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21-year-old, Remi, is the new kid on the block. He only started rapping last year. Swapping caps for cardigans, this self-proclaimed cookie jar fiend is a new breed of Australian hip-hop, earning his stripes on the fast track. Releasing two EPs and a debut album, he’s in the company of the freshest hip-hop soul project in the country. He’s supported Danny Brown, Eric Lau, JonWayne, Mono/Poly and the upcoming Pharcyde, Suff Daddy & Julien Dyne shows. He has even grabbed Black Thought’s attention. So what’s the big deal? For the record we get deep one night in words and verbs over strawberry-flavoured ‘erbs. Let me introduce you to Remi.

You’re new to the rap game and you’re in a scene with artists who are more experienced than you. Do you feel nervous about that?

It’s surreal. It kinda doesn’t feel right, no matter how comfortable I am, but it feels like something I’m meant to do.

Your sound is definitely not sonically what we expect from Australian hip-hop at all, which often carries the typical association of ‘Skip-Hop’. Do you think there is a racial divide between what is deemed ‘White Oz Hip-Hop’ and ‘Black Oz Hip-Hop’?

It’s a hard one to answer. Maybe. I know there’s not that many black hip-hop artists here, I’ve had to really look for them and even then, I found them through my connections over the last couple of years. With music I’m just trying to keep it diverse without the labels. For me it’s not about making hip-hop. It’s about making music that we’re good at. Being black or white making hip-hop in Australia shouldn’t be an issue.

You were born in 1991. Some of the early ’90s hip hop artists were people like Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J, Warren G, etcetera, and obviously you would have been too young to grow up with those guys. In Australia, anyone has to dig to find great music, when did you discover all the good shit?

I know Jsmith [laughs]! I didn’t grow up in that musical setting. I used to go bust a move at the underage clubs with my mates, and they’d be playing commercial R&B or hip-hop like 50cent or 112. If it wasn’t that stuff, it’d be whatever my friends were listening to, which was all that Roots stuff like Ben Harper or Jack Johnson. But, I’ve been snowboarding since high school, so when I was about 17, I used to watch all the snowboarding films and hip-hop is a big part of the soundtrack.

Then I started working at General Pants and I met Jel’s, who’s Jsmith’s girlfriend. The first day I started, Jel’s busted my balls [laughs] cause she’s Serbian, ‘what kind of music do you like?’ and I said I like all music and she’s like, ‘not fucking good enough, what’s your favorite genre?’, then I’m like OK, hip-hop and she said ‘Good. You’re gonna fit in here’.

So the next day I brought in this playlist full of every genre I had, just to show her that I listen to it all, but there were a few tracks that I’d found off these snowboarding films and she asks ‘oh is this so-and-so?’ and I wouldn’t know. But then Jel’s would put her music on, her playlists were just always on point and she’d have all this information about that shit which she knew a lot by herself, but obviously there’s a lot she’s picked up from Jsmith. He’s just the fucking Don-music historian.

So who is Jsmith? Has he played a great part in educating you?

Yup, yup. Shortly after I started working at General Pants, I started rapping a bit. I was so shit. I used to make these wack beats on my Garage Band and I really wanted to meet Jsmith, because I knew he was a producer. I asked Jel’s to play some of his music one time and silently lost my shit. It was not like anything I’d heard ever. So I organised this dinner with my fam, and I met Jsmith. He heard my stuff and then he said ‘yep we can do some stuff, you should come over soon and we’ll talk some shit’. So I went round there and I got really high, trying to be hip-hop I guess. He started dropping all this fucking crazy music/beat-age on his MPC. After that I was kind of in awe, and he said if you’re willing to listen we can probably make this work.

So you got a power listening sesh?

Yeah, for real. He was like, “take these beats and write to them”. I was really intimidated when I first started writing. His beats have got so much swing; I didn’t know how to deal with it. At the time I wasn’t listening to a diverse amount of rappers so I didn’t know really what to base myself off. There was only Kanye, Cudi, etc. So anyway, I wrote some shit, I went around there and he began helping me out. I used to rap in this really American accent, cause it’s just what I listened to. Jsmith weaned me off that and I found my own voice, but his beats are why I’m the rapper I am. I haven’t mastered it yet and fuck, I can’t wait to do more shit! We’re just making music that feels good, we’re not out to make something groundbreaking.

With two EPs and your debut album, Regular People Shit, under your belt, you must feel a sense of achievement?

The whole process was quite experimental. We actually weren’t trying to make an album, we were just releasing EPs, and then Triple J started playing the track Apollo on the radio – shouts to Hau. We didn’t even write that as a single. That got their attention and they were also playing the RUNFORYOURLIFE track, Work Hard, that I’m on as well, at that time. Someone did a cheeky leak of that track of the unmixed version, but it worked in our favor. So I guess after that Hau knew who I was, but he wanted to hear more. So we thought “OK, fuck, we’ll do an album.”

You played piano from the age of four to sixteen, sounds to me that your folks help lay some pretty artistic foundations. Tell me about them.

Well they’re both doctors. Mum’s an anaesthetist, so basically a person who administers drugs [laughs]. She’s like, white chocolate, Reflex paper white [laughs] and was born in Tasmania. Dad is a satellite engineer, was born in Nigeria. He’s like 80% dark chocolate. [laughs], so as a result my brother and I are the perfect Dairy Milk blend. They put us through two private schools, so we were the only black kids there [laughs]. I guess mum and dad both know the pressure of educating yourself and I guess they wanted me to still connect with some artistic roots or something, but learn the disciplines of the arts as well. I remember tubs of piano theory homework I used to have to go through and the exams were full on.

So you come from rather educated stock, are they happy with your chosen career?

I reckon they are happy with what I’m doing right now. I think they’re just happy with me doing anything at all [laughs]. I’ve never committed to anything really. So yeah, rapping has been the only thing I’ve ever taken seriously or gotten excited about.

So what’s all this Black Thought business?

Well, it’s not even really a thing. We made a tribute track to him called, Get Some, off the album, and he hit me up on the email and that is the coolest shit on the planet. I was genuinely star struck. I’d learnt so much about the Roots from Jsmith and when it comes to Black, he is on another level. His punch lines are un-fucking-paralleled. When he raps, it’s art, he’s mind blowing.

Anyway, so this dude’s hitting me up over this straight rap track we dedicated to him and we were thinking, ‘I wonder if he heard it, what would he think of it?’. So I guess he was Googling his own name [laughs], his real name, which is Tariq Trotter, and it comes up as the first page. I would’ve done the same thing, obviously inquisitive, so he hits up Triple J. Prior to this, I was getting hit up by psychos, so I took down my email address and he had to hit up Triple J and ask them for me, which I think is pretty fucking gnarly that he even bothered to go that far. Triple J hit me up and said they think this is Tariq Trotter and that he’d like to contact me; it’s up to me to reply. And I was like, ‘Of course I wanna fuckin’ reply!’ [laughs] and if it’s fake, I’ll just cuss this motherfucker out for ruining my dreams [laughs]. I sent Tariq an email saying, ‘Hey, I hear you are Black Thought and if it really is then, wow”. Amazingly he replied back with some cool shit, really complimenting and re-iterating what we originally wanted to do with that track.

You’ve made a fair entry into this industry; do you get caught up in the bullshit of the music and business combo?

A little bit. I don’t get to see my friends as much anymore, but they are all very supportive of what I do. My homies, they got my back. It’s the first thing I’ve taken so seriously. I do feel so lucky though, I’m in good company and I’m surrounded by really great people all the time like Schmitty (Jsmith), Dutch, Jel’s, N’fa, Rene’s and everyone – they are all my peepies.

Let’s talk about uncle N’fa; You’ve been musically collaborating and rockin’ stages with him over the last year, but I heard you met him in primary school?

[Laughs] We used to get these visits from sporting athletes to basically tell us ‘stay in school’ and all that shit [laughs] and at that time N’fa was running I think, for the Victorian Institute of Sport, he was like this champion hurdler. So we all go to the school hall, where they go around asking kind of rehearsed questions so we could win a blow up Frisbee or some shit [laughs]. One of the dudes asks us ‘Does anyone recognise that guy [N’fa]?’ I put my hand up and I say out loud ‘It’s the Tim Tam genie!’ and then every kid in the hall was like ‘Ohhhh!’ N gave me this fuckin look like, ‘Uh huh. Alright, alright, cool’. He obviously didn’t want that shit to come out and I won a Frisbee from his embarrassment. Ever since then, it’s been a fucking hilarious rollercoaster of us paying each other out. We fuck with each other all the time. It’s crazy how it’s come back full circle though.

What’s the House of Beige?

The greatest place on earth. [Laughs] It’s where we make musical babies.

Where to from here?

Why did you have to ask me that last? I have no idea [laughs]. I’m just going to work as hard as I can until I’m dead [laughs]. I’m supporting The Pharcyde on the 23rd of this month, which I’m losing my shit over. They’ll be the second act (after M.E.D) I’ve supported that have done tracks with J Dilla, which is an honour in itself. I’m working on a new EP, with JSmith & Dutch which should be rad, really cool shit happening there. I dunno I’ll just hustle, and do it in the steeziest way possible.

See more of Remi online at his Tumblr and Facebook page or follow his Twitter trail @remikolawole. Hear his work via bandcamp and Soundcloud.

Styling: The Bowery, Starter
Images: It’s All Bé