Briggs: “I’ve got this far off my gut instinct, so I often go with it!”

The Shepparton polymath talks his bold new EP, ‘Always Was’, the next A.B. Original project and why some recent Black Lives Matter engagements have felt like “brand activation”

Adam Briggs – rapper, label boss, comedy writer, actor, author, cultural commentator and Australian hip-hop gamechanger – can immediately discern the absurdity of a situation. He goes by Senator Briggs on Twitter – “a Simpsons joke reference” that has nevertheless led indignant Americans to mistake him for a legitimate politician. “It’s funny ’cause stuff happens,” he says. “People start hitting me up like an actual senator – especially if I say something wild and people go and retweet it.”

Briggs is Australia’s most dynamic MC, but in person, the 33-year-old is contemplative, low-key and even shy. A proud Yorta Yorta man, he hails from Shepparton in rural Victoria, and though he’s currently based in Sydney, he’s lived in Melbourne. Briggs rose up from Naarm’s hip-hop underground, honing a direct, incisive and sardonic rap style inspired by his NWA idol Ice Cube. He signed to Hilltop Hoods’ Golden Era Records for his 2010 debut, ‘The Blacklist’ – but nearly quit, dismayed over the scene’s casual racism.

Briggs followed with ‘Sheplife’, ruminating on his roots. The lead single, ‘The Hunt’, featured Gurrumul. But he enjoyed major success in 2016 with Funkoars’ rapper/producer Daniel Rankine – aka Trials – as A.B. Original. ‘Reclaim Australia’, their album of hard-hitting socio-political hip-hop addressing dispossession, systemic injustice and intergenerational trauma, made A.B. Original the first Indigenous act to win the Australian Music Prize.

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Briggs has harnessed music to develop a multimedia brand, manifesting the same self-belief and ambition as American rappers like JAY-Z. He’s founded a label, Bad Apples Music, repping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Then, he pulled a reverse Donald Glover, and moved into screenwriting and acting. His credits including the ABC’s sketch show Black Comedy and the drama Cleverman. Plus, he’s a correspondent on The Weekly With Charlie Pickering. Peers and colleagues praise his work ethic and attentiveness.

In 2017 Briggs joined the Hollywood writing team for Netflix’s animated sitcom Disenchantment, from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. A Simpsons super-nerd, he describes it as his “dream job”. He marvels, “You just learn how to operate at that level – like they are the best in the business for comedy.” In May, the young father became a best-selling author with the children’s book Our Home, Our Heartbeat, a celebration of Indigenous Australian excellence adapted from his song ‘The Children Came Back’.

“Music’s like the back of my hand – that’s my original home and wheelhouse”

Now, finally, Briggs is relaunching his hip-hop career with a six-track EP, ‘Always Was’, out today. He announced it with the single ‘Extra Extra’, whose lyrics capture the artist’s restless energy (“I pay the bills in the motherfucker / I put food in the motherfucker!” he booms at the end). In fact, Briggs’ third album was supposed to arrive last year, if not for his hectic schedule. “Yeah, it’s pretty insane,” he laughs. “You try to manage it, and manage people’s expectations, and you want stuff to come out. But, if it’s not right, it’s not right. So that’s the story of my life.”

Fortunately for Briggs, the ideas are flowing. “Music’s like the back of my hand – that’s my original home and wheelhouse – so music is where I’m most comfortable,” he says. “I don’t really need too much time to get what I want done in music. That’s not to say that I don’t do it with care but, because I’ve done it for so long, it’s really second nature to jump back in the studio and make something good.”

Briggs has aired timely interim singles. In 2019, he dropped ‘Life Is Incredible’, a searing dissection of white privilege prompted by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s attempt to pass the racist motion “It’s OK to be white” in the Senate. Earlier this year, he partnered Tim Minchin for ‘HouseFyre’, a takedown of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

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Briggs holds that ‘Always Was’ is ushering in a fresh phase, touting it as “six different visions of art”, all anchored by his personality. “It’s just me trying to have fun in the studio.” The tracks are largely upbeat and braggadocious, demonstrating Briggs’ comic flair. It’s raw, but not rough around the edges: “It doesn’t have to be, like, super, huge conceptual… not to say that there’s no thought to it, but it’s more just me. It’s a more personal approach.” He reunited with ‘Reclaim Australia’ guest Thelma Plum for the soulful ‘Go To War’ – the EP’s oldest song, about the exhausting battle of being – and reunited with Trials for ‘Good Morning’, which features Muki. “It was me and Trials in the studio with a few beers and just back-to-basics – me and him and a beat.”

The EP’s revelation, though, lies in Briggs’ sonic experimentation, as he veers away from classic boom-bap – he goes trap on ‘That’s Money’ – and rejects hip-hop’s generational divides. Oddly, he’s rarely asked about music in interviews, though he is is a tastemaker: he hosts Apple Music 1’s radio program The New Australia, and has championed rookies like The Kid LAROI and Sydney drill outfit ONEFOUR.

This, Briggs declares, influenced ‘Always Was’. “I love the new stuff,” he enthuses. “I love the energy of it. All these kids are great. I’m also a big fan of just the fundamentals of rap. But I grew up a lot on obviously West Coast and East Coast figureheads of hip-hop. But, when I discovered the South, I was a really big fan of [the] Cash Money and No Limit [labels] and OutKast and the Atlanta sound and Jeezy and TI, so I was already into trap back in the early 2000s. It was something that really came natural to me. It wasn’t a surprise when [trap] made it big. I feel all the kids now, all the drill-heavy stuff – I reckon it’s good. But I just feel like everyone used to worry less about what kids should be doing and just support what they are doing.”

Curiously, none of the EP material was diverted from Briggs’ upcoming (and apparently untitled) album. “It’s all just sitting there,” he shares. “We’re just refining it. COVID really put a dampener on stuff, because we’re getting some guests – and you’ve gotta shoot videos and stuff. You have to figure out how to do that. So it’s taking a little bit extra.”

“I don’t wanna drop the new album for the sake of it – I wanna do it properly,” he adds. “We’re just trying really to get the roll-out together – and just everyone else’s time together as well so we can finish it off.”

And, yes, Briggs is plotting another A.B. Original project with Trials – who’s likewise focussed on solo endeavours, having signed to Island Records Australia. “We’re always thinking about that – ’cause that’s your mate! Me and him have been mates since forever. So it’d make all the sense in the world to do that. We want to do it, definitely – don’t know when.”

Inevitably, Briggs has emerged as a prominent First Nations activist on social media. While the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum in Australia, today he’s concerned that non-Indigenous people may not grasp the messaging. Indeed, Briggs was among those to criticise Channel Nine reporter Alexis Daish when, in interviewing US protesters, she controversially implied that Australia doesn’t have a parallel history of police brutality and deaths in custody.

“A lot of the Black Lives Matter engagements almost feel like brand activation… I’ve seen some really good meaningful things, but I’ve also just seen some corny stuff”

“Are people recognising Black Lives Matter as a movement for Indigenous Australians out here, or do Black Lives Matter only pertain to the issues in America?” Briggs asks. “I’m not sure how much resonates here with Australia and its relationship with Indigenous people – and that just might be the cynic in me. A lot of the Black Lives Matter engagements almost feel like brand activation, for people to use.

“I’ve seen some really good meaningful things, but I’ve also just seen some corny stuff – like people just trying to use the movement to elevate their own wokeness. I guess, again, that could just be the cynic in me. But I’ve got this far off my gut instinct, so I often go with it! I think it’s not a question so much of Black Lives Matter as a movement, for sure, but what work do you do outside of the hashtags and black tiles?”

Briggs is deliberately building a legacy to empower future generations. He established a platform for Indigenous creatives in Bad Apples, home to Birdz and singer-songwriter Alice Skye. Briggs is amped about a new signing he can’t announce, and has plans to expand Bad Apples into a distribution company, networking with other First Nations artists globally.

Pandemic aside, Briggs isn’t slowing down. He’s just been confirmed for 2021’s Bluesfest. But, despite that Senator title, and a viral #BriggsForPM campaign around 2019’s Federal Election, Briggs isn’t interested in a political role. He’s not Kanye West. “No politics for me – I’ve seen what that does,” he says. What is his long-term challenge, then? “Write a feature film!” Briggs bursts out. “That’s the big goal.”

Briggs’ ‘Always Was’ is out now

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