During a 2012 Public Enemy performance at Melbourne’s Esplanade Hotel, Flava Flav boldly declared that Australian hip-hop was something Australia should be proud of. “It [Australian hip-hop] is not only equal with the northern hemisphere, but is far exceeding it”, the hip-hop jester told a perplexed and confused crowd.
At the time Aussie hip-hop was considered a joke for anybody who didn’t connect with Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso, two widely popular acts whose rise was largely established by the support of triple J. By 2012, four of Hilltop Hoods albums had peaked at number one on the ARIA charts and they were selling out venues around the country. Aussie hip-hop may haven been popular but it was filtered through skip-hop and the perspective of white suburban males.
Remi, a young Melbourne MC born to a Tasmanian mother and Nigerian father, winning the 2015 Australian Music Prize was seen as a significant moment in Australian hip-hop, and one that helped usher in exciting change.
“Remi and 360 man, they’re the ones who changed everything,” rapper Ali Belmont explains from his producer Eleftherios’s home studio in Melbourne’s western suburbs, “Aussie hip-hop used to be too Boom Bap focused, but now it’s less of a boy’s crew and not directly copying American rap.”
For Baro, another young MC with African heritage, it has been refreshing to see hip-hop performed with people of different skin colour and experience. “The scene was predominantly white males five years ago, so racism or sexism were never addressed. Even if injustices were brought to light from a rapper who wasn’t of colour, it isn’t really the same as Remi saying his father was “overcolourfied” for jobs he was frantically searching for when he came to Australia. Struggles from a firsthand source weren’t being expressed before”.
Though multiculturalism had become embedded in Australian life, our own brand of urban music until very recently was not reflecting this.
“What people here want to listen to has broadened,” Baro continues. “What the Australian public is accepting from Australian rappers used to be a patriotic kinda thing I guess; if you didn't sound like this or talk about that you weren't going anywhere. Now people understand everything is boring when it sounds the same.”
Briggs is an Indigineous rapper from Shepparton and a proud member of the Yorta Yorta people. His 2010 single “Wrong Brother” may have been the exciting Aussie hip-hop Flava Flav was referring to. He is polite but to the point when talking about the changes in Aussie hip-hop.
“It’s testament to a lot of the work that has been put in to the last ten years, but rap music here has slowly been chipping away at the big machine. Standard ‘Australian’ rap got tiresome, and with diversity comes creativity in songwriting. Now that rap music has been more accepted, it brings more people to the table”.
For Brisbane rapper Midas.Gold a change has also come about in the quality and diversity of local hip-hop. “There’s now artists in Australia who can make music that competes on a global scale. No shade implied. There are talented and hungry artists who live in Australia making this kind of music and they want to be recognized on a global scale.”
Sampa the Great. Image: Wondercore Island
Born in Zambia and raised in Botswana, Sampa Tembo found a love for hip-hop at an early age, carrying it with her as she travelled and studied. As Sampa the Great she plugged into the local Sydney scene and helped reinvigorate it with thought-provoking, socially-conscious music. Her debut release The Great Mixtape, produced by fellow Sydney-sider Godriguez, brimmed with a fresh approach and came to represent this new diversity and change in Aussie hip-hop.
Speaking to Noisey earlier this year Sampa said that she was excited about the direction of Australian hip-hop. “What I’m seeing so far is a growth of diversity, message, and artists themselves—and a broader perspective in terms of where the music is reaching. It’s not just a message to Australians now, it’s a message to the world from Australia.”
Though Sampa, Baro, Remi and Briggs may have a way to go before fulfilling Flavor Flav's bold prediction of surpassing US hip-hop talent, the young hip-hop performers are a welcome change from the 'brews and crews' mentality of traditional Australian hip-hop.
Hannah Joyner is a Melbourne writer. Follow her at @hannahejoyner