Peter M Howard ::

Horrorshow — Aussie Hip Hop

16Aug2010 [music]

In which Aussie describes the hip hop, not its quality

Saw Horrorshow open for A Tribe Called Quest last week and was very impressed. Over the weekend I picked up their 2009 album, Inside Story, and I've been listening to it for the last couple of days. They're an MC and a DJ out of Sydney. Their sound fits within the same tradition as Hilltop Hoods or 1200 Techniques and lots of other Aussie hip hop, but they bring their own voice. Solo's a great MC — he's got a good voice and some good rhymes, but he also brings some really smart lyrics and a uniquely Australian sensibility.

A lot of the time when I'll say something's "good Aussie hip hop", the "Aussie" part qualifies the "good" — like with Aussie film, it wouldn't necessarily be "good" without the Aussie part, but they're making a decent effort with what they have. But with what I've heard of Horrorshow, I only use "Aussie" to describe the hip hop, not to qualify the "good" — this is good music in its own right.

And the "Aussie" part is great. There's no attempt to mimic the sound or voice of American hip hop, and the lyrics are the first I've heard where I can really relate to the described experience. Instead of glorifying drugs or some invented, transplanted "ghetto", they tell it how it is. There's the struggle, of course. But the described "neighbourhood" sounds like where I grew up, and the experience of early adulthood is captured brilliantly. Three examples are illustrative. From the title track to Inside Story:

But here we stand, the sons and daughters of colonialism
Crossed over water just to be making our homes on stolen land

While travelling over waters is relevant to the American black experience, so it's not unknown in hip hop, I've not heard hip hop grapple with colonialism, nor, really, with migration. There's something unique about the situation of Australians, as a nation of migrants, many without a motherland (hence only children of colonialism). And there's this big shadow over our past ("stolen land") that makes the situation really uncomfortable. But within Australian culture, we tend to ignore both aspects of our spatial context. Calling it out directly, recognising the conflict but also the pragmatic reality ("here we stand"), is a big deal.

And from 'Itchy Feet':

So when the sun goes down each evening, he looks to the sky for a reason
Wonders what's behind the horizon, so he packs light and he's off and he's leaving
So he walks on looking for something
But just what it is, well he wasn't too sure

The whole song is great. It's not as uniquely Australian: we're certainly not the only people who get itchy feet. But it speaks directly to my own experience, and to that of many of my friends: we're pretty far away from everyone else on this globe, and we're all wondering "what's behind the horizon". The song tells of those of us who "roam all over the planet looking for answers", and speaks to travel as a learning experience: "swapped stories and traded perspectives".

Finally, from 'Found':

See I've searched the corners of the Earth and this is what I've found
No matter where I go I carry where I'm from
So raise your hands up to the sky now for the ground beneath your feet
This will always be the place where I belong

Solo describes returning to Sydney, from travelling, catching up with family and friends, and "as we cruise through the alley and the streets I'm struck by the beauty of familiarity". And he confirms, no matter where he travels, "there ain't nowhere that I'd rather rest my feet", and that there's "no doubt in my mind where I'm'a put down my roots".

I get this exact same feeling every time I return to Sydney. It's a strong emotional pull. And it's rare that music can evoke this sort of emotional reaction.

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