T: Tony Mitchell
T: So you come from a Jewish background?
T: And did your parents migrate here?
R: Yes. My father from England and my mother from Israel.
T: Would you say that your Jewish background comes through in your MCing?
R: Not really. I’m first and foremost proud of my Australian heritage. I’m first generation Australian and have lived a life here where I’ve been able to embrace a number of different cultures, a number of different traditions, both on a Australian level, a Jewish level and on an Aboriginal level with the Aboriginal friends I’ve made over the years. So I look at myself as a worldly person, rather than confining myself to being influenced by one thing. I definitely have a rich sense of culture and tradition when it comes to Judaism, but it doesn’t have a play within the music that I do.
T: You’ve got a major in Aboriginal studies, is that right?
R: Yes, that was my major in final year.
T: I was listening to your track this morning, ‘Reasons to be Jason’, and it seemed to me that you were talking a lot about your daily life as an MC and as a schoolteacher, and obviously there are lots of affinities between the two things; MCing is a form of teaching, in a way. There’s a whole tradition of didacticism in hip-hop which is about teaching and imparting knowledge. So obviously you embody that kind of duality in what you do?
R: Oh yes, certainly. One of the things I pride myself on is the content I rap about and making it relevant to both me as Jason, me as Mr. Shulman, me as Reason. I think I’m able to maintain a constant level of education in everything that I do. And definitely I do enjoy doing, let’s say, party tracks, which are still indicative of real life, but I’d rather talk about social issues, social commentary, Indigenous issues, land rights, the Australian environment, the Australian political system. It’s something that I rap about and I’m also a history teacher and a humanities teacher, so I get to impart that knowledge on students in the classroom.
T: Do your students come along and see your hip-hop gigs?
R: Oh yeah, yeah. They definitely embrace the fact they have a teacher who is an MC, and part-time DJ. It’s not something that I’m able to hide, because I do put myself in the front line of Australian hip-hop and therefore I get my tracks played on triple j, or in the backing of shows like Cactus Garden. It has given me the opportunity to expose myself, but I then cannot shudder away from the fact that I have young students listening to it. They support me, they go out and buy my albums and come to the underage gigs and they love the fact I am able to wear two hats. I go into the classroom and work well with them, I work with my students rather than teach at them and you use those sorts of modern day approaches to teaching. And then they hear me on the mic, and I don’t rap too far away from the person in the classroom. I don’t have a teacher voice, I don’t have a special MC voice I put on – a little bit on stage, there is a little bit of persona that comes with the on stage – but my variations as a person are not great.
T: Are you involved in teaching hip-hop skills? A lot of MCs are involved in teaching hip-hop workshops, particularly to disadvantaged kids; do you do anything like that?
R: Yeah, certainly. We were at the forefront of that 12 years ago working with the Push, we were running their first run of workshops and we would speak to people in Sydney who were just exploring those options, those ideas. People like Mistery, people like Maya, who have been doing it for ten years, we were very lucky here because we were offered that type of work in the early 90s. So, we’ve had the opportunity to work in the lower socio-economic areas, and had the opportunity to work in country regions, to do underage gigs for The Push, for Stonnington City Council, Melbourne Youth Detention – we ran quite a few workshops there over a number of years on a regular basis. And now a chap by the name of Solomon is running the workshops there. So, yeah, having the opportunity to work with the kids, I’ve had graff artists like Bias come and do workshops at school with the kids. I’ve had the Hilltop Hoods do a show at school and then hang around and answer questions and that was pretty educational because kids wanted to know about their rise from small town Aberfoyle Park in Adelaide to Australia-wide success.
T: Right. Can you talk a bit more about The Push, what was that?
R: Back in the early 90s, [there was] an organisation in Victoria called The Push, who were focused on promoting modern day street cultures, modern day thoughts to kids in outer regions in lower socio-economic regions of Victoria. So we travelled around and did workshops for them. We took turntables, some breakers, some mics and a four track. And we’d take it down there and normally we’d start off by doing a five-minute performance and then branch off into talking about how hip-hop started. And then, you know, unless people are kept active in those sort of situations they can get bored very easily, so we’d set the turntables up and give everyone a go at scratching. To watch these guys in the early 90s sort of scratching, you know they’d only heard about it or seen it back in those days, it enriched the people that today are MCs and DJs and who vividly remember people like myself and others coming out and doing those sorts of workshops. So it’s kind of given the opportunity for hip-hop to be involved at a workshop/academic/street level where we are teaching in an informal setting. And that’s what the Push was about. The Push also does tours across Victoria, and they are a fantastic organisation. There’s a lot of councils who go out on a limb and want to do things by their youth councils and their youth spokesman who believe maybe hip-hop is a good idea. So they’ll approach us as individuals, or Obese records, or the radio station that I do, and see whether we’d be able to participate or to create a workshop applicable for the time. Just recently we did a festival out in Daylesford, which is about an hour and half outside of Melbourne. It’s a nice area, not an area well known for hip-hop, but we’ve done four shows there now, they get right into it. We get together with the kids and do workshops the next day. The council organises a breakfast the next day after the show, and so ten am the next day we’re there with all the local Daylesford crews, just in an informal setting, talking over a bowl of muesli. Yeah, it’s amazing, and I really believe people like myself and other veterans of the scene, people working proactively, also have to go out on a limb and go and give back to those people. You know, this is Australia, this is not the Bronx, we’re not all playing at the Apollo this weekend, we’re lucky if we get a gig this weekend.
T: Right, and your radio show, is that on PBS?
R: Yeah, Hittin’ Switches on Saturday night. Yeah, it’s the longest running timeslot for Australian hip-hop across the country and it’s been dedicated to hip-hop for over 15 years now, on PBS. So we have a third stream of announcers doing it – I was there in the early days doing a bit of co-hosting and answering – but now myself and Pegz, we do the show and it’s getting bigger and better.
T: So you’ve really been around the Melbourne scene since the very beginning, I mean, were you around when Peril was around?
R: Oh definitely. I’m from the second wave and I don’t know if Peril would consider himself part of the first wave, but he is, and guys like Peril, Disguise, Dual, Ransom. Guys like that came from the first pack in the early-80s and I’m from the mid-80s, even though I got into it from its inception here in Australia, I first started going out and being proactive within the scene in the mid 80s. So, yeah, I’m probably from the second wave and guys like Peril were untouchable, we couldn’t speak to guys like that, Murder, Peanut, plus the others I said, we couldn’t speak to them, we were 14-years-old and they were 16, 17 and there was a huge gap. It was a scene which brought on a lot of feisty moves, a little bit of intimidation, crime. I mean, back in those days, the mid to late 80s was a real hard and trying time here in Melbourne, that’s for sure.
T: It seemed to be like that in Sydney too from what I’m told, people like Case had a real reputation…
R: Oh we hated Sydney, with a real passion. And I know I can say that with love to guys like Unique and Case and others now, cause we’re all friends and all hang out socially rather than on a hip-hop level these days. But yeah, we hated those dudes with a passion, and were wondering why they were trying to copy us. There was a whole rivalry between the two states, but a lot of that changed. I won’t speak on a graff level, that’s for the writers to say, but on a hip-hop MC level, I was in one of the first crews to do a show in Sydney, we did our first show up there at the 1990 DMCs, with Def Wish Cast. I was in a crew Intense Quality, IQ, and we did our first show there and we knew who these Sydney guys were, we knew who Unique was – we’d met him before through his graff tours down in Melbourne. But it was amazing how much tension there was, it was like ‘G’day I’m Reason, how you going?’ and from there it transposed into a life-long friendship between Melbourne and Sydney on an MC level.
T: It seems that you’ve had quite a lot of involvement with the Adelaide scene, Simplex from Terra Firma, and those sort of people.
R: Oh very much so. My days in Adelaide go back, in some degree, before Sydney. I’d actually been over to Adelaide in 88, and I knew one guy there, he went by the name of Madcap, one of the first MCs, and probably part of the first major player crew, Finger Lickin’ Good, in the early 90s.
T: Which Quro was a part of…
R: Which Quro was a part of, with Groove Terminator, back when he was hard as with his hip-hop. So I had the opportunity to meet up with Madcap, we hung out and developed a friendship; we used to write letters or just send flyers to each other, just what was happening in our respective states. From there I had the opportunity to meet up with a guy by the name of Flak, Fatface, and we just developed an amazing friendship and watched him progress over the years, and to a large degree, help others rise, groups like the Hilltop Hoods, and DJ Debris. The whole Certified Wise crew – it’s not Flak’s crew by a long shot – but he’s the long-standing artist in that crew, and definitely a leader in trying to bring together Adelaide’s finest. I’ve just got an amazing friendship with the guys, I’ve just had PJ, the Hoods’ manager, has just come and stayed with me for the last three days. I have all the crews come over all the time, we’re friends now. I’m getting married at the end of the year, and those fellas are coming, so it’s not just for hip-hop reasons anymore. I’m just very fortunate, and I’ve also got heaps of writer friends over there who I’ve befriended over the years, people like Obey, and Perish, and others.
T: I remember when you were up in Sydney for the Stealth festival, you were MC for the launch of the Culture of Kings compilation, and that came out of the Adelaide scene pretty much didn’t it?
R: Yeah, its idea was pretty much created by DJ Dyems. Dyems put forward the idea to Obese records at the time, and a relationship was formed; one would finance, the other would put together the tracks, make sure it would get engineered properly, one would make sure Corduroy were ready for the pressing. So Obese formed a relationship with Dyems and the whole Culture of Kings concept, which has basically been the benchmark for the Australian hip-hop compilations, that’s for sure, and still the most respected compilation in terms of triple j airplay and support from JB Hi Fi. It’s the generic Australian hip-hop compilation.
T: Can you talk a bit about Obese records? I was hoping to talk to Pegz but I gather that he’s in Japan. I mean, how did Obese records come about?
R: Obese records was the brainchild of a fella by the name of Ollie Bobbit, OB, and it was originally OB’s records. And that was how it first started; it was a small store on Greville Street, the first venture into a store that was primarily dedicated to hip-hop. So, initially, it had a small range of vinyl, clothing, stickers, etc. All in all, the reception across a broad range of people – including the more mainstream skater, the person who wants a bit of urban street wear – was really positive. A lot of people started cottoning on to the fact that hip-hop was about more than the music, so clothing labels started spawning, Blank, Burn, etc. There was a rise of hip-hop in the mid-90s which showed that hip-hop wasn’t only focused on the music, that there was a merchandising industry, that money could be made now, that this could be an amazing industry that could grow across Australia. So Obese grew, and Ollie moved the shop, it went into a slightly larger residence…
T: Is that where it is now?
R: No. Where it is now is the third stop. Then, in the late-90s, Shazlek One, who was working with Ollie from the beginning, took over the store. Ollie got out of the business, and Shaz build the store up to an amazing level, he was the person who started putting together the label Obese records. Solid by Reason was his first signing, it was a great artist, it’s a good album as well!
T: So what date was it that OB’s the record shop started?
R: Ninety-five. Yep, so late-90s Shaz took it over, and in early 2000, Pegz took over the store and has taken it onto bigger and better places, planes, levels. It’s an amazing part of Australian hip-hop now, Obese records.
T: Right. Did you ever use to have cyphers or battles in the record store, like they used to up in Sydney at Next Level?
R: Yeah, there’s been a few different crews who have come from overseas and rocked raps. We had Mystic Journeymen rock a big show in there, it was hilarious, they filled up the place and everyone went wild. Unfortunately the size of the store doesn’t allow for too much…
T: Yeah, how does that work, fitting in 20 people…
R: And leaving with 40 records at the end. One’s got to be strategic about how you invite lots of people into that store, that’s for sure.
T: I was just talking to Mark Pollard the other day, and he has just been doing this thing, 15 great moments in Oz hip-hop, and I said ‘What would you add to that more recently?’ One of the things he said was Obese records, because he reckons that’s a real success story in terms of independence, of doing-it-yourself, of getting something together without having to rely on the Australian music industry. What is your view on the relationship of Australian hip-hop to the Australian music industry, if you can even talk about a relationship?
R: Oh, I definitely can say that back in the early- to mid-90s we went out on a limb to try and attract music industry attention, we sent them tracks, we got the supports for Cypress Hill, for Ice Cube, for these guys travelling. But there was never the next step taken, no companies sort of said ‘Yeah, you guys have got a great thing going, yeah we’ll support you’. They were never interested, and that has sort of been the long running issue, that they’ve never been interested. Obese came about, other local independent distributions labels came about, and now they are interested, now they want to know about us, they want to know about ‘The Nosebleed Section’, they want to know the latest Koolism track, or the latest Downsyde stuff being played. And they want to know about the artists, about the companies, they want to get involved. One cannot totally disassociate themselves from the majors, but I think the sense is that the hard work that has been put in over the last eight to ten years – on a professional level to establish these artists who are now getting airplay – to then forego that for a major, or to even think about joining a major is … you know. I really think we roll with a lot more integrity, and to give up our heart and soul for them is not something we should, or need to do.
T: So what’s your view on 1200 Techniques?
R: Oh yeah, Tech-ers are doing what they do. I mean, Peril and Chem are kings of Australian hip-hop and graff; Nfamas, what’s not to like about the fella? Great guy, always friendly, always composed. Musically, they do a different style of hip-hop to what I do, they probably do a little bit more up tempo, party style of hip-hop and I wish them the best of luck and I hope they go on to bigger and better things. You know, the older you get, the more you realise that you don’t want to fight the people around you, you don’t want to fight the people who are not doing styles like yours. What’s Australian hip-hop? Is it all about ‘bitches’, ‘sluts’ and ‘cunts’, or is it about trying to educate, trying to give off a real positive vibe, trying to express ourselves in an intelligent way and come with something that’s meaningful rather than a generic copy of what one listens to from overseas artists?
T: I thought it was great when 1200 techniques got their ARIA award, they actually said ‘We’re not the best Australian hip-hop crew, this award is bullshit’. But you just brought up something then – any views on the way that women have emerged in the Australian hip-hop scene? Because it’s an overwhelmingly male affair, and has been for a long time. But it seems with the second and third wave there have been a lot more women coming through.
R: Sure, sure. I think that I come from a generation in which people like Charlene, Chrissy, these guys… I mean, I idolised them as much as I idolised the dudes. I come from a generation where, even back in the day hanging out with graff writers like Trey and Thorn, MC Que, you know she rips it with the best males in Australia. I had those strong women role models like th
at: they didn’t play ho, they didn’t degrade themselves as people, they walked strong with the fellas. Charlene and Chrissy are both sick graff artists, incredible, and so is the work that Charlene has gone onto to do with the kids and the workshops, the DJ workshops Chrissy does with underprivileged kids in the flats out in North Melbourne. MC Que is still recording, Trey is still out there, Thorn is still out there. Now you’ve got Josie Styles, A-Love, and these are people that I speak to. If I go through my phone, all those numbers are in there, and they will cop a call as easy as ‘Mr Big Name MC’ from Australian hip-hop. Tonight I’m doing my radio show, for instance, our special guest is Chrissy. She’s coming in this evening, and Hack, from AKA Brothers. So we’re having a little bit of an old school show tonight, and also special guest, Art of War.
T: Art of War is a case in point. Do you think that most of Australian hip-hop is free of the misogyny that you still get in a lot of the US hip-hop?
R: Is free of it? Oh no, no way. Hip-hop is predominately a male-orientated culture for sure. I mean groups like Art of War do what they do, and they do it at the best level, they come at it with good lyrical content, not typical… They might have a style which is indicative of a harder, in your face style, they don’t come out with the usual one-liners or the usual punchlines, they have created a style which is still Australian. So Art of War, and the Hospice crew as well, they jump into a lot of party styles, and fun drunken styles as well, but they are pretty focused on keeping it raw, and they are the best at what they are doing. And I definitely think there is a place for that style in Australian hip-hop, I love that style, I think that style is equal to the other styles. I think there are different perceptions of Australian hip-hop, and that is one perception, that that is Australian hip-hop, or that misogynist bloke style is Australian hip-hop, but it’s not. It’s only one part. And Australian hip-hop is not all about being educational, being socially and politically conscious, that’s one part of it again, but I would hate it if that alone constituted Australian hip-hop to the mainstream ear. I’d hate that. There has to different parts, there has to be different elements to it all.
T: But on the other hand, it is the part of Australian hip-hop that gives it a sort legitimation and validity, in terms of people respecting it, acknowledging it for what it is.
R: Yeah, I’m very open-minded to all styles of Australian hip-hop, I probably sway more to the side of education, environmental consciousness, social commentary – that’s definitely my style. But I also support all those styles which are different – you know a lot of the crews out there do not want to sell on a mainstream level, they want to sell to a couple of thousand Australian hip-hoppers. And then you’ve got myself, I want a number one hit played on Fox – not that I’m going to make music for Fox FM, or music for Nova – but how amazing would it be to get the music that you make, pure true Australian hip-hop, and it goes top 10? It’s kind of like a dream, and anyone who shuns that idea, is in it for a different reason to myself, and I respect them for their philosophy, which is their prerogative. But I’ve been doing it for long enough now to have been through that stage where you don’t want to sell to the mainstream, that ‘They don’t want to help us, so fuck them’, type thing. But I’m a little bit older than that now, and I do want to keep it positive.
T: It seems that it’s still a hell of a long way to go before mainstream success happens. It seems that Hilltop Hoods getting the equivalent of a gold record is the peak achievement, and 1200 Techniques – and that’s really it so far. Do you think that it will eventually happen?
R: I think it will consistently build to a level of greater success, but how much success we’ll attain over the next few years I’m not sure. We’ve been dreaming every year, saying ‘This will be the year Australian hip-hop cracks the top ten’, and I reiterate that for this year, but I’m just not sure whether it’s going to happen. I think we’re lucky with people like Obese records, with them our scene is in good hands.
T: You’ve talked about being a patriot – does your work express that, do you think? Is there a kind of pride in being Australian?
R: Definitely. I’m a committed person to things that I believe in, and a lot of people say it that don’t really do it. I’m not like that, I’m committed, I’m in amongst this Australian hip-hop scene each and every day, I’m an active participant on many different levels, whether it’s doing workshops or rocking the mic, or hosting Australian DMCs. I always like to have a constant presence, and to me, that’s like having a number one record in many ways, being able to build up an amazing rapport with the people in the industry, with the people on the streets, the people in the suburbs. I’m a regular feature on an interstate level; I’d say I’ve travelled to each state each year for the last ten years, except maybe Perth. I mean I’ve been to Brisbane six times this year, etc. I really like to keep in amongst it all, and be a mainstay in this scene. I’m not planning on going anywhere.
T: On your album there’s a track called ‘True Aussie Icon’. Can you talk about that, and about the ideas behind that?
R: In an indirect way, it’s part two of a song called ‘Melways’, which was a song that was very Melbourne-orientated in its lyrical content. And I just wanted to take this one to a national level, an Australian perspective. So it’s really about the places that I’ve been, the travels that I’ve done, the things that I’ve seen – whether it’s drinking at the G or hanging out with coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Whether it’s walking down Hindley Street putting up stickers. And I think the prominent thing about the song is my mentioning of famous Australian areas, suburbs and regions that people can latch onto. It’s something that I’m very proud of, I’m very proud of the country we live in, I’m sorry for the mistakes that have been made in the past on many different levels by governments, early settlers, etc. But I do believe that the only way we can go forward is by being positive, and that is something I pride myself in, and something that was in the forefront of my mind when I put together this project, for example, calling it One Step Ahead. Always just try and keep one step ahead, don’t look back, and in a song like ‘True Aussie Icon’ it’s basically just highlighting my pride for the Australian landscape that is very dear to me. I’ve done heaps of travelling here in Australia, I’ve only been overseas once, which was to New Zealand, a place that has great similarities but great differences as well.
T: Especially now. I mean New Zealand hip-hop is becoming so American it’s very alarming.
R: It’s actually a very interesting concept. Having done shows there over Christmas, having spent a considerable amount of time with Deceptikonz and all that Dawn Raid set of people, and then also doing shows with a group called Dark Tower from Christchurch and spending a week with them, I’ve been able to see the whole mix and interpretations of hip-hop. Dark Tower are full native New Zealand accents, Deceptikonz etc. are all fully embracing American styles. The beauty of my visit to New Zealand was that I actually went out to South Auckland where they live, Otara, I spent time up there and it gave me a better understanding of why they do what they do. And because I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty out there, drink up, get trashy, eat good food and spend time on a social level with those fellas, it gave me a better understanding of why they do what they do. I actually came back from New Zealand with a wider appreciation for that hip-hop than I did before, and I spent time this week hanging with them – they’ve been here in Melbourne – and they were rapt to get together here in Australia. They laugh at my ocker style – ‘Man, you sound like Paul Hogan bro!’ – and – ‘Why do you rap like that bro, you sound like an ocker bro!’ I don’t say much cause they are three times my size, I just leave it, but yeah, they are a great bunch of fellas and they are starting to build up a relationship with the Australian scene. It’s probably quite opposite to my ideas about that type of style, about embracing other accents, ideas I had five, certainly ten years ago when I was very vigilant in my Aussie accents opinion. But there’s always been ‘Is Melbourne too ocker?’, ‘Does Adelaide sound too British?’, ‘Does Sydney sound like English MCs from back in the day?’, ‘Does Brisbane sound too much like Melbourne?’ There’s always been these questions, and each state does have a little sound of their own, definitely. Here in Melbourne we get criticised for sounding the most Aussie to a large degree. But you get someone like Sir Rec, and he’s just as comfortable with a beer in his hand. It’s all very different what everyone is doing, and be proud of what they do, and don’t judge it on other parameters, just judge it on people having a good time and making good music.
T: My main involvement with New Zealand hip-hop has been with Te Kupu from Upper Hutt Posse, and he raps mostly in Maori now, he’s an amazing guy because he taught himself Maori…
R: Wow! How did you find him? I couldn’t find him when I went to New Zealand. I spent time in Wellington, and I was hanging out with a guy called Alphabethead, who’s the NZ DJ champion, and I used to get right into Upper Hut Posse.
T: He’s just done a DVD which is a collection of his travels around the world talking to hip-hop crews from places like Cuba and France. He did stuff in Redfern with Maya and Wire MC, so he’s become a bit of an international ambassador for hip-hop. But I really like his stuff in Maori, and that’s something that is starting to happen a bit in Australia…
R: Murris MCs.
T: Murris MCs, yep, Indigenous hip-hop. But also a lot of hip-hop in languages other than English, which I think is great, people like Maya doing Spanish, and Hau doing Tongan. When it’s getting to that point, I find it all really exciting.
R: I might have to rock a rap in Yiddish or something. Give it a bash. Keep my grandmother happy.
T: Yeah, there is an incredible diversity.
R: That’s the beauty of Australian hip-hop, you know, we’re such a multicultural society, that’s where people can’t be judgemental about what people are doing, because you honestly don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, I mean, you see only a face, you see only the artist, and sometimes you make a judgement on a artist, ‘I don’t like their shit!’ But then you get to meet them and they are the best people, so nice. No names mentioned, but I just remember going to a gig five years ago, I went with a couple of compatriots and we didn’t really get into one of the artists, we’d never met him before, and no judgements on him, we just didn’t really like his stuff. I ended up jumping on the plane a couple of days and he was on the same flight. After spending time with him I realised he was the most dedicated, most loyal artist at that show and at that particular weekend. We were kicking ourselves, ‘Wasn’t he a sick guy!’ and we now listen to his stuff regularly. That’s a bit of truth and honesty, there’s times when you’ve just got to give it a little bit more than the music or the artist. But I say that as an artist, and to the consumer out there, they may never get the opportunity to meet the artist. So then you become accountable for how you present yourself and how you promote yourself to a large degree. That’s why I make an effort to come across positively. I’m someone who’s trying to keep things on a real life perspective, trying to tackle real life issues. So that’s the only way the audience will perceive me. People who want hard, ‘fuck, fuck, fuck’ might not get into me, but I’ve got heaps of mates who get into the hard stuff, and they are my best friends and they love my shit, and I love their shit. There’s a lot more to it. If you want to look at it from a social level, or from a psychological level, of the way one can perceive people, then hip-hop is certainly an interesting way. If someone gets a new haircut, then they have turned all soft, if someone is wearing a hoodie from a crew they are not down with when they should be wearing their own crew hoodie, then it’s ‘What the fuck?’
T: There has been an incredible development over the last 15 years. You were talking about the early days and this sense of suspicion, of people being unapproachable. But now it seems distinctly the opposite, it’s a network of friendships and openness.
R: Definitely. There’s a considerable amount of rivalry still, there’s never been a time in the Australian hip-hop scene where it’s been all at peace. It’s like any culture, there’s always crews opposing each other, but I think we are able to co-exist a lot better these days. Just because I come across positive doesn’t mean I think every crew in Australia is good, there’s a lot of crews that I don’t like, not necessarily for the music, but as people. But, you know, I don’t choose to associate myself with people who don’t make me feel good, so I don’t go out on a personal limb to support those people. I’ve had to support their professional work at times as a radio DJ etc, so there is a little bit of compromising as such, but all in all the ability to co-exist – crews like Certified Wise, the Obese crew, I mean that spans over states now. And Crookneck, which is massive now, spreads over Victoria and Queensland. So crews are not just in your local suburb like they used to be, it used to be a fight over your local suburb. So the level of ownership is spread out a lot more these days, it’s not just a Melbourne thing, or an Adelaide thing. We all do shows together, and party on together, so the crossover is interesting in the way it has developed. There’s not much tension in the dressing room anymore, people talk at least, or I certainly do. I say that, of course, as a person in his mid-30s, which is not old in society, but old in terms of the scene which has a lot of young dudes with a lot of anger and angst.
T: I was surprised when you said you’ve never been overseas because most of the people I have talked to in Sydney have been to the States – it’s like the Holy Grail or something…
R: I’ll be there in March; I’m going in March.
T: Right, but in terms of US influences, do you think there are aspects of US hip-hop that are relevant here?
R: Oh yeah! Definitely. We have what we have because of US hip-hop, and anyone across the country will agree that hip-hop in itself was derived from an Afro-American culture…
T: Although you can trace it right back to Jamaica really.
R: Sure, sure. In a contemporary sense, from the 80s onwards, the last 20-25 years, America has been where it’s at really, and we have derived much from them musically, lyrically, on a content level. But over the last ten years we have been able to adapt that on an Australian level, to convert that to our context. So instead of talking about our hood, we talk about our suburb, things like that.
T: What US artists have you found inspiring and influential?
R: Over the years I’d probably say groups like EPMD, Marly Marl, Pete Rock, Just Ice; I used to get right into all the ragamuffin stuff from the late-80s/early-90s. Big Daddy Kane as well. They are some of my big ones that have influenced me over the years. I’d say that KRS-One and Rakim are givens, that should be already embedded in one’s hip-hop psyche, guys like KRS-One are very influential in the works we do today, particularly for someone like me. He’d have to be the one I admire – not necessarily aspire to be like, but to look at myself in a similar vain.
T: Even with what he’s doing now? With all his temple of hip-hop and religious stuff?
R: Well, his latest album is good. It’s his first independent release in ten years, so he’s definitely made a concerted effort to go back to that raw thing that he was first renowned for. But a lot of these guys go off on their own tangent, they embrace different ways of life, aspects of religion. Islam is very influential in US hip-hop, which doesn’t surprise me. I do think it’s good that this album has got some more street rawness and integrity to it.
T: Any touring artist that you met and were inspired by?
R: Yeah, for sure. I was inspired by Be Real when he came over, just to be able to hang out and talk to him really candidly about what’s going over here back stage. Mr. Lif as well, a fantastic guy, I did a bit of tour managing for them while they were here, along with Aesop Rock. And beforehand as well, the last time they were out here touring, I picked them up from the airport and all that stuff, so I got to spend some meaningful time with Lif, talking about life on a level more than just hip-hop. Black Eyed Peas, and taking them out to the suburbs and getting trashy with them, and this was before they were big. They are on a whole different level now, I couldn’t even get close to them last time they were here, I copped a wave, but whereas the time before that I picked them up from the airport. And that’s understandable, it’s not necessarily their choice, it’s the choice of the people that have brought them out here, security and all that; they are playing on a bigger stage now, so to speak. I’ve done heaps of supports, local and overseas artists, but I’ve probably had the greatest amount of time with Mr. Lif. He was an amazing fella who treated my fiancée like gold; he didn’t play Mr. Stanger like a lot of these dudes do. Even someone like Scribe, there’s a lot of hip-hop love shown whenever we see each other.
T: Do you think you’ll ever be able to work full time as a hip-hop artist?
R: I don’t want to. My teaching is the most important thing in my life. It used to be a 70% hip-hop, 30% teaching, but now it’s 60% teaching and 40% hip-hop. I just see my life in hip-hop for the next ten, 15, 20 years to be on increasingly different levels. I don’t see myself rocking all the shows when I’m 40, but I definitely see myself conducting workshops or putting together gigs. Doing other things within hip-hop that are not necessarily on a microphone tip. Whereas with teaching, I see myself doing that for the next 30 years, easily. Teaching is my career. If I thought hip-hop would be my career, I would have left teaching and done it ten years ago, before anyone else was doing it now. A lot of people of my generation would have been doing it at a time when we could have had a true belief that it was going to be our career, but we knew otherwise, we knew it wasn’t going to happen. It’s only in the last five years that hip-hop can be a career, whether working in the store, or in merchandise, as an active artist, a DJ doing gigs every week across the country. So there’s definitely a scope for a full time hip-hop job, but it’s not something that interests me. I’ve travelled 17 times this year interstate, so I’ve been able to maintain both teaching and doing shows. Leaving school on Friday, flying to Brisbane and flying home lunchtime Sunday, doing some marking and then going to school on Monday. People ask me how I do it, but I’ve just been doing it for so long now that I’d hate life without it. I like to be busy.
T: I think that’s amazing, and absolutely admirable. I think it still is hard for people to make a living out of hip-hop. I know I talked to Morganics about it – and he’s one who can do it, mainly because he does all this workshop stuff and seems to be in demand all over the country…
R: He definitely has followed the path that I would follow. Morganics and I have done shows together over the years, and we have a good understanding about how the individual fights, and the plight of the Australian Indigenous people. I mean, we have different perspectives, but all in all, it’s for the betterment of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. I respect him for the work that he is doing out there, and if I was to take on employment outside of teaching, it would be along those lines.
T: Hip-hop has taken awhile to take root in Aboriginal communities; there aren’t that many Aboriginal MCs around…
R: Yeah, to hear a lot of Aboriginal rap is like listening to South Central LA rap. But I’ve heard the new style Aboriginal rap, guys like Billy Bunks, who is a Tasmanian who lives here in Melbourne and is part of the Hired Goons crew. He rips it, definitely, with a full Aussie style. And groups like the Murris are doing their thing, a kind of half-half style. So there’s lots of scope for indigenous MCs, but it’s about getting out there and trying to expose them to Aussie hip-hop. It’s an interesting notion to think that we are rapping with Aussie accents, fighting for Australian culture and Australian pride, and some of our Aboriginal brothers are rapping in American accents.
T: Sure, but then there are groups like Local Knowledge.
T: And Native Rhyme Syndicate.
R: Yeah, they’ve got good stuff going on as well. triple j has made a difference for groups like that as well.
T: Yeah, I guess that’s inevitable, because triple j has had such a massive influence on spreading hip-hop around the country.
R: Definitely, they are at the forefront of it really.
T: I guess even in the last three or four years, when the Hip-hop Show started, the growth of Australian hip-hop has been quite enormous really.
R: And they can take some credit for its exposure. If you look at our local 2sers and PBSs, they will never match up to triple j, and triple j has taken on a secondary role for Australian hip-hop, but it’s an amazing opportunity that we have been given by that station, so much love to them.
T: Just one last question, going back to when you were talking about the ‘Aussie Icon’ track, hip-hop and place, I mean there just seems to be an enormously close connection between hip-hop and locality, expressing your environment, your suburb, your place.
R: I think of that notion ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’.
T: Which is Rakim isn’t it?
R: Yep, but it’s also reversible, ‘It’s not where you’re at, it’s where you’re from’. In different parts of our lives, that comes into play. Sometimes I might be acting in a way that isn’t indicative of my upbringing and other times I’m hanging out and being a full Bentley boy. I mean, the best memories of my youth are all about walking around my suburb, walking around tall and proud of being a Melbournian. It was Melbourne hip-hop, later it was Aussie hip-hop, but it was Melbourne hip-hop that was the most important thing to me. And having the opportunity to have been around since the local rivalries, the local territories and being very much a part of the local gang cultures, which were around in the late 80s. Still to this day there is a sense of that, a heritage that has been passed on, to be proud of where you come from, of your local ‘burbs, and I think people carry the flag from generation to generation. And at the end of the day that pride is about being Australian MCs embracing Australian culture, not Australian MCs embracing US cultures. We are going out on a limb to be recognised for making culture that is distinctly from here, for here, for this great country of ours. I think it’s part of the true Australian spirit, whether it’s on a community level, whether it’s on a sporting stage, our pride as Aussies is renowned across the world, and hip-hop is continuing on with that legacy.
T: Do you see any connections between hip-hop and things like bush ballads?
R: Definitely, for sure. If you ask me what my favourite groups are, Midnight Oil would come in third after a couple of hip-hop groups. So the Oils are my favourite group of all time, and it’s amazing how many MCs and groups out there just have a lot more to them than just playing hip-hop. We were brought up in a day when there were heaps of other influences, so anyone who says they are hip-hop 24/7 needs to open up their eyes to the world, to see a little bit more of what’s happening outside of our hip-hop world to enrich you when you walk back into the hip-hop world. I love spending time with friends outside of the hip-hop scene, it’s great. I think the way in which one expresses themselves should be true to where they are from and where they are at.
T: There can be these incredibly restrictive rules in hip-hop if you stick only to the four elements mantra, and there is a kind of dogmatism in a way.
R: For sure, yeah, the four elements… 124 elements, I reckon. There’s the listener, the person who purges it, the CD burner who burnt it, the DJ out there playing in their bedroom. There’s just too much happening in Australian and worldwide hip-hop for someone to restrain themselves to a notion of ‘four elements’, and ‘The best graff comes from New York’. Don’t roll with the stereotypes, create your own image, what you foresee as your hip-hop future, don’t try and jump on people’s bandwagons, do it yourself and do it for yourself, do it for the people around you. One of the mottos we had in one of the first crews I was in was ‘Don’t be something you’re n
ot: friends first, hip-hop second’. And that’s the motto I’ve always lived by. Ninety percent of my friends are from my hip-hop roots, but mates come first. Well, actually, it should be, family first, friends second, hip-hop third.
T: One of the most exciting groups I’ve seen around is Curse ov Dialect because they are doing things that are so different, incorporating so many other things that hip-hop is really only a minor part of what they do. And people often hate them.
R: Yeah… It’s a much-discussed topic, ‘What constitutes hip-hop?’ Is Reason hip-hop? Is Art of War hip-hop? Is 1200 Techniques hip-hop? Is Curse ov Dialect hip-hop? I mean, everyone has their own interpretation of what hip-hop is and how they wish to express it. And people living by this four elements theory need to see certain things as being inside and outside of hip-hop, well… wake up and smell the coffee I reckon, you’ve got to just open up your mind to other things out there. There are some rock bands who are amazing, and I’d rather listen to house music than some of the bullshit Aussie hip-hop that’s coming out there sometime. I don’t listen to house music, it’s just a figure of speech, but just because it’s Aussie hip-hop, doesn’t mean it’s good.
T: I remember seeing on an Obese release the logo ‘Support Australian hip-hop’, and it seems to me that in a way it is no longer necessary [those type of logos] because there is so much going on out there and there is so much diversity, so much good and so much bad, you don’t have to call for support anymore, and that you don’t need support because you are doing it yourself, and labels like Obese are at the point where they are beyond it.
R: You’re right. Obese don’t need supporting anymore, but with that logo, it’s more of a long standing thing than a statement, but you’re exactly right in what you say.
Summary of ‘Reason’
Local Noise met up with Melbourne MC, Australian hip-hop stalwart, radio DJ and high school teacher Reason in Melbourne in 2004. In a long and in depth discussion, the voluble Reason touches on most of the central discussions surrounding Australian hip-hop, including identity, locality, women in hip-hop, indigenous hip-hop, the diversity of styles in Australian hip-hop and living it everyday. Reason also spoke about juggling hats of being both a teacher and a rapper. He also gave some great historical background to the Melbourne hip-hop scene, the key players in the early days, the origin of Obese Records as well as the relationships between the music industry and Australian hip-hop.
“I’m a committed person to things that I believe in, and a lot of people say it that don’t really do it. I’m not like that, I’m committed, I’m in amongst this Australian hip-hop scene each and every day, I’m an active participant on many different levels, whether it’s doing workshops or rocking the mic, or hosting Australian DMCs. I always like to have a constant presence... being able to build up an amazing rapport with the people in the industry, with the people on the streets, the people in the suburbs. I’m a regular feature on an interstate level... I really like to keep in amongst it all, and be a mainstay in this scene.”