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HIP-HOP IN AUSTRALIA: 10 GREAT, INSPIRING THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2017

I know everybody says this whenever December rolls around, but Jesus Christ, this year really flew by.

One minute you’re celebrating New Year’s Day, and the next you’re breaking all of your new year’s resolutions. Then comes Easter, the Queen’s birthday, the NRL grand final, and BAM – it’s December, and you’re just another journalist writing a shitty end of year listicle. In 2017, Australia’s hip-hop scene was nothing short of phenomenal. It was a year where we stood up to our counterparts in the United States, the UK and the world over, reminding them that while we may be tucked away at the bottom of the globe, our music can speak volumes.

To summarise a manic 2017, I decided to round up 10 great, inspiring things that happened in hip-hop in Australia. Since so much went down, this didn’t seem like a one man job – so I called upon one of the culture’s longtime leaders for assistance. Hau Latukefu has dedicated over two decades to hip-hop in this country, as a member of Koolism, a radio host for triple j, and countless other projects where he’s been involved behind the scenes. Just a few weeks ago, he announced his own record label Forever Ever, a joint venture with Sony Australia – and no, the man does not sleep.

Hau and I tried to cover as much territory as a 10 point listicle will allow, running through all the people (and their creative output) who have inspired us to grow, learn, and be better in 2018. See our picks below, and bring on the new year:

A.B. ORIGINAL & THE ‘HOTTEST 100′ DATE CHANGE

If I had to say who really owned 2017, there’s no doubt that I would say A.B. Original. I mean, shit… What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the powerful collaboration between Briggs and Trials? After they released their debut Reclaim Australia in late 2016, they were rocking festivals and collecting nearly every award they were nominated for, including the Australian Music Prize, triple j’s ‘Album of the Year’ and a couple of ARIAs, all the while making the Australian public aware (and madly uncomfortable) of their cause and forcing a conversation about Australia Day.

Reclaim Australia is the album we needed, and A.B. Original were the best kind of artists to deliver it; brash, strong, unapologetic and funny as hell. The effects of the record were felt well into 2017, and the recent date change of the Hottest 100 was largely because of these guys. Bloody hell, I can’t begin to tell you the importance of this record. In 100 years time, they’ll be looking back and thinking, “Yep, it’s because of these guys, we are able to do what we can do now.”

By Hau Latukefu

THE EMERGENCE OF BODY BAG MEDIA

Australia’s street rappers have always occupied an unusual space: They’re often too rugged for radio or television, yet boast a bigger online presence than many of their major label counterparts. And while the scene thrives in Sydney’s outer suburbs and nearby cities – buoyed by mainstays like NTER and Fortay, who both dropped 2017 albums – an online hub has emerged in Body Bag Media. It’s the brainchild of Central Coast videographer Brendan Bagnall, who films and edits music clips for these brash rappers, before placing them online, kicking back and watching them spread like wildfire.

Body Bag has been behind some of the year’s biggest underground hits including Mitchos Da Menace & TKO’s ‘100 Hoods Deep‘ and Trap Runners’ ‘Catch Em Runnin,’ while also developing his own in-house freestyle series Body The Booth where Wollongong’s HUSKii BEN dropped one of the year’s most haunting tracks. He also presented a national tour from ChillinIt & Talakai, fresh off their ever-popular ‘Get Bodied‘ trilogy of tracks.

Body Bag has now become a powerful online platform, and a home for Australia’s thriving emcees who continue to be ignored by the mainstream. Do they care? I doubt it. Body Bag will still bang down doors with DIY spirit, despite the naysayers.

By Christopher Kevin Au

QUEENDOM

I really dislike separating emcees by local and overseas, or by race, or male or female, but cotdayum it was good to feel a strong female presence this year. The queen, Sampa the Great, proved why she is the one to lead us into international splendour in the form of her mixtape, The Birds and BEE9. Tkay continuously makes us proud with her ventures overseas, as well as countless collaborations and ARIA nominations. Young gun, Mallrat, signed some big deals and looks like she is about to own 2018. Okenyo showed us on her single ‘Woman’s World’ that she can not only sing, but she can also rhyme circles around many as well.

Along with the OG, MC Trey, putting out new music, we saw the emergence of ones to watch like Poppy Rose, Kaylah Truth, Jesswar and Sophiegrophy. Miss Blanks bursted on the scene taking no prisoners, and towards the end of the year, we saw new releases from Mistress of Ceremony and Sarah Connor. I feel 2018 will be even stronger as we will see Kenzie FromWelly release music, so too Coda Conduct controlling the airwaves on triple j, and the many more peeping around the corner.

By Hau Latukefu

GRIME DOWN UNDER, 50/50 & FULLY GASSED

While Australian fans are expectedly excited for upcoming tours from UK pioneers Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, our own grime scene has been blossoming with ferocity in 2017. Longtime ambassador Fraksha presented us with the cold, hard evidence with the Grime Down Under 2 & 3 mixtapes which compiled the country’s best emcees and producers, with a similar ensemble stepping onstage at Melbourne’s infamous 50/50 and Fully Gassed events. Of course, the mammoth gigs were packed to the brim with tracksuit-clad crowds.

And if you ever need a 38-minute display of local grime’s vigorous state, just see what happened when 50/50 took over the triple j studios in October. Fraksha, Alex Jones, Wombat, Nerve, Scotty Hinds, Diem, Shadow & DJ Hijack barely stopped for breath in their lengthy live showing, flowing with enough energy to set the station ablaze. Fully Gassed is set to return to Melbourne in March with over 30 artists from around the country, and best of all, it’s free. Lace those Air Max tightly, it’s bound to get a little chaotic.

By Christopher Kevin Au

MANU CROOKS & UNPRECEDENTED INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION

Funny thing, I didn’t even know Manu Crooks was a rapper like that when I first met him through B Wise. I walked into Dream Big studios and met DJ Ziggy, Miracle, Dopamine and there was a quiet, unassuming, young G sitting in the corner. He was respectful, cool and when I shook his hand, I could hardly hear him say ‘Manu’ when he introduced himself. Little did I know, I was meeting what was to become one of Australia’s biggest prospects.

I later found out he rhymed and had already done a few things here and there. But it wasn’t until I came across ‘Everyday’ on triple j Unearthed that I thought, “Wow, this young kid has something.” I played it on the show, and kept in touch with him and the crew. One day, Manu sent ‘Blowin Up’ and right then, I knew that this was going to be the one. I pumped it on my show and from then on, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Manu go from strength to strength with his trusty and talented crew.

There isn’t a blog you won’t see him on or a tour you won’t see him rock. Manu released his highly anticipated Mood Forever EP to critical acclaim in 2017, and played his first hometown headline show last week at Hudson Ballroom. Two days later, he was invited onstage by ASAP Ferg to perform ‘Assumptions,’ making his international star power clear. I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for him.

By Hau Latukefu

MORE SONIC DIVERSITY ACROSS THE BOARD

Let’s look at a group like Triple One: In 2017, they released a demonic rave anthem, an autumnal ballad, and a single with enough nu-metal flavour to have you wearing backwards caps and wallet chains like it’s 1999. The Sydney crew are just one example of Australia’s diversifying sound, and while genre-blending from local artists is nothing new, it seems like they’re now doing it with greater disregard for sonic rules. Those sounds are coming to the forefront with force.

The evidence is everywhere. Carmouflage Rose released one of the biggest radio singles of the year with ‘Late Nights,’ filled with dancehall flavour and undeniable rhythm. I recently premiered Raj Mahal’s track ‘Cake,‘ a vicious blend of rap and electronica with a brooding punk streak. And Phil Fresh went ahead and released a conceptual EP based on a fictional love triangle, using autotune, saxophone and Pharrell-inspired soundscapes. From BLESSED to Baker Boy, it feels like people are making whatever music they feel like, and it’s nothing short of liberating to listen to.

By Christopher Kevin Au

GROWING PLATFORMS FOR THE NEW GENERATION

The support for the newer generations coming up grew stronger this year through various platforms. Blogs such as Thank Guard, Off the Clef and stalwart, All Aussie Hip Hop, really got behind the movement. AUD$ proved to be the go-to spot covering radio, visuals and online content.

And just when the young, hungry, talented artists needed it, along came the WVS record label. Headed by Mat Cant, WVS pushed artists like IE, Kwasi, Lil Spacely and Sophiegrophy into the spotlight, showing why we should be getting excited for the future. In 2017, they furthered this mission with the establishment of the ‘Next Gen’ competition, which saw WVS back emerging artists from West Sydney rapper Elijah Yo to silky R&B singer Jessica Jade.

By Hau Latukefu

SYDNEY’S EVOLVING PARTY & CLUB SCENE

Despite the lockout laws, parties in Sydney have continued to thrive and diversify. Local crew One Day still champion the country’s best hip-hop selectors with their legendary events, while also infusing live performances from Turquoise Prince, B Wise and Haiku Hands. Meanwhile, emerging trio SETTINGS have thrown the most fucked-up mid-week parties we’ve experienced in close to a decade, nabbing internationals like Virgil Abloh and DJ Noodles for their sweat-drenched soirees. Other collectives like Bodega, Strxnger and St. O’Donnell have taken a more DIY approach, transforming warehouses, stores and other spaces into jam-packed dancefloors.

Moreover, partying and clubbing now feels like a multi-sensory experience. DJs are often placed next to not only singers and rappers, but fashion designers, painters, artists and individuals from all ends of the creative spectrum. Would we like to party past 1:30am? Sure, but Sydney has shown us that it’s more than possible to adapt and overcome. The bounce back is strong.

By Christopher Kevin Au

EXPANSION OF THE ARIA AWARDS ‘URBAN’ CATEGORY

This year’s ARIA catergory for ‘Best Urban Release’ showed strong diversity in it’s nominees. It’s something we’ve seen slowly manifesting over the years, but it was good to actually see it in bright lights in the Australian music industry night of nights.

For a few years there, we saw the usual strong talents of the Hilltop Hoods, Bliss n Eso, 360, Drapht, Illy, Seth Sentry and the like dominate the urban catergory. Their constant presence in the drivers seat was reflective of the local scene for a good ten years or so. This year, however, the nominees were Tkay Maidza, Thundamentals, Illy, A.B. Original and REMI. Again, the catergory reflected the local scene and how it had changed. A.B. took out the gong, but the real winner was growth and change within the culture.

By Hau Latukefu

SOME REALLY NEAT MUSIC VIDEOS

As much as we love listening to hip-hop, sometimes we want our eyeballs to be treated too, and 2017 had plenty of notable music videos to boot. B Wise took us back to his Liverpool roots in the stunning clip for ‘Feel Something,’ while neighbouring crew Freesouls told similar narratives from the area in their throwback video for ‘SouthWest.’

Triple One broke into an abandoned building for ‘Overflow‘ and filmed one of 2017′s best videos in one shot, while Horrorshow got pink and animated with their warm embrace of a single, ‘Cherry Blossom.’ And proving his dedication to the art, Phillabu$trr hired a dominatrix to beat the shit out of him on camera for his eyebrow-raising clip, ‘Get You Off.’ 2017 provided enough visual twists and turns to keep us happy, so consider our eyeballs content.

By Christopher Kevin Au

Client: Life Without Andy

Date: December 14th, 2017

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© 2014 Christopher Kevin Au