I remember when I was in high school, hip-hop breaking into the mainstream wasn’t really a thing in my small town until Hilltop Hoods dropped The Calling in 2003. All of a sudden, we were bumping “The Nosebleed Section” at underage parties, while the festival scene embraced the Adelaide’s trio’s distinctive voice and penchant for playing with conventions of the genre (see: the ‘restrung’ version of The Calling in particular), alongside the likes of The Herd, Koolism, 1200 Techniques, Funkoars and Drapht.
Through this early 2000’s period, Australian hip-hop surged forward, as did a certain image of what it was to be represented and perceived as an artist by the fans. The scene was almost all-white, dominated by that unmistakeable Australian strine behind each rapped lyric and a unique humour and outlook that would’ve been perceived as offbeat and perhaps too niche to any rap and hip-hop fans coming to this Australian form for the first time. Nevertheless, the popularity of Australian hip-hop was soon shared between underground heads and commercial music lovers alike.
As we head into 2016, a crop of young hip-hop artists are shifting preconceived notions of the genre with remarkably individual styles and trademark sounds. While acts like Hilltop Hoods and Drapht remain within top circles as artists that have paved the way, in the music of Allday, Tkay Maidza, Citizen Kay, K21, Remi, Briggs, Jimblah and Birdz – just to name a few – Australian hip-hop is more diverse than ever.
There was a time when the ‘redneck’ image of Australian hip-hop and its followers seemed to rule. Some will feel that’s endured, but we’re now seeing a change, with electro and indie influences filtering into the music of artists like Allday and Tkay. It’s not just their strong Australian fan bases who are twigging either, with the US market lavishing both young Adelaide originals with praise and excited anticipation. The younger crop of artists are representing a fiery hunger for the music, which has mirrored the energy of hip-hop fans turning out in force to shows around the country.
Utilising music as a platform of passionate expression and activism has become a defining element of Australian hip-hop releases in recent years. In Remi’s debut album Raw x Infinity, the young rapper tackled the very real issues of racism, the state of Australian politics, drugs and the general oppression he’s felt growing up in Australia black. Fusing some spitfire lyricism with grooves and production made to generate solid momentum within the live arena, Remi’s surge in popularity with younger fans has challenged perceptions and given people music that makes them think as well as party.
Similarly, Briggs’ SHEPLIFE was hard-hitting, confronting and brilliant – totally reflective of the rapper’s approach and writing style. “Bad Apples” was easily one of the best releases of 2014 and its film clip was completely on point. The struggles and injustice still facing Indigenous youth and the wider community are issues that need to remain in the spotlight. With artists like Briggs taking the lead to be a powerful voice for such issues, it’s quite the exciting time to be a fan of Aussie hip-hop.
I’m not saying that Australian hip-hop has ditched its penchant for delivering rhymes for those looking to party and have a good time. Looking at the music Seth Sentry, Illy and others have released in the last two years, it’s evident that fun-loving, laddish facet of hip-hop in this country is still going strong and hey, that’s okay. But what’s so great about the music these guys (and gals) are putting out is that more and more, they’re displaying a confidence within their writing that let’s us all know they’re not afraid to mix it up and keep us on our toes.