“I felt like an outsider in my own country,” Iggy Azalea told an interviewer in 2013, explaining her move to the States from her native Australia aged 16. “I was in love with hip hop, and America is the birthplace of that, so I figured the closer I was to the music, the happier I’d be. I was right.” 8 years later, Azalea is Australian rap’s biggest ever export – an international best-seller with four Grammy nominations to her name, but dogged by accusations of cultural appropriation. The irony is, there’s a healthy, irreverent and ambitious rap culture within the country she left behind that she’d arguably have been better off mining for inspiration. Sonically adventurous and often furiously politically engaged, the best of the genre is packed with local flavour and cultural touchstones specific to Australia, including increasingly, the immigrant experience in Australia. It’s also threaded with a strong DIY sensibility, with much of the most intriguing work coming from bedroom mavericks. Here’s just some of the Oz emcees proving there’s more to Australian hip-hop than the opinion-splitting Iggy…
Melbourne’s explosive Remi enjoyed a blistering 2014, thanks to his debut album ‘Raw X Infinity’. In thrall to The Roots, Mos Def, Common and Kanye, he is perhaps not the most experimental of Australian rappers, yet he has been received rapturously thanks to his accessibility and on tracks like ‘Ode To Ignorance’, a universal and ‘conscious’ ideological lyric.
The success Remi enjoys now is perhaps what rapper 360 experienced in 2011/12. A little less playful than Remi, 360’s album ‘Falling & Flying’ owed more to dubstep and electronica and has been appropriately fawned over, winning two ARIA gongs in 2012.
A slightly more evolved, challenging artist is the excellent Joelistics, whose often minimalist beats support an uneasy kind of nihilism and impassioned polemic. Joel Ma, as he is also known, is a fine singer, cut his teeth in punk bands, and writes songs on piano. His latest, ‘Blue Volume’, represents one of the most ambitious and colourful recent releases in Australian hip-hop. That record was released through pioneering label Elefant Traks, which can be thought of as Australia’s answer to Ninja Tune, and is the home of other significant voices Hermitude, The Tongue and the label’s founder, Urthboy.
Adelaide teen Tkay Maidza‘s fiercely danceable rap is quickly garnering an international audience, and understandably so: threaded with colourful synths and UKG-inspired beats, her sound is both radio-friendly and full of snarl. Expect her to blow up when her debut album drops later this year.
The most intriguing and arguably important Australian hip-hop, however, comes from the Aboriginal community. Briggs’ rhymes are perhaps the most stunning of the lot, mixing coruscating wit and anger (best exampled on ‘Bad Apples’) with an attractive simplicity of production. From Shepparton in Victoria, Briggs has also taken aim at Iggy Azalea on Twitter, after she made some misguided remarks about the lifestyle of the Indigenous population.
Another vital Aboriginal voice is Elefant Traks’ Jimblah, another ball of political energy, as well as Izzy and The Last Kinection. Still going strong is Munkimuk, regarded by many as the spiritual father of Aboriginal hip-hop. You’ll find them all on the below Spotify playlist, which hopefully proves there’s a eclectic, self-sustaining rap scene in Australia worth way more than Iggy’s Americanicised sound lets on. It’s not without its problems, of course: it’s a sad fact that female voices in Australian hip-hop are neither celebrated as much as they might be, nor as numerous, as lamented by female artists themselves. But with the rapid international rise of Tkay Maidza, not to mention Naomi Wenitong of The Last Kinection, Yo Mafia! and perhaps Chelsea Jane, that’s hopefully changing. Check out the Spotify playlist and Aussie rap fans, let us know what we’re missing.