A decade ago, if something was labelled an Australian hip-hop record, you’d have a pretty good idea of what you were in for. Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N’ Eso and Drapht among other have all contributed in bringing that raw, Aussie sound to the mainstream collecting ARIAs and number one records along the way. Even in 2015 Hilltop Hoods are the quintessential Australian festival headliner and have also only recently bagged a massive hit with Cosby Sweater.
Last year Allday, Remi and Tkay Maidza all had huge years Great tunes aside, they also really heralded in the diversification of Australian hip-hop. MCs and producers alike have been churning out really different hip-hop sounds in this country for years but their simultaneous inclusion on heavy-rotation playlists on triple j signalled something - Australian hip-hop has grown another leg, multiple legs even.
Interestingly enough, this strain of Australian hip-hop isn’t one dimensional. Allday is pulling inspiration from MCs like Future and Drake, Maidza is extending its capabilities by pulling in electronic producers with weird sounds and Remi is sampling Thom Yorke on his latest mixtape. You could say it’s a product of the internet - we’re hearing more and more sounds from overseas everyday and these younger MCs are resonating more with them than traditional Australian hip-hop.
Aussie hip-hop has always struggled jumping the pond and making it overseas. Just a few years ago Fasterlouder sent a Pitchfork reviewer to a 360 show. The reviewer said that “he’s not ready yet,” to break into the US and labelled some of his moves “studied and corny.” The simple fact is that kind of heavy-accented Australian hip-hop is completely foreign to them whereas Tkay is able to impress overseas blogs and pull compliments from the likes of Run The Jewels because she’s a teen who’s grown up on the globalised sounds of the internet.
It’s an exciting time for Australian hip-hop. While the original masters continue to draw huge audiences here in Australia, there are heaps of young artists diversifying the genre. Whether they be drawing inspiration from the US or fusing together hip-hop with Australian electronic sounds, they’re making hip-hop in this country evolve.
Here are a few artists other than Tkay, Allday and Remi who are renovating Australian hip-hop.
Sampa The Great
We’ve already waxed lyrical about Sampa The Great’s latest mixtape and we’re just going to continue to do so because it’s something so fresh for the Australian soundscape. The Zambian-born, Botswana-raised rapper has created a collection of sounds that hark back to her own roots while also tipping its hat to artists that blend soul and roots togethers like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. She finds the most interesting, twisted melodies in the weirdest of places, creating a flow that’s never predictable. At times she’s taking on an otherworldly accent a la Andre 3000 and then at other times she’s completely raw. She takes on issues of feminism, race and ambition adding just another dimension to a captivating listen.
If you don’t know Koi Child already you’re about to hear a lot about them in the next few months. They have a debut album coming out produced by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and will support Tame Impala on their huge shows later this year as well as headlining their own in September. Right now, we’re buzzing off their debut single Black Panda which is a huge, bold opening statement for the outfit that places them somewhere in between rock, jazz and hip-hop. The whole thing is reverby, swirling and distorting like Kevin Parker spent the summer listening to Talib Kweli and then recorded a hip-hop album. The accompanying video earned a premiere on The Fader where frontman Shannon Patterson said that the whole video says, “I'm huge and heavy and I'm gonna sit on your birthday cake.” It might sound silly but it actually does. These guys mean business and they’re dropping onto the scene with impact.
Gill Bates comes from that Allday strain of US-influenced hip-hop. The Sudan-born Brisbane-based rapper teeters between R&B and Drake-style raps, giving us something that could easily crossover outside of Australia. He featured Allday on his debut track She Knows which was a late night jam not dissimilar to the kind of stuff Jeremih was creating with Shlohmo. The best thing about Gill Bates is he’s combining the Australian electronic and hip-hop scene. His second track Didn’t Mind features production from Aussie beat-whiz Feki which, for all its US influences, sounds distinctly Australian because of the soundscape that runs beneath it.
In just over a year 18 year-old MC Baro has collected one of the most impressive Soundcloud’s of any new Australian artist. He’s dropped track after track of gold and his latest mixtape 17/18 features his strongest material to date. It’s full of raw, jazz-fused sounds from the lazy, slacker stylings of Grown Ass Boy to the synth-washed maturity of I Never Meant To Hurt You. There’s a certain Kendrick Lamar flavour to some of Baro’s cuts and it perhaps comes down to the jazz influences - To Pimp A Butterfly was full of jazz vocals and piano. Baro cites Erykah Badu, Ray Charles and Jill Scott among his influences but then also extends that out to modern artists like Mac Miller and Tyler The Creator. That fusing of old and new worlds comes through with vintage sounding brass sitting alongside futuristic synths.
Tigerilla isn’t a rapper but he sings and more importantly he’s one of the key producers who have been extending the capabilities of Oz hip-hop. He’s produced for Allday, Mallrat and Baro while also churning out his own tracks featuring vocals by Australian rapper. He producers lush, electronic instrumentals sounding a bit like an Australian Kaytranada in the way that he keeps the original beat-orientated foundation of hip-hop and adds in futuristic, electronic sounds. As such his production fits like a glove for a rappers like Allday and Baro who have a laid-back flow that often fluctuates between half singing and half rapping.
Eastern Seaboard Electric Soul Experience (ESESE) is a collective of rappers, singers, producers and visual artists who have produced for Baro but are also starting to churn out their own tracks. Their debut AINTNO featuring Hancoq had the same kind of vivacious bounce as something like Outkast’s Skew It On The Bar-B while their latest Wonderland with Hancoq, Hudson James Jr and Lostbeat delivering more of a lazy Sunday beat peppered with jazz influences. Their live show features a seven piece band which is something new for Australian hip-hop and just by listening to their brassy, dense-sounding tracks you can tell they really require that wall of sound on stage. Australian hip-hop has always had such a strong communal feel and it’s good to see that’s still alive even if this ain’t your traditional Oz hip-hop.
Genesis Owusu was a finalist of triple j’s Unearthed High this year and while he didn’t take away the title, we’re likely to hear a lot more from him over the next year or so. Like a few of the names on this list Owusu is bringing a vintage, jazz-fused sound into the future. triple j’s Alex Dyson even commented that his sound is like if “Massive Attack went back in time to collaborate with Edith Piaf.” It sounds a little whack but it’s an apt description given that his tunes have the tempo and feel of a smoke-drenched Parisian jazz bar. Goondocks / /CBR ZOO is the track that really finds the perfect balance between the modern and the old. It’s got the disturbing darkness of Tyler The Creator’s Yonkers but with subtle jazz hums.
Here’s something for nothing too - Owusu is only 17 which means he was 5 when Hilltop Hoods released their first mainstream record The Calling.
- Words by the interns' Sam Murphy for Cool Accidents.