*Article from print edition #273 of The Source – out now.

With the continued international popularity of hip-hop music worldwide; we take a look at five of the most popular hip-hop artists currently from Australia – who are moving beyond their domestic market and receiving increasing international popularity throughout America, Canada, and Europe.

Hip-hop has a long, proud history since it was first absorbed by locals down under in the early 1980s with breaking and graffiti proving immensely popular since its inception, while Australian DJs have been punching above their weight internationally for decades now. Hugely influential Australian recording artists from the late 1980s to mid-2000s such as AKA Brothers, Def Wish Cast, Prowla, Dedlee, Bias B, Lazy Grey, Resin Dogs, Lyrical Commission, 1200 Techniques, Koolism, Downsyde, The Herd, Delta, Brad Strut, Trem, Pegz and Maya Jupiter all paved the way for the current successes of hip-hop in Australia now experienced domestically as well as verging on breaking even further into the international markets.

Hilltop Hoods

Hilltop Hoods have shown and proved to be the number 1 hip-hop group to emerge out of Australia thus far. Consisting of MC Suffa, MC Pressure and DJ Debris they have undoubtedly changed the musical landscape in Australia for the better through a series of now-classic albums sold out tours and ability to connect with a wide variety of fans. They released their debut album, A Matter of Time, in 1999 and have since released six studio albums and two “restrung” albums that were accompanied by a full orchestra. Five of their last six albums have all reached number one on the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) charts, and five singles have also made it inside the Top 10.

Since the industry breakthrough single “The Nosebleed Section” in 2003 on their critically acclaimed third album The Calling (which was also the first hip-hop album from Australia to be certified Gold), the Hilltop Hoods have gone from strength to strength while pioneering new territory. With an already strong fan base Australia wide, “The Nosebleed Section” capitulated them into the ears of an even wider audience and they have never looked back.

Both Suffa and Pressure have proven themselves to be two of Australia’s best, most versatile, lyrical emcees, consistently releasing innovating hip-hop music. DJ Debris‘ skills behind the turntables and production boards have helped place the Hilltop Hoods as one of the most influential and well-rounded musical groups to emerge from Australia. With an extensive back catalogue of music, the Hoods appeal to a wide demographic and have one of the largest fan bases in all music in Australia, winning seven ARIA awards and earning numerous multiple platinum singles and albums.

The Hilltop Hoods have collaborated with the likes of Brother Ali, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, Maverick Sabre, Sia, Black Thought of The Roots, Pharoahe Monch and have toured extensively throughout US, Canada and Europe. Founders of Golden Era Records which is also home to The Funkoars, Briggs, K21, Purpose, A. B. Original and Vents, their label has recently co-released Royce Da 5’9”s new album Layers and they have just completed their largely sold-out tour of America and Canada with Plutonic Lab and DJ Total Eclipse (of NYC’s The X-Ecutioners). Watch out for an announcement on their next studio album and more international tours.

Bliss n Eso

Bliss n Eso are a diverse multi-platinum, award-winning hip-hop group based in Sydney consisting of American-Australian MC Bliss, MC Eso and Moroccan-Australian DJ Izm. Their most recent, sixth studio album Off the Grid is their third number 1 album in a row and features R&B superstar Mario, Dizzy Wright, Watsky and soul legend Lee Fields. Bliss n Eso has recently returned back to Australia after largely sold out New Zealand and Canadian tours, building upon the success of their 30-date domestic tour which managed to also largely sell out almost every show.

Bliss n Eso released their debut album Flowers in the Pavement on pioneering but now defunct Australian hip-hop label Obese Records in 2003. Their second album Day of the Dog was released in 2006 and was the first locally produced hip-hop album to chart upon release. Their next three albums, 2008’s Flying Colours, 2010’s ARIA award-winning Running on Air and 2013’s Circus in the Sky, all went Platinum and resulted in progressively larger sold-out national tours and extensive festival appearances covering most corners of Australia. Bliss n Eso also had the unique privilege of playing a series of intimate concerts in Afghanistan in liaison with the Australia Defence Forces for those troops serving in the Middle East.

Bliss n Eso have developed their strong international connection having worked with Nas, Ceekay Jones, Xzibit, RZA, Illmaculate, DJ Hoppa, Jehst (UK) and extensively with esteemed Australian producer M-Phazes. The third single from their late April 2017 released Off The Grid album features their currently highest charting single to date in the Platinum-selling Moments (feat. Gavin James), which recently also won a 2017 ARIA for Best Video.

Bliss n Eso have been instrumental in achieving many firsts for hip-hop in Australia, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future groups. With multiple Gold and Platinum singles under their belt and the strong successes of their most recent music, Bliss n Eso have regained their momentum and look set to dominate hip-hop both in Australia as well as exporting their unique Australian sound to all corners of the globe in years to come.

A. B. Original

A. B. Original consists of emcee Briggs, a Yorta Yorta man from Shepparton in regional Victoria, and rapper/producer Trials, a Ngarrindjeri man from the country along the Murray River in South Australia. The socially conscious Indigenous-Australian duo released their debut album Reclaim Australia on Bad Apples Music x Golden Era Records in late 2016 to widespread acclaim and recently won ARIA awards for Best Independent Release and Best Urban Album.

The A. B. Original sound has been described as rough and tough around the edges, deliberately brash and aggressive, somewhat in the spirit of N.W.A. and Westside Connection, providing a much needed honest account of race relations in Australia today as well as delving into Australia’s dark colonial past. The ironic title of the album, Reclaim Australia, strikes a strong accord locally in Australia as there is a small, misinformed yet vocal group protesting immigration to Australia also called Reclaim Australia (a group fearful “their” country is being taken away from them which is satirical, to say the least when understanding the history of British colonialization in Australia was formalized on 26 January 1788). Check A. B. Original’s song January 26 for an honest, thought-provoking account on why Australia’s national holiday should not continue to be held on such a historically insensitive day.

Trials has cemented himself as one of the finest emcee/producer combinations to emerge from Australia and has produced everything from Hollywood films, TV shows to creative adverts. Through his unique upbringing, he has a compelling and captivating story to tell has been widely co-signed from Australia’s best to Ice Cube. In recent times, Briggs has made the welcomed transition into political commentary on race relations in Australia and acting, and does so in the same objective and comedic manner that has made him one of Australia’s favourite recording artists and personalities. Whether Briggs is on beat, on screen or in between, he brings a high level of artistic integrity, talent, and combined with his unique background, an interesting and compelling story. Reclaim Australia is the album Australia needed and A. B. Original was the group required, driving much of the discussion on important issues relevant to Australia’s Indigenous peoples and wider Australian society.

Kerser

Coming up to such remarkable national prominence with little-to-no mainstream radio play, the independent Kerser is the most successful rapper in Australia that has built a legion of fans organically primarily throughout social media, battle rap and live performances. His most recent album released last month, Engraved In The Game, is his seventh in seven years and went #1 widely on the domestic charts. This gives Kerser his sixth number one album in a row as he powers towards his ambitious goal of ten albums in ten years.

Born and bred in Campbelltown in South-Western Sydney, Kerser started rapping at 11 and began recording when he has 18. He began by pressing up his own independent mixtapes, gaining notoriety locally and developing his quick wit and skills in south-west Sydney battle rap before taking the national battle rap scene by storm and exploding from there, most notably through his battles with Australian artist 360 and battle legend Illmaculate.

His success has continued on the up since releasing his first four albums from 2011-2014 with producer Nebs, Kerser has shown no sign of slowing down. Through ADA Warner Music Australia, in 2015 Kerser developed his own record label ABK Recordswhich has also released his brother and longtime collaborator Rates’ Untold album earlier last year as well as Jay UF’s Final Notice earlier this year. Musically, Kerser has also evolved, partnering up with US-based producer Sinima on 2015’s Next Step and 2016’s Tradition albums before teaming up with German beatmaker Allrounda for the most recent Engraved in the Game release. Kerser has left the door open for a return to battle rap, but one feels it will take quite the opponent to lure him back into the battle rap world now that his albums and tours are proving to be so successful – perhaps a KOTD or URL appearance are the only platforms suitable for Kerser in the future.

Kerser is also Australia’s Highest Viewed YouTube rapper, highlighting his incredible popularity for an independent artist with YouTube views now exceeding 80 million. He recently released one of the largest collaboration in Australian hip-hop to date, working with Future and Young Buck on the Ghosts In The Room produced Total Concentration.

Kerser’s music touches on a different side of Australian society that much of the commercially accessible locally made hip hop fails to address – the lower and underclass, the often downtrodden, pigeon-holed as hopeless suburbanites littered throughout Australia’s middle and outer suburbs. His self-described street rap brings a very different tale away from the dominant mainstream and he has managed to craft his own lane for independent artists when previously there largely was not one.

360

Three and a half years since dropping his #2 charting previous album Utopia, Melbourne-based rapper 360 is back in action with his recently released fourth studio album, Vintage Modern (Forthwrite / EMI Records) and finds himself back towards the top of the charts yet again. It has been an interesting period for one of Australia’s biggest solo rappers with his widely documented struggles with depression and addiction in recent years. But 360 has utilized his trying personal experiences as inspiration for much of his new album Vintage Modern, and a more refined, mature 360 has emerged that has found him back selling out shows nationwide to critical acclaim and speaking out publically on such difficult issues he faced.

Drawing on diverse influences ranging from Big L to Kanye West to The Beatles, 360 has developed his own unique style over the last decade-plus. A successful period battling from before his first album (2008’s What You See Is What You Get) to after the release of his hugely successful second album saw 360 amass millions of views, battle internationally and infamously share the memorable battle with Sydney’s aforementioned Kerser, helping springboard them both to wider audiences.

In 2011, 360 released his double platinum second album Falling and Flying which produced four charting singles, with “Boys Like You” certified as 4x Platinum, “Run Alone” as Platinum, “Child” and “Just Got Started” as both Gold as well as winning a prestigious ARIA award as best Breakthrough Artist with the release. These successes and accolades established 360 as one of Australia’s biggest musical acts and led him to touring America and Canada himself before domestically sharing the stage with Eminem, Hopsin, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. His successful third studio album Utopia went Gold, spawning the Platinum-selling singles “Price of Fame” (featuring Gossling) and “Live It Up” (featuring Pez).

360 has collaborated with internationally renowned Australian producer M-Phazes, N’fa Jones of 1200 Techniques (Australia’s first hip-hop group to win an ARIA national award), Daniel Johns of Silverchair, Lunar C (UK), Bliss N Eso and early on with Trem One of Lyrical Commission / Unkut Recordings. His unique ability to connect with his legions of fans through sharing intimate personal stories has resulted in himself being able to establish and sustain a fiercely loyal fan base that has allowed him to be able to be him, which is working for 360 now better than ever before.

*Article from print edition #273 of The Source – out now.