OneFour – ‘Against All Odds’ EP review: a riveting look at the journey so far, and the growth that’s to come

With assists from The Kid LAROI and Dutchavelli, the Mount Druitt rappers experiment with new melodic styles in a potent nine-track demonstration of their talent

In 18 months, with a handful of infectious singles and mesmerising music videos, Mount Druitt collective OneFour have earmarked themselves as some of Australia’s most innovative and compelling artists. Their debut EP, ‘Against All Odds’, further cements this status; its release represents the culmination of a journey experienced under the scrutiny of the public eye. Here, the collective take their odyssey and distil it perfectly – while leaving room for surprises.

From the opening seconds of ‘Against All Odds’, OneFour situate the listener directly within the group’s current lived reality: Celly, who is serving time behind bars, lays down rhymes about what he misses in the outside world while professing his love and loyalty for OneFour: “I ain’t giving out names like guess who / Cuz it’s back to back with my brothers / we done stashed the cash with these others”.

The very next track, ‘Home And Away’ was the first single from the EP and is only one of two songs that closely resembles OneFour’s previous work. The other, ‘Better’, features UK drill artist Dutchavelli at his peak: His head-turning feature takes no prisoners, helping boost the project further and giving it a necessary edge.

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Across the remainder of the EP, OneFour showcase their versatility. ‘Against All Odds’ offers more melodicism, with elements of R&B, Afroswing and pared-back boom-bap hip-hop weaved in. Produced by longtime collaborators Willstah and i.amsolo, the EP is an artful showcase of how OneFour can’t be pigeonholed into just drill – they’re capable of so much more than that.

The collective make space for universal themes of heartbreak, relationship, love and loss on tracks like ‘Heartless’ and ‘Leaving’ – all the while maintaining a scepticism of newfound fame. As Spenny raps on ‘Leaving’: “Money is changing everything around me / But it’s not changing me or my ways / I could never switch up on my people / never been one to switch out of my lane.”

OneFour know that, to some extent, all they have is each other, as they continue to fight pernicious narratives of violence and police accusations of criminal gang affiliation. That fierce bond is just one of the strengths of ‘Against All Odds’.

Over the course of the EP, OneFour paint stark scenes of their surroundings and upbringings. On ‘Home and Away’, when J Emz speaks about his experience in his prison, the fear that every day may be his last, it doesn’t come across as braggadocio rap, but authenticity with an air of caution about them: “Lad, don’t say too much on the phone / ’Cause I don’t want these feds knowin’ my name,” he reminds us.

What ‘Against All Odds’ also does – with a singular sharpness – is paint an honest portrait of Sydney that undercuts the shiny, dominant one of pristine beaches and blue oceans. OneFour rap about prison time and street violence; interludes of members Celly, Lekks and YP spitting bars from behind bars cut to the core. Sydney’s image isn’t so much tarnished as it is given a nuanced portrayal.

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The closing track ‘My City’ epitomises this, with fellow Sydney rapper The Kid LAROI supplying an infectious chorus that contrasts the hard-hitting verses laid down by J Emz and Spenny. LAROI’s appearance, like Duchavelli’s a track before, gives the EP an invigorating shot-in-the-arm.

The anthemic playfulness of the chorus also allows J Emz, in the EP’s most pop-leaning track, to deliver the project’s strongest, most visceral lines: “Now they blamin’ ONEFOUR for all of the drillings / They blamin’ us for what happens in Sydney / They blamin’ us for what happens in Melbourne / They blamin’ us for what happens in Brissy.” Instead of understanding and addressing the root causes of youth violence – such as historical poverty, disproportionately high incarceration rates and domestic instability – it is easier to blame the music that rises like steam out of those conditions, and the musicians who make it.

Three of OneFour’s members are currently serving time, and it was up to J Emz and Spenny to carry the weight of the project – which they do with aplomb by straying from the cold intensity of their usual sound. Their verses are fresh and imaginative, addressing long-standing questions of police scrutiny and whether they’re a threat to society (they’re not). Appearances by Dutchavelli and The Kid LAROI help give them vigour by spurring them on with new energy.

At a tight nine tracks, ‘Against All Odds’ is a potent reminder of OneFour’s boundless talent. OneFour’s art is a reflection of their reality, and as long as they keep making music and delivering on their massive talent, it’s safe to say that further success will follow.

Details

OneFour Against All Odds
  • Release date: November 13
  • Record label: Independent
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