MELBOURNE (Billboard) - A new generation of hip-hop acts is
emerging from a community ravaged by poverty, drugs, alcohol
and education problems and struggling with a lack of
opportunities: Australia's indigenous peoples.
The country's 200 indigenous tribes make up 2.4% of
Australia's 21 million population -- but 22% of its prison
population. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show their
life expectancy is 17 years less than the national average,
with adults two-and-a-half times more likely to be unemployed
than their nonindigenous counterparts.
That grim picture invites comparison to the social
conditions that spawned the American hip-hop scene. However,
rather than promoting a "gangsta" lifestyle, Australia's
indigenous rappers' lyrics are concerned with racism,
alcoholism and violence in their ghettoes -- as well as
celebrating family/tribal ties and ancient folklore.
Acts such as Tjimba & the Yung Warriors, Indigenous
Intrudaz, Konect-a-Dot, Pott Street, and Tha Deadly Boys --
singing in English or local dialects -- are selling out clubs
"CD sales are still minimal," says Universal Music
Australia managing director George Ash, who is negotiating to
sign an undisclosed act, "but (indigenous hip-hop) is a sizable
proposition when you factor in income from merchandising and
Tjimba & the Yung Warriors released their debut album,
"Warrior 4 Life," on Melbourne-based Blackwing Productions in
August 2007. Blackwing managing director Rich Micallef reckons
70% of the act's income comes from live performances, with the
remainder split between merchandising and record sales.
There aren't any accurate data on indigenous hip-hop sales,
with illegal downloading/copying among fans prevalent. However,
the market for home-grown hip-hop was illustrated by the
crossover success of white rap trio Hilltop Hoods in 2006.
Having built a sizable fan base though constant touring,
the Adelaide act went to No. 1 with its fourth album "The Hard
Road." Its Obese Records label says sales have passed 70,000
units. That success paved the way for such names as the Herd,
Downsyde and Koolism to pick up some mainstream radio play.
Indigenous hip-hop regularly airs on national youth radio
network Triple J, college radio and indigenous network Koori
Radio. However, Maya Jupiter, host of Triple J's weekly hip-hop
show, says mainstream radio "has a problem with records with a
strong Australian accent."
While the majors sniff around the indigenous scene, the
independent sector has been capturing its key acts on record.
Micallef set up Blackwing Productions in 2007 to provide
management, production and touring services for indigenous
acts, and "Warrior 4 Life" was its first release. "Our aim is
to license individual recordings to majors here and overseas,"
he says. "There's a lot of interest in Aboriginal music from
European and U.S. labels and festivals."
Another company focusing on indigenous hip-hop/urban acts,
Redfern Records Entertainment, was launched last October in
Redfern, the Sydney black ghetto where its co-founding siblings
Stephen and Nikita Ridgeway grew up.
"We want to show there are indigenous hip-hop acts that are
better than Hilltop Hoods," Stephen Ridgeway says.
Redfern's first album, released January 15, is the
compilation "Beats From Tha Street," featuring such acts as
Pott Street and rappers Task and Konect-a-Dot.
Ridgeway wants to stage an indigenous hip-hop awards
ceremony in June in Sydney, alongside a national multi-artist
tour. Redfern's mission, he says, is to "put nonindigenous
people in our shoes so they understand the issues we face."