With past winners including Courtney Barnett, Hermitude and Remi, the Australia Music Prize is Australia's equivalent of New Zealand's Taite Music Prize, recognising a critically-acclaimed long player irrespective of album sales.
Last month, Aboriginal hip hop duo A.B. Original took out the AMP, edging out a field that included Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and D.D. Dumbo. Their album is a politically-charged set that rallies against racism and the rise of right-wing politicians in the Australian Senate, and was pointedly titled 'Reclaim Australia', says A.B. Original's Briggs, to "piss off those rednecks".
RNZ Music Alumnus Sam Wicks stops by Briggs' Melbourne HQ to talk about his incendiary approach to music making.
You’re a Yorta Yorta man. In terms of self-identity, are you a black man? Are you aboriginal? Are you First Nation? Are you an Aborigine? What is the language you choose to use?
All of the above. It depends on the context on how I respond. Black is something that we co-opted but y’know, indigenous, First Nations, Aboriginal, Yorta Yorta, Koori - which is the local terminology... I guess it’s steps.
The more educated people from the area will understand if I call myself a Koori, whereas other folks, they need that terminology to be able to understand the conversation.
So it’s horses for courses, man as long as the context is good and the conversation is feeling right, you know what I mean, that’s all good.
I watched an ABC doco produced in 2012, Message Stick, which documents your come up, how you came upon rap music - the music that you make - and in it you relay the story of meeting Trials, your partner in A.B Original.
And of your shared heritage, you say that the main thing that drew me to Trials was that he was black and I was black so I was like “there are other brothers doing this,” making this kind of hip hop, and I was struck by that because it’s as an inversion of the situation with hip hop music in New Zealand.
To my mind hip hop lives and breathes in New Zealand because of the Polynesian input, it wouldn't be what it is without Māori and Pacific Islanders making it that, and here you’re saying “whoa, there’s other black guys doing this”.
Tell me about that, that’s kind of wild to me.
That’s bananas right.
It’s bananas, this is struggle music that was born out of African American culture.
Yep, a lot of people that argue that here, about where hip hop comes from they can be very dismissive of the roots of rap music.
Meaning that they retell that history?
Meaning that it’s like yeah, it might have started there but we grew up on Australian rap, you know what I mean? and it’s like nah, nah, nah, nah. You don’t get to dismiss that.
Australians have a great tendency to pick and choose their history, and what they celebrate and what they acknowledge.
It’s like they founded “Aussie Hip Hop” as its own genre, not as a part of a bigger culture. And I feel like all of that just reflects the attitudes from the top down - from government to law to media.
You’ve got a working relationship with a handful of New Zealand hip hop artists: P Money, David Dallas, Savage, Raiza Biza. When you’ve made music with some of those artists in New Zealand have you been in any way envious of the scene that they work within? Is it just different?
It’s very different. I think when I’m working in that space with P, I’m working with my mate, and when I’m working with Savage I’m working with my mate, you know what I mean. I’m just working with my friends ... and I went out to the SWIDT launch while I was there and hung out.
For me, it was like wait a minute we’re so close, it’s like a three hour flight. It’s like man ... why are we not trading shows? Scribe got in, they let Scribe in, they let Savage in a little bit.
When I was there I never really thought too much about what I was envious of, all I was thinking about was was how I could bridge the divide between NZ and home.
What’s that divide as you understand it, what have the issues been?
To be honest all I can see in the divide is black and white. Industries in Austaralia are so caucasian, and they’d be looking at “where do Decepticons fit on this bill,” y’know, because it might have been too thug, might have been too ‘hood. It just felt like... honestly, growing up it just felt racist.
You have Yorta Yorta tattooed across your forearms. Can you tell me about what part that plays in your music, and also how the storytelling traditions of the Yorta Yorta people then translate into your role as an orator?
I got these tattoos when I was a kid. I would have been 20, maybe 21. It was the first tattoos I got, and the whole idea was when I hold a microphone, like so, they’re going to read it. So everywhere I go, every press shot, all that stuff - when I’m holding the microphone it’s going to be present.
My identity is bound to my family and my community in Shepparton. That’s what gives me my identity; my strength to do the things I do and say the things I say and walk around in the world with targets on me and not worry.
So the traditions of storytelling, which are prevalent in Australian indigenous culture because we didn’t have a written history, it was all stories. It was all verbalised, and that’s how we passed our stories. So hip hop was a natural progression for myself.
Not only was I attracted to it because it was cool. I think it was also a natural, almost a genetic attraction to it, because it was the 60-100,000 years tradition of telling stories.
I feel like I was filling a gap in what wasn’t there. We didn’t have a Public Enemy out here, we didn’t have Ice T and Ice Cube in music. I felt like there was a big, big piece missing of the hip hop puzzle - of fun as well.
As much as A.B. Original touches on serious subjects the beats still knock.