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Australian Hip-Hop has become a powerful force in Australia’s contemporary music industry (Crooke and Hutchings 1). It is a genre that has become popular with Indigenous Australian musicians, drawing attention to the wrongdoings of Australia’s cultural history (White 113). Hip-Hip, as a genre, is often understood as a tool for marginalised minority to ‘talk back’ to the oppressive powers (Bennett and Morgan 177). Protest music has a similar function, allowing articulation of lament and grievance (Peddie 3). While protest songs, written and performed by Indigenous Australian artists date back to colonial times, recently, there has been a movement towards mainstreaming them, particularly songs in the Hip-Hop genre (Dunbar-Hall and Gibson 147). Aboriginal rappers’ in music duo A.B. Original (Always Black, Original), have created modernised protest music through the genre of Australian Hip-Hop (Crooke and Hutchings 4). This has changed Australian music culture and challenged Australia’s white dominant cultural memory. Cultural memory refers to the shared memories of a group which are transmitted through social interaction and codified in media (Fordham 43). As it is to be understood for this paper, the dominant cultural memory in Australia is influenced by its settler-colonial past; it erases Aboriginal people from the national story, while celebrating a settler-colonial vision of the country as a land with no owners (Fordham 43). Contemporary Aboriginal music addresses Australia’s cultural history, the wrongdoings against their peoples and the lasting effects of these today (White 113). It will be argued that A.B. Original’s music in the Australian Hip-Hop genre has become a mainstream form of Aboriginal protest music, changing the country’s music industry and challenging its white dominant cultural memory by incorporating Indigenous Australian perspectives. The music duo does this especially through the songs ‘January 26’, ‘Call ‘Em Out’ and ‘Report to the Mist’.
Before discussing A.B. Original and subsequently Hip-Hop in Australia, it is important to note the genre’s origins and purpose. Hip-Hop culture emerged out of economic, political and social struggles within Latino and African-American communities in South Bronx, New York in the early 1970s (Rose 231). Hip-Hop, since its beginnings, has been considered a practice that expresses the ongoing struggles of these communities, while offering celebration of their histories and heritage (Crooke and Hutchings 1). Importantly, as an act of expression and celebrating identity, it is considered a cultural practice that provides a conscious resistance to the oppressive systems that dominate the world within the political climate in which they live (Chang 7). As a culture, Hip-Hop has proven to be unique, both in reasons for why it has been adopted by diverse cultures around the world and the extent to which this has taken place (Osumare 172). Not only does it represent some of the most popular forms of artistic expression, it also provides a culture of social awareness (Rose 231). Therefore, it has been adopted internationally by many cultural groups, including Indigenous Australians, in order to express themselves and their social realities (Osumare 174). Minestrelli in her book, ‘Australian Indigenous Hip Hop: The Politics of Culture, Identity, and Spirituality’ asserts that Hip Hop and rap music in particular, has become the voice to those who were historically denied access to mainstream spaces, in a way that reflects the complexities of Indigenous identity and culture (2). Indigenous Australian communities were among the first to connect with and appropriate Hip-Hop (Crooke and Hutchings 2). Although once on the distant margins of mainstream cultural production in Australia, Indigenous Hip-Hop has come to flourish (Osumare 171). During the late twentieth century when Australia started to recognise the rights of Aboriginal people, music by Aboriginal artists became increasingly important as a means of sharing their viewpoints and expressing concerted resistance to colonial influences (Minestrelli 10).
While Indigenous Australian Hip-Hop may have once have been marginalised, today there are several artists who have become central figures in Australian radio, music charts and large music festivals (Crooke and Hutchings 4). Two of the most notable are Briggs and Trials who make up A.B. Original. This partnership has shaken up politics and public opinion in Australia, all while changing music culture in Australia making Aboriginal rap and its powerful contents, mainstream (Crooke and Hutching 4). In 2016, A.B. Original released their first full length album, satirically titled ‘Reclaim Australia’. The album includes a number of songs that communicate striking political messages and overt condemnations of Australian society. The song ‘January 26’ references the date British Colonisers arrived in Australia and the subsequent Australia Day holiday. The song issues a poignant and unapologetic account of what the date, which the country uses to celebrate being Australian, means to Indigenous Australian people (Crooke and Hutching 5). ‘January 26’, with its clever lyricism, wit and profanity, challenges the Australian population to reconsider what they are celebrating and when they are celebrating it (Crooke and Hutching 5). This also calls Australians to reconsider the country’s dominant cultural memory and subsequently become aware of Indigenous Australians’ perspectives and knowledges. With lyrics like “Fuck celebrating days made of misery/ White Australia got a black history” (A.B. Original in Reclaim Australia), the song received much press coverage, being the first ever challenge to the otherwise hallowed date, so bluntly and in such a public forum (Crooke and Hutchings 5). A.B. Original’s ‘Reclaim Australia’, specifically ‘January 26’, added to existing debates about changing the date of the Australia Day national holiday, but also sparked new ones around white privilege, racism, the treatment of Indigenous Australians by society and government and even more recently, changing the date of the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown (Donoughue). The rappers’ urged their listeners to vote for ‘January 26’ as a form of protest against the date of Australia Day (Donoughue). The song went on to be number 16 in 2016’s Hottest 100 countdown and Triple J has since moved the day of the countdown (Donoughue). Catherine Strong in her article, ‘Shaping the Past of Popular Music: Memory, Forgetting and Documenting’ states that the songs in Triple J’s Hottest 100 are often homogeneous, usually in four-four time and in a classical rock formation (419). This makes it even more significant that A.B. Original’s song in the Hip-Hop genre, drawing attention to often uncomfortable issues, came in at number 16 in the countdown (Donoughue). Over 2.5 million people vote for the songs in which they hope to be in Triple J’s Hottest 100 (Triple J). Therefore, it is even more remarkable that ‘January 26’ placed sixteenth in what is arguably, the most anticipated music event in Australia, brining in over 3.34 million listeners (Triple J).
‘Call ‘Em Out’, another song featured on the ‘Reclaim Australia’ Album dwells on the need to stand up to racism (Crooke and Hutching 5). A.B. Original does not ‘gloss over’ historical or contemporary issues faced by Indigenous Australians, but instead use their platform to deliver their truths and their people’s truths. The song features horrifying audio of media personalities and politicians implying that those with mixed heritages are dangerous and that white nationalist eugenics are an option. A voice clip of past Western Australian minster, Lang Hancock, included in the song, proposes plans to ‘solve the problem’ of Australia’s Indigenous people, drawing attention to the country’s cultural history (A.B. Original in Reclaim Australia). In an interview, with the members of A.B. Original, Briggs and Trials, the pair says that those voice samples before the song was written (Radas). The duo wanted the rest of Australia to be aware of just how much Indigenous Australians suffered through (Radas). By incorporating a voice clip of such content in a mainstream song, a larger number of Australians are subjected to it. Therefore, this brings a greater awareness to Australia’s cultural history by including Indigenous Australian perspectives in popular culture (Dunbar-Hall and Gibson 149). With the audio and the lyrics of the song, the Indigenous rappers draw attention to the injustices of history but also the issues still being faced by Aboriginal people today. Morganics in ‘Deadly Sounds, Deadly Places: Contemporary Aboriginal Music in Australia’, says Hip Hop is about representing where you are from and your life story (130). A.B. Original do this by rapping about their histories and their family’s histories. Archie Roach, Aboriginal musician and activist for Aboriginal rights, comments on the strong meanings in ‘Reclaim Australia’, in the album’s foreword (Radas). Furthering this, Roach states in an interview that the rap duo have opened up doors in contemporary Australian music to be able to include ‘black’ stories (Radas). This reflects the impact the A.B. Original have had on the Australian music industry and subsequently Australian music culture.
The association between music and politics is rooted in a longstanding tradition of music utilised for political purposes and A.B. Original have been productively employing this avenue to seek alternative modes of political activism (Hutchings and Rogers 85). This form of protest music is not new to the music industry in Australia, however, previous songs in this category have often failed to gain many listeners (Minestrelli 10). With A.B. Original’s works becoming mainstream, their songs attract these listeners. In their song, ‘Report to the Mist’, A.B. Original address controversial issues, that are often otherwise missing from the mainstream Australian music scene. It touches on tough subjects, including racial profiling, police brutality, rapidly increasing incarceration rates and Aboriginal deaths in custody. It is a shared belief among many Australians that the problems of history in relation to the Indigenous Australian population are solved. However, this is not the case. There are lasting problems such as the ones mentioned in ‘Report to the Mist’. The lyrics, ‘The blacker the berry the bigger the charge/ The whiter the lies the deeper façade/ The whiter the crime the looser the cuffs/ And the blacker the skin and that noose is for us’ reflect the inequalities in the current criminal justice system in Australia. Historically, songs with powerful content such as ‘Report to the Mist’, would have been marginalised in the Australian music industry (Osumare 171). However today, with the growth of Hip-Hop in Australia, A.B. Original have brought Aboriginal history, culture and knowledges front and centre (Minestrelli 15). Hip-Hop has allowed the music duo to relay the experiences of Indigenous Australians, in a language that is common to all Australians (Hutchings and Rodger 92).
Through their songs, A.B. Original have altered music culture in Australia. The artists have challenged the country’s white dominant cultural memory by incorporating Indigenous perspectives and knowledges into their works. A.B. Original cover controversial and hard-hitting topics in their songs, bringing a greater awareness to problems faced by Indigenous Australians (Hutchings and Rodger 85). A.B. Original’s album, ‘Reclaim Australia’, specifically, ‘January 26’, ‘Call ‘Em Out’ and ‘Report to the Mist’ are landmark songs the continue to push boundaries of people’s perception, their preconceived notions of race and justice and set a new standard for constructive dialogue and the valuing of the voices of Indigenous Australian people (Hutchings and Rodger 87). Its importance must not be overstated. A.B. Original in their music, have given a voice to past generations of Indigenous Australians that were not allowed it at the time (Dunbar-Hall and Gibson 148). Through their music, A.B. Original have incorporated Aboriginal perspectives that are so often missing from Australian popular culture and more specifically, Australia’s music industry (Dunbar-Hall and Gibson 148). Hip-Hop can creatively and dynamically integrate Indigenous knowledge and experience (Minestrelli 16). This is successfully being achieved by rappers like A.B. Original who actively use unique Indigenous frameworks within Hip-Hop culture as a platform for commentary on issues of social justice, particularly in relation to Aboriginal people (Hutchings and Rodger 90). In doing so Indigenous Hip-Hop artists, A.B. Original, call on traditions within Aboriginal culture to protest political issues, explicitly delivering their message in language common to all Australians (Hutchings and Rodger 90).
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