This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Western Sydney has energized Australia’s rap and RnB scene with a wave of Polynesian artists using genres like Drill to express the gritty realities of life as outsiders on the outskirts of the city. Youngn Lipz is different. In his debut track Misunderstood, rocking a Gucci cap and backed by his tatted-up Vietnamese lads, YL crooned his way through a love story set in Cabramatta.
YL is showing the world a different side of “the areas,” which is the part of Western Sydney that has become notorious in the media for gang violence. Instead, YL has taken the so-called "postcode wars" and subverted them in his music videos with a vibrant mix of multiculturalism and heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism. There is more laughter than there is bravado. There is more dancing than there is bridging-up. And there’s more fun than there is tragedy.
Having come-up in similar neighbourhoods, that is the version of the streets that I like to remember. There was violence and people did what they had to when jobs were scarce or their upbringing was volatile. But it was in that mess that the best memories were made. It was at the intersections of cultures and class that the community came together; whether it was eating kebabs after footy, drinking Bacardi Breezers at the park when one of the boys was released from prison, or seeing the hoodrich lads give the council flat kids a go on their Harley Davidsons.
YL’s wavy melodies capture that suburban nostalgia while staying true to the places and people that made him, and he has made the feeling of his music resonate around the world—catching the attention of major US labels like Cash Money Records and OVO Sound. To talk about how the past has fused his dreams with his future, we caught up with the rising star of Australian RnB on his way to community service in Liverpool.
VICE: Hey YL, what motivated you to start making music?
Youngn Lipz: I was doing my own thing, posting videos on Instagram, just singing to the camera and shit. Now that I look at it, it was pretty funny. Then one of Lowkee’s boys reached out to me. I had heard of him. He let me know what the go was from the start. He said “the music option is there if you want it, but if you want that street lifestyle you have that too. So make your choice.” At the time, I was around people my age that didn’t want to do too much good. I was around people that weren’t doing too well. Now it’s pretty weird, I'll just be in the areas trying to eat or I’ll be on the phone and someone will just start talking to me or ask for a photo.
How would you describe Cabramatta?
Straight out, it’s just a multicultural area. There’s a lot of Asians and Vietnamese people. But growing up, it was never a race thing. That’s why we were always close. The only thing that mattered was loyalty and honesty, that sort of shit. It was never about this natio or that natio. We didn’t like that. We were never like that. We were always close because we had one another.
You don’t come to Cabra and feel like you’re not welcome here. It’s all love here. And I want to keep it like that, I don’t know about other people and what goes down in their areas. But it’s all love in my area. I go around Cabra and tell the youngins, pull your head in and stay in school, keep off the streets. If they ask me for a smoke or ask me for money, I’ll still give it because that was me growing up. But if they ever aske about other shit, I tell them you’ve got school, footy, church and your parents—just kick back.
Was there a big Islander community in Cabra?
Straight out, while I was growing up the Islanders never really fucked with me. We only stuck together in high school but outside everyone drifted and the area became home. I don’t know what it was aye, maybe it was because I was different or because they were fried? Who knows! But it’s always been like that. The boys always backed me, so fuck it.
What was it like growing up there?
To be honest, I grew up playing sports and I was alright in school but something happened throughout my childhood and I fell into a different path. Didn’t really look up to much after that. I just looked up to the villains and shit. And that’s who we wanted to be. Where we come from, you don’t look at a police officer and say yeah that’s what I want to be. It was a hood area, so you want to be that type of person. But then it starts getting intense, people get locked up, start passing away and then you get stuck in jail. It gets real. Where we are from, that’s what it takes to come to your senses.
How old were you when things started getting intense?
I started playing up when I was around 14. And I felt like I’d seen the world by 15. But I’d seen a bad version of it. Seeing your boys going inside. Then I’m going inside. Seeing your boys get got. Seeing him down and out, barely alive and shit. Seeing that makes you think, what the fuck are we doing. Like, what the fuck are we actually doing. There was no hope, no motivations, no priorities. I got lucky, I found something I was good at and I stuck to it. [That] doesn’t mean I forget where I started though.
You started singing?
I always worked on my voice, on my sound. But you know, my pride and stuff like that got in the way. So I stopped myself from singing. I was still doing shit on the street while I was singing. I was getting up to mischief, singing. I was in jail cells fucking singing cuz. People would tell me to just stick to singing and I would get all defensive and just be like “fuck you, who are you?” Because it was a pride thing.
It took the right people around me to realise that I’m alright at it. Maybe I can take this a step further, take it seriously. The main thing is for our boys, like someone from our hood, is actually making something of their lives. It makes them want to do something, it makes them hungry and gives them hope.
When did you decide to start taking things seriously?
My life was going downhill. All the boys got done, locked up. Then my younger brother got done. We didn’t know what to do. It was a big wake up call for me. We didn’t want to be stuck in the same prison loop for generations because that’s what happens. Maybe we can get successful in another way.
Now, music is my bread and butter. When we were young we only pushed each other to do dumb shit. Now half the boys are inside or not here anymore. All because we used to see who’s hard or who’s the real ball-runner. These kids need to run the ball for their family. Some of our own boys are inside because we pushed them to do dumb shit. When you grow up you start asking yourself, why are we pushing our own boys away when they want to do good? But my boys backed me when I told them I wanted to do music.
How did your first track “Misunderstood” come together?
The song is actually directed at a girl I once knew. We fucked each other over, this and that. She was with someone and she left him for me but let’s just say all good things must come to an end. My lifestyle at the time wasn’t too good. It was meant to be a throw away track.
It was all real, it was all personal. I feel like that’s where music should come from. It shouldn’t be about who you are trying to be, it should come from your past and history. When you listen to my songs, you can hear that it’s real. We need to bring back the music, there’s too much hectic shit going on behind the scenes. Music was about music, the sound and shit. Now it’s about where you’re from, who’s saying this, who has done that. What happened to the music?
Did she speak to you after you released it?
Of course she did lad. We stay winning. She said exactly what I thought she was going to say but you know it was too late. Have to move forward bro, it was like two years ago.
Your second track “Silent” seemed a bit more street?
It was because people were sending shots. I just wanted people to know, like don’t get it wrong. If it gets intense, we are still here. But I’m trying to focus on my music. That’s it. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I had to drop a lot of boys around me. It’s been very hard. I just can’t mix with people going in and out anymore. My circle keeps getting smaller.
Did you ever think you would attract international attention and be booked for a national tour?
No way cuz. The national tour is crazy, I can’t wait to meet my fans. Like who are you all? I just can’t wait to see what my fans in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide are like. Because if you like my music you must be like me.
You’ve come a long way man, I hope the message resonates with more kids from our areas.
I want them to know, like, if you’re going through some shit just know you got other options. I pray you choose another option that will lead you to be who you are. Don’t become someone else to impress other people, because once you become that person, it's really hard to leave that life behind. There’s too many people who are looking for the wrong role models, when the real role models are the ones that raised them.
I know there’s older boys that have done a lot more time than me and they will tell you the same thing, there’s no glory in prison. Putting it in for your family is being there for them, I don’t see the value of putting it in for your hood or doing jail for your area. Other people are in different situations, and I get that. But I can’t see the value in it anymore.
I'm gonna run the ball for mine with the odds stacked against me. And I suggest you do that too.
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