Nuance is where it’s at. I have never been ashamed to wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to Australian hip-hop. But while trash talk and unwavering, often desperate attempts at claiming legitimacy can tend to preoccupy the genre (as it likely does in every hip-hop scene the world over), the need to justify and to excuse has well and truly passed us by over the last few years as a fledgling genre has grown into one that fits itself incredibly comfortably. As much as Australian hip-hop is lauded by those who don’t constantly deride, the reality is that Australia remains a fairly insignificant market. With room for a couple of big bands and solo artists and jostling space for a few more in the banner space under these marquee artists, Australian hip-hop, regardless of its quality, is always going to be hard pressed to compete. Where an overseas market is also slim to non-existent (empirical evidence suggests Americans cannot stomach the accent), the imperative to succeed on home soil takes on added importance. What is heartening amid all of these commercial realities is the fight in the genre. Fighting for airtime, fan dollars, festival slots and, perennially, for widespread acceptance, Australian hip-hop never sleeps.
Fight is inspiring, but it’s not enough. The genre might be a cute oddity if that’s all it did. Instead, an implicit mandate to innovate, to improve and to smooth over some of the bumps that mainstream audiences might trip over has engendered a class of hugely motivated, supportive and talented musicians and rhymers. Sometimes the process of considering a song to blog on ends up telling you a great deal. Today, tossing the new Diplo-produced inanity for YMCMB kid and contrasting it against the polished ‘Beauty In The Bricks’ proved that, in many respects, Australian hip-hop is vibrating on an entirely different frequency to stuff coming out of the States. And it’s not just the accent. Sparse beats and big bass can only get you so far. When the lyrical content is so determinedly misogynistic, machoistic and inescapably unintelligent, you’re left with meringue hip-hop: it looks, for all intents and purposes, like it has the qualities of a sweet rap treat but ultimately, it’s just full of air and sugar.
‘Beauty In The Bricks’ couldn’t be further from that vision of a hip-hop oasis; it is the real deal, the chocolate fudge cake of hip-hop confectionery. Even ranking it in this sweet taxonomy is probably a slight to the intricacies of the track. Produced by Adit (of Horrorshow, another stellar act which emerged out of the same high school as Spit Syndicate), twinkling keys and what sound like live drums lay a mellow foundation for the track that teeters on the edge of moods, proposing an evocative, dusky vision of Sydney – not quite somber enough to be night, not quite upbeat enough to be day. As the lads move across autobiographical, geographical and more generally axiomatic material (my favourite line: ‘I never can choose between what’s right and what’s right in front of me’), the demarcation between the alternate subjects of their affections – a girl and the city itself – becomes hazy. If the addressee for the duo’s love letter is ambiguous, one thing is clear: this is powerful, smart and genuine hip-hop. There’s only so many ‘skinny ass jeans/my pockets on sumo’ one can take (thanks Wayne). For when you’re sick of that or just for whenever, ‘Beauty In The Bricks’ shines like neon.
Spit Syndicate – Beauty In The Bricks