The Changing Face Of Hip Hop In Australia
The struggle for recognition has been real; but the scene now moves forward with confidence.
When it comes to hip hop in Australia, Australia’s long been plagued by conformism, and a market that’s resistant to divergence of sound. The dominance of ‘Aussie hip hop’ - in the Hilltop Hoods / Bliss N Eso ‘skip hop’ sense - over hip hop music output in Australia has required hip hop artists in Australia to conform to a set of expectations - any artist that looks/sounds different from ‘the Aussie hip hop sound’ has always had to work harder for mainstream recognition. To understand why this is, you have to look at hip hop in the context of the wider Australian music landscape. Aussie hip hop has not had it easy, as 360 pointed out a few years back. ‘Aussie hip hop’ has not even been a ‘thing’ for much longer than ten years - until Hilltop Hoods broke through in 2003 and achieved mainstream success with The Calling, prior to this the only ‘hip hop’ Australians heard was US rap on mainstream channels. Back in the 2000s, artists making hip hop in Australia not only had to break hip hop itself through to an Australian listening public enthralled in a decades-long affair with pub rock - but they then had to achieve the secondary feat of altering the genre, of making concessions to its roots - disenfranchised African Americans in NY in the 70s – to make it authentic and to gain recogntion. Australian rappers did this by spitting in their own accents, and turning the lyrical focus to their own lifestyles, to social issues in their own backyard. Even the ARIA Awards has remained ignorant when it comes to hip hop; offering the 'Urban Category' as a blanket cover-all for r’n’b, hip-hop, soul, funk, reggae and dancehall - all specific genres in themselves. Likewise, as Sydney MC/Best Urban artist 2013 nominee Urthboy pointed out, artists outside of that “quite tunnel-visioned mainstream area of our music industry” aren’t nominated – with no hip hop artists being nominated that year in other categories i.e. Best Male / Best Female / Best Group.
Likewise, the long-running argument of ‘authentic hip hop’ that motivated / preserves the idea of ‘Aussie hip hop’, is unproductive. For everyone who says authenticity is important, there’s a Rick Ross fan who scoffs at the idea. Seriously though – we can’t deny artists the right to a musical genre based on the fact the music did not originate with their bloodline, or their environment – it’s culturally destructive. To paraphrase Macklemore, hip hop started in a block that most of us have never been to, to counteract a struggle that most of us have never been through. Drake’s made a whole career rapping about relationships instead of the gangsta lifestyle, Frank Ocean came out as gay, Kanye West is designing fashion, Odd Future and Yung Lean – the furthest thing from street hustlers – have cultivated entire audiences for their sound through the Internet/self-promotion, Action Bronson is more at home behind a skillet than behind a gun.
So, one might deduce that because artists had to fight so hard to get Australians listening to Australian-made hip hop - that progression in hip hop in a wider sense in Australia, to get to the point where we are now – where artists such as Remi, All Day and Tkay Maidza are being recognised as ‘Australian hip hop’ artists - has been slow. In 2015 however, we're confronted by a very different music landscape: whilst acoustic rock, pub rock and indie pop/folk are in no danger of suffering a recession, in the last couple of years electronic music has stepped up in a big way to sit in equal place with those dominating genres in terms of record sales, awards nights and radio play. Australia's always had a dance music scene, but more often of late the stuff that pushes the envelope has been getting a go, as opposed to the unimaginative, mainstream EDM - a bunch of innovative house styles received a lot of shine (and have remained consistent), bass-led electronic music has become large enough to spur underground dance crazes, and indie artists are choosing producers over guitars (with Chet Faker's electronic-infused soul being a case in point). The success of electronic music in Australia lately has had a run-on effect to the type of production being embraced in Australian hip hop output: with more Australian singers and rappers feeling confident to explore ther wider array of hip hop styles that have proliferated in the US / Europe: cloud rap, trap rap, queer rap, gangsta rap, lean rap, instrumental rap, ratchet rap, soul trap, regional rap (Atlanta, Chicago) ...the list goes on. In 2015 there’s a whole host of rappers, lyricists, and singers from Australia that are watching the throne. We’ll introduce you to some of them below – if you think we’ve missed anyone, we’d welcome your finds for future editorial coverage – hit us up via Pilerats Facebook or Twitter.
CHOCOLATE & KID KAIRO
Dese kids are bawse! Chocolate and Kid Kairo are two Sydney MCs coming out of Lion Mountain Studio. Lion Mountain’s a community project run by members of Sydney's Sierra Leon community, enabling young, musically-interested Africans in Sydney to learn about music making, recording and production. They featured recently on Australian producer Dro Carey’s belter of a track, Monomolies, bringing huge British grime vibes to the left-field club track, and reminding us of LV. They’ve recently upped their first solo track to their Soundcloud, Big Ballers – hopefully the first of plenty more fuego to come! Listen to Big Ballers and their Dro Carey collaboration below.
An Indigenous-Australian rapper and lyricist, Briggs is northern Melbourne’s answer to Action Bronson – he’s got charisma, a bit of goof (social media game on point) and dynamite bars by the bucketload. Briggs has the lyric content to back up the hardness, and he often imbues his lyric writing with deeper political fire – via a clever wordplay in track Victory he links the gold chain around his neck to the chains that were placed on Aboriginal people by the settlers. He’s worked on a collaborative track with world-famous Yolngu musician Gurrumul (check out the Like a Version here), which is pretty special, and already has two albums already under his belt, as well as support slots for Ghostface Killah, Dilated People and he recently guested with Sage Francis, as well as headed out on the One Day crew’s Australian tour. He’s also got Ghostface’s personal tick of approval ‘I like dat, he’s like Ice Cube’ Ghostface told triple j when they played him the track. Check out his latest track with Ill Bill here, and listen to Bad Apples below.
Our Pilerats Twitter account absolutely went nuts with retweets and faves when we premiered new Brisbane rapper Gill Bates’ track She Knows. Bates’ star is on the rise – bringing in the popular people’s poet, AllDay, to guest on your official debut is a not-too-shabby move (he’s about to tour the nation with Allday, too) and he’s just signed to New World Artists. With a murky Atlanta-style beat courtesy of Wavy Milo (great producer right there), and an effected, pained R & B vocal, the style he’s presented to us is more Thugga than Thundamentals, and while he’s still gotta prove himself beyond one track, we’re welcoming his vibe. Listen to his debut below.
NATUREBOY X GMC
Natureboy & GMC are a producer/rapper duo working out of the western suburbs of Melbourne, although Natureboy’s originally a Kiwi. They rap and create chill trap-style beats, counting amongst their inspirations ASAP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa. Back in 2013 they kicked off a free online smoker/dreamer/chill series called The Compression Sessions; where they put out 32 songs in 32 weeks - out of these our fave was the track Daydream: watch it below. Since they’ve, they’ve been lying low, but just a couple of months ago they dropped an incredible track, Animals, that calls to mind the spacious, woozy sound of The Stand4rd.
He’s not even 18 yet, but Melbourne's Baro is already on the books of respected Aussie agency New World Artists (Jackie Onassis, Allday) on their books, has released a full length album Howgoodisgood (download it free here), and earned himself radioplay on triple j, after being a finalist in 2014’s Unearthed High. He’s got a likeable DIY aesthetic – he filmed one of his clips in Big W and his tongue rolls easily over soft jazzy, futuristic beats and drowsy electric guitar instrumentation; his vocal style has the earnestness and warmth of Chance the Rapper, or a young Mos Def. Currently touring the nation supporting Thundamentals, Baro’s journey is going to be a huge one, and it’s only just begun, so get on board now. Watch / listen to Cigarettes below – Baro’s track that’s currently sexing up the airwaves on triple j.
Thandi is a promising R & B / soul singer from Sydney, that a mate dubbed “a Young Erykah Badu”. Thandi came to our attention when she was awarded the support for R & B goddess Tinashe on her recent Australian tour; others may have already experienced Thandie’s sultry tones at Soulfest, or heard her on Ta-Ku’s Songs To Break Up To, or Coin Banks’ Heads & Tails EP. Thandi’s voice is primed for more sensual hip hop and soul beats, but we’d be excited to see what she could do with an electronic beat, or heading up a power R & B ballad. Either way, her raw, individualistic quality is sure to shine through. Keep on this lady – she’s got a solo EP on the way this year and we’re sure plenty of her tracks will make it onto the airwaves. Thandi recently teamed up Australian rapper B-Wise for recent track Judgement, and together they’ve made a really dynamic track that melts like butter in your ears – listen to it below.
Zimbabwean / West Australian rapper S.O.X., real name Tinashe Soko, has been inspired by Biggie, Tupac and NAS since he was an eleven year old kid, when he used to listen to his older brothers' cassette tapes and press pause to write down the lyrics. He's taken that determination and turned it into some underground mixtapes of his own, bringing in production from Perth's Roughsoul and Rubbaband Beat Makers, before linking with US producer Statik Selektah, 6ix and Illmind for his debut EP, The K.I.L.L (Knowledge in Living Life) that you can download here. S.O.X. has been working on a follow-up to that EP, K.I.L.L. 2.0, and recently dropped the track Salute Royale, that serves as the intro to the tape, and it's hot as. Proof below. A track produced by Swiff D (who produces for Lil Wayne and Schoolboy Q) is on the way, too.
These fly ladies from Brisbane – sisters Dewi and Angelica - have been tearing up the 4000s, amassing a heap of gigs of late. Their track Du-Rag, off rumoured forthcoming Minang Galoremixtape, is a winner - gentle, wavy choruses and sassy verses over traditional cloud rap beats. Tumbler-y and sweet, there is definitely Kitty Pryde or Princess Nokia feels here – watch Madboots’ new video below.
When Alicia Keys chooses you to support her stadium arena show, it’s a pretty good vote of confidence in your future as a musician. Sydney-based, Papua New Guinea singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngaiire (pronouned Ny-Ree) is classically trained in jazz, and creates music that brings together soul, jazz, future-folk and electronica styles. She’s already made some serious inroads into the industry, having put out an album (Lamentations) in 2013, and Triple J putting their faith in her, labelling her a Next Crop artist a couple of years prior. Last year Ngaiire did a tonne of live festival shows and gigs, having earnt a reputation for a captivating onstage presence: her colourful, eclectic performance at Sydney’s VIVID Live Festival, where she performed her rework of disco club classic Ain’t Nothing Goin’ On But The Rent, won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Listen to her vocal contribution to producer Kilter’s track, Coward, below, along with an incredible, orchestral cover of Beyonce’s HALO that Ngaiire recently uploaded to her Soundcloud. We hope more tracks are on the way!
Perth-based artist Rob Delirious is a triple threat – writing music, rapping and often singing his own hooks. He’s been in the game since he was 18, rapping and playing alongside producer friend Oli Thv Gxd. In 2011 he dropped his debut full length, 22 years, with the majority of production handled by none other than prolific beatmaker Ta-Ku. After dropping his 2013 mixtape Throwbacks, Delirious spent some time rolling through Europe, now he’s back and in the studio, and ready to drop some serious fuego in 2015 – keep an eye on Pilerats in the next couple of weeks for that. Revisit his track Shame, from Throwbacks, below.
Starting out as an MC at friends' house parties in suburban Sydney, B Wise, aka James Iheakanwa, is an African-Australian singer and rapper on the up, with supports for GZA, The Cool Kids, G-Eazy and Kid Cudi already in the bag. He's currently working on a debut album that we think is going to be one of the highlights of 2015. He's got experienced producers Pro/Gram (Bliss N Eso), Jord Levus (Allday), Colourd Noyz and more on board; all contributing to what is B Wise's always diverse choice of productions, that can range from raps over Fly Lo style spacey-jazz beats, or more fast-paced, energetic stuff. Whatever he raps over; his flow is always relaxed but tight. He's given us an array of impressive tracks recently; with highlights in the bouncy R & B of Like You (below) and the soulfulJudgement, and some dope freestyles he's been uploading to his Soundcloud, tiding us over 'til the album.
Halfway through last year Melbourne duo Milwaukee Banks – made up of rapper Dylan Thomas (Polo Club) and producer Edo Rafter (Flight Tonight) put out their debut EP Rose Water. Thomas’ smooth, deep verses and pitched-down hooks slink easily over Rafter’s glitchy, skittering beats; they’ve nailed their dynamic of late and they’re all the tighter for it – recently scoring the support for Raury’s Laneway sideshows in Australia. American rapper Deniro Farrar lent his producer KIRA, to the cause for title track Rose Water, which sees Thomas rap in a vivid and beautiful, neo R & B kinda way over a low-slung, dreamy trap beat.The track’s at a whole other level that proves the kinda A$AP Mob-levels of cool that Milkwaukee are capable off. Listen to it below, Patty Mills is also a highlight off the EP. The boys are currently in the studio working on an album - catch them playing with Perth’s own Flower Drums this April.