Kobie Dee: Gomeroi rap storyteller focusing on ‘Gratitude Over Pity’

Every month in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. Kobie Dee, the 24-year-old readying his debut EP on Briggs’ Bad Apples label, talks his turbulent past and new beginnings

“There was a point that day when I cried on stage,” recalls Kobie Dee. The 24-year-old Gomeroi rapper is talking about South East Block Party, a free concert he helped throw earlier this year for his community in Maroubra’s Coral Sea Park on Bidjigal Land.

“My community has suffered a lot of grief, we haven’t had something like that [concert],” he says. “I did a moment of silence for the people we’d lost to suicide.” The event was powerful in more ways than one: all attendees received a free meal and the event raised $40,000 for Youth Week.

NME is speaking to Kobie Dee – real name Kobie Duncan – ahead of the release of his debut EP ‘Gratitude Over Pity’ next month. Arriving on Briggs’ label Bad Apples, the five-song project was produced by Papertoy, Jaytee Hazard and Magic Nic over the course of four turbulent and transformative years.

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The past, present and future all swirl together in Kobie Dee’s life and work. South East Block Party, for instance, was a collaboration between Randwick Council and Weave Youth and Community Services, an organisation which supports disadvantaged families and young people.

When Duncan was a 10-year-old, raised by a single mum, he was ushered into Weave’s Kool Kids Program. That’s where Duncan met Mardi Diles, Weave’s head of brand and strategy who is now his manager.

“My team at Weave, my case workers, they were always there,” says Duncan. But he still got sucked into a hectic street lifestyle.

“I was caught up in addiction,” he says, his mind flicking back to the bad old days. “I couldn’t say I was addicted to one thing. I dabbled in ecstasy, cocaine, ice, alcohol – weed was my biggest thing as a teenager – Xanax, G[HB], you name it I was doing it. I had a cocktail of things all the time.”

“Once I started engaging more with my culture it gave me a sense of purpose”

While still at school, Duncan also dabbled in rapping, his interest piqued by his mum playing Eazy-E and Tupac CDs.

One day, Duncan was reading a copy of Deadly Vibe magazine when he was taken by a story of Briggs hanging out with Ice Cube while supporting him on a 2010 tour.

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“Briggs was someone I looked up to,” he says. “The way Briggs sounded, the way he flowed, the stuff he was talking about.”

Inspiration quickly became aspiration when in 2018, Briggs headlined the Weave Gala in Duncan’s neighbourhood. “We got to meet him. I was starstruck,” he says. “There’s actually a really great photo of me and my mates from that night in the crowd looking up at Briggs.”

When he was in year seven, he recorded a track called ‘My Life’ with producer Shantan Wantan Ichiban. It blew up on the schoolyard. “Everybody Bluetoothed my phone all around the school,” he told triple j earlier this year. “I think that’s when it really started and I thought everybody liked my music.”

Later he was paired with Jamie xx as part of a Heaps Decent workshop, which led to ‘The Prelude’, a showcase of his intuitive, raw storytelling ability over the woozy beat from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘YAH’.

That same year, Duncan met Nooky and after some coaxing, whipped out his phone and showed the Bad Apples artist a video of him rapping ‘About a Girl’. It’s a harrowing song about women stuck in abusive, drug-fuelled relationships; a slicker version, released in August, opens ‘Gratitude Over Pity.’

“He was like ‘This is mad, I’ll show this to Briggs.’ I was like ‘Yeah, whatever’,” Duncan remembers.

“A few weeks later I got a message from Briggs. He asked me if I’d like to perform at the Bad Apples House Party at Canberra Theatre Centre on Reconciliation Day Eve.”

Briggs signed him to Bad Apples, put out his ‘Role Models’ single – then things went turbo. Within a year, Duncan went from looking up at his hero from the floor to standing beside him on stage at the Bad Apples House Party at Sydney Opera House.

Briggs was also hands-on with the making of Duncan’s EP, and can even be heard singing on in the chorus of his new single out today, ‘Doobs’, a Bundjalung word for women.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done that / I drunk this, I smoke that / But I got my life on track and that old me ain’t coming back,” Duncan declared on ‘The Prelude’ in 2017. But success bred excess. “Shows become big parties that last for days. People wanted to be around me and shout me drugs,” he says. He wrote the song ‘Drama’ – a cut off the EP with a seductive, ominous bassline and lyrics detailing nights with women and in police holding cells – “around that time when I was in the thick of it”.

Diles ultimately convinced him to enter The Glen Rehabilitation Centre in September 2019, mere months after his appearance on triple j’s Bars of Steel series with the stark song ‘Jody’ caught on fire.

“She got me into rehab for four months. Once I started engaging more with my culture it gave me a sense of purpose.”

“In August 2020 I went back on Country with Uncle Max Harrison and Uncle Dean Kelly to a Young Men’s Healing Group,” he elaborates later over email. “We learnt about the Yuin creation story and the importance of holding our respect for mother country and what she gives us, and respect and gratitude for our own mothers because we don’t exist without women.”

That sense of purpose is evident in Duncan’s extramusical commitments. He hosts the Know Role Models podcast (which featured Adam Goodes as first guest) and is a Youth Ambassador for Weave and Just Reinvest NSW, the latter an organisation that works to reduce the number of Aboriginal people in prison by channeling resources into community-building.

Duncan also took over sole custody of his two-year-old girl. “I don’t want to go into it too much but when she turned one it was safer for her to come and be with me,” he says.

“Growing up without a father in my life, I never wanted that for my daughter. I have layers of gratitude, I have the best mum in the world, I have my daughter, my culture, the area where I grew up, the people around me, and also feeling grateful to be who I am.”

The EP captures the evolution of a wayward boy to a responsible man, taking its title from the song ‘In My Zone’. “It’s a redemption track. When I say ‘Look at my gratitude over my pity’, it was about moving on from asking myself ‘Why has this shit happened to me?’” Duncan says, adjusting his cap and sitting up straight.

“I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Coming out of rehab, starting life again and being able to feel emotions, I couldn’t help but look at what I was grateful for.”

Kobie Dee’s ‘Gratitude Over Pity’ is out November 5 through Bad Apples

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