Five Things I Know: Hau Latukefu

Hau Latukefu has put in the work. The Aussie hip hop lifer is half of Koolism, the duo that won the ARIAs’ inaugural hip hop accolade (known then as Best Urban Release); the host of triple j’s Hip Hop Show for 14 years; head of the label Forever Ever Records; mentor to OneFour, Becca Hatch and many more. Ahead of the publication of his memoir 'King', NME talks to Latukefu about honesty and tact, Australian hip hop’s bumpy relationship with the ARIAs, and the scene’s greatest opportunity in 2022

Mentorship is a two-way street

Music is a young person’s sport in the way that young people dictate what is cool and what is not. For people in my age bracket or experience level, our job is to help support them through everything that we’ve learned and offer guidance or advice, but never to talk for them.

Mentorship is can be as simple as a DM saying ‘hey, I really liked that song’ or as evolved as wanting them to sign to the label, being in studio with them and helping develop their sound and artistry. But it also depends on them. If they’re open to listening, then that’s awesome, let us continue this conversation. If they’re not, then that’s fine, too, because people have to go on their own journey at their own time. As an artist myself growing up, I always hated unsolicited advice, so I’m always wary about how to offer that advice.

Honesty and tact are the best policy

Being a mentor almost crept up [on me] because doing radio for so long, you’re used to people asking, ‘What do you think of this?’ And you would just give your honest thoughts. I’ve had to learn how to be honest. If I don’t like it, then I have to express that tactfully, to say something like: ‘This doesn’t resonate with me. But that doesn’t mean 50 other people are not going to love it’. Just because I don’t like it, that’s not the be all and end all. I understand my opinion might hold a certain weight, but it shouldn’t be the only opinion that you listen to.

People do appreciate your honesty. It’s your name, and you can’t pander to everyone. You really have to stand by your morals and your standards. People may not necessarily like what you say, but they will respect that because you’re being honest with them and they appreciate that more than you lying to inflate their ego.

“We want to see artists that are making that cultural impact getting recognised, and those kinds of artists aren’t always going to chart”

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The small size of the Australian music industry putting people off real talk – I definitely feel that, and I see on Twitter a lot of people discussing that. It is so small, and you get to see these people at shows. With social media, you’re so easily contacted. It’s unfortunate, because that doesn’t allow us to grow.

Recognise impact on both charts and culture

It’s difficult because I do know [ARIA] does hear a lot of our concerns. As with everything, you’re never going to make everyone happy. I think there’s definitely things about their criteria that need to be addressed. But at the same time, it’s the ARIA Awards. The ARIAs are the charts. So the criteria is if you charted, then you’re eligible. And I get that. But we want to see artists that are making that cultural impact getting recognised, and those kinds of artists aren’t always going to chart. So we need to figure out a way where we can reward those who chart because that is a feat, but also acknowledge these artists that mean so much to the community.

I think it’s always going to be a conversation, trying to better these award shows. We can also discuss: what does an award really mean? Obviously it doesn’t define us, but it is nice for artists to feel like their work and the amount of effort they put in is rewarded. And as the industry, we have to evolve, we always have to adapt and recognise the artistry and creativity in Australia.

I think we can have both ways. The ARIAs have a certain obligation to the music industry that they need to recognise, but we should also look at events like the FBi SMAC Awards that really reflect what is happening not only music, but just in the community in general. The ARIAs are always going to be the prominent awards. It’s like: there are the American Music Awards, the BET Awards, and all these other awards shows, but everyone looks at the Grammys. I think we can hold the ARIAs to the highest standard to have accountability, but also recognise there are smaller awards and accolades that we should also put energy into.

Hau Latukefu
Hau Latukefu. Credit: Nikhil Ninan

Allow artists context and the chance to evolve

Mentoring ONEFOUR, I’ve experienced a lot of of misunderstanding of hip-hop in the music industry. Even a lot of listeners are like, ‘why are you supporting this? All they talk about is violence’. But I always feel it’s bigger than that. Not only are ONEFOUR actually good musicians, but there’s a story behind them and their environment and the system that they’re in. People need to listen, but a lot of the time, they don’t want to. They just say ‘ONEFOUR incite violence. We need to ban them’. But is that the answer? If we were truly concerned about the violence, why don’t we talk about where the violence is coming from? Why are they in these environments, and why are the environments like that?

It goes deeper, but I liken it to my parents starting to hear music I was listening to, and all they heard was swear words. But are you listening to what they’re saying in between those swear words? All you hear is someone stabbed this or someone did that – but are you listening to the story of how they got to that point, or why that is happening? For me, it’s contextualising the lyrics and trying to paint the bigger picture to understand why they talked about this. This is why they don’t talk about, you know, going surfing.

“I told ONEFOUR at the beginning: this is your truth for now. But at some stage, you’re going to have to evolve”

And we talked about letting artists evolve. You need to let them evolve. That was the one thing I did tell ONEFOUR at the beginning: this is your truth for now. But at some stage, you’re going to have to evolve as musicians and more importantly, as young men, and that only comes with time and experience.

The UK market is a great opportunity

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The biggest opportunity for Australian hip-hop in 2022 is strengthening ties with the UK market. Internationally, the UK has been the most receptive to us and I think it’s because whether it’s Afroswing or drill, we’ve been inspired by what’s happening in the UK, and we turn it into our own version. Collaborations, I think, are the most promising way of strengthening those ties. Strike up a relationship, send the music, send the verse.

At the moment that is the easiest way, but touring is where the longevity comes from. Because being so far away and watching stuff on the internet, you don’t get that same feeling as seeing someone live. Someone like Genesis Owusu: his videos are mad and his songs are mad, but it’s not until you see him onstage that you’re like oh shit, OK, I get it. The more Australians get a chance to go over there and have people see us in the flesh and feel the energy, then that’s where the real change will come.

King, by Hau Latukefu and Christopher Riley, is out now on Penguin Books Australia. Get your copy here

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