Aussie hip-hop has been around in different incarnations since the 1980’s. Borrowing heavily from the conventions US artists such as Public Enemy, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, the original sound followed a simple formula – a beat, a synth, some samples and plenty of scratches. Many consider “Combined Talent” by Just Us to be the first Aussie hip-hop song released. From 1986 to the early 2000’s, the genre remained very much underground. Until 2002, when Melbourne’s 1200 Techniques top 40 hit ‘Karma’ was released – a turning point in the success of the genre.
Recognising the growth of this underground movement, in 2004 the ARIA’s added ‘best urban album’ as an award category. Two years later, the genre finally broke through commercially, with The Hard Road by the Hilltop Hoods becoming the first Aussie hip hop album to go number 1 on the ARIA charts. Since that time, artists such as Bliss n Eso, Illy, Drapht, Urthboy and Thundamentals have been able to solidify the genre as a mainstay in modern Australia.
However, for many years, the genre has struggled with diversity. In 2013, Urthboy wrote an opinion piece titled ‘Level Surface or Surface Level’ where he analysed the state of Aussie hip-hop. In the piece, he said, “I’m speaking from my perspective here but let’s cut to the chase – the majority of successful Australian hip-hop artists share two features. We’re male and white”. It was around this time that hip-hop in Australia started to find a new voice.
A new wave of hip-hop
There is no denying the influence that SoundCloud and the internet at large has had in facilitating the globalisation of hip hop not just in Australia, but worldwide. Speaking about this change, rapper and founder of local hip-hop website AUD’$ Juñor said, “a lot of the new artists are ‘born on the internet’. Internationals like Childish Gambino and Mac Miller (RIP) really found their sound on the internet. Their influences aren’t restricted by their local sound, area or base. And that’s kind of where this generation of Australian artists sits in the hip-hop community as well”. When asked about the importance of the internet, Melbourne artist Midas.Gold said, “quite simply, I wouldn’t have a career without it. It’s been fundamental. I think the vast majority of artists today come from the internet”.
According to Juñor, the first wave of this new trend of hip-hop in Australia began to really take off around 2012-2013. Artists such as Remi, Allday and Tkay Maidza began to utilise this platform and find their own place in the world of hip-hop. Juñor said, “they really started to change the sound and influence by using, for example, the twangs in their voice to have a much more international and unique sound than most of the Aussie hip-hop that was being released at the same time”.
With this new sound now taking off, many in the industry don’t refer to this wave as Aussie hip-hop. When asked if he considers himself an Aussie hip-hop artist, Sydney based hip-hop artist Jamarzonmarz said, “definitely just a hip-hop artist. I don’t really align myself at all with the scene here. I don’t feel accepted at any level locally so I just consider myself a hip-hop artist, definitely”.
And while this breakaway continues, Midas.Gold believes there is no tension between the old guard and the new. He said, “all the established Aussie hip-hop artists that I’ve met have all been really genuine and supportive. I think they realise that this wave is the future, and that’s not a diss at all. Times are changing in the scene. There may be some hate but most of these guys grew up listening to hip-hop, they love the genre”.
With the barriers that once held back Australian musicians now broken down, the new wave of hip-hop artists are slowly beginning to make their mark overseas. Earlier this year, Manu Crooks was handpicked to support A$AP Ferg around Europe and Canada while Tkay Maidza has had Killer Mike (half of Run The Jewels) and Duckworth both feature on her tracks. She’s also featured on singles from Martin Solveig and Basenji, highlighting the diversity of her sound.
And according to Juñor, this is just the beginning of what young hip-hop artists from Australia can achieve globally. He said, “I think it’s going to come up very similar to how electronic music came up in Australia – it wasn’t just Melbourne Bounce or Future Bass that popped, the whole community came up together and really had that influence internationally and people started noticing what was going on down under”.
Diversity of sound
Arguably the most exciting aspect of this new wave of hip-hop is that it is not bound by any one sound. While the original genre is very much known for lyrics relating to a uniquely Australian experience, young rappers in 2018 are not bound by any restraints. This has allowed for artists like Sampa The Great, Arno Faraji and Anfa Rose to explore more textured and layered sounds.
There is also a new found sense of diversity and inclusiveness. No longer dominated by white males, the genre is giving a voice to many who didn’t feel comfortable in years gone past. On this, Juñor said, “real Australian culture is multiculturalism. The new wave is really changing the perception socially about what we are rather than just being Aussie hip-hop. It’s a mix of all kinds of races and there’s a diversity of sound and influences coming from everywhere”.
Where to from here?
Even though the sound has come leaps and bounds in a short time, it is still very much in its infancy. And while some artists are beginning to get a foothold overseas, there’s a general belief that the industry could do more to facilitate the growth of the sound. On this Jamarzonmarz said, “I feel with the industry here, it’s really far behind and it’s only realising now how important hip-hop is worldwide. What is pushed here hip-hop wise doesn’t really feel ground-breaking. You have to look outside the mainstream to find people really pushing the boundaries”. Midas.Gold agreed, saying “I’m not going to mince my words, there’s fuck all opportunities going around right now. People are making moves on the internet but they are not receiving any industry recognition”.
While there may be little support on an industry level, Melbourne based artist Z. Lewis believes the appetite amongst Australian consumers is there. He said, “I think people are really hungry. The consumers are ready for this music, they are ready to go to the shows and support and represent. What we need now is an infrastructure to deliver this music and this culture to the consumers who want it. One of the biggest hurdles that we have right now is a limited state of taste-making, which is really impacting on people’s ability to formulate their own music tastes without relying on major publications making their tastes for them”.
He continued, “having said that, there is a lot of onus that falls on the artist. It’s appropriate to mention that the artist is in control and in complete direction of their own success and however much you want it will determine what spaces you put yourself in”.