Hip-hop in Australia has significantly changed over the last few years. The days of "BBQ rap" are well and truly over - instead, hip-hop in Australia is reflective of the diverse voices that are located all over the country. The stories that are being told in hip-hop in Australia show the changing face of Australia, and the music that's being made has improved out of sight.
We've taken a look at some of the artists that are shifting the course of hip-hop in Australia, and what makes them special. Of course, artists like OneFour and The Kid LAROI are also helping to push hip-hop in Australia and beyond forward, but if you're reading this, then chances are good that you know who both those artists are!
Korean-Australian rap crew 1300 have only released a few songs, but they're already shifting the narrative around hip-hop in Australia. Transitioning seamlessly between rapping in English and Korean, their high-octane tracks call to mind the music you might hear while raving combined with the energy of acts like BROCKHAMPTON and Odd Future.
They've just released their new single, Oldboy, an ode to the 2003 South Korean film of the same name. It's a bouncy, adrenaline-inducing track that sees the crew writing from the perspective of the main character in Oldboy, and is unlike anything else you're going to hear coming out of Australia. There are big things ahead for 1300.
While hip-hop in Australia has by and large reflected the sounds that have been popular in the UK and US over the last decade, Posseshot feel and sound like a breath of fresh air. The pair have devoted themselves to improving their lyricism with every release, and KHA and Mr.Muscles have built a devoted fanbase by celebrating all things Melbourne. Their music is providing a throwback to the "golden era" of hip-hop for those who are looking for it.
Their 2021 project CITYLOOP tells the story of hip-hop in Melbourne as well as any project ever has, with the pair teaming up with artists like Fraksha, Brad Strut, Alex Jones and Maundz. The project is a history lesson on the Burn City artists that have paved the way for the emerging MCs of today and tomorrow, and getting all these artists on the one release is a testament to how beloved Posseshot are by those that are in the know.
When Western Sydney MC Hamza steps up to the mic, it’s time to listen. He's able to paint vivid pictures through just a few bars, like on Grub, which is a short, sharp and stunning introduction to his most recent EP, 2021's Conference Of The Birds. Speaking to Dog Scraps about the EP, Hamza revealed that "I wanted to tie in a lot of my cultural heritage and where my family came from. So, through samples, even just through like colloquial terms and Arabic words. Just references like that. Tie those two worlds of East and West together."
Conference Of The Birds is instantly gripping, and there isn’t a wasted bar across the project. Hamza glides over skeletal, lo-fi production, weaving tales about checking Waze for police (or as he calls them, shaitan), taking part in various money-making schemes and having a full belly. The conviction in his voice is unmistakable and his punchlines land with explosive force.
Genesis Owusu is one of the bigger names on this list, and for good reason. Smiling With No Teeth is one of the best albums to come out of Australia in recent memory, and it only gets better with age. Above all else, it shows what can be created when an artist believes in themselves 100%, rather than acquiescing to the pressures of outside voices.
The Canberra artist said it best when he accepted the 2021 ARIA Award for Album Of The Year, which marked the first time a hip-hop artist had won the award. He said, "I used to get side-eyed a lot when I was younger for the way I dressed and the things I did … But all the people I loved and respected always stood firm, immovable, unshakeable because we knew the power in who we were and what we created." It was truly a win for the outsiders.
While Tkay Maidza's KIM may not have featured in this year's Hottest 100/200 (which, let's face it, is an absolute travesty), there's no doubt that she's always had an influence on hip-hop in Australia, even while living overseas. The move overseas gave her the space to explore her sound and push it forward, resulting in collaborations with the likes of JPEGMAFIA and Yung Baby Tate.
Having started out with electronic-infused bangers like Brontosaurus and Tennies, before refining her creative vision with the eclectic and inspired Last Year Was Weird trilogy, Tkay's living up to her almost-limitless potential. Her success and reach extends far beyond Australia, and for Australian artists everywhere, she's an example of what can be achieved when you reach for something more.
Nerve's ability to produce a shit-hot beat and then one-up himself with his bars is unmatched in Australia. Throughout his already-impressive discography, he's emulated the sounds of US hip-hop, embraced UK grime, before settling on creating hip-hop with punk-like energy. However, he's also got the range to explore his emotions through more melodic, melancholy tracks when the situation suits.
He's a key part of Brisbane's NO1NETWORK, which has shown the power that creatives have to propel culture forward when they all get together. They describe themselves as the "lost, found and free", and Nerve's illustrated this attitude in his music, backing himself 100% all the way. His 2021 project, Tall Poppy Syndrome, is refreshingly honest about his ambitions as a musician in Australia - where many artists might try and play down their dreams, Nerve's not afraid to reach for the stars - and he's got the talent to match his claims.
Like the rest of the Bad Apples label, Malyangapa and Barkindji rapper BARKAA is changing the face of hip-hop in Australia by telling the stories of First Nations people that have been forcefully ignored for far too long. Her recent debut EP, Blak Matriarchy, is a testament to the Blak women who have been key parts of her upbringing, while also exploring the trauma and genocide that First Nations people have faced ever since Australia was colonised.
EP highlight King Brown is a bouncy, lyrically sardonic response to a toxic ex, while title track Blak Matriarchy highlights the attempts by the powers that be to erase the history of First Nations people, and the women that carry the burden of the past. Speaking about the project to Junkee, BARKAA says, “Writing those songs was quite triggering, but they were a release at the same time. They gave me a release to get that stuff off my chest then go back to being a mum and giving them my best self.” Blak Matriarchy is a must-listen for those looking to learn more about the true history of Australia.
Tongan/Tanzanian producer I.amsolo is helping to shape the sounds of hip-hop in Australia by working with artists from a range of different subgenres. Over the last couple of years, he's worked with OneFour, Nooky, BLESSED, Urthboy and more, showing his range as a beat-maker. He's a prolific producer, and he's been a key part of OneFour's growth in particular.
Having previously been a key part of Justice Crew, i.amsolo's now changing the landscape of hip-hop in Australia. His debut EP, i, was released at the end of 2021, and captures his growth over the last two years as a producer - having traded the limelight for a more behind-the-scenes role, he's now a go-to collaborator for some of the biggest hip-hop artists in Australia.
L-Fresh The Lion
Sydney artist L-FRESH THE LION's impact on hip-hop in Australia stretches beyond his music. As a proud Sikh man, L-FRESH has been influential in the careers of countless artists. His Conscious hip-hop artist development program has seen him work with the likes of A.GIRL, Becca Hatch, Slim Set and many more, while he's also worked with YouTube as part of their Creators For Change initiative.
Of course, it would be remiss to not talk about his music - he's one of the most talented MCs in Australia. Having released three albums to date, 2014's One, 2016's Become and 2020's SOUTH WEST, he's lifted up South West Sydney in everything he's done, both through his music, and his commitment to helping to build the community around him.