After the massive chart success of artist’s like 360, Bliss n Eso and Hilltop Hoods, last year’s appearance on U.S. television by rapper Seth Sentry and the recent Hottest 100 spots filled by artists like Thundamentals, Illy and Horrorshow, it’s no longer so easy to talk about Australian hip hop as an emerging genre or underground art form.
As one half of hip hop duo Jackie Onassis, Kai Tan agrees that the country’s new love for Australian hip hop artists has certainly oiled the wheels when it comes to new artists looking to make their mark on the genre. “I think it’s probably a lot easier than it was,” he begins before producer, Raph Dixon quickly jumps in.
“Yeah absolutely,” Dixon says. “I mean since Australian hip hop and rap has sort of become more mainstream and more something that radio would play, yeah, it’s definitely not the same challenge as it would have been a couple of years ago. I mean, I even think if some older records got released now, everyone would be listening to them as opposed to maybe 5 or 6 years ago, when they would have got a much smaller fraction of the public attention.”
Of course, it’s not just the audience that’s changed. Where the pioneers of the genre in Australia had only international offerings to learn from and that was reflected in their music, the latest generation of hip hop artists has a whole range of local influences to draw on as well, resulting in a style of hip hop that now stands on its own to tell a much more indicative Australian story.
Along with all the usual hip hop suspects, many of the artists Jackie Onassis listened to were Australian acts like the Hoods, The Herd and Koolism, “It was both, but I guess at that time growing up, a lot of Australian hip hop. It was before Australian hip hop started getting on the radio and so it was kind of our local scene that we were into; a lot of local Sydney artists.”
“It’s what we grew up with, really. We went to the same high school; our close friends are in Horrorshow and Spit Syndicate and we went to the same high school as each other as well as those guys, and I guess hip hop was always what was listened to at our school. We just grew up around it, mucking around in the playground, rapping and beatboxing and that kind of thing.”
The pair from inner west Sydney only came together as a musical project in late 2012, the result being the release their first EP, Holiday. Just over a year later and they’re releasing their second EP, Juliette, this time through Sony Music Australia.
“We’ve been making music individually for a while, just sort of enjoying it, but Jackie Onassis really only came together late in 2012 when we put out the Holiday EP and then I think we really only started realising that it was actually a thing and that it was something we should take seriously early in 2013, so it’s still quite a new phenomenon for us.”
“We didn’t just go out there and kind of put everything that we made out on the Net or anything like that; we just kind of kept it to ourselves and a very close group of friends for a while until we released the Holiday EP, so I guess Jackie Onassis as a public thing is pretty new, but we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
It’s here that the Jackie Onassis story reveals a connection to Australian hip hop royalty. Amongst the select group of people who had heard of the duo before anyone else had, was “the Godfather”, Urthboy and the pair credit him amongst their major influences.
“A lot of Urthboy and a lot of Horrorshow… Urthboy’s been kind of like a mentor – I don’t know if that’s the right word – to us from the beginning. We’re quite close in the Sydney scene, we grew up in it, so he – from the early days – has had a listen to our music and given us advice and always, even though we’re not on his record label and he doesn’t manage us or anything like that, he’s always given us time and always been there on the other end of the phone if we had questions and when stuff was happening, and we grew up listening to his music, so there’d be influence there for sure.”
As representatives of the next generation of Australian hip hop, Jackie Onassis draws heavily on the local scene yet adds their own distinct flavour, delivering hip hop that nods to the original pioneers of the genre as well as giving us an insight into how much the genre has matured in this country. Hip hop that tells a real Australian story, “I just write stories about the things that I go through, or that we all go through, growing up where we grew up. I think the majority is just talking about the kind of lifestyle we lead.”
Jackie Onassis will be supporting Illy on his upcoming national tour in March and Juliette is available now on iTunes.
Illy – Cinematic Tour featuring Jackie Onassis
March 7th – The HiFi, Melbourne, Australia
March 14th – The Metro, Sydney
March 15th – The Zoo, Brisbane
March 20th – The Gov, Adelaide
March 21st – The Capitol, Perth