There were a couple of deciding factors when it came to making the choice to talk specifically about Australian hip hop – the first one being that it’s my younger brother’s main area of interest. The other one I’ll get to in a moment.
As I write this, I have one of my brother’s CDs sitting on my desk, called Aerosol Era by Bias B, released in 2009. According to him, this is one of the best Australian hip hop albums ever. I listened to it the other week and I can’t say I’m convinced. The entire album is, as the title may suggest, a fairly nostalgic journey of the days the artist spent stealing cans of spray paint and graffiting trains. At one point he fondly reels off several names of favoured colours. Me, I don’t get it, but of course my brother does, it’s like someone sat down and wrote an album about his own youth.
I need to back track a little first and admit hip hop, rap and most other associated genres are far from being the kind of music I feel well versed in. While I do have a couple of albums, for the most part my interest ranges from mild to almost non-existant, with the odd song here and there piquing that interest.
That being said, I would have had to be both completely ignorant and deaf not to notice that the last decade or so has seen what was once primarily mimicry of US rap and hip hop, develop into something that is uniquely Australian. While I’m no expert, I do think that hip hop in particular is a genre that traditionally uses culture-specific subject matter. As a means of social and personal commentary, I think it becomes an incredibly significant artform whether I dig the tunes or not. Thankfully, there’s a decent number of them that I do. In point of fact, though I often can’t listen to it from any country for much longer than the average album, I still seriously dig on hearing the Australian accent in hip hop.
I’m going to go out on a (not very long) limb and say Australia’s most successful group is Hilltop Hoods. I do have a little history with these guys, having seen them live before the release of their first album, so I’m not completely out of my depth. Could be that and the fact that they’re local that fosters an extra soft spot, but I’ve listened to their first two albums – particularly The Hard Road and the subsequent Restrung version – more than enough times to be able to say they offer up Aussie hip hop with serious substance and style. I’ve always been partial to the restrung version of The Hard Road, so here they are in a live performance with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Ok, so that was an easy one – the rest…not so much. I thought since I made a point as to its cultural significance, it was essential to enlist a little extra help in the form of a 17 year-old fan of Oz hip hop, who was not only willing to talk about the music he listens to, but did so enthusiatically. Much thanks goes out to Jordan for his extra insight. Initially, I just asked for a few names I could look up, thinking I would figure out for myself which ones to include after taking a listen to some tracks, which resulted in a bit of hemming and hawing alongside some vague offerings. So I asked if he thought any of them typically sing about, or in his mind represent, Australian culture, and without hesitation he said Reason. Thus, Reason became the voice of the nation’s youth (or at least one of them – also resisting the temptation of the obvious joke there).
This resulted in a nice little education on some Australian hip hop, some of which I’ve heard of I’m relatively pleased to say. Interestingly, the following was pointed out as one of the most Australian hip hop songs.
I say interesting because of our differing ideas about the things that represent Australia and its culture. There’s little point in my making an assessment (and by virtue, judgement) on our varying ideas, if only because it’s our experiences of culture that form those ideas of it. I will, however, offer the following…
For me, some of the most classicly Aussie lyrics I’ve heard was in a song called Scallops by The Herd. The track itself is typically boastful of the artist’s skills (or skillz, as the case may be), but it’s the laidback delivery and ultimately self-effacing language used that I think neatly encapsulates a characteristic common to many Australians, plus it makes me smile every time I hear it, particularly: Like a $3.40 bag of fresh hip hop from your local fish and chip shop. Ah scallops! With dollops of flavour on top…
No matter what else there is to be said about hip hop, arguments about the genre’s origin and so on, once adopted and then adapted, it becomes less an example of one country’s musical influence on another, and more an example of some of the most Australian music there is. These guys – as both musicians and lyricists – are poets, storytellers and chroniclers of culture, and they do it in a way that speaks to and for the youth of this country. Not just the youth – my brother is only two years younger than me. As far as I’m concerned that makes them more than noteworthy when it comes to talking about the music of Australia.