Why Tasman Keith is Focusing on Himself

I just wanted to be like, “Who am I?”, first and foremost, “and am I okay?”
Tasman Keith by Jordan Munns
Tasman Keith by Jordan Munns

It’s fucking cold when I talk to Tasman Keith, so it’s not surprising to see him rugged up in a grey hoodie, the hood pulled up over his head.

It’s about 10 days before the release date of his debut album, A Colour Undone, and there’s a slight sense of achievement in his eyes. Made in six days, it’s a multifaceted debut.

From its first track, “WATCH YOUR STEP”, to its last, “TREAD LIGHT”, Keith’s album is a twisting, turning, mostly surprising road of sounds, genres and lyricism. Each song that passes is sonically new and experimental, studded with familiar influences from rappers across the pond in the US.


Though it’s his debut at 26-years-old, Keith’s journey into music, like most artists, started from a young age. Music was broiled into his blood: His Dad, hip-hop pioneer Wire MC, would help him write verses until he was old enough to do it himself. At 14, he migrated to a small room in a youth centre surrounded by his cousins, mimicking their raps but not necessarily relating to the lyricism that stemmed from their 18-year-old lives. But it was a moment that ignited his passion and paved the way for a fruitful music career ahead. 

Tasman Keith by Jordan Munns (1) .jpeg

Tasman Keith by Jordan Munns

Rather than focusing on stories of the past – or the innate politics that comes with being an Indigenous man in Australia – Keith’s debut is, instead, a time capsule of the moment he’s in right now. More accurately, it’s an exploration of the self.

“When I came up with the title (A Colour Undone), as a person of colour that is a creative, I feel like there's always this unsaid expectation that either the outside world, or yourself, place on you to do these things for whatever reason,” he tells VICE.

“Maybe it's a political issue. But I just wanted to be like, “Who am I?”

As Tasman Keith’s debut album bubbles closer to the surface, VICE sat down to talk the in’s and out’s of the release and the changing Australian scene.


VICE: So you wrote the album in six days? 

Tasman Keith: Yeah, the majority of it, apart from three or four songs. But yeah, the entirety of it was recorded in six days.

How do you come up with an album in six days? That seems like a short amount of time for an album.

I definitely credit it to the work I put into myself prior to locking it in, whether it be personal or creatively, related to things like working on my penmanship or singing abilities or writing skills. Another one is definitely the people I had in the room, which was [rapper and producers] Kwame and Nikos, and just us locking in and being very aware of the concept and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.

I don't know how I wrote a lot of that in six days. It’s a trip to me. But I know that I'm super thankful to be able to do that.

The title, A Colour Undone, is really interesting. The way I would interpret it is that it's this breakdown of your own identity as you try and make sense of the world around you. What did it mean for you?

It's funny, it means that for me right now as of lately, but when I came up with the title, as a person of colour that is a creative, I feel like there's always this unsaid expectation that either the outside world or yourself places on you to do these things for whatever reason. Maybe it's a political issue. I just wanted to be like, “Who am I?” first and foremost, “And am I okay?” before I go and worry about these things, or before I go and speak on these things or do things that are out of the expectation of others.


I really just wanted the title to be something that people could look at, see my name next to it and be like, “Okay, is this a political album?” And then they listen to it and it's not. It's just me being who I am. And then it forces the question of: “Okay, but why, if Tasman Keith says “colour”, do I think that's political?” 

Do you find that, especially when you talk to music writers or journalists, that people try to centre your story around being political or having a political identity?

I think they did but as time has progressed they tend to stay clear of that. And I don't think that should be the thing or the case for any artist of colour by default. But also, y’know, whatever works for the individual.

I can't sit here and speak with any other artists or any other person for that matter. I just speak from my experience and, of course, there's gonna be some political things in that because it's my experience as an Indigenous man. So, by default it is going to be political in some ways. But that's not necessarily what I centre my creativity around. 

Would you describe this album as an embodiment of everything you've been working towards? Or is this just the next step towards bigger things?

It's tough. Damn. I think it is in terms of creatively, personally, and just where I'm at in my life. I think it is definitely the embodiment of everything. Because of all the things I've been dealing with.


Once I came to the front of that, creativity followed. It was like: “Okay, let me sit down with myself for a minute and get some clarity on some things”. And therefore everything else follows. So I think naturally it was just the embodiment of a lot of things so far.

This album really surprised me. Because I feel like it starts off quite dark and then you have this Tyler, The Creator-esque jazzy bass. Maybe a bit of pop, too. Was that purposeful?

I think because I've been such a listener of all [types of] music that I just went in for those six days and we'd be like, “Okay, what are we feeling like making today?” And it’ll be like, “Let's try a pop record”, or “let's try to make this”. I think that really allowed me the creative freedom to not focus on making a certain sound, but just be open to whatever sound we did make.

I actually read a quote from your dad: “never show your full hand”. Does that relate at all to how you've curated this album? 

That's a great question. Because that was one of the big things that he said to me. I still think there's definitely things that I've kept for myself. So I haven't shown my full hand but there's definitely a lot of cards on the table with this one. 

It seems like R&B and hip hop are having a big moment in Australia at the moment. Since you were a kid, rapping to Ice Cube in Bowraville, to now, have you noticed the music scene change in Australia? 


Just a lot more colour, to be honest. There was always the outline – here's what it can be – but it was never coloured in. Now that we have a bit of colour in the picture, it's like, “okay, there’s a lot of stories and a lot of voices that represent a lot of people in this country”. Because it is a very diverse country. And I think with that you're finding people connect to it more. 

I definitely understand where it was at. And we couldn't have gotten to where we are now without realising what that was. So I think everything has its place and purpose. But where it's at now is definitely important. 

You're probably one of the most well known rappers in Australia at the moment. Do you find that you're kind of reaching that point where you can't go any higher? Maybe you might move overseas?

I think, for me, there's still plenty to do here. But I definitely have that on the radar. Because I feel like it's the natural progression. And I think once this album does its thing and allows me to keep connecting more, then I'll get to a point where I'm like, “Okay, what are some more goals?” And what are some more boxes I can tick? 

Yeah, you should sign to J.Cole's record label.

(laughs) Hey, if you have a link?

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