When the world of mainstream hip-hop remains heavily centred on American megastars such as Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West and Jay-Z producing a host of cardboard copies, is it time to look further afield for talented emcee’s and powerful songwriters? Today I will look at the rising hip-hop scene in Australia and the artists that are making music worthy of any festival main stage, regardless of location.
My introduction to Australian hip-hop was through the unapologetically cool radio station Triple J and their annual ‘Hottest 100’ countdown of top tracks each calendar year. The countdown usually features a host of global hits coupled with many Australian artists who sadly don’t get the international exposure they deserve. One such individual is Melbourne-based Seth Sentry. An idiots guide to Sentry would probably describe him as an Aussie equivalent of Mike Skinner, his introverted lyrics and everyday problems keep his music accessible and his slow-paced harmonious delivery is crisp and unassuming.
Sentry’s approach to hip-hop is one of a poetic simplicity, an approach encapsulated by his dreamy ‘Waitress Song’. Released in 2009, the track tells a story of unrequited love through Sentry’s personable monologue, with the understated accompaniment leaving the song heavily dependent on its sturdy lyrics. The sincerity in Sentry’s work makes his astounding tracks even more enjoyable and his EP ‘The Waiter Minute’ is entrancing from beginning to end.
If the chilled out approach to hip-hop isn’t your thing and you prefer the excitable, pop-laced tracks of Eminem and the Beastie Boys then may I point you in the direction of Western Australian, Drapht. Funny, catchy and energetic, Drapht’s approach to hip-hop has a more mainstream sound than the aforementioned Sentry and his tracks are almost guaranteed to burrow into your brain and lay copious amounts of irremovable eggs.
The most obvious examples of Drapht’s irritatingly brilliant hook writing are ‘Jimmy Recard’ and ‘Rapunzel’, two tracks that will stain your conscience and have you tapping your toes like Michael Flatley on speed. Both combine comic elements with fantastic flair and storytelling, creating a sugary crowd-pleading mixture that will please fans of pop, rap and hip-hop. Drapht’s quality doesn’t only lie in his more generic sounds and if you dig deep into his back catalogue, tracks like ‘We Own The Night’ and ‘Put On A Record’ will assure you of his impressive versatility.
Now, with summer hopefully poised on the horizon, I can’t produce a beginners guide to Oz hip-hop without mentioning Pez. Another Melbourne MC, Pez is the king of Australian summer hip-hop, his tracks seem to condense all the emotions and experiences of July’s lazy balmy nights into about three or four pretty distinctive minutes. His album ‘A Mind Of My Own’ managed to blend his lazy beats, clean verses and brilliant featured artists into a fantastic listen, top to bottom.
Although I’ve been nauseatingly cliché with my track choices, I think it’s probably best to start from the big singles and delve deeper in future, so ‘The Festival Song’ it is for Pez. It really is the Ronseal of tracks, providing the perfect accompaniment to long festival summers full of sunshine and cider. The light piano backdrop and shuffling beats are the perfect foundation for the effortless tones of Pez and 360 entwined with the beautiful voice of Hailey Cramer. The laid back, stumbling sound will carry you from start to finish and have you escaping your computer screen for an irreplaceable 262 seconds. I genuinely wish I could hear this song for the first time all over again.
The final stop on my indulgent cruise of Australian hip-hop is New South Wales born Tim Levinson a.k.a Urthboy. Founder of the Oz hip-hop collective The Herd, Urthboy has been releasing his solo beats since 2004, and has racked up some absolute stormers. Having a slightly deeper tone than most of his adversaries, he manages to create a sinister undertone to his tracks, which are usually lightened by brilliantly constructed choruses that balance his work out poetically.
‘Hellsong’ is the track that hits me hardest from a long list that includes the fantastic ‘Shruggin’ and ‘The Clocks’. Its electronic licks, tinkling piano and solid drumbeats compliment the thoughtful, cultured lines, leaving a powerful song both lyrically and musically. Also worth mentioning the Joyride remix if you can track it down, a version that completely strips the track to its bare bones. Not much left to say except check out Triple J and see where it takes you.
Other pretty special Australian hip-hop artists include; Hermitude, Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N Eso, Illy and Evil Eddie.