“Wrong place at the wrong time or was it just the right skin for another white crime?”, Nooky asks in his latest track Black and White, which recounts his heartache and frustrations surrounding the heartbreaking and incomprehensible death of young Noongar boy Cassius Turvey, calling for the country to do more.
The Yuin MC and triple j Blak Out host (and as per his Instagram the future Mayor of Nowra) Nooky, is continuing to unapologetically make noise and shine a blinding light on ongoing injustice, while strongly amplifying the voices and endeavours of those around him.
Growing up in Nowra, Nooky recounts the stark and limiting options presented to him as an Aboriginal kid, and throughout our interview, it is clear the fire lit inside of him has continued to fiercely burn down any obstacles or misconceptions before him, defining success as when First Nations children see a bright and limitless future in front of them, and as Nooky says ‘knowing if they can work hard, they can do whatever the fuck they want’.
During our interview, Nooky shares his passion for showcasing Indigenous excellence and details the birth of and intention behind his project We Are Warriors. Ahead of his takeover of the Sydney Powerhouse on January 26, Nooky speaks on finding music, signing with Bad Apples, and shares some up-and-coming First Nations artists to check out (or keep on repeat if you ask us).
Going to start with a heavy hitter and talk about your latest release ‘Black and White’ which is both really powerful and really sad. You gave voice to a lot of the pain, fear and frustrations mob have been feeling about young Cassius and the continued colonial violence. Can you tell me about your experience in creating this track?
Yeah, it was one of those things I kinda went back and forth with. What happened to that young fulla [Cassis Turvey] shouldn’t have happened. Fuck it was sad. Sometimes I’m like what the fuck are we worth? I was saddened about what happened. I was angry by what happened. I felt for his Mum, and his family and that. It made me reflect on everything, back to Kumanjayi [Walker] and Elijah [Doughty] before that, and then TJ [Hickey] before that. There’s been over 500 deaths in custody here and fuck you know, I was fed up. I needed to do something, I needed to release that anger and I didn’t want it sitting there. Social media isn’t for me, it isn’t the spot to voice how I felt about it anyway. Instead, I went to the studio and laid it down. And it was one of those ones where I thought do I release this or do I keep it for me? It was more like a healing thing for me. Something I needed to do personally. I put it out and I’m still quite emotional about it. Weeks have passed but we can’t forget. We should do more. I need to do better. Hearing about his story and how he was on the radio and stuff, that one really hit you know because I’m at Blak Out [on triple j] you know. That could’ve been him in a couple of years.
What has the reception been from mob about that track so far?
Everyone has hit me up—a lot of the mob have said it has voiced a lot of the things they felt, and a lot of the things they couldn’t say. You know it is a pretty dark, sad thing. But also, I’m trying to tell people to wake up and those things aren’t always easy to say. So, to get that support from the mob has been mad. That’s why we do this. It’s for our people first and foremost.
It’s powerful to have mob like you, such creative storytellers that help us to process some of that trauma. Do you think that you kind of save processing trauma for music?
Yeah, I do. To be honest, that’s kind of why I got into music. I didn’t rap because I thought it was cool and shit. I rapped because I needed to. For me it was about healing. When I found music, it had the same effect on me as going out bush with the uncles and practicing culture and dance with them. It was pretty special that I found another way to heal and that’s the sole reason I’ve done music, for my own personal healing and to create another pathway that wasn’t there for me down in Nowra. I’m glad I did because its opened heaps of doors and taken me a lot of places. At the end of the day, I’m rapping because it helps me let go of things and shines a light on things that aren’t always talked about.
You answered it for me. No disrespect to anyone else but you could only be rapping about money, and your ego. But you don’t—you rap about your experience and about things sometimes that only mob understand which gives us a safe space in an industry we haven’t always been accepted into. You mentioned why you got into music—can you tell me a little about about your journey and how it first came about for you?
I was born and raised in Nowra, and growing up there, the two options put in front of us was football or jail. Teachers would pull me aside and tell me I was wasting their time at school, my time at school, and that I would end up behind bars. So having that drummed into you during your formative years is not the best thing to hear. But I was stubborn. When I heard things like that I thought ‘You fucking watch’. So, it was probably the worst thing to say to me [laughs]. I played a lot of footy growing up. My old man was a gun so I was always at footy, but he was too good, and I couldn’t get out of his shadow, so football wasn’t it either. Lucky for me I had a big cousin from Newcastle, Ryan Selway. He grew up in the city and was exposed to different things. He was into music, and bands and things. He played drums and the guitar and would rap and produce, and for me he was the cool cousin, the big cousin you wanted to be like. I got into rapping because he rapped. Every move he made; I’d make. I only started rapping because he was rapping. One time he came to Nowra and made a couple of beats, left them on the computer and burnt a CD for me. I used to carry the CD with me everywhere. I’d listen to the beats, and I wasn’t even rapping, I’d just like to listen to it. One day I was at school, same old story wasn’t enjoying it. I thought fuck this, I’m leaving, and I took off at lunchtime.
Nowra is a little place and as soon as something new is in town you notice it. As I was walking home, I noticed people in an old building doing things. I was a little inquisitive blackfulla and just walked in and said, ‘What’s this?’ and they told me it was a youth centre. They told me they had a music studio downstairs with a computer and a microphone. I went down to check it out and I had the CD on me with the beats. That’s when I made my first song. I just swore my head off pretty much. All I said was ‘F this’ and ‘C that’ and noticed all the frustration and anger and emotions I was feeling released into the microphone. So, I was back there every day making music.
It’s so special to hear you found music like that, and real community way too. Fast forwarding now to the present—you’re working with Briggs at Bad Apples Music. How has that experience been for you and having that platform to continue to express yourself to larger audiences now?
Bad Apples will forever be a part of my story. I was a big fan of Briggs from Homemade Bombs to Blacklist and later on to Sheplife when he started Bad Apples, and to get the co-sign from the big fulla was mad. He wasn’t mucking around and still isn’t to this day. He has always been one to elevate mob. Being around him gave me a big push to go harder and I learnt a lot from him too. It’s a proper big brother relationship if you know what I mean. Sometimes we torment each other but the love is always there. Respect is always there. That’s big brother stuff.
I was thinking about this before we jumped on the call—you and Briggs are really synonymous with each other, and both have the no fucks given attitude.
Yeah, that’s why we torment each other [laughs]. If there’s someone you want in your corner it’s him.
Thinking about that support you’ve had, what are your hopes for mob in the music industry over the next 5-10 years?
Some more Bad Apples would be nice. Some more Blak Out’s, some more Barkaa’s. It’s so good to see the growth over the years. You can go back and look at the early generation of [Indigenous] rap like the South West Syndicates, Wire MC’s, Local Knowledge, The Last Kinections, Briggs, Trials, us other ones that came through like Sesk and Street Warriors. But back then there wasn’t a whole heap of us. Getting in certain rooms and playing in certain shows wasn’t easy. You could go and smash a show and the crowed would fuck with you and think the music’s hard. But as soon as you talk some shit they switch off. You talk your truth, they switch off. It was tricky coming up. This next generation—the Barkaa’s, Kobie Dee’s, YNG Martyr’s, Say True God? and that; they talk the talk and people aren’t turning their backs so much. It’s mad to see the growth of the black hip hop scene [in Australia] and music in general. You got people like Dan Sultan, Archie Roach, Coloured Stone, No Fixed Address, Rubie Hunter, Shekaya, and the new ones like Budjerah and Kid Laroi. Hopefully we see more growth. A few more Kid Laroi’s would be nice [laughs].
With your project We Are Warriors, I understand these were words that your Mum said to you after experiencing something challenging. Can you talk me through this?
This was my first memory of school and my first takeaway. It never left me, and it was the moment I realised what black and white was. Growing up in Nowra, which has the biggest Aboriginal population in NSW outside of Sydney, everywhere felt like home. I was surrounded by my family, grew up talking little bits of language. Growing up black was mad but I didn’t know the difference, it’s all I knew. I got to school one day, and the teacher gets the projector out and starts putting pictures of mob up on the board. I’m watching the pictures and the teacher is giving explanations saying, ‘these were Aboriginal people, here before Australia was founded’ and all that. ‘They were a bunch of savages that went around the bush naked with no civilization, and a dirty people with no point to life’ they said. As the teacher was saying this, I was looking at the pictures thinking that looks like my family and that’s when it hit me. ‘I might be Aboriginal’ I thought. And in that moment, I felt different. I felt cut off and ashamed of myself and still to this day it’s so hard for me to admit that, because I am real proud of who I am. It was only for a second, but that one second of shame is enough for me. I went home to my Mum, and I was pretty upset, and I said ‘Ay mum? We’re Aboriginal, aren’t we?’ and started crying. I told her I didn’t want to be, [and mentioned what the teacher said about being dirty]. She turned around and told me, ‘We weren’t dirty people son, we were warriors’. And fuck as soon as she said that the shame instantly turned to pride and that’s something that’s pushed me on my journey since all the way back then and lit a fire inside me. That fire has never gone out.
Tell me about the project now?
So, it’s named directly after the words Mum spoke to me ‘We Are Warriors’. The point of it is to highlight Indigenous success and create pathways for greatness. We launched on January 26 this year and focus on five areas: content, events, merchandise, consultation and connections. We wanted to create a new program and platform, outside of just football or crime, so with WAW we want to highlight other options to our youth and tell them what my Mum said to me; reminding kids that we come from a real resilient, defiant people and the oldest living culture on earth who has been here since day one. I want to instil pride into the kids and shake shit up a little bit. A big part of what we do is increase representation and partner with big brands and organisations to get our message out there.
When we first launched, we launched six stories from Kobie Dee, Barkaa, Felicia Foxx, Luke Currie-Richardson and Charlie Fraser, all from different creative fields with a powerful story to tell. We’ve all experienced similar stories of racism and gone on to succeed in our own fields. That’s what I want to highlight, and I want to open a bunch of doors [for mob] and increase representation. We launched on January 26, and the acronym of We Are Warriors is WAW [WAR]. They started a war so why not start one back? [Laughs]. But we want to do it in a positive way. Underlining WAW is lots of uncomfortable truths and important conversations, but again we are going to focus on the positive things. It’s something I have wanted to do since I was a kid. My goal has always been to give back. When I came up with it, it was going to be a youth centre—a super creative hub for the mob to kick back and celebrate and feel safe to strengthen their artistry. But then COVID hit and getting a physical spot was tricky, so we launched an online platform. We will have a physical headquarters in Sydney up and running early next year. We have our own WAW signature workshops we are looking to start running, and we have partnered up with JD Sports, Heaps Normal, Abode and TikTok. We are working with these guys to create pathways.
That’s amazing! And what have you got planned next year for the Powerhouse takeover in Sydney?
January 26 next year will be our first birthday, so we are taking over the Powerhouse and turning it into the Black Powerhouse and showcasing a night of black power. We are going to rebrand the outside of the building WAW style. We are going to do a full venue takeover, including the outside. Inside we will be showcasing artworks, music and photography and we will be launching our half music video/half documentary. There’s a lot going on in Sydney on the day like the Yabun Festival, but this is an alternative thing to do. A spot for everyone to hang and kick it. We are also trying to do something the day after too, on January 27 like put on a feed somewhere. You know after war when you’ve been on the frontline, you want to go back and eat and recover. January 26 is a big day with a lot of emotions so the next day I want to open up and kick back, let go and release the energy and emotion.
What does success look like to you?
Success for me is seeing the kids smile. Whether it’s my own or kids in community, it’s something you see in their eyes when a fire starts, seeing that spark. I don’t care about the money awards and all of that. Success for me is my daughters knowing they can do whatever the fuck they want. I was a black kid from Nowra and wasn’t expected to do fuck all. Wasn’t expected to host a show on Triple j, see the world, make money, barely expected to be alive. For me, if I can pass down to my daughters that it doesn’t matter your circumstances or environment, if you wanna do it and are prepared to work hard, you can do it. That’s what success is for me, when the next generation knows they can do what they want.
That’s incredibly powerful. What’s next for you?
I have a couple of songs in the works that will be out next year, the WAW song is dropping with the documentary and a mad little collab with the Bad Apples crew.
Anyone up and coming you wanna give a shout out to?
Yeah, there’s heaps! Kanada The Loop I’m really feeling his shit at the moment. Budjerah is one to watch. Miiesha has always been a favourite. Mi-kaisha, her voice is something else. Say True God? up in Brisbane, he is a weapon. YNG Martyr, [the track] Forever 15 by Dobby, and INKABEE, check him out—he’s only 10 years old and is a Noongar Wongai rapper. He’s a weapon.