Lisi arrived with a sense of purpose. The rapper dropped his momentous debut single ‘Say Less’ in 2019, and since then has had one overarching goal in mind: tell the stories of Goodna, a suburb on the eastern edge of Ipswich in Queensland, and the place he calls home.
“At the start of everything, that was all that I really cared about,” he tells NME. “I didn’t care about money. I didn’t care about me being famous. I just wanted people to know where we’re from. And now people in the UK and the USA know of a little town called Goodna.”
Lisi’s rap journey started with videos posted to Instagram – a hub for Australian rappers to showcase their skill. He’d put his phone on his windowsill, hit record and freestyle, before publishing the clips. These early recordings led to friends, family and fans alike pushing Lisi to get in the studio. Scraping a budget together for the studio time, Lisi recorded ‘Say Less’, and social media and word of mouth did the rest.
Inspired by Kendrick Lamar, Nas and J. Cole, Lisi uses his music to document “everyday struggles” – those that both he and the people of Goodna go through. Music like his has helped put Goodna on the map, Lisi says, and so have athletes like NRL players Thomas Mikaele and Phillip Sami. “Everyone’s got their eye on us and they see the talent that’s coming out… I was proud to put my area on the map, and that’s all I really wanted.”
“I thought it’d look silly for me to try and put on an act and talk about things that I haven’t done and a life that I haven’t lived”
That isn’t to say that Lisi’s ambition has been satisfied – quite the opposite. When NME speaks to the 20-year-old, he’s just released his debut album, ‘Perspective’. Across its nine songs, Lisi explores his Samoan heritage, his goals as a rapper (both material and non-material) and the importance of community.
The songs on ‘Perspective’ were shaped by those that matter most to Lisi: his family. “Throughout the process of making it, every time I’d make a new song, I’d show them and get their review, get their feedback,” he reveals. (They all have different favourites, he says, though they collectively appreciate the introspective closing track ‘Perspective’.)
Lisi dropped the album just a year on from his debut EP ‘Average Man’, which capitalised on the momentum he’d started to build with ‘Say Less’. However, when asked about it in the wake of ‘Perspective’, he thinks that the EP “captured me showing myself as an artist in the game, but it didn’t make me stand out.” A mere year later and things are different, Lisi asserts. “When I was making ‘Perspective’, I thought, ‘it’s time for me to come out with something more specific to a specific audience, and songs that tell the truth.’”
Lisi isn’t a fan of tall tales, as he makes clear on album highlight ‘Tell The Truth’. Over a leisurely beat, he cuts pretenders down to size: “Little boy, you ain’t a thug, you ain’t a killer / You ain’t no top boy, you ain’t no drug dealer / Once they step in the booth, they act like they’re from the streets / I’m sick of all these flops fuckin’ lying through their teeth.” His delivery is withering.
Lisi says he’s personally observed rappers he grew up with spin flights of fancy about their upbringing, but ‘Tell The Truth’ isn’t a diss track aimed at anyone in particular. Rather, it’s a piece of advice for rappers who are just starting out. “Groups like OneFour and Hooligan Hefs, they came out and they were talking about their lifestyle, and they started being successful,” he explains.
“After that, every other rapper that was coming in the game hadn’t lived that life, but they were rapping about it to get the same image that OneFour and Hooligan Hefs have. That’s why I made that song – to remind other rappers to tell the truth.”
It’s a standard Lisi holds himself to, and he wants other MCs to do the same. “When I decided to start making music, I thought it’d look silly for me to try and put on an act and talk about things that I haven’t done and a life that I haven’t lived.”
Given Lisi’s staunch refusal to be swayed by lyrical trends, it’s not entirely surprising that he released ‘Perspective’ on his own label imprint, Castille Records. What’s more notable is that it’s a joint project with ADA/Warner Music Australia, part of the major label’s recent push into local hip-hop. Lisi addresses the move off the bat on ‘Perspective’, rapping on opener ‘Dreams’: “See I’m doing all of this at 21 / I didn’t really wanna sign with anyone / But you can’t run a label and rap? / Uce trust me, I can do both like Headie One.”
Since the launch of Castille Records in May, the label has signed Goodna rap collective TH4 W3ST and Brisbane rapper Nokz78. Both, like Lisi, are of Samoan heritage. ‘Perspective’ celebrates Lisi’s cultural background on the breezy ‘Baby We On’, which references Nelly’s ‘Ride Wit Me’ and interpolates Aotearoan singer Aaradhna’s ‘Down Time’, and the impactful ‘Brown Brother’.
The latter samples a 2012 speech given by Samoan and Niuean New Zealander Joshua Iosefa. In the speech, the then-17-year-old talks about being proud of his heritage and not being afraid to strive for greatness. ‘Brown Brother’ samples the heartfelt line: “Do not be afraid to be the change – not a change in skin tone or colour, but a change in mindset.”
Lisi, who was born in Aotearoa and moved to Sydney when he was three, first heard Iosefa’s speech in Year Seven. He embraced it as an inspiration for ‘Brown Brother’ after he re-listened to it while recording ‘Perspective’. Iosefa’s speech, Lisi asserts, remains “relevant in Sydney and Melbourne. Everywhere. I wanted to push a message, that same message from the spoken word, but in my own words and from my own perspective.”
‘Perspective’ is a fitting title for the album, because Lisi speaks with the conviction of someone who’s been rapping for a decade, not just a few short years. Given his success, it’d be hard to fault him for buying into the acclaim – but Lisi’s focused on building a legacy, and ‘Perspective’ is a part of that. He stresses that he’s merely at the beginning of a long journey, rather than being near the peak of his powers.
“Shout out to Mum and Dad,” he says. “They always kept me grounded. Good was never enough. Not in a bad way. They pushed me to keep working for more. Keep chasing. Don’t settle for less… I’ve done a lot. And I know that. I appreciate the fact that I’ve done a lot more than I would have two years ago. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Lisi’s album ‘Perspective’ is out now via Castille/ADA/Warner