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Australian hip hop traces its origins to the early 1980s and is largely inspired by hip hop and other predominantly African-American musical genres from the United States. As the form matured, Australian hip hop has become a commercially viable style of music that is no longer restricted to the creative underground, with artists such as 1200 Techniques, Remi, Sampa the Great, Tkay Maidza, Manu Crooks, Briggs, Baker Boy, Koolism, Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso achieving notable fame. Australian hip-hop is still primarily released through independent record labels, which are often owned and operated by the artists themselves. Despite its genesis as an offshoot of American hip hop, Australian hip hop has developed a distinct personality that reflects its evolution as an Australian musical style.
In 1982, the music video for Malcolm McLaren's track, "Buffalo Gals", was shown on the Australian television music show Sound Unlimited. The music show was broadcast on Network Seven. The clip was staged in a Manhattan basketball court and featured images of graffiti and break dancers. The video left an impression on Australian teenagers, who began to copy the dancers' moves.
The first Australian hip hop record released was "16 Tons" / "Humber Mania Time" by Mighty Big Crime via Virgin Records and Criteria Productions in 1987 (Catalogue number VOZC 026). The Melbourne-based duo (Gumpy Phillips and Tricky J a.k.a. Justin Lodge) soon disbanded, in 1991 both were members of flower power group, Freaked Out Flower Children.
Gerry Bloustein wrote in the book, Musical Visions, that Blaze claimed the first "true hip hop" release was, "Combined Talent" / "My Destiny" in 1988 by Just Us (consisting of Maltese DJ Case and Mentor).
Two Western Australian hip hop bands, Def Threat and Gangstarr, both released recordings in 1987. The Def Threat EP, Girls Never learn, reached #4 in the WA Independent music charts. Def Threat played a number of gigs over the next 12 months, and then disbanded. Gangstarr survived for a few more years.
In the late 1980s, Sound Unlimited Posse joined Sony BMG, thereby becoming the first Australian hip hop group signed on to a major record label. In 1992, they released the first major-label Australian rap album titled, A Postcard from the Edge of the Under-side.
In 1991, a 16-year-old Sydney-based solo artist named KIC was signed to Sony/Columbia Records. His first single, "Bring Me On", was popular in Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Also in 1992, independent label company Random Records released Def Wish Cast's album Knights of the Underground Table. After 1992, independent CDs and tapes were released by various artists, primarily from the Western Suburbs of Sydney, a largely immigrant-populated area largely known as a working class, underprivileged, and crime-ridden area.
MC Opi (a.k.a. Opi Nelson) was an underground hip hop and dancehall artist who rose to national success after her performance on Christine Anu and Paul Kelly's 1994 ARIA-nominated single "Last Train", released by Mushroom/EMI (White Label). Prior to this, MC Opi co-produced Women on the Rhyme, the first national radio documentary about Australian female hip hop artists, created at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
MC Opi contributed to Anu's debut album Stylin' Up, which attained platinum status in Australia and won the ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Album. Following the winning of the award, Anu invited MC Opi to perform with her on the first 'Australian Jail Tour' as part of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week in 1993 in order to raise awareness about indigenous deaths in custody.
The Melbourne hip hop group 1200 Techniques was formed in 1997 by "old-school" 1980s B-boy/aerosol artist DJ Peril (founding member of Melbourne hip hop crew, Island Boys).The group consisted of DJ Peril on production, turntables, and percussion, his brother Kem(Kemstar) on guitar and N'fa on vocals. They released an EP in 2001 called Infinite Styles with the independent label company Rubber Records. 1200 Techniques later released one of the first hip hop crossover hits, a track called "Karma" (from the album Choose One). The song spawned the first ARIA Award for a hip hop act in Australia even before there was a hip hop category. Additionally "Karma" won Michael Gracey an ARIA in the same year for Best Video. In 2003, the band released the first Australian hip hop DVD titled One Time Live, which featured the band's music videos, live footage and two short documentaries. Their second album, Consistency Theory, was released in 2004.
By the early 2000s, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) began to recognise the growing interest in hip-hop in Australia. In 2004, ARIA introduced a new category in their annual awards: Best Urban Album (R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk, reggae and dancehall). The inaugural award was won by Koolism for their album, Random Thoughts. Koolism DJ Danielsan dedicated the award to the "Australian hip-hop community" and exclaimed: "Be yourselves, keep it real, enough of that American wannabe trash".
At the 2006 and 2007 ARIA Awards, the Urban award was won by Hilltop Hoods for their albums The Hard Road and The Hard Road: Restrung, respectively. The Hard Road also became the first Australian hip hop album to rank number 1 on the ARIA Charts in 2006. Other artists who have won the award include Bliss n Eso, for their album Flying Colours, and Melbourne artist Illy, for his album Bring it Back, released on the Obese Records label.
Australian hip-hop artists have also received international recognition. Australians have been featured on albums by artists from the US and Europe. In October 2014, Australian artist K21 appeared on a song, titled "Pas rentable", by French hip hop artist LinkRust.
Australian hip hop artists are strongly influenced by African American and Latino rappers from the US, and continue to incorporate such influences into their music. Australian artists, however, still utilise an authentic and unique style in their own music. Like many hip hop scenes outside the US, some Australian hip hop artists have also been influenced by funk and dancehall. Indigenous Australian culture is also a strong influence for many hip hop artists.
While hip hop artists in the US are predominantly African American, many Australian hip hop artists are of Anglo heritage. Numerous Australian hip hop artists, including N'fa, Remi, Sampa the Great, Diafrix, Tkay Maidza, Miracle, Vida Sunshyne, KillaQueenz, are of African descent, which has influenced their music.
U.S. artists cited as key inspirations of Australian hip-hop artists include Public Enemy,A Tribe Called Quest, and Nas. Following the release of Drinking From The Sun in 2012, Hilltop Hoods included Organized Confusion, Kraz and De La Soul in their "ideal festival line up".
In Australia, dance moves associated with hip hop, like krumping, footworking, locking and popping, have drawn public interest to hip hop, and contributed to its dynamic popularity. However, these dance moves have been criticized as not being original and a sign that Australia suffers from a lack of its own hip-hop identity.
In more recent years (2000s onwards), Australian Hip Hop has seen a strong emergence of UK genres such as Grime and Afrobeat. Although these genres have been around for decades their worldwide popularity and acceptance in the mainstream is relatively new. The genre of 'Australian Grime' has been marked by viral artists like HAZRD. Adelaide-based producer Strict Face is also renowned for forward thinking Grime productions and hosts his own show on London's Radar Radio.
Although hip hop originated in the US, some Australian rappers see their hip hop scene as having its own unique character. Dialectrix has described it as a "mongrel mutation" of Afro-centric and Australian culture. According to the lyrics of Def Wish Cast, it is "down under, comin' up."
Australian hip hop has been localised with the introduction of aspects such as the Australian accent, Australian slang, political views, and references to localities and matters of Australian cultural identity. The lyrics of early Western Sydney artists like 046, Def Wish Cast and the White Boys represent the process of localising Australian hip hop. Additionally, the non-Anglo immigrants of these areas were attracted to hip hop because it tackles the theme of racial opposition, as in African American and Chicano hip hop. Australian hip hop has been described as rich with Australian character, but also as inspirational for immigrants, providing "a voice and a purpose for those making their home anew in Australia." For example, Diafrix use migrant experiences in some of their songs, although this is not their main focus.
Numerous Australian hip-hop artists have expressed concern that sections of Australia's hip hop fanbase seem to espouse a "redneck" mentality that is ignorant of the culture's international influences. In a 2009 interview, Cross Bred Mongrels member Flak explained: "I don't go for that. [Only listening to Australian hip hop] I think that is a little narrow-minded. If it is dope hip hop, it is dope hip hop. If it is from Germany, Japan or Compton, and it is dope, I go for it." Over time, Australian hip hop diversified, absorbing influences from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. For example, Def Wish described his style as influenced by reggae from London, rather than North American rap, while also acknowledging Afro-Caribbean roots of that scene.
Since the early 1980s, many indigenous crews have used hip hop as an outlet to vent their frustration against racial injustice and discrimination. Though not at the forefront of the Australian hip hop scene, Aboriginal rappers such as Brothablack, the South West Syndicate, Local Knowledge, Lez Beckett and the Native Ryme Syndicate produce songs that address the cultural situation of Indigenous Australians. One of their musical influences is the American hip hop group Public Enemy.
Munkimuk works on community-based educational hip hop projects around Australia, such as 1999's Desert Rap, conducted with Brothablack from South West Syndicate and Morganics. The Desert Rap project was organised with Tony Collins from Triple J, which made an ABC TV documentary. Munkimuk also hosts a nationally syndicated weekly radio program called "Indij Hip Hop Show", which is produced by Koori Radio in Sydney.
Briggs, a Yorta Yorta man from the rural location of Shepparton, became a prominent feature of the Australian hip hop scene since he began his career as an independent artist in 2005. In August 2014, he released his sophomore studio album, Sheplife, on the Golden Era Records label, owned by Hilltop Hoods. As of 2012, Briggs has been the recipient of two Deadly Awards nominations and received the "Best New Talent" award at the 2014 National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMA).
Indigenous producer and MC, Daniel Rankine (Trials), of the Adelaide Funkoars trio and Golden Era Records, also releases his own work, including occasional solo work. Rankine's production credits include Drapht, Vents, Reason, Cross Bred Mongrels and K21, while he has provided guest verses for Purpose, Hilltop Hoods, and the Golden Era mixtapes. At the commencement of 2015, Trials and Briggs were in a Sydney recording studio-undertaking work on their "A.B.Original" collaboration. They had recently performed at the "Beat The Drum" event for the Triple J Radio station on 16 January.
Radio, particularly community radio, plays a significant role in the dissemination of hip hop within Australia. Additionally, the Australian Government funds projects, such as the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP), which seeks to promote Australian music nationwide.3RRR was the first radio station to present an international hip-hop act to the city--Run-D.M.C.'s 1987 Australian tour--and it highlighted international hip hop culture as well as the local scene.
The first appearance of an Australian hip hop act on Australian television was in November 1988, when Skippy The Butcher performed live on the ABC's "The Factory" during the Run DMC tour. The first Australian hip hop documentary, Basic Equipment, was made in 1996 and released in 1997. Narrated by Paul Westgate (a.k.a. Sereck) from Def Wish Cast, the documentary examined the Sydney hip hop culture. It was created by Paul Fenech (creator of SBS' Pizza series) and featured artists such as MC Trey, Def Wish Cast, DJ Bonez, DJ Ask.
During the 1990s, SBS TV's MC Tee Vee, the first Australian dance music show became a hit. In 1992, following an invitation from Annette Shun Wah from the alternative arts show, The Noise, MC Opi became the first hip hop artist to become a reporter and assistant producer for MC Tee Vee. MC Tee Vee is notable for being the first national Australian music program dedicated to dance, rap and house music.
In August 2006, the ABC program Compass showed a documentary entitled The Mistery of Hip Hop, which explored the cultural movement and popularity of hip hop in Australia. The film followed one of the "founding fathers" of the Sydney hip hop scene Matthew "Mistery" Peet.[permanent dead link] Mistery works full-time as graffiti artist and is also emcee/rapper in the group Brethren. The 28-minute documentary looked at the "four elements of hip hop": breakdancing, DJing, rapping, and graffiti. It features interviews with the then-host of Triple J's hip hop show Maya Jupiter, and the other half of Brethren: Wizdm and DJ Kool Herc.
In December 2007, ABC Television aired the documentary Words from the City, which includes interviews with a number of high-profile Australian hip hop artists, including: Hilltop Hoods, Koolism, Downsyde, TZU, MC Layla, Bliss n Eso, MC Trey, Wire MC, and Jupiter.
In 2004, independent film-maker Oriel Guthrie[permanent dead link], debuted her documentary "Skip Hop" at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). The film includes live footage of freestyle battles and prominent gigs around Australia, as well as interviews with Def Wish Cast, DJ Peril, Hilltop Hoods, Koolism, Blades of Hades, Maya Jupiter, The Herd and Wicked Force Breakers.
"Out4Fame presents 2003 MC Battle For Supremacy" was the first (documented) national MC tournament and was responsible for supporting the careers of many MCs across Australia. The following year, MCs were invited to enter the tournament for the chance to compete in New Zealand. MCs who have competed in Battle For Supremacy tournaments include Weapon X, 360, Anecdote, Nfa, Justice, Dragonfly, Robby Bal Boa, Kaos, Tyna, Surreal, Cyphanetics, Delta. Guthrie also documented the 2004 and 2005 events and released them on DVDs. MC Justice went on to win 2005 "Scribble Jam MC Battle" in the US and is the first Australian to win the competition.
In 2007 "Words from the City", a feature documentary on Australian Hip Hop culture from Writers/Directors Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham was released by The Australian Film Commission and ABC TV. Focusing on the lyrical artistry of Australian Hip Hop, the film documented some of the countries foremost crews such as Hilltop Hoods, Bliss and Eso, and Koolism, as well up and coming artists TZU, Downsyde, Layla, Maya Jupiter, MC Trey, Nick Toth, and Wire MC. Words From The City was nominated for five AFI Awards for Best Documentary, Best Direction in Documentary, Best Cinematography in Documentary, Best Editing In Documentary, and Best Sound in Documentary.
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One of the oldest hip hop magazines in the world,Vapors, is an Australian publication and is produced by Blaze. Stealth Magazine debuted in 1999 and was distributed worldwide via Tower Records. Notable zines include Hype, Zest, Raptanite, Arfek, Damn Kids, Artillery, Blitzkrieg and Slingshot.
Following the popular Out4Fame: Battle For Supremacy tournaments, Out4Fame Magazine was launched as a free publication. Out4Fame Magazine was later relaunched as Out4Fame presents ACCLAIM Magazine, which then became ACCLAIM Magazine. ACCLAIM Magazine is distributed throughout Australia, as well as other countries including New Zealand, Singapore and the UK.
The earliest political discussion of hip hop in Australia questioned whether controversial rappers from overseas should be permitted to enter and perform in the country, as was the case with Eminem in 2001. Australian hip hop artists have since used their platform to make political statements and drive political change; Urthboy and Thundamentals are among those whose lyrics often highlight and denounce inequality.A.B. Original, the collaboration between Indigenous rappers Briggs and Trials, was crucial to initiating debate on changing the date of Australia Day, particularly with their critical 2016 single "January 26". While professional musicians have gone on to enter Australian politics, most notably Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, no hip hop artist has done so, although Briggs appeared to launch a campaign to enter Parliament in 2018.
Elected politicians in Australia have also attempted to utilise rapping to reach a younger audience. In 2012, two Labor Party cabinet members in the Gillard Government briefly delivered original policy-related lyrics backed by music: Trade Minister Craig Emerson commented on the carbon tax by performing an adapted version of the chorus of rock song "Horror Movie", referred to by some as the "No Whyalla Wipeout" rap; while Arts Minister Simon Crean marked a visit to a Parramatta arts centre by recording rhyming lines in a duet with sound artist Tokyo Love-In over the beat of "Ice Ice Baby".Greens Senator Scott Ludlam appeared in the 2014 G20 Brisbane summit episode of Juice Rap News, rapping ten lines criticising the Abbott Government's mandatory data retention law.
The performance of American rapper Macklemore at the October 2017 NRL Grand Final became a topic of political discussion, due to its inclusion of "Same Love" at a time when Australians were voting on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was interviewed on The Project several days before the performance. When asked about his favourite hip hop artist, Prime Minister Turnbull initially claimed that he was "still grieving for Tupac", later confessing that he finds much of hip hop music to sound the same. He then surprised the hosts by offering to rap, reciting two sport-related lines without backing music: "Waleed, you're the man, you're the Tigers fan / You can talk, the Crows can squawk". A few days later, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appeared on Fitzy and Wippa in a rap battle segment, rapping twelve lines over the instrumental of 50 Cent's "In da Club" and concluding his verse by dabbing. While Shorten's opponents at the rap battle were radio hosts Ryan Fitzgerald and Ray Hadley, several of his lines were directed at Turnbull, such as "Our economy's in debt but Malcolm's just chillin' / Hey Malcolm, can you lend us a couple of million?".
In the 2018 South Australian state election campaign, former Senator Nick Xenophon released a two-minute musical advertisement for his newly formed SA-Best party, centred upon himself rapping his party's concerns and policies for South Australia.
Def Wish took pains to tell me that his style is influenced by London reggae rap rather than North American rap, conceding the Afro-Caribbean "roots" of that scene, but carefully distancing himself from charges of imitation or of subjection to a putative American cultural imperialism.
"Being Koori is me; it's not a hat I take on or off. I have my tribe tattooed on my arm, so every time I rock the mic people know I'm representing" Briggs explained.
Briggs for PM Campaign Pack. Includes: Tee, 3 button badges and bumper sticker! #BriggsForPM