he was not interested. It was as though Sean’s parents had given up on him and let him stay there so they didn’t have to deal with his problems.
The Diss track and the escape
When Levi and I threw a party, Sean was infuriated. He said “If you’re having seventy of your friends over, I should be able to have seventy of mine over. Sack up, this ain’t the Kool Kids Klub.” This should’ve been our cue to leave, but we still loved the house. Sean kept spiralling. His behaviour became unstable - disappearing into his room to smoke cones and getting angry about our flat bank account going into overdraft.
This reached a crescendo when Sean released this ominous diss track on Soundcloud. I had gotten home from work that day and he met me at the door with a crazy look in his eye, asking if I’d heard his song yet. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, so I walked away, sat down on my bed and loaded it up on my phone. He’d found a royalty-free beat online and crudely stitched together this song. He wasn’t rapping on beat and the lyrics were hateful and disturbing – threatening to murder us because we owed him money and getting r***d in jail after he’d been arrested. At first, I didn’t know what to make of it. I listened to it through several times, wondering if I should find it funny, then I tried not to think about it. I couldn’t tell the others because Harry was in hospital and Levi was
working overtime. I was alone with Sean in the house on the hill.
After a scary evening, I called them both. The song resounded through the flat and our various Facebook group chats, and we knew we had to go – quickly. During this downward spiral, Sean would frequently drive to his parents’ place in Hamilton. One morning mid-week, we noticed he’d left in the middle of the night and we thought it was our best shot to get out without confrontation. He was big and could get aggressive and in your face if he was in a bad mood. So we didn’t want to risk running into him. We considered all our options – mulled over calling his parents, or even the police, but decided it would be best to take control of the situation and get out quietly. So, we packed up everything we owned in less than a day. It was chaotic and we had Sean’s song looming over us. I had this horrible image of him charging in from Hamilton in his beat-up Subaru that his parents
gave him. It was always disturbing seeing that car in the driveway with its crumpled bonnet. He told us he crashed it in Hamilton and drove back home. Harry said he used to see him drive recklessly through Herne Bay and we were worried he was driving stoned because it reeked of weed.
What really stuck with me that day was seeing the troubled look on Levi’s face. We’d flatted and worked at the same bar together for almost four months, but I’d never seen him that way. Harry was in a sling because he just had surgery and was still recovering from a general anaesthetic. So, we all bound together to get it done as quickly as we could – packing our lives into a City Hop van. Levi noticed that Sean nicked one of his beers and thought it was ridiculous that it was a 0% Peroni. Seeing it in Sean’s musty room on his bedside table was symbolic for all of us.
Although we were all upset about leaving our home, we were all very lucky to still have safe places to go to. We sent a letter to Sean’s parents, explaining the situation and that their son should get help before he hurt someone, or himself. We were worried that another group would end up living with him. But when we saw the place up on Trade Me, by a property manager, and for a significantly higher price, we had a sigh of relief, but also sadness for our flat having to disband. Sean created this persona of a struggling artist and made “being on the dole” a major part of his identity. But it left a sour taste knowing how wealthy his family was. After a few Facebook stalks, we discovered he used to be a frat boy – and his rapping had seemingly come out of nowhere. This, tied in with the lack of support and guidance from his parents, made us realise that having all this money and no consequences had a pretty devastating effect on his mental health. Sean uprooted three peoples’ lives and didn’t seem to care. We had to leave the place we’d called home for nearly a year. We blocked him and waited to hear back from his parents. But there was never an explanation, or apology. The only thing his parents wanted to talk about was rent and our bond. And we never found out what happened to Sean.