There was a point, not all that long ago, when Australian hip-hop changed. For me as a teenager, the genre was very much a working-class boys club that, for the majority, reflected upon the hard times while establishing a career.
This message was then heavily diluted by scores of ‘getting pissed on the weekend, mate’ songs. If you’re into that, that’s cool. Though I think most enjoyed them ironically until they grew up a bit. It was strange that a country as multicultural as ours didn’t have much diversity when it came to hip-hop artists. While there is nothing wrong with white rappers, it didn’t seem to fit an all-inclusive ‘Australian’ identity.
However, 2018 has seen a dramatic shift in the Aussie hip-hop norm. While the iconic energy remains, this interwoven community now reflects the ethos of what hip-hop culture is about—a cohesive embodiment of Australia’s dynamic social and political reality. It’s fierce and with a skillset to rival the international stage. A feat unachieved by Australia’s hip-hop predecessors.
Here are ten of the best worth your time and hard earned. Enjoy!
An unwavering trope of Australian hip-hop has been the accent, and for many, this was the determining factor that created both the ‘hate it’ or ‘love it’ camps. In a new age, and within a society that’s moving toward the encouragement and promotion of cultural heritage, the adaptation of native tongue to genre is both moving and masterful.
A leading character in this bilingual bravado is the Top End’s Baker Boy. Born Danzal Baker, he has been igniting stages national wide with rapid fire Yolngu Matha—a dialect of his native Arnhem Land. This rapper-dancer extraordinaire lays claim to hit singles ‘Marryuna’ and ‘Cloud 9’, a taste of which I’m sure you’ve heard over the airwaves. A proud black Indigenous man, Baker Boy is here to communicate the endless beauty that is his ancient land.
“You wanna be as good as me? Boy, you better practice
Step back, feel the power of my blackness.”
Long before anyone on this list even considered making music there was The Herd. Australian hip-hop royalty, The Herd are a voice of influence, political confrontation and all-round party. With its 8 members, The Herd comprise some of the most stimulating in Australian hip-hop. Its accomplished ranks include Urthboy, Ozi Batla and Traksewt (Kenny Sabir) founder of the mainstay Elefant Traks Label.
Solidifying themselves as Aussie favourites in 2001 with hit ‘Scallops’, The Herd would go onto release their second album ‘An Elephant Never Forgets’. Here they’d release politically driven material, such as ‘77%’, an outcry at the treatment of refugees during 2001’s Tampa Incident. This triggered a nation-wide controversy and set both the band and the collective community of Elefant Traks on a culturally righteous path that still exists today. Later years would see the release of ‘The King Is Dead’, an ode to the ousting of John Howard and the addition of an amazing roster at Elefant Traks. Spanning race, gender and culture, The Herd has always been about an inclusive Australian hip-hop and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
YouTube | Spotify
Fresh off a Triple J Unearthed crowning for What So Not’s national tour, CLYPSO casts a self-produced blend of Tropicana bounce and glitched out electronica. 2018 has been CLYPSO’s year. Having released three singles, her latest ‘Strange Behaviour’ is currently garnering heavy rotation on the J’s and Spotify accounts nation-wide. Sandro Falce of Triple J lauds, “Need a song that turns whatever you’re doing into an instant party? Well, you’ve found it!”
With an air of M.I.A, CLYPSO has an otherworldly vocal command. It’s sass and punk with a cool nonchalance—a dangerous concoction indeed. It’s no wonder the experienced eye of etcetc Music has added her to its roster. There, she joins the dizzying ranks of PNAU, Fisher and Paces.
You can catch CLYPSO’s jungle infused dance-a-thon live through December and into the new-year on her ‘Cameo’ tour.
In the hip-hop world it stands a rather difficult task to sound unique. Its pursuit and presentation become an intricate brew of lyrical technique, beat and presence. While most fit comfortably within the confines of harrowed ground, there are a select few that effortlessly create something new. Genesis Owusu is doing just that.
Ghanaian born, Owusu merges jazz and soul into a futuristic, staggered, beat. Much like jazz, his songs flutter about in what seems like improvisation but I’m sure it’s all calculated for the now Canberra based virtuoso. His single ‘Sideways’ hit Triple J’s high rotation and was touted four and half stars from Richard Kingsmill. So, if Owusu’s technical prowess doesn’t get you over the line, take the word of Australia’s number one tastemaker. Genesis Owusu is going to be big.
Sampa The Great
As we near the end of 2018, one fact holds clear. Sampa The Great is the reigning Goddess of Australian hip-hop. Sampa, born Sampa Tembo, is a Zambian wordsmith packing unique phrasing and off kilter delivery. Tembo’s is a lush serenade of feminine power, African strength and technique of embarrassingly good proportions. With passed soirees into the jazz and soul realm, her latest offering ‘Energy’ is a reggae jam with a haunting tribal groove. If you haven’t already, watch the video clip now. It’s utterly beautiful.
With globe-trotting beginnings, Tembo’s journey from Zambia to an upbringing in Botswana lead her to study in California and San Fransisco before settling it Sydney. It’s there in 2015 that she released her debut mixtape, ‘The Great Mixtape’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
While someone dressed like Kerser may have intimidated you on an empty train station somewhere, there is no denying he, Scott Barrow, has ignited a fire in uncharted territory. A prodigy of Australia’s underground battle rap scene, his style is coarse, violent and purposeful. To say Kerser is an acquired taste is an absolute understatement, though his message has aligned with an audience unheard.
The captain, coach and star of self-proclaimed ‘Gutter Rap’, Kerser has created a sub-genre, countless imitators and is arguably the most successful rapper in the country at the moment. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at the facts. His last four records have made the top ten on the Aria charts without any radio assistance, he is the head honcho of ABK Records and each of his online video clips have amassed well over a million views each. That’s far more than anyone else on this list.
Like it or not, Kerser may very well be the sickest.
Tumbling sneaker first from Radelaide and into a hot-as-hell career is Zimbabwe born, Tkay Maidza. Spawning from her 2013 hit ‘Brontasaurus’ the then 17-year-old crashed through our speakers with a blitzing mash of electro and party hysteria. Her latest offering ‘Last Year Was Weird’ is a master class in range. From left-field percussion to poignant chords, Maidza flexes finesse on whatever is laid out in front of her—she owns that modern approach, while maintaining the cosy warmth of an RnB chorus. Ever the bubbly presence, Maidza kicks with an attitude unbound and technique to match.
At 21 years old Kwame is of the new age. His phrasing and trap rhythms rival the modern American push that has changed the face of global hip-hop. Of Ghanaian heritage, Kwame has called Western-Sydney home since the age of 2. Somewhat humble beginnings for the 2018 Unearthed J Award recipient, an accolade he puts on the mantel next to this year’s Splendour opening slot!
Long before the pats on the back, at a time when Kwame was struggling to find his musical feet, the youngster was picked from a crowd and hoisted on stage to rap alongside A$AP Ferg. In true millennial fashion, his mate filmed a portion of the show and the video went viral. If performing with a hero isn’t a sign that it’s time to follow a dream, then I don’t know what is. For Kwame, it was all he needed.
His tracks have killed on Triple J this year, with Claire Mooney pretty much summing up the nation’s opinion. “Ka-boom! Everything in this is signature Kwame. He’s showing us just exactly how it’s meant to be done. You’re at the top of everyone’s class…the best in the country. OMPH!”
February 2019 will see Kwame take his latest single ‘Clouds’ around the nation on a headline tour.
From production to spine tingling performance, Milan Ring moves to her own beat.
Draped in RnB velvet, her intricate musicianship and warm soundscapes are sonically picturesque. From sophisticated rap to soulful harmony, her vocal delivery is of liquid malleability, fitting into whatever groove she sees fit.
Finding inspiration in the sounds of the Caribbean and Americas, this Chinese, Indian-Australian basks in the limitless cultural light of her travels and heritage. As if dynamic solo songstress wasn’t enough, Ring composes, produces and releases all her own material via MXMAY records. From first note to distribution, Milan Ring is a principal of skill and precision.
Since winning the coveted Triple J Unearthed J Award in 2013, Remi haven’t put a foot wrong. Comprised of vocalist Remi Kolawole and producer Sensible J, the pair of Nigerian and South African heritage were awarded the Australian Music Prize for their debut record ‘Raw X Infinity’—their second, ‘Divas and Demons’, an Aria nomination in 2017.
With a particularly suave take on soul and jazz, Remi are the forerunners in Australian hip-hop today. While his style is effortless and so very smooth, Kolawole tackles content designed to make an audience reflect. ‘Ode to Ignorance’ details the inherent problem of racism in Australia, while also reflecting upon his own experiences with bigotry. A huge persona on stage, Remi aren’t backing down, nor their art declining. Here’s to the continued success of Australia’s most recognised and humbled.
Did your favourite Aussie hip-hop artist make the list? Let us know in the comments below.