Opinion: Why it’s never been a better time to watch the changing face of Australian hip hop

The national ‘Fire Sign’ tour that has seen RemiSensible J and Sampa The Great collaborate on continues to Hobart this weekend before finishing up north in Darwin come July 8th. The reviews and chatter that have emerged in the wake of completed shows around the country so far have been positive and driven by enthusiasm – these have been shows not simply delivered for the purposes of giving crowds a healthy dose of hip hop. They’ve been about schooling crowds in what Australian hip hop has been missing for too long now.

As we have seen with the likes of the Playback808 crew, L-FRESH THE LIONA.B OriginalHau and others over the last few years, there has been a re-energised drive within the Australian hip hop community. Artists, particularly younger independent artists, are voicing their discontent with the system and instead of keeping their grievances at murmur level within their own circles, their public and artistic platforms are being utilised to brilliant effect. Respect is still paid to the OG’s who brought hip hop further into the mainstream of Australian music but make no mistake, there’s a considerable shake up happening within the genre that has, to me at least, never been more exciting to be looking on at.

These recent shows helmed by Remi, J and Sampa have been excellent examples of this shift. All three artists have been passionate advocates for a more inclusive and diverse artistic culture in Australia for a long time now and as profiles have continued to grow and the international spotlight has become trained more and more on their careers, the place these three hold within the Aussie hip hop community has never been a more important one.

As Lucy Regter remarked in her review from the tour’s recent Adelaide show:

“All the artists on that bill lifted this gig from more than just an evening of entertainment, to an opportunity for insightfulness, awareness and presence. These are the types of shows that get people talking, and about what so desperately needs to be put to the table. Hip hop has proven to be the perfect platform for these guys to do that through and with the three of them now truly united, the future’s looking pretty bright.”

Watching the audience at Adelaide’s Fat Controller last weekend – a show that was undersold, in my opinion – you could see the expressions crossing each face along the front row. Some of these people may have come out to get ‘lit’, but the show they got in return was a slap of honesty and unbridled confidence from two young wordsmiths unafraid of stepping up to the plate and delivering the messages that have driven both their personal and artistic journeys.

Coming from a background of cultural performance myself, watching the transition of audience facial expression from confusion to enjoyment used to be amusing. It then became a sign that I was doing my job correctly. I was there to entertain, sure, but I was also there to give an audience who may not otherwise have even known people of my kind existed, an insight into the vibrancy and contemporary ideas our art held and continues to hold within our lives in Australia today.

Having been in a good position to observe these particular careers grow over the last three years in particular, it meant a lot to me as a music fan, to see this sort of tour take off and be received as well as it has been. It may seem obvious; talent plus talent should equal an unbeatable show, right? The missing link in the equation, as we have seen with  so-called ‘keyboard warriors’ and the general community of ignoramuses who find the concept of being talented and black in today’s modern Australian climate foreign, has been an audience ready to hear these messages.

Fans and the general public aren’t being pandered to or delivered watered down content for the sake of decent charting positions or triple j acclaim. Hip hop fans in this country are taking steps out from beneath the umbrella that has been cast over them for decades, in that they’re only in it for music that can soundtrack drunken binges that steals mercilessly from the black culture it was built upon and adapted from. With younger artists confidently taking strides in connecting with younger demographics with passion and a considered aggression, the space for these pointed messages from the artists has become a more inclusive and open one for everyone to inhabit.

As it would seem now, people are waking up. They may not necessarily be ‘woke’, but they’re definitely emerging from a cultural slumber that has kept people in the dark ages for far too long.

The Fire Sign Tour hits Hobart this Saturday before finishing in Darwin on July 8th. Stay up to date with the artists mentioned above, here:

REMI.
SENSIBLE J.
SAMPA THE GREAT.
PLAYBACK808.
A.B ORIGINAL.
HAU.
L-FRESH THE LION.

Photos by John Goodridge.