AUSTRALIAN HIP-HOP / KANGAROO STYLE
Australia is one of the largest countries on the planet, in fact it is the largest island nation in the world. This however does not correlate with its inhabitants. Add 3 or 4 million to the population of New York and there you have it. Imagine a country the size of the United States with the pop of NY scattered over it, mostly on the eastern seaboard, with Sydney holding about 4 million of that. Forget the inside of Australia, it`s mostly comprised of hostile deserts. It is also part of the British commonwealth, much like Canada, although this connection is less & less applicable each year. Yep! just like a zillion other countries the British came here too and almost wiped out its indigenous peoples. The Aboriginal people share a very similar tale of the American indigenous,although they were a far more nomadic people, so it was harder forthem to fight back against the invaders. In fact, up until the mid 60`s this country had a white Australia policy. Thankfully this shit is history and the floodgates were opened to let in people from all corners of the globe. The people who have migrated to Australia have made the country a much more interesting place to be, not just in culinary delights, but also in human experiences. Hip-Hop culture also migrated here, but not by boat or by plane. It came via television, cinema & radio, circa 1983/84. Like most other countries it came in a loosely held package. Strangely enough it manifested itself here via an Englishman`s version of New York. Yes it was Malcolm McLarens doing, moreso it was the filmclip to his “Buffalo Gals” track. Although the song isn`t all that, the visuals were. We heard the sounds of, The Worlds Famous Supreme Team scratching, the Rock Steady Crew breakdancing and . . . Dondi piecing up a Buffalo burner. Shit was too much at once. Okay we may have heard Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Fives “The Message” on the radio, we may even have seen Crazy Legs & Frosty Freeze freaking it in Flashdance at the movies for a couple of seconds or seen some graff in Death Wish on TV, but to see all this in three minute music clip was kinda awesome. That was when the seeds to the current Australian Hip-Hop culture were germinated. We all started breaking, some of us then went out bombing, others became glued to the turntables while a select few started rhyming. If one had a Video-recorder, one could always rewind the breaking videos to work out the moves, if one wanted to practice graff one would run around at night with spray paint after perusing over a copy of Subway Art, or after watching a dubbed, dubbed, dubbed copy of Style Wars (which was aired on New Zealand television in 84). If someone else wanted to start deejaying, well then, they bought turntables and records from the import dance stores and stayed at home and practiced, but if one wanted to rhyme . . . well then.
Rhyming was the most neglected part of the four quarters of Hip-Hop. Because all the rap that anyone had ever heard was from African-Americans, most felt that they were the only ones who could do it properly and sound good. The problem was in reality that no-one had ever heard a non-American accent rapping and when they did hear an Australian voice rapping they would turn off and prefer to hear someone with a fake accent. This stifled the development of rhyming in the early years, whereas breaking was everywhere, but then it started getting out of control with the media & advertising industry exploiting the fuck out of it. So to many b-boyin’ became just another passing fad, but to others it was more important and they stuck with it and channeled their drive for breaking into the world of bombing. This is what became the most prolific part of Hip- Hop in Australia. Every suburb seemed to have it’s own bombing crew, one didn’t need lino or cardboard and a boom box, all one needed was a pen. Because breaking was a physical activity not everyone could partake in it, whereas everybody could write. And because one was constantly writing one was also practising at the same time. Shit became hectic and soon the major cities started changing in about 86-88, that was when it was at its peak. A day wouldn`t go by without seeing another writer on the train in the standard uniform: runners with fat laces, tracksuits, backpack, etc. . . . Styles were being mastered and statewide correspondence had been initiated, friendly battles ensued, shit was happening. Then in the late 80`s the criminal element crept in and started to disrupt the scene. Luckily there were those who wouldnÕt fall into that negative lifestyle and they just kept painting for paintings sake, while others equated the already illegal process of bombing with the action of searching (=going into shops, popping the till and taking the money). This fucked things up bigtime. Stealing paint is one thing, but this non-graf addition deluded a new breed of writer into a totally different scene. Graffiti Art/aerosol art is an artform. End of story. It is not about being a good thief. It`s about being a creative and original artist. Who cares if you can steal a thousand cans of paint . . . is your piece any good?
Whoops. Flew off on a tangent there for a minute. Well let`s get down to the musical development in Australia. The first ever true Hip-Hop release was back in late 1988 with JUST-US and their independently pressed “Combined Talent/My Destiny”. Musically it relied on 808 beats, 303 bassline, heaps of impressive scratching and Aussie accents. Undoubtedly a classic and very indicative of the sound of the western suburbs in Sydney at that time. This was followed up a couple of years later with a 6-track EP “Voice of the Hunted” on CENTRAL STATION RECORDS which included their popular track “Stinging In The Rain”. Unfortunately DJ CASE left for Malta and MENTOR ventured into metal. Other vinyl releases to follow was the very poor “Down Under By Law” compilation which was put together by dance music producers and DJs. It was a tub of lard with no redeeming features, although WEST SIDE POSSE`s track “Pull the Trigger” was the closest to what we wanted.
Down in Melbourne in 1989 we had the PARK BENCH ROYALS who released a 2-track 12″ single “One Time, Live/I Hate Hi-nrg”. Strange that the rhymer, NEMO, was dissing the fuck out of house music on the obviously titled track would then himself venture into esoteric Hip-House a few years later. Adelaidian DJ, K-JAY produced this as well as being a member of the famed AKA BROTHERS, who also released a 3-track 12″ single in 89 “Coming Out Large/Poetry In Motion/Tall Poppy Sundrome”. This is when Australian Hip Hop music was truly born. It had crunchy breaks, funky scratching and the true aesthetics of Hip-Hop styles courtesy of RANSON, CHOICE CUTS and PAC. Years later in 1990 they released another 12″ single “What Is It/On the T-Cozy Tip” also on STRAIT UP records. They also took this with them when they performed at the New Music Seminar “Standing On the Verge” gig in New York in 1990. Yeah, the Americans realised their skills before most Australian Hip-Hop fans had even heard of them. Also released on STRAIT UP was RIZE & TARKEE`s debut single “Let Yourself Be Yourself/Called to Add Mind”. This was a gem also and solidified the fact that Australians could hook up beats just like anyone else. Two years later they released another single on S. U., but this time they came with a name change. They were now to be known as MAMAS FUNKSTIKOOLS. And boy did they drop a cool slab on vinyl. “Funstikools Theory/Not Just Funks Theory/Rozettas Got A Friend”. In 1993 New York label TOMMY BOY included “Funstikools Theory” on their “Planet Rap” compilation. Also floating around was the AKA BROTHERS album which was a rough ass cassette only release. More like a duped copy of four track completions. Essential listening for those that underestimated their skills. Sydney group SOUND UNLIMITED, who were signed to multinational company SONY never received full respect from the legions of hardcore Hip-Hop fans, because their music lacked that one element essential to a critical audience . . . Dopeness. They released a few singles and an LP and then changed their name to RENEGADE FUNK TRAIN after a reshuffle behind the scenes. Blacktown inhabitant D-MAN also released a few singles that fell off the face of the earth, probably he went for the pop jugular and failed. He then nobly re-appeared to disappear again with another single a few years later.
1992 saw the vinyl release of one of Sydney`s most hardcore truestyle B-Boy crew DEF WISH CAST and their “Mad As A Hatter” EP. Consisting of four songs and of course a graff cover, this cemented their cult status to wax forever. They then became the only Australian underground act to tour all across Australia without the aid of anybody but themselves. Then they released a 3-track tape, which then turned up on their explosive album and medieval inspired “Knights of the Underground Table”. Unfortunately it came out on CD and cassette only. Much to the dismay of the European audience who heard them via Norwegian Hip Hop DJ and magazine publishing freak (Fatcap), Tommy Tee. He became an ardent fan and played their music on his radio show which was broadcast into several northern European countries. The Germans also went apeshit over them and they sold a few hundred copies there as well. They also managed to make a videoclip for the anthemic track “A.U.S.T.” which mangaged to get played on a few nationally broadcast music video shows. They have now changed their style from a somewhat British style to a more East coast flavour. Currently without a label they are working on new material for release next year.
Down to Adelaide, South Australia 1993, FINGER LICKIN GOOD released a fairly solid 6 track EP, “Illegitimate Sons of the Bastard Funk” which well known DJ GROOVE TERMINATOR put together with rhymers MADCAP and QUROMYSTIX. The attractive two colour packaging artwork came from the talented Brisbane writer HAMS. This gave it that extra classy touch. Melbourne based ORGANIZED RHYME PRODUCTIONS also released a somewhat curious compilation EP which included a track each from RISING NOT RUNNING, DOO DAYZ, RHYME, BRUDAS UNITED AS ONE and ORGANIZED RYHM themselves. Very dark and old school sounding, which the younger audience found hard to appreciate, although it wasnÕt an altogether satisfying release. Sydney also saw the debut of ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE appearing out of nowhere with mixed results on their “Back of Da Truck” CD, as well as BLACKHAND with their dated and longtime coming tape. Heading back to Sydney we collide with the wacky FONKE KNOMAADS who release an EP on coloured vinyl. With song titles like “The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of… /You Can`t Deny Genetics/Flavourite” plus remixes, they remained an offbeat mishmash until rhymer TEOP became a born again Christian and absolved himself from Hip-Hop (Luckily SOUP is still producing and will soon burst out again on wax soon.) But before TEOP bowed out they appeared on the Jazz Funk Hip-Hop “Undertones” compilation with the track “The Big One Drops”. Also on the same LP were two tunes from The URBAN POETS “Phat Sax” and “Soup”. They have since gained new members and reformed themselves into the crew EASYBASS. They then released a crude 4-track tape in 94 which contained a hint of what was to come in the shape of 1995s “Space Program” tape. Much more impressive and proof that 4-track recorded tapes can sound good when mastered. 95 also saw a release from the NOBLE SAVAGES with their self titled debut. They were going for an album length release but released an 8- track tape, due to frustration of always working on tracks and never putting them out. Ex-DEF WISH CAST member DJ VAME appeared behind the decks on CAPITAL PUNISHMENTs “Sentenced 2 Def” six song tape, as well as on Campbelltown locals 046 (named after their area code) thirteen track CD “Life”.
Appearing this last year from Melbourne was a 6-track tape from MC QUE, female rhymers are hard to find here and this release had some exceptional production and scratching. Contributions from PROWLA remind us that he to also released an impressive tape almost two years ago as well as producing the DEF POETS SOCIETY tape of 95. This is by no means a complete history, trying to recollect a nation’s Hip- Hop output is by no means easy. Of course there are many groups that have yet to release anything at all, but there are also many crews that have made demos or tapes that never ventured further than their friends. So don`t be pissed off if I missed you. My room is a mess and my memory is chockas. Hopefully 97 will see a turnaround in output and more dedication and professionalism involved. Peace to all international Hip Hop crews struggling for the music and culture they love.