Is Lad Rap Ready to Save Aussie Hip Hop?

We’re not sure if it’s right to use the word ‘saviour’ in the same sentence as Gravy Baby.

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Nov 28 2014, 12:57am

Lad rap is hectic. An underground Australian style borne from the Sydney criminal subculture, it’s players rap about bitches, knives, robbing, selling drugs and how awesome they are. You’ve seen lads on the train. They swear and wear sports clothes and striped polo shirts. Generally they aren’t very pleasant to be around. Now imagine these guys with the resources to record music.

Prime examples of Australia’s lad rap include Sky’High, Nter, Kerser, Sydney Serchaz, Skeamo and Gravy Baby.

Lad rap is not the next big thing. It’s not the last great hope of Australian hip-hop. Most of it isn’t even very good but it will save Australian hip-hop.

Music needs edginess and uncensored voices even if these voices are saying awful and anti-social things. It needs big egos and personalities offering an alternative to what radio offers. Rap is a genre that especially needs these things. Lad rap offers them in spades.

Take Kerser. The 27 year-old rapper from Campbelltown in Sydney’s outer west has nearly 60 000 YouTube subscribers and 230 000 Facebook fans. King, his most recent album debuted at number one on the Australian iTunes’ hip-hop charts all without having any radio play. Though he is signed to Obese, Australia’s most respected independent hip hop label Kerser has been able to gain a following through Internet hijinks without compromising his message. As he mentioned in an interview earlier this year, “A lot of artists make that [radio] their main focus whereas I never did. I went nah, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”.

He seems to be doing OK.

From the 90s to mid-2000s, the Australian rap scene was a torrid landscape. Adelaide’s Hilltop Hoods, received some mainstream media recognition but other acts like Lyrical Commission and 750 Rebels while having decent local followings remained too underground to be heard on a national level.

In 2014 things have changed. Rap occupies a large share of Australia’s music industry and mainstream radio and blogs have wholly-endorsed acts such as Seth Sentry, 360, Allday, Bliss n Eso, Illy and Pez. All have played the safe game and are relatively dull. While it has grown commerically Australian rap has lost its edge.

This isn’t meant to be a contrived lecture about the virtues of ‘real hip hop’ or some outdated, elitist concept bandied about by less successful or embittered rappers. Hip hop in its purest form was always about giving voice to the less powerful and promoting empowerment and freedom of expression. Musically it was to provide an alternative and counter to the pop-infested landscape of the 80s and 90s.

Who or what is providing that alternative in Australia’s safe and conservative hip-hop climate now? Lad rap. Lad rap is Australia’s real underground rap. It’s not just about rapping about doing a little crime and graff but lifestyles that are actively engaged in drugs and violence on a daily basis.

The language and message used by many of these fellows is deeply politically incorrect, but at its core, isn’t rap about the unadulterated expression from the unheard of low socio-economic backgrounds?

When Gravy Baby raps about life in southwest Sydney it’s not for a triple j audience but for his peers in Liverpool and Mount Pritchard. And his You Tube viewers.

A bunch of Nautica-wearing, Stanley knife-carrying rappers aren’t going to be the next great hope for Australian hip-hop. They definitely don’t hold a candle to the artists of the late 80s golden era or at the height of gangsta rap. Those eras are well over but just as gangsta rap was expressions of life in Compton and a a counterpoint to the safe mainstream rap/music of the day, lad rap fills a similar role.

With it’s unapologetically ocker Australian accents coupled with direct subject matter you could say lad rap is our version of gangsta rap.

Lad rap is not the future but Kerser and others have proved that uncompromising hustling has worked. Non-lad rappers or even musicians of other genre can hopefully emulate this trajectory and make their own way. Kerser is tapped into how people consume music, and people are buying what he’s selling. Australian rap isn’t saved yet, but the future is there for someone to take.

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