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Why Canberra’s underrated hip-hop and R&B scene deserves your attention

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Canberra’s hip-hop and R&B scene is on the rise and there is an inspiring depth of talent leading the way. In comparison with the scenes in Australia’s other major cities, the country’s capital city is a relative newcomer onto the Australian hip-hop and R&B market. However, what may initially be conceived as a lack of hip-hop heritage and history is in actuality a clean slate for the city’s budding talents to build from. There is no one dictating or defining how Canberra ‘has to sound’, and that allows artists to shine as a direct implication of the musical authenticity and originality that they display in comparison with those around them.

To put it into perspective, whilst Canberra is often dismissed for its perceived small impact, there is a true need to briefly look at the past in order to recognise the impact of the Canberra scene on Australia’s hip-hop history, not least because of the notable achievements of Koolism. The duo – comprised of Hau Latukefu and Danielsan – were formed in Canberra and went on to earn the first-ever ‘Best Urban Release’ ARIA Award for their album ‘Part 3 – Random Thoughts’. During their winning speech they went on to encourage budding hip-hop and R&B acts to stay authentic to themselves in order to help establish an ‘Australian sound’. And whilst the Australian sound is yet to be clearly formed, the fact is the Australian hip-hop and R&B scene is on an unprecedented momentum because of the genuineness being showcased by the generation of talent, with Canberra showcasing this authenticity to the maximum.

In addition to Koolism, several acts have led the way for Australia’s capital and have built on the platform set by Koolism to help usher in the generation the city has now. From the ahead-of-his-time Turquoise Prince who funkily traverses hip-hop, R&B and soul with ease, to the pulsating and electronically-influenced duo Coda Conduct, to the vibrant and head-bopping stylings of KG’s discography alongside the likes of Coolio Desgracias and IamSnap – all of these individuals have contributed to breaking barriers for the Canberra scene.

Furthermore, in our interview with Australian hip-hop pioneer Citizen Kay last year we uncovered just how proudly he dons Canberra on his sleeve. For Kay, the desire to help nurture a scene within Canberra rather than move to Sydney or Melbourne for his artistry has led him to becoming a go-to and reliable figure for the city’s up-and-comers. His decision to remain in the city to better connect the Canberra scene has undeniably been the right one, with several acts getting their music engineered and produced in the Kay casa and developing their sound as a result. To have individuals like Kay with tangible music industry experience confidently advocate for the growth of their city (as opposed to withholding knowledge) is a massive asset to the Canberra scene.

Throughout Canberra (and the Australian Capital Territory as a whole) is a stack of emerging scenes and individuals within the state who are actively cultivating their own fanbase and dictating their own unique sound. With a mix of approaches to rap, R&B, trap, drill and Afrobeat being explored amongst other genres, the Canberra scene is filled with a variety of artists taking on their own inimitable directions with aplomb.

The sheer array of hip-hop talent on display alone is enough to draw the attention of any rap fan, regardless of their sub-genre leanings within the overarching genre of rap. Filled with lyrical rappers who pack a firm punch with every word they spit and alternative rappers who opt to experiment with their sound, Canberra is an underrated gem that houses a cavalcade of exceptional talents. Brothers Ike(from)Pluto and the now Sydney-based Chief Maez are each invigorating Australian rap in general through their dynamic and courageous approaches to the genre here, whilst an act like Trevor Wayne displays his natural skills as a lyricist complimented by a captivating cadence. Furthermore, Shaka J is an act who always delivers on the devilish wordplay and who takes unexpected routes with his sound.

Rappers like Macca and JLP are ushering in a revival of grime and DnB within the capital city that is bringing much-needed oomph to the overall Australian scene. MN Cappo, otherwise known by his production and engineering pseudonym Newborn Noise, is adept across the hip-hop spectrum, with his 2021 release ‘Underestimate’ being a personal favourite of mine from the year. Acts like Indighost present a distinct approach to introspective hip-hop with a knack for catchy hooks, whilst Sokk displays his irreplicable abilities as a rapper and vocalist all throughout his discography. And for a confident and catchy drill track, look no further than Flimz & 87’s sublime ‘ThrowAwayz Freestyle’.

Whilst difficult to box in as a ‘rapper’, Genesis Owusu has undoubtedly inspired a generation of artists and creatives to embrace every facet of themselves in their music whilst adhering to a clear and innovative vision that has pushed him onto the radar of local and international audiences alike. Artistic boundary-pushers like the unmatched Kirklandd and the aforementioned Owusu (whose musical roots lie in hip-hop) are pivotal to the growth of the Canberra scene moving forward because of their willingness to push outside of musical guidelines.

Photo by @moniquelewisdesign

Canberra’s R&B movement is shining at the moment, with a range of artists from the city coming through with their own take on the genre. Hunny Lala’s magnetic alternative R&B and Afrobeat crossover will leave listeners in awe, whilst R&B crooners like the moody $MO, versatile Leonaitasi and enchanting luyah (with his recent EP ‘MIXED SIGNALS’ that was impressive to say the least) are navigating sounds that are yet to be explored in the city. Furthermore, AfroFusion is being led at the forefront by the always captivating Partyateleven whose music always reaches the listener at their very core. And tell me you aren’t being hit right in the feels after listening to Jedbrii’s swaying and vibey track ‘You’?

As for trap, Canberra’s assortment of approaches to the genre reflects its burgeoning status within the city, however that does not take away from the moves being made by the likes of YNG Martyr, Kwe, Saucy Vox, NamirNumba0 and Jck. YNG Martyr is blessed with an unbound potential and voice that is as comfortable across self-aware slappers like ‘Nike Ticks’ as it is on acoustic love-worn ballads like ‘TTYL’. The trap-soul influenced Jck speaks to the raw and painful experiences of his growing up, whilst the likes of Kwe, Saucy Vox and NamirNumba9 are creating melodic trap and hip-hop inspired tracks to a level that has us eager to see them fulfil their undoubted potential.

Truthfully, Canberra, like every city in Australia, is doing its own thing in the realm of hip-hop and R&B. With the city still in its infancy as far as hip-hop and R&B go, it is reassuring to hear a general consensus of togetherness that bodes well for Canberra going forward. In addition, the city is complimented by Canberra-based media platforms such as in (out) Magazine, Homegrown Sounds and the Out Of Pocket and Mustard Flats podcasts that stay true to building up the city’s scene from within. There is something special building in Canberra, and we’re excited to see the scene come even closer together and flourish alongside one another in the years to come.

Words by Matthew Badrov

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