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THE EVER CHANGING FACE OF AUSTRALIAN HIP HOP

A cultural movement derived from oppression. A musical genre that has illuminated struggle and identified a sense of belonging amongst the marginalised and in doing so, became an art form of empowerment. It became a unifying presence in communities seeking it. From its beginnings in the Bronx, hip hop has since developed into a dominating force in pop culture today. A simple glance at commercial pop music charts and its prominence is clear.

Internationally, each guise of the genre has represented the unique identity of the society from which it has been born. Links to its African-American origins have remained in varying degrees, however, the development of hip hop in other countries has become a powerful (and oftentimes very entertaining) soundtrack to the changing of many a societal identity.

Australian hip hop is a perfect example of this. From charged messages against racial injustice and discrimination in the 1980s and 1990s, through to the localisation of the music being embraced by the wider Australian music industry in the 2000s and now, with an ambitious new generation of artists picking up the mantle, there is no other sector of Australian music in as much flux as Australian hip hop.

 

“I’ll be the spanner in the works of your f*cked up plans…”

TZU, 'Recoil' 2005

 

Cultural and identity politics have been a steadfast foundation of Australian hip hop’s evolution, whether it be Munkimuk’s ‘Dreamtime’, The Herd’s ‘77%’ or more recently, A.B Original’s ‘January 26’, the representation of the financial, racial and governmental fractures within Australian communities has long been subject of artists’ bodies of work.

Brothablack - Are you with me out there?

Though largely influenced by groups including Public Enemy, politically-charged Australian hip hop laid strong foundations for musicians at the head of today’s resurgence three decades ago. Emerging from a thriving creative underground, artists including Brothablack, Wire MC, Munkimuk and the South West Syndicate vocalised issues affecting Aboriginal communities and setting a powerful precedent for expression through rap with that the likes of Briggs, A.B Original and BIRDZ continue to champion today. 

As the culture of Australian hip hop became further embraced by the wider music industry through the 2000s, once more we saw a distinctive voice filter through the beats. Therewas a notable strive for an ‘Australian identity’ that was less reliant on a heavy borrowing from the US, more on highlighting the Australian lifestyle and the ups and downs that had come with it.

 

“We’re staying dedicated to perfection…”

Hilltop Hoods, ‘Still Standing’ 2009

 

Music by Koolism, 1200 Techniques, Def Wish Cast, The Herd and the Hilltop Hoods became orchestral in the establishment of Australian hip hop’s new chapter.  As ARIA began to recognise the public’s growing interest in the genre, the industry became home to thriving voices including Illy, Drapht, Thundamentals and Horrorshow. A familiarity found in accent and cadence, humour and content matter, gave rise to Australian hip hop with a large demographic of music fans, yet it was not without its criticisms.

Hilltop Hoods - Still Standing

The ‘redneck rap’ label is one that Australian hip hop artists have been shirking as the climate for hip hop globally has also been changing. As hip hop merges more and more with pop, electronic and indie music, new influences have emerged. Collaboration with musicians outside the genre, from both Australia and abroad have brought international attention and acclaim to not just Multi-Platinum selling artists like the Hilltop Hoods, but also to trailblazing names like Tkay Maidza, Sampa The Great and L-FRESH The Lion.

 

“Pour up the love, let the healing begin…”

Sampa The Great, ‘Energy ft. Nadeem Din-Gabisi’ 2018

 

In the music of a younger generation, Australian hip hop breathes a new and ferocious fire. Urgency comes from the pens of wordsmiths like Sampa The Great, Genesis Owusu, Tasman Keith and Remi. Rising up as a powerful voice for those marginalised communities still suffering, Australian hip hop is fast regaining a platform to affect, uplift and encourage change. The idea of looking back in moving forward, charges this new music with potency and musically, Australian hip hop is seeing a renaissance of classic and contemporary hip hop, R&B and soul carving out a dominating presence within the genre.

Sampa The Great - Energy (feat. Nadeem Din-Gabisi)

Australian hip hop is music that represents growth without ignoring the fact it still has quite a way to go in achieving an ideal balance that allows for new voices to shine brightly. Women, a largely underdeveloped sector of the culture in Australia, are now emerging as key players in taking Australian hip hop forward.

In the lyricism of Sampa The Great, Tkay Maidza, OKENYO, Coda Conduct, Kaylah Truth, Nardean and Jesswar, Australian hip hop has adopted a fierce, opinionated and wickedly charming new guise. Their stories and records stand toe to toe with their predecessors.

For each lover of 1200 Techniques’ Choose One, there’s a mutual love and respect for Sampa The Great’s Birds and The Bee9. Just as TZU’s Smiling At Strangers album entertained while injecting sharp edge into the songs, so too does OKENYO’s defining release, THE WAVE.

OKENYO - WOMAN'S WORLD

“We were fruits from the trees, now you watch us grow…”

Genesis Owusu, ‘Wit Da Team’ 2018

 

As the Aussie hip hop fan demographic continues to diversify, so does the music tastes of the wider audience of Australian music fan. The emergence of Baker Boy, Dallas Woods and Kaiit in the recent peripheries of not just the Australian hip hop industry, but fans too, marks an exciting counterpoint for the culture moving forward. Young, potent musical storytellers completely in charge of their artistic direction, contributing to strength in Australian hip hop’s new guard with musicianship rooted in individual style and delivery.

The history of Australian hip hop and its evolution is impossible to consolidate into a strict framework. What can be gleaned from the last three decades of releases, triumphs and cultural shifts is that Australian hip hop is a genre that continues to look inward at itself, at its history, as new generations of storytellers establish a new identity for the culture.

Artists today are unafraid to acknowledge the failures of the genres past, but also the achievements of those who have come before.

The future of Australian hip hop has never looked brighter.

 

About the Author:

 Sosefina Fuamoli

Sose Fuamoli is a music journalist, editor, radio host and publicist. An ardent supporter of young writers and music professionals, she has been a champion of a more diverse Australian music culture, while also profiling and reviewing some of the world’s biggest music festivals and artists through the United States and Europe. Sose's titles include the AU Review, triple j, Rolling Stone Australia, Stella Magazine, LNWY and Cool Accidents. She is currently Beat Magazine’s Hip-Hop columnist and can be heard on KissFM as co-host of weekly hip-hop show, The Scenario. She is an Australian Music Prize judge, and has served on the judging committee for the South Australian Music Awards, the Hilltop Hoods Initiative, NT Song of the Year and the ARIA Awards.

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