Young, black and heated: OZ hip hop’s ethnic future

Words by Harrison Johnstone
Art by Mariah Lantouris

Hip hop in Australia has a fresh new sound; ethnic, edgy and aggressive – it will eat you alive.

Aussie rappers with global heritage are coming up in a new generation of hip hop artists, influencing their rhymes with unique takes on culture and upbringing, empowered by their minority status and stunting on the community with gritty talent.

Rap in Australia had stagnated for most of this decade after Matthew James Colwell AKA 3ree6ixty, burst into the mainstream with 2011’s Boys Like You featuring Gossling. His honesty laced bars earned him a national tour with Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, followed by a long struggle against mental illness and addiction.

And, yeah – Kerser’s doing whatever he’s doing – being the sickest.

But, this drought of talent made room for a new generation of artists vying to break the stereotypical Australian twangy rap mould, that only a hardcore fan base haven’t grown tired of. This aggressive brand of culturally informed artists are crushing the scene in our major cities.

Fierce female and Fijian born hip hop artist Jessica Koroi (23) AKA Jesswar, struggled to find her scene based out of the touristy, surf rock loving hub of the Gold Coast – but, after relocating to Brisbane she’s found a place to play and grow as a rapper.

“When I started off playing shows, I’d legit be the only brown person on the line-up and the only woman – but, it’s so different now.

“There’s so many MCs up here that are fucking killing it. I was just training it up to Brisbane every weekend, performing and getting the 5AM train back, because no one supports our music on the Gold Coast. But, the changes are already happening, it’s a new hip hop culture here.”

Jesswar’s islander roots are a major part of her sound; but the brutality behind the lyrics of her debut track, opening with “I’m a savage, I’m a cunt,” had her Sydneysider Fijian family needing the radio edit. However, her “wilder” family members vibe on the tune, and finishing her set with that song in front of Polynesian crowds gives her a sense of pride and connection, especially when her mob thank her for embracing those cultural elements in the music.

“I’m always so ecstatic when I hear people singing that song back to me, I really channel that when I’m on the mic. The war cry, ‘savage,’ makes me feel staunch y’know. I’m fucking here for that, let’s go.”

“100 per cent, ethnic rappers are the future right now. AYWIN is one of the best artists in Australia at the moment, she’s South Sudanese and absolutely killing it.

“Before every show I blast Fijian chanting and songs backstage, to get me in the vibe, get me feeling staunch. I had those tunes playing before my set at a festival once, and the crowd was like ‘what the fuck?’ but I was here for it.

“Artists here are, and will, break into the overseas markets… I’m definitely trying to do that with my music, I’m gonna give it a red hot crack.”

It’s not easy for Jesswar, being black and female in a scene often crowded by men and in a hyper-racialised culture like Australia’s – but, Jessica has used this in her music, empowered by the “snarky comments” or people “acting surprised” when she dominates a set.

“I don’t feel like I’m battling with other artists, because I am in the same league.

“I tell people I am a rapper, not just a female rapper. I’m absolutely embracing that word ‘cunt,’ as women that’s our word. So many people find that offensive, but we’re taking it and using it. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘you’ve actually made that word sound good now’.”

Jesswar signed with renowned label Golden Era Records mid-2017; a group representing the best in Australia’s emerging hip hop scene including Briggs, Trials and ADFU. Not surprisingly, these artists share ethnic and Indigenous roots that ground their music in a raw authenticity that’s pushing the scene forward in ways never seen before.

Australian hip hop fans can expect big things from Jesswar this year; a six track EP is slated for the coming months. Set to a similar vibe as Savage, prepare for Jessica Koroi to dominate your soundwaves in 2018.

Jesswar will perform as a supporting act for FloRida on his upcoming Australian tour.

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