The five nominees for Australia’s industry voted annual Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards have been announced for “Best Urban Release.” Familiar hip-hop faces in Hilltop Hoods, Esoterik of Bliss N Eso and 360 all received nominations, as did R&B/Soul singer Mojo Juju. Somewhat surprisingly, independent Sydney rapper Kerser was not overlooked this year and finally received a much-deserved nomination after many years of being unfairly ignored.

Australia’s undisputable independent king of hip-hop in Campbelltown-bred rapper Kerser has finally been recognized by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) and nominated for Best Urban Release for his seventh solo studio album “Engraved In The Game” that dropped last November. Despite his previous six albums all charting, selling well and providing a self-made platform to tour the country independently all made off his own back, an ARIA nomination had alluded him until now somehow. Kerser has proven to be one of the most influential music artists of any genre in Australia over the last decade, coming from local rap battles to selling out his own major tours like no one before him has and inspiring a new generation to rap.

With a change in requirements and name of what can be nominated this year, we see the ARIA award for this category changing from “Best Urban Album” as it has been since 2010 to “Best Urban Release” as it previously was from 2004 – 2009. This change in rules allows two releases to be in the running for consideration this year that would not have otherwise been possible. Those include the 8/9-track “My Astral Plane” E.P. by Esoterik (of Bliss N Eso) and Hilltop Hoods’ excellent single release featuring Adrian Eagle “Clark Griswold”.

The five nominees for this year’s Best Urban Release award are;

– 360’s “Vintage Modern” album on Forthwrite / EMI Australia (Album)

A comeback album of sorts, 360’s 17-track album featuring Pez, Seth Sentry, I.E., Travy P and Hein Cooper was released late last October. It is his fourth solo studio album since his debut album “What You See Is What You Get” was released in March 2008 on Soulmate Records. It was not until late-2010 that his career really started to significantly develop commercially, with the release of the single “Just Got Started” featuring Pez going Gold as well as charting at #59. A number of Platinum-selling singles followed, as well as two ARIA-nominated albums in “Falling & Flying” (2012) and “Utopia” (2014). 360 was relatively quiet on the music front since late-2014 until he came back with a bang in mid-2017. A solid and widely well-received album, 360 is a strong contender to potentially take out the ARIA award this year along with Kerser.

– Hilltop Hoods ”Clark Griswold” feat. Adrian Eagle (Single)

A single-track release from the kings of hip-hop from Australasia in the Hilltop Hoods was enough to earn them a nomination this year. This is their sixth nomination (having won with each of the previous five ARIA nominations in this category) and their first non-album nomination since taking out Best Urban Release in 2006 for their “The Hard Road” Album. They followed it up with wins with “The Hard Road: Restrung” (2007), “State of the Art” (2009), “Drinking from the Sun” (2012) and “Walking Under Stars” (2014) with all of the original releases going #1 and 2x Platinum, with the exception of The Hard Road which has earned Platinum itself so far.

Despite being an excellent song with a notable feature chorus from the talented Adrian Eagle, it does seem hard to objectively compare singles to albums in this newly reconstructed ARIA category.

– Esoterik “My Astral Plane” (E.P.).

The eight-track plus opening interlude EP on Flight Deck / Mushroom Group is Esoterik’s of multiple award-winning, 2x Diamond selling group “Bliss N Eso” debut solo release. It also features James Crooks, ASTA, Spazzy D, imbi the girl and Ev Jones. Released back in May, the EP spawned the two single “Bless Up” and “Be Like You” featuring ASTA, with the latter attracting an official KLP Remix.

– Mojo Juju “Native Tongue” on ABC Music / Universal (Album).

The excellent 16-track album released in late August is her first release since 2015’s 12-track “Seeing Red/Feeling Blue” album. “Native Tongue” debuted at #76 on the ARIA Chart upon release in its first week . The project features the talents of Lay the Mystic, Joshua Tavares and the excellent Pasefika Victoria Choir on the lead single “Native Tongue”.

The lack of a stand-alone category in the ARIA awards for “Best Soul/R&B Album” means that Mojo Juju is up against four hip-hop artists for Best Urban Release this year. In years to come it is likely that the Best Urban Release category will finally be split into two separate categories in Best Hip Hop Release and Best Soul/R&B Release. The lack of a category for Best Funk Release, Best Folk Release, Best World Release further makes it difficult for artists in these genres to also break through and win an ARIA award.

– Kerser “Engraved In The Game” on the independent ABK Records (Album).

Kerser’s 15-track “Engraved In The Game” album is his seventh solo studio album self-released in seven years and features his ABK Records label mates RATES and Jay UF, long-time collaborator Fortay (of At Large Productions) as well as talented singer Alicia Renee. The album was produced by Allrounda.

The past year has shown Kerser remains consistently strong and also spawned arguably the biggest American – Australian hip-hop single collaboration ever with “Total Concentration” featuring Future, Young Buck of G-Unit and Kerser all dropping verses over a Ghosts In The Room beat. Officially Australia’s most viewed rapper on YouTube at nearly 200 million, next year promises to be even bigger than this year with his eighth album set to drop in February, a national tour set for March/April and further potential for Kerser to develop in international markets in New Zealand, Europe, America and the UK all on the horizon. Kerser and 360 with strong album releases appear to be the two clear standout favorites to battle for this year’s award and it appears we may see a new 10th ARIA award winner for this category.

Only once has a single song won the ARIA award for Best Urban Release, in Melbourne R&B singer Daniel Merriweather’s “She’s Got Me” second non-album single off his debut Promotional EP “Merriweather” back in 2005. An EP has never been nominated previously and a single has not been nominated since Bliss N Eso’s 2006 “Up Jump The Boogie” produced by LA’s DJ Hoppa that was the lead single to their second studio album “Day Of The Dog” on Illusive Sounds. Despite dozens of nominations from New South Wales and Sydney artists over the last 14 years, only Bliss N Eso (2008) has managed to take out the top prize with their third album “Flying Colours” a decade ago.

Last year’s ARIA winners were A.B. Original (Briggs and Trials of Funkoars) with their excellent debut album “Reclaim Australia” on Golden Era Records / Bad Apples Music, fending off tough competition from Tkay Maidza, Remi, Thundamentals, and Illy. The other eight different winners for Best Urban Release since its inception in 2004 include Drapht (x2), Seth Sentry, Hilltop Hoods (5 wins from five nominations), Illy, M-Phazes, Bliss N Eso, Daniel Merriweather, and Koolism. Before there was an exclusive Best Urban Release or Best Urban Album Categories, Melbourne hip-hop legends 1200 Techniques in 2002 won the ARIA award for “Best Independent Release” with the lead single “Karma” from their debut studio album “Choose One”. 1200 Techniques were hugely influential in being the first hip-hop act in Australia to win an ARIA and subsequently broke down many barriers for hip-hop in Australia.