profile of MattShea

Does Aussie hip-hop have a problem with racism?

This week at TheVine sees the return of Group Therapy, a semi-regular column that operates as a music industry Q&A – a missive we send out to a great many people in order to gauge their feedback on a particular issue.

Previously on Group Therapy:

What is the value of recorded music?
Why aren't you going to Splendour this year?
US hip-hop industry reacts to Chris Lilley's 'Angry Boys'
SING! with Geoffrey O'Connor, We Are The In Crowd, Seja
SING! with Story of the Year, The Bats, Felix Reibel

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Thomas Rock turned heads in mid-July when he used an appearance on national youth broadcaster triple j to talk about racism in Australian hip-hop. The Def Wish Cast vocoder man conducts workshops with at-risk and marginalised youth in and around Sydney, and chatted at some length with Hip-Hop Show host Hau Latukefu about the worrying trend of white pride and toyshop patriotism that he was witnessing during his sessions.

Rock’s words caused a stir, both in the rap community and the wider music scene. Hip-hop in Australia has often been the target of snobbish derision when it comes to the quality and content of its output, but are there any grounds for accusing the local genre of being tainted with racism?

With this in mind, TheVine dialled some digits and asked 14 of Australia’s biggest hip-hop artists – Rock included – the following question:

Does Australian hip-hop have a problem with racism?”

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Suffa, MC and producer with Hilltop Hoods, co-founder of Golden Era Records (Adelaide)

Yeah, I think there’s racism in local hip-hop. That’s part of what inspired us to do the track ‘Speaking in Tongues’ on the latest record: we’d noticed some xenophobia in our fan base through the social networks. Which was confusing to us, because we’d been raised on everything from Public Enemy to Poor Righteous Teachers. So we just wanted to re-enforce with our fan base: “This is what we’re about. Hopefully you’re about it too.”

We’d see it on YouTube. You might have someone coming over from Louisiana and saying, “I really like these guys. Shout-outs from Kentucky,” and you’d have all these guys leap on him saying, “Fuck off you American shit!” and just attack. It was just bizarre, and confusing.

I know where this comes from: it’s all about the accent debate. Really early on, people like us and Def Wish Cast and others were really pushing to be ourselves because that’s what hip-hop’s about. So it came from this position of not being ashamed of sounding like who you are, but it’s now turned into: “I’m proud of what I am, and I dislike what you are.” So it came from a good place where we were trying to find our own identity, and I’m really proud of that, but I’m disappointed that it’s spun into this thing where it’s gone from not being ashamed of who you are to being overtly patriotic without cause.

With more diverse voices coming into the genre it will break down this problem. We’ve done a video for ‘Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom’, featuring cameo artists from all over Australia of all different backgrounds. And that shows the diversity of artists in Australia, but what’s not reflected yet is the success of such diverse artists. The people having a lot of success – us, Drapht, Bliss N Eso, 360 – there’s not a lot of diversity there. But it’s the strength of their art that will eventually help break down those barriers.

Urthboy, MC and co-founder of Elefant Traks (Sydney/Blue Mountains)

Local rap’s become fairly mainstream because it mirrors Australian society, so it’s inevitable that we also reflect back some of the uglier sides of our national identity. And it’s not something perpetuated by the artists. Hip-hop is a fairly new culture. It’s 40 years old. It’s black in origin. It’s from New York City. It’s from struggle. That’s why when racism comes up in hip-hop it’s a sore point. Because it flies in the face of everything the culture came from. That’s why it’s an issue, but at least we’re confronting it.

It’s definitely good to get the word out on national radio. Unfortunately, it then becomes a dialogue where people say, “Oh well, Australian rap is racist.” Well, no, there’s racism in Australian society and it infiltrates at every single level. Try walking in the shoes of someone who’s a different skin colour – then you’ll see the extent to which racism can affect your daily life.

This is why I’m such a strong believer in Aboriginal hip-hop: there is a platform to tell those stories in ways that sometimes our society closes its ears off to. Because I think the Aboriginal story is important for indigenous people, but I also think it’s really, really important for white people. We have to tell local stories and embrace them with a sense of pride.

Get more of these indigenous artists out there in the public sphere and you are unquestionably going to improve things. You are going to see more people following the lead. I am absolutely 100 percent rock solid on that; there’s no question about it. It should be perceived as the exciting thing that is coming up. It’s not that it hasn’t been here for a while – of course it has – but people should embrace it. This is fucking hip-hop.

 

Jimblah, MC (Adelaide)

Yes, to put it simply. That’s my experience as an indigenous artist. I know a lot of the older heads are very proper and of course they know what hip-hop’s all about, but a lot of the younger generation coming through have issues and can be quite racist.

I first started picking up on it on the internet – of course. I don’t understand: people would add me on Facebook and then offensive shit would come up on their timelines. You might call people out after they’ve posted a meme or something like that, and they’ll claim that they’re not racist. And I understand that – a lot comes down to ignorance – but then occasionally there is that full-on in-your-face hate.

When I made my ‘Racism in Ozhiphop’ video I had a major chip on my shoulder. I was very angry because I’d seen this thing going on for a while and when I finally tried to discuss it, nobody really wanted to engage. Hence the video. I think with myself and other indigenous artists, we tend to bite our tongues a little bit, but I just thought, “Fuck this man.” If I can’t stand up and be myself in hip-hop, then what’s the point? This is hip-hop. And after I did the video, so many indigenous artists hit me up and talked about being inspired to speak up.

Tommy speaking up on triple j does make indigenous artists more confident in talking about it themselves. But it’s always so much different when it comes from someone who’s not indigenous – that’s just the way it is, for better or worse. So I was glad Tommy did that. It certainly got a lot more people talking.

 

Azmarino, MC – Diafrix (Melbourne)

Momo and I have been in the industry for about ten years now, and what we’ve found is that among the MCs – among the Aussie hip-hop community – there’s no such thing as racism. Absolutely everyone has a common understanding.

But where we find a bit of a difficulty—as African-Australian artists—is if you’re talking from a multi-cultural standpoint. Aussie hip-hop is not targeting that urban non-Anglo music community. In Melbourne, if we do a gig and get 600 people, half of that crowd will be multi-cultural, and those people don’t listen to triple j or Nova or other radio stations. So 50 percent of our crowd aren’t voting for us to be played on triple j and so on. We have a lot of talented MCs in Aussie hip-hop who are of various ethnic backgrounds, but they’re having trouble crossing over because they won’t get that request or support from Australian radio.

We supported Bliss N Eso recently, and at the concert you could see that patriotic ‘Aussie-Aussie’ thing going on. Which is great, because it’s giving young Australians from an Anglo background a voice. But now the genre’s gotten so big that it’s time for it to spread its wings and become a bit more inclusive of other stories, immigrant and indigenous. Having white MCs standing by us, collaborating on tracks and so on, will help develop role models for the wider community.

I would totally agree with the idea that it’s part of a wider problem with issues of race in the country. And the media, to be totally honest, has not been helping much. It often seems to create more division between communities. That affects us as MCs, but it just means that we have to work twice as hard to bring that commonness back together, and hip-hop is a beautiful way to do that because no matter what their background, young people listen to rap music.

 

Dialectrix, MC (Blue Mountains)

The short answer is yes. A small yet growing percentage of young fans believe Australian artists to be the best at rapping and that other countries’ artists – including the US – are naturally inferior. It’s an overly patriotic reaction of taking all the “Australian” and leaving out most of the “hip-hop”. It’s been exacerbated by artists pandering to a larger audience with the marketable effectiveness of colloquial content, as racism wasn't a problem that existed in the genre prior to its commercial acceptance.

Australia has had problems with racial integration as a whole for a very long time. Our political history is entwined with it via various policies – the White Australia Policy, for instance – and the long term effects have been strong enough to impact contemporary society. It’s manifested itself as a racial discrimination that’s still, although in the minority, intrinsically a part of modern Australia.

Hip-hop originated from, and is still widely regarded as, a predominantly black and Afro-centric culture. Australian hip-hop embraced the beauty, character and lifestyle of Australians and the passion, knowledge and creativity of hip-hop. It’s a mongrel mutation. And the more this half-cast mutation merges with popular culture in a racially tense country, the more you will see confusion and conflict. Any Australian who truly loves hip-hop could never be racist. It’s pure lunacy. It’s just that the current term “Australian hip-hop” in many ways has changed etymologically away from what it once meant as more and more uneducated followers represent it in an overly patriotic sense.

Does Australian hip-hop have a problem with racism? Yes. But only because more people in a nation that has a history of racial intolerance are being exposed to the genre and choosing to represent it.

(Continued next page)

profile of MattShea

14 comments so far..

  • cap'n crunch's avatar
    Commenter
    cap'n crunch
    Date and time
    Thursday 27 Sep 2012 - 2:07 PM
    Mainstream Aussie hip hop is to 2012 bogans what Cold Chisel was to 70s-80s bogans and plenty of bogans love a bit of white pride.

    Hilltop Hoods and 360 are the biggest Aussie hip hop 'artists' at the moment and they seem like nice guys and obviously aren't racist but man, total bogans, so the appeal is there.
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  • Oodge's avatar
    Commenter
    Oodge
    Date and time
    Thursday 27 Sep 2012 - 3:45 PM
    There's a lot to be said for the fact that often artists won't blatantly tackle an issue, like racism. It's all well and good for HHoods to be making music advocating multiculturalism, but people hear lyrics easier than they understand the message. I've liked at least half of these artists on facebook, but the only two rappers who ACTIVELY and CLEARLY post statuses/messages against racism, homophobia etc are Pegz and The Tongue.

    I wonder what would happen if HH posted a status about Australia's border policy?
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  • Swarmy's avatar
    Commenter
    Swarmy
    Date and time
    Thursday 27 Sep 2012 - 5:18 PM
    Seems like a pretty resounding answer, very similar attitudes accross the board - Still some excellent points given. Can I just say

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbzFA4k-I44
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  • KeepItReal's avatar
    Commenter
    KeepItReal
    Date and time
    Saturday 29 Sep 2012 - 8:57 PM
    As Dazed and Flawlezz said about 3 years ago now, watching the rise of Skip-Hop (I hate that term)....... "I don't support Aussie hip-hop, I support good music"......
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  • The Riff's avatar
    Commenter
    The Riff
    Date and time
    Tuesday 02 Oct 2012 - 9:50 AM
    I agree with Reason- it's a misconception. I've been to an Aussie hip-hop show almost every weekend for the past 12 years and never once experienced anything even remotely racist. In fact it's quite the opposite- almost every artist has at least one anti-racism track.

    Racism only seems to be rife amongst social media by kids who don't really have anything to do with the Aussie hip-hop scene other than they once stole a 360 cd from JB Hi-Fi.

    My guess is if you took a sample of the Oz hip hop community and compared it with the general population you would find that it's the general population of Australia that has the greater proportion of racists.

    The bigger problem is behaviour at the shows, particularly graffiti in the bathrooms resulting in venues refusing to put on hip-hop nights.

    We aint perfect but we ain't racist.
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  • brotherboy's avatar
    Commenter
    brotherboy
    Date and time
    Tuesday 02 Oct 2012 - 5:24 PM
    Racism is not just paramount in hip-hop but the whole Australian music industry. I always remeber growing up the typical Australian band was a hard/ alternative rock band who are of anglo-australian background. I remember bands such as Grinspoon, Powderfinger, Midnight Oil, Choirboys, 1927, and so on. The only band that I remember who were non-white which is most memorable to everyone was Yothu Yindi, indigenous rock band. I often find there seems to be a distinction between Aussie hip hop and indigenous hip hop. Yet I don't see why both can't be included in the same category as Australian hip hop. As somebody who is non-white, I often found young white kids always scoffing and making racist remarks whenever a black americans rap or hip hop song was played. The ironic thing now is that young white middle-class kids want to emrace the aussie hip hop scene for its whiteness. The same kids who don't like black us hip-hop stars are now feeling embraced by the anglo-Australian hip hop scene. Don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with white people getting into the hip hop scene. But I think Aussie hip-hop should start showing people from all colours white, black, brown, and yellow skin. I have seen some white kids embrace aussie hip hop as a way to encourage racism and white supremacy. They are the ones who wave the flag and tell other nationalities to get out out of the country. I Have read there are quite a number of hip-hop artists from indigenous, african, and pacific islander background, so on who fail to get a record deal. Many record companies, music video tv programs and radio stations won't play there music because they seem to look non-white and they may sing songs that white middle-class people can't identify with. I can't understand why the media and the music industry can't take a gamble on non-white hip hop artists considering there are so many indigenous artists out there. Its time to see all different races and stories reflected in Australian hip hop as one big community.
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  • Fozley's avatar
    Commenter
    Fozley
    Date and time
    Wednesday 03 Oct 2012 - 1:44 PM
    Since when did Australian become a "race"? A lot of people are confused about nationality and "race".

    Does "race" even exist? It was created by a white man to reinforce his theory of "racial" supremacy. The whole idea of differentiating between "races" was thought up by a racist, Ironic.

    Do you think he chose the word 'race' randomly?

    "A sport race is a competition of speed, against an objective criterion, usually a clock or to a specific point."

    Is African a "race"?
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  • Fozley's avatar
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    Fozley
    Date and time
    Wednesday 03 Oct 2012 - 1:46 PM
    "African people are natives or inhabitants of Africa and people of African descent"

    Same as Australian.
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  • brycewould's avatar
    Commenter
    brycewould
    Date and time
    Wednesday 03 Oct 2012 - 3:23 PM
    the main reason i started listen to Australia Hip-hop was to get away from the views of racism. The australia sceen is open to everyone with so many unique styles and sounds. Aus hip-hop is great cause you dont hear the stuff mainstread artisist are rapping about cars, money and fame its about the roots of australian life! regardless of your skin colour!
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  • Dirk Bottoms's avatar
    Commenter
    Dirk Bottoms
    Date and time
    Wednesday 03 Oct 2012 - 9:46 PM
    White, indigenous or migrant, who cares - Aussie hip hop is embarrassingly NICE. They're all LAME goody-goodies no matter what the race. Where's the edginess?? They're all mummy's boys.

    I want my hip hop to be authentic, which for me means young black Americans with access to handguns singing about sex and violence, preferably in the grimiest and most un-PC way possible.
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