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It’s time to listen to more diverse voices in Australian hip-hop

If you're not delving deeper than the mainstream, you're missing out on some very important stories

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Hip-hop is a source of solace for voices that often go unheard and a celebration of resilience – made for and by black people. Australia’s hip-hop scene however remains at odds with that. A quick look at mainstream radio plays and music charts is revealing of an intrinsically white and exclusionary hip-hop scene. White rappers have always been a point of contention – is it right, is it wrong, is it culturally appropriative?

Australia’s fascination with American black culture isn’t lost on me. Recently at Chance the Rapper’s Melbourne show, rather than any local support acts we were treated to a haphazard playlist of rap tracks. When iTunes shuffle ticked over to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’, the crowd transformed from a room of iPhone scrolling 20-somethings into an elated, sweaty mosh pit of white people screaming “we gon’ be alright”. I turned to my friend and said, “I’m going to take a guess and say they’re already ‘alright’”. I watched as Kendrick’s message fell on pale deaf ears. That same passion that they show for black culture doesn’t translate into the investment and elevation of black hip-hop artists in Australia.

Once you delve beyond our mainstream charts there is a rich and deeply interconnected community of artists creating hip-hop that isn’t serving lyrics about popping pills at Pyramid Rock. It’s political; it dives into race issues, queer issues, trans issues, stories of anger and of joy. But why aren’t they achieving the mainstream success they deserve?

The opinions I’m most interested in are of those who are overlooked, spoken over, and ignored – black women and black non-binary folk. I decided to speak with six of the country’s finest hip-hop artists and get their thoughts on Australia’s white hip-hop problem.

In Part 1, we hear from Miss Blanks and Kandere’s Wahe Kavara and Lakyn Tarai.

Kish Lal is a contributor for ACCLAIM. She’s a lady on the streets and lacks impulse control in the tweets. Don’t @ her – @kish_lal

01. Miss Blanks

Miss Blanks and I first met in Brisbane a few months ago. She spat some bars to me around 7am in a hotel room while we shared whiskey gifted to us by an Uber driver. Her career is only at its beginning stages but her witty lyrics and sharp tongue create magic that the hip-hop scene has desperately been needing.

“I find it really problematic when I hear white cis male rappers spew blatant sexism and misogyny [while] flexing their entitlement and privilege on a daily basis like it’s a car running out of fuel. Time and time again we see white folk taking up space in what [are] black spaces and that causes short and long term negative impacts. Now I’m not saying that you can’t engage in hip-hop because you’re white but what I’m saying is that it’s important to understand your privilege and the lack of access you are creating for POC. Hip-hop, for me has become a way of story-telling, reclaiming my body, energy, femininity and sexuality. It’s unfortunate that [it is] QTIPOC voices that are going unheard. How are our voices the least elevated voices in the industry? Moving forward, support QTIPOC voices specifically black women and GNC folk. Australia’s POC honeys are making major moves and they will lead the way in 2017!”

02. Wahe Kavara (Kandere)

Kandere is Wahe Kavara and Lakyn Tarai, a powerful meeting of two artists who consume and produce music in ways that challenge the staleness of the current scene. The first time I saw Kandere perform I was completely in awe of the way they filled the room with their energy which was profusely moving and even more than that, exciting. That led to me drunkenly approaching Wahe in the club one night to tell them they “were the best act” I’d seen all year. Luckily for me, they’re still answering my emails.

“Hip-hop is a way of celebrating blackness and a culture that is beyond resilient. It’s something that black people around the world have rejoiced in, cried tears into their pillows at night to and [many have] held their aunty’s hand listening to Mary J Blige.

It was a revolutionary art form as it allowed black people to see reflections of their own beauty and power that are never portrayed in mainstream society. What does a white man have to fight for in Australia? A country based on genocide and colonialism of the first black people of this world. White culture is full of violence and cultural dominance, not resilience. White artists creating hip-hop and dominating over black artists is just another form of colonialism in my eyes. White hip-hop is not the soundtrack of political struggle of our times, when we are screaming at rallies we are playing Kendrick and Solange because it actually means something [to us].

We identify as non-binary, but we were socialised as black women and often get read in this music scene as women. I have no doubt it has lead to us being devalued as artists. I’ve seen a lot of other white artists rise up really quickly. I’ve been here for a decade but you weren’t ready to see me until now.

Black women do a lot of important community work [which] is done out of love to uplift a community not deepen the pockets off white scammers making money off black talent. Treatment of black artists in Australia is abhorrent. We were recently racially profiled at a festival we played that was supposed to be “inclusive”. There was no apology, no acknowledgement from management at all. They literally could not even look us in the eye after the incident was brought to their attention. It fucked us up. At the time I was thinking to myself ‘Are we human? Are we worthy of dignity?’ I feel like white supremacy is threatened by the unstoppable force of black power and black excellence and it should be scared because we are coming for you.”

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03. Lakyn Tarai (Kandere)

“As for our responsibilities as WOC (or AFAB because we are non-binary) we must come together to heal ourselves, affirm each other and organise together. Things like standing united against racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, ableism, and imperialism is what I expect my sisters to damn well do. I’m surrounded by queens who are constantly educating, elevating marginalised voices in our community through different artistic mediums. More often than not these black women are hustling, doing a lot of everything for free and outta love. That’s another thing, WOC need to be PAID. Where’s my money??? Why do gig organisers who are white not prioritise us? There [have] been parties where we’ve left feeling so tokenised as a hip-hop duo. Are we just here for the photo op? The diversity factor? To [pander] to your white guilt? All in all the music industry as it stands today is just a reflection of this patriarchal, white supremacist and heteronormative society we live in.”

Keep an eye out for Part 2, featuring views from Jesswar, Netti, and Kaylah Truth.