Legacy x Infinity: The importance and influence of REMI
As REMI - the partnership of Remi Kolawole and Sensible J - release their final album, we talk to the Australian hip-hop community about their legacy.
Header image and all in-article images by Michelle Grace Hunder, long-time photographer for REMI. These photos - generously donated by Michelle - capture the highs of REMI throughout their journey.
There are many pivotal artists spread through Australian hip-hop’s legacy, from those that inspired communities and sub-genres right through to those that provided representation and validation; those that kids saw on live stages and music television and thought - for the first time - they saw someone that resembled themselves and the community around them.
REMI was a rare breed, however, an act that brought a change in the sound of Australian rap, as well as the communities and artists that uplift it and support it; Remi Kolawole, Sensible J and Dutch (the latter being involved largely in the project’s beginning) having a near-untouchable legacy in hip-hop, and growing Australia’s community to the multi-faceted and diverse world it is today.
Prior to REMI’s entrance in 2012, Australia had a complicated relationship with hip-hop. Prior to the mid-2000s, much of the country’s representation in rap was fuelled by the underground, and left unacknowledged in the commercial, public sphere. For example, the first hip-hop-adjacent award at the ARIA Awards - ‘Best Urban Release’ - only debuted in 2004, in the ceremony’s 18th annual event. While hip-hop found local commercial success following then, it was largely regulated to the same few artists, those once synonymous with Australian rap: Hilltop Hoods, Bliss n Eso, Drapht and so on.
In 2021, Australian hip-hop is a multi-faceted and eclectic collection of musicians that come from all walks of life. The aforementioned heavyweights of the past are certainly still present and certainly still heavyweights, but their presence is matched by those that strive in other sounds and backgrounds, whether it’s in acts like Sampa The Great and Genesis Owusu telling stories of the diaspora, or acts like ONEFOUR, that provide representation and resilience to those in Western Sydney’s often-targeted Pasifika community. REMI was one of the many artists that helped influence and build these artists, whether it be directly through collaboration (like Sampa) or in representation and inspiration; REMI being only a few degrees of separation from almost every rapper working within the industry right now.
It’s a legacy that REMI have spent a near-decade perfecting, too. They were quick to catch both commercial and critical attention, with their debut album Raw X Infinity - released independently in 2014 - being a foundation-shifting effort that became the first hip-hop record to win The Australian Music Prize, opening the gates for artists like Sampa The Great to win in years following. Every album built upon the last in both sound and stories, bringing messages you couldn’t find anywhere else with an almost indescribable self-assuredness that pointed to their confidence as an outfit and the connection they had built alongside one another.
Three weeks ago, however, Remi and Sensible J released Fried, their final album together. “Last album with this guy comes out Friday,” wrote Remi on social media the day before the album’s release, in a statement expanded by Sensible J. “Thank you to everyone over the last 10-11 years who have listened and supported the music, bought a ticket to a show, bought merch, told a friend etc.”
With it, ends the journey of REMI and thus, the journey of one of Australian hip-hop’s most important and influential artists. Their impact on Australian hip-hop is near-impossible to gloss over in the space of a few hundred words, but it’s present in every fibre of rap’s current-day versatility in both sound and image, and the acts that a modern-day REMIs in a way, leading the future and the talent captured within.
So, as a way of belatedly celebrating the release of Fried and the everlasting legacy of Remi Kolawole and Sensible J, we spoke to some of Australian hip-hop’s integral names both in front of the mic and behind-the-scenes, to try and showcase the importance of Remi, J and Dutch both in the past, present, and future.
Take a listen to Fried below - it’s brilliant and worthy of a career send-off, by the way - and read everyone’s words underneath.
The important and influence of REMI, as told by their collaborators and the greater hip-hop community:
"Walking into a festival artist section and being able to see Remi's big ass afro peaking out of a marquee was a privilege I got to experience on a few great occasions. Shit shone like a halo. Not just on an aesthetic tip, just the way they carried themselves, REMI are the steeziest people I've ever met in my life.
Impeccable is the only way to describe how J juggled his off-kilter drums and synths, and how Remi was able to slide over those beats like butter every single time. Remi, Sampa and Baro were the Black vanguard for me in regards to music out of so-called Australia. The legacy is already cemented."
- Genesis Owusu.
"Ever since Raw X Infinity, they’ve consistently shifted the culture forward and challenged the scene to level up. As an emcee, Remi is one of the most versatile and compelling lyricists this country has ever witnessed, and Sensible J’s production and sense of funk is next level. Needless to say, they’ve always been a big inspiration, and not just with their music but also through their ongoing commitment to community and their ability to bring people together (especially here in Narrm/Melbourne). They’ll definitely be missed as a crew and for what they bring to the scene together, but I can’t wait to see what they do next as two artists at the top of their game. Until then, FRIED is on rotation..."
"Where do I even start?! REMI is soul! Remi is dope hip hop beats and afro expression, a voice for those who felt unrepresented, Remi was my green light and helped me believe I could do it too. If it wasn’t for my stumbling across Remi & Sensible J (along with Tkay, Baro etc) I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. Ever since I was young I've had a deep love for music and would daydream about making it as an artist, though I always thought that was something I'd need to leave Australia to achieve. There weren’t many faces or stories that resembled mine in Australian Hip Hop. That was all until I came across Remi who then introduced me to Sampa The Great, Tkay, Baro and more!
I was like 16 when I first came across For Good ft Sampa the GOAT, which still stands as on of my favourite track of all time, watching it fresh I was so intrigued and caught off guard by Remi & Sampa’s crazy pen game (which still remains g), the steeze in the way they delivered every bar, the soulful vibes coming from the ‘airy’ Rhodes keys and guitars, the solidly stacked drums, everything about it gave me goosebumps - and to top it all off it was one of the first times I felt seen/ represented through what I’d know to be Aussie Hip Hop.
I was hearing these guys touch on issues that I’d experienced or nobody else would touch - there was nothing like it g... everything changed for me, I finally saw myself! Suddenly this music ting was attainable and in my backyard and my day dreams felt like they could be a reality. That was a HUGE encouragement for me. I said if they can do it, I can too & maybe I can be the person for someone else down the line."
- Arno Faraji
"It’s a happy but sad moment to receive this new Remi & Sensible J album. They’ve put in the work and pushed boundaries over the years. Their music and live show was something the country really never got before from any rappers at the time, it was something unique. Anytime I’ve seen either of them it’s always been nothing but love and encouragement, especially when I was just getting started in my career. It always gave me hope coming up as a young Afro Australian artist knowing I had another brother with Nigerian heritage down in Melbourne doing his thing (in a big way!). I wish them all the best on their future endeavours."
- B WISE
"I’d heard some stuff from Remi early on and I knew these guys were good, but for me, the moment I really, really sat up and took notice was the first time I heard Ode to Ignorance. I actually cried it was so good - and it really spoke to me. Since then I have followed everything these guys have done very closely and I have not once been disappointed.
Remi and J are some of the best we’ve ever had and have really lead at the forefront of a whole new wave of music in this country. They really changed the landscape. That said, it’s always seemed to me that they’ve prioritised creativity and community over clout and “industry”, which I think is part of what makes them GREAT. My heart broke a little when I heard the news that this was the last album. But if it really is the last, it’s a hell of a legacy they’ve left behind."
"I remember seeing REMI live for the first time back in 2018. I was part of a band at the time (Zac Robertson) and we were on the same festival lineup up in the small town of Griffith, NSW. I had no idea who REMI was but I remember leaving that festival feeling super inspired after their set and then digging through their discography and being even more inspired.
Remi’s lyricism and flow had me feeling some type of way and encouraged me to play around with my own songwriting. Remi later became an acquaintance and I expressed all that to him and he’s just so humble and encouraging. We are so lucky to have all these bodies of work out there for us to keep listening to. Much love and respect to both of you and wish you all the best on your future endeavours."
"Remi and Sensible J broke new ground in local hip hop culture and did it with charisma and charm. There was a time there when they were billed on almost every festival or support on major tours - a testament to how fresh and vibrant they are/were together. They ushered in a new era of local hip hop culture, combining a bit of a Soulquarians vibe and that slightly off-kilter rap feel, it was always cool as, and they made it fun on the live stage. I trust they'll both go on to many other things but the legacy they leave behind is important and meaningful. Nuff respect, they should be proud of that."
"I think as REMI they bought a refreshing and colourful sound to Australian hiphop and alternative hiphop in general. There’s always that feel good groove in their music and Remi’s bars are always catchy especially his unique delivery and cadence which compliments sensible Jays production and instrumentation. I would consider sensible Jay one of the pioneers for sure. What a unique duo that did great things for the culture."
"I remember hearing Remi n Sensible J for the first time when I was driving one night through the city, Tyson was the track, it was raw and exciting, I was like whoa whose this.. volume up! Since then we got to know them well through the touring circuit, always genuine and humble guys. Great people and great at their craft."
- El Gusto, Hermitude
"All I can say is every show, project, session, collaboration or hang with them has always been lifted by their presence and vibe. They have a positive energy that spreads into everything and everyone present. If my opinion is valid on anything regarding them, it would simply be they are both solid, kind dudes, who I’ve never seen make anyone feel unwelcome."
- Jace XL
"Many moons ago when I was making music, my sis Syrene reached out to do a collaboration. She sent me an email of beats she was working with. Syrene said she had been hitting the studio with a couple of producers that went by the name of Sensible J & Dutch. Their style and sonics was a mixture of Dilla and Roots Manuva. Super funky with swing, heavy bass, and snappy drums.
Syrene wanted me to choose a beat so I could start writing. As I was going through the beats (one of which later became If I Was the Sun by myself featuring Syreney and Oddisee), I came across a demo of a song that boasted one hell of a line up. Syrene was on the hook, there were verses from N’fa, Zulu Flow and One Sixth, but the last MC I couldn’t place. It was a voice I had never heard before. It was deep, the flow was funky, the delivery was confident yet laid back, and the whole vibe was steezy as hell. I emailed Syrene back with “who is THAT?!”
“That” was the voice of a teenager named Remi. He was yet to release anything, but I instantly knew the kid was special. He possessed a style I was yet to hear on Australian records and a style that I could relate too. I was an instant fan. From there… well, we all saw it. Remi, Sensible J and Dutch crafted amazing songs filled originality, funk, swagger and social commentary. They not only broke new ground with their sound, they broke new ground in the industry. The crew ushered in a new era of hip hop that was spearheaded by black and brown kids for exactly that – black and brown kids. They were flanked by N’fa Jones, Sampa The Great, Baro, Silent Jay, Man Made Mountain and many others and really switched up the game. What a movement.
Thank you, Remi, J and Dutch. Thank you for the boundless energy, the fond memories and, of course, the beautiful music. Blessings on blessings."
- Hau Latukefu
"Remi and Sensible J bowing out of the game on an album like Fried is one last power flex from one of the best acts to have done their thing in Australian hip hop. To watch their journey and evolution over the last decade has been equal parts entertainment and education. Not only were they at the helm of some great stage shows, but the way their music pulled in influences from across the decades and genres was done with their own stamp of identity very much at the forefront. Their music came at a time when Australian hip hop needed a shake-up and as a result, we've seen some incredible contemporaries follow their lead.
I found kindred spirits in these two when I first met them in a sweaty Adelaide club years ago, and I feel honoured to have been there for at least a small part of their journey as both a music fan and friend. Thank you both for the music, the memorable shows and for always making sure that there was space for all of us who felt different or on the outside at some point or another, feel welcome and part of the family."
- Sosefina Fuamoli
"To say that Rem & J had a really big influence on my early work and my career in Australian Music would be an understatement. There wasn’t really a show or event that I wasn’t following them around with my camera, and I shot a lot of their press shots for many years. A lot of people knew me from the work I did with them in those early days. I remember when I was in the midst of producing my book on Australian Hip Hop - Rise - I would always get into conversations with other artists about them, and EVERYONE, without fail, was so excited about their music. It was bold, refreshing and it didn't follow any rules. I think that is what everyone loved about them.
There are a few moments that really stick out to me. The first time they played the full version of Sangria, the last line in the song is Remi saying my name. I was just floored, people still will text me when they hear that song. When they won the J awards, I remember where I was when I heard. I was in the car driving through the city, and I just had a feeling they would win! I remember going to really small shows with them with my best friend Cherie. I remember their sold-out show at the Corner Hotel, and then at 180 Russell St. I would get emotional seeing how the crowd responded to their music, the fans always repped so hard.
Hearing about the last album together this week really made me nostalgic for a lot of these moments. I wanted to go through all the photos I took of them together and relive a lot of the memories. There were a lot of good times. Australian Hip Hop would not look or sound the way it does without these guys. They were trailblazers in that sense. A really definitive moment of change. I really hope that is remembered."
- Michelle Grace Hunder
"I remember first hearing Sangria on the radio, and couldn't believe hip hop music like that was being made out of this country. I was always a fan first & foremost, and then have been lucky enough to work with Remi & J for the past 5 or so years. Managing publicity for two of the most lovely, kind & talented people is not hard, let alone when you're such a huge champion of the music they make. The impact they had on the music scene in Australia is hard to put into words (because I see it everywhere), however, something that stands out is how it comes through with so many of the artists we work with. The way we see our artists reference the influence the guys have, particularly for young people of colour, is something I never tire of hearing. I'm sad we won't hear more music from them as a duo, but can't wait to see what they do individually from here."
- Aniela Swiatek
Follow REMI: FACEBOOK