In April 2012, music industry magazine The Music Network asked Australian hip-hop pioneer Urthboy to write about the state of hip-hop in Australia. Instead Urthboy, the boss of respected hip-hop label Elefant Traks, wrote this: “I was asked to write about the state of hip-hop in Australia. I’d prefer to shine a light on what may be the future of it: Indigenous Hip-Hop. Indigenous artists carry a profoundly engrossing and intriguing story for international audiences, yet it’s barely understood by many Australians.”
Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country is a free ebook that aims to be an introduction to some of the Aboriginal hip-hop artists out there. All have stories that demand to be heard, from the better-known players like The Last Kinection and Sky’high, to those who have huge online audiences but get no media coverage, such as Sesk, and those who are probably too radical for the establishment to handle, such as Darah.
In an age when mainstream hip-hop has drifted from its radical roots and embraced all aspects of commercialisation, Australian Aboriginal hip-hop is - in essence - raw protest music. It offers a compelling way to get to know the Australian story, from genocide and the stolen generations to the brutal policies continued by today’s politicians.
Real Talk is by no means comprehensive - there are about 50 Australian Aboriginal hip-hop artists pumping out quality tracks at the moment, and it speaks to only 18. But it aims to be a live document, updated at the start of each year. Hopefully it will become more comprehensive as the years tick by. At any rate, readers are encouraged to seek out the artists and follow them in their own, unedited, words.
Those words often tell the often unvarnished truth, and it’s a perspective few people - including Australians - get to hear. When Aboriginal rappers are living under government policies that required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, when their people are being jailed at rates up to eight times that of black people in apartheid South Africa, and when relatives are committing suicide at five times the rate of the non-Aboriginal population, the lyrics can make for intense listening. And when these rappers open up and talk about their artistry and the country that has been taken from their people, the commentary is always razor sharp - even when the music is coming from rappers who are barely in their teens.
As Toby Finlayson, who runs Aboriginal hip-hop workshops in remote countries across Australia, tells Real Talk: “If you are born Aboriginal, you are born political.”
And at a time when portable studios can be carried around on a laptop or even on a phone, the music production is invariably world class.
The ebook can be downloaded from www.facebook.com/AboriginalRap, where Munk’s weekly Indij Hip Hop show can also be downloaded for free and links to all the artists can be found.
Mat Ward lives in Australia and writes for Green Left Weekly.