Nooky has vivid memories of hours spent as a child at Lyrebird Park. That’s a sports park in Nowra, the NSW South Coast town that the Yuin rapper was born and raised. Lyrebird Park is a place Nooky remembers as “very much a place of innocence” – it’s a park where he played football , and he would cut through it to visit his grandparents, who lived behind it.
But Lyrebird Park is also the only sports park Nooky’s been to that had burnt-out cars on park grounds. “There were a lot of bad things that went on there. Once the sun went down, if you were hanging around there, you needed to know what you were doing.”
The park is the namesake of the rapper’s new EP, which he released last Friday. The project aims to capture the essence of Nowra, a place “with good heart and good intentions, but there’s a dark side as well”. It comes two years after his debut project ‘Junction Court’, which was also steeped in Nowra’s stories.
“‘Junction Court’ was a reflection of a local dreaming story of Nowra, about the black cockatoo,” Nooky explains. “It was a white cockatoo that flew into the fire. He got scarred, he got burnt. He went through pain and torment and torture. He came out the other side looking different. He was black, he was burnt. He’s scarred for life. But it was those lessons he learned in the fire that he could fly and carry.”
“I’m still in the fire, but I’m getting consumed by it”
‘Junction Court’ is about Nooky’s own fire: the death of his cousin Ryan Selway, a huge influence in the rapper’s life. Selway “was that cousin you wanted to be, your favorite cousin. Everything he did, I copied him.” When he was a teen, Nooky recorded a verse he recorded on his sister’s karaoke set, and sent it to Selway for his feedback.
“He hits me back, and I’ll never forget his words. He goes, ‘Cuz, I’ve got to be honest with you. That was shithouse.’ I went, ‘What do you mean? It took me hours to think of that.’ And he goes, ‘That’s where you went wrong. You thought about it. When you do this, you’ve got to speak from the heart.’”
Nooky bookended ‘Junction Court’ with the songs ‘Nowa Nowa’ Pt. 1 and 2, he explains, “because I was still in the fire. It hadn’t finished.” And on ‘Lyrebird Park’, “I’m still in the fire, but I’m getting consumed by it.”
‘Lyrebird Park’ stems from a dark period in Nooky’s life: He recorded songs while under the influence, “trying to release the pain and anger I was feeling”. In the end, the project served as a catalyst to face his alcohol addiction. “While doing ‘Lyrebird Park’, it got really bad,” he admits. “I hurt a lot of people. Hurt myself. I just didn’t care. It got to the point where I had to get clean and had to go to rehab.”
That’s why Nooky is palpably conflicted when he speaks about ‘Lyrebird Park’: he’s proud that he’s put together a body of work to share with the world, but it’s a reminder of that time in his life. “It’s hard to listen to at times,” Nooky says. “I have a love-hate [relationship] with it.’”
The pain of the events that followed Selway’s death is captured in ‘Lyrebird Park’, and its release is Nooky’s way of putting those events behind him. “I could have pulled the pin and left it, but if I sat on this, whether it’s top-quality shit or not, if I sat on it, it would eat at me. I had to release it, regardless of how good it is or how shit it is. I had to get it out.”
“Once the sun went down, if you were hanging around Lyrebird Park, you needed to know what you were doing”
Since recording ‘Lyrebird Park’, Nooky’s life has changed dramatically – for the better. He’s currently the host of triple j’s Sunday show Blak Out, which is dedicated to First Nations artists around Australia. It’s a show Nooky wishes had existed when he was younger, and he’s acutely aware of his responsibility to the next generation. “I’m in there, but everyone’s in there, if you get me,” he says. “It’s an open door now. It’s a win for me that people know that platform’s there for them.”
It’s an odd position, being both an artist and a broadcaster. Given the cultural influence of triple j, it might have been a difficult choice for some to give up the prospect of airplay of his own music on the station for the chance to host a show like Blak Out. But while he gave it serious thought, Nooky also says it was a no-brainer. “I had a conversation with myself when I started: ‘Look, if I do this, there goes all my radio play, there goes my things. I can’t try and push my shit anymore.’ And that was something I was totally happy to do.”
Nooky’s next project is set to be an album, and though he remains a little ambivalent about ‘Lyrebird Park’, the release has re-energised him – as has the rise of fellow First Nations rappers like Kobie Dee and Barkaa. He says admiringly, “Seeing Kobie doing what he’s doing, that real heartfelt truth-telling stuff – I remember when I used to do that. It was a mad feeling when I was doing that.
“And then seeing the fire that Barkaa’s got. The aggression and the fucking hunger. I was like, ‘I remember when I had that and how that felt.’” Nooky is currently three or four songs into his album, having spent lockdown remaking beats and mixing them with old verses. It’s feeling “back to the heart”, he thinks.
There’s a noticeable sense of anticipation and excitement when Nooky talks about what’s next, but NME ends the conversation by asking him what advice he wishes he’d heard in the past, when he was growing up in Nowra.
Nooky pauses for a moment, before answering pensively and poetically: “Don’t doubt yourself and work hard. Make the most of opportunities because when those little opportunities present themselves, it might only be a second long and that’s your chance. You grab it and you take it and you make the most of it. Make the most of that opportunity. You’re going to run into some problems along the way. Try not to get lost and don’t let the darkness grab you. There’s always a light in the darkness. You’ve been caught in the dark? You can turn the light on if you try hard enough.”
Nooky’s ‘Lyrebird Park’ is out now via Bad Apples Music.