Given the atrocious state of American Hiphop, is it any wonder that Australian groups like the Resin Dogs, 1200 Techniques and Adelaide’s own Hilltop Hoods are getting tremendous support from not only local radio, but Triple J and even Triple M! Hot on the hills of the Hilltop Hoods release comes Straight From the Art, a wonderful representation of Aussie hiphop complied by Sydney DJ and radio personality Josie Styles. Styles is one colourful young woman, and very passionate about her music. So passionate she ambushed Warner’s attempt to get a well-known and respected Sydney R&B DJ to compile this CD. “Australian hiphop means a little bit more to me than the thought of an RnB DJ putting a record such as this out, so I thought I’d take control, and put out a decent compilation,” she laughs, “They should learn from their last mistakes, have someone who is involved in the scene put it together.”
Collecting records since the early 90s, Styles only started DJing around the traps in 1998 after a friend firmly persuaded her to give it a go. “A friend of mine was running a night in Sydney called Hippo, and he said ‘Josie, I’m sick of watching you play tunes in your bedroom all the time, get out there!’ and I’m like ‘nah, I’m not good enough to play out yet!’”, she giggles, “But he made me because I had wicked tunes. Now I play regularly, and write for Stealth magazine and have my own radio show.”
Styles has a good grasp on what’s hot and what’s not, having worked as a DJ both in clubs and on radio, as well as in music retail. So why does she think Australian Hiphop is becoming more popular? “I would say through with the advent of things like Stealth Magazine, which is getting distribution through tower records; things like the Triple J hiphop show, (aussie hiphop) has been able to cross over to a more mainstream audience. Even though Triple J don’t necessarily play all the right hiphop tracks,” she adds cheekily. She also shares my distaste for American Rap, or RnB. “It’s some… homogenous blend of hiphop and rnb. I have friends in the “Stop RnB killing hiphop” movement in Sydney,” she laughs, “and it’s true, it’s fucking horrid!”
Styles thinks Australia’s raw, underground sound is distinctive and becoming more popular over the mass marketed, over produced sounds of popular American rap. “I think it comes down to the studio equipment. The sound that comes from America is totally different form that out of the UK or here. Their drums, their mics, everything is on a million dollar scale, whereas here it’s more street level, with people making shit in their bedrooms. It’s a little rawer, grittier. People can just sample American hiphop records if they want to emulate that round American drum sound, whereas I think our shit is phatter and grittier and rougher and rawer, and that’s the way I like my sound.” I touched a nerve when I mentioned that some people don’t like the Aussie accent though. “If people don’t have an open mind then I don’t want to deal with them”, she states matter of factly. “I don’t want our shit to be watered down just for accessibility; fuck ‘em! The argument’s been going for over ten years now, and I’m sick of it. As long as you rap how you speak and as from where you’re from, that should be fine.”
I asked Styles if she thinks our hiphop scene will go the way of the American scene. “As long as we don’t fall into the same trap and become bland. I can’t see that happening, there’s such heterogeneity within the genre itself, which I tried to reflect on the album through so many different styles. There’s the cut and paste style of Terrafirma and Blunted Stylus, and the straight up hardcore style of Layla, The Cannibal Tribe and Jobi One, the beautiful organic sounds of Quro, Muskrat & Mostyn.” Styles is also quite aware of the American underground hiphop scene. “I say thank the lord they came out!” she exclaims, laughingly, “because it’s those sorts of cats like Aceyalone, Lifesavers and Soul Position and that that are actually renewing my faith in American hiphop. It’s been lost for so long! All that Def Jux is dope, Stone’s Throw is dope, all those sorts of labels I’m really into.”
Another aspect of Australian culture that reflects on our hiphop scene is our love of live music. The popularity of events like the Big Day Out, The Falls, and sell-out visits by Public Enemy, Jurassic 5 and Cyprus Hill last year more than demonstrates our love of live music. And a lot of the acts that are getting radio play such as The Resin Dogs, Downsyde, and The Hilltop Hoods, are also getting gigs as support acts to these events. “When you do live gigs, that’s when people start to recognise you”, Styles agrees. “Everyone knows that you’ve got to do gigs so that you’ll get known and people buy your records. Seeing hiphop bands live, there’s such an incredible energy at the shows that you want to go out and get the record to capture that moment again. We will hopefully be having a tour to promote the CD,” she adds, and given the amount of South Australian acts on the CD, we’ll get to see it.
“If you look on the CD there’s 5 or 6 Adelaide artists on there, they’re all my boys”, she says. “I really respect the Adelaide sound, I think they’re really funky producers. Suffa is an amazing producer, so are the boys from Terra Firma, Delta is an incredible beat digger, producer and the most incredible MC this country has ever seen, I reckon, especially as a freestyler. Some people may not get the complexity of his lyrics but that’s because they’re so many levels deep.” There’s also a hefty amount of female artists on the album, and I asked Styles if she felt any pressure as a female in a male dominated culture. “It’s as hard as it is for any females anywhere when you’re in a patriarchal subculture, whether it’s in science or in music,” she says. “If you’re up against a lot of men then there’s a lot to overcome, self confidence would be the biggest and hardest. But if you’ve got the skills and you’re ready, get out there and do it; it shouldn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy it all comes down to the skills. The fact that I’ve got 5 females on my CD wasn’t intentional, it’s because they’re dope tracks, and a dope track is a dope track no matter who it’s by… and no matter what country it’s from either.”
Styles happily informs me that Layla’s Maverick has been picked up by Triple J, and that while there’s no international release for this album, the next one will definitely have a European release. So keep an eye out in stores for this excellent release on both CD and vinyl, and check out snippets of all the tunes and the video of 7 Dayz of Herb by Mas Production featuring Seanie-T at www.empiricalrecords.com.au