It’s an exciting time for Australian music as a whole, but hip-hop acts are rising at an unprecedented rate.
In a genre which has too long been dominated by the old guard, we’re currently seeing a swell of Australian artists taking matters into their own hands – throwing their own gigs and festivals, establishing their own online platforms and brands, infiltrating radio and charts, and rewriting the rules of hip-hop in this country. While the likes of Manu Crooks, Remi, Triple One and Sampa the Great are already bringing heavy international attention down under, we’re now looking towards the upcoming Australian artists set to make their mark. Treading confidently across hip-hop, R&B and everything in between, here’s 10 emerging Australian acts who you should already be listening to.
Whether he’s spitting abrasive rap or grime, ChillinIt has earned rabid fanbase that hangs onto his every word. He scored millions of YouTube views through the Body Bag Media channel before dropping Women, Weed & Wordplay in October, an album which dances across rustic ballads, heavyweight bong hits, and a UK collaboration with Kamakaze. A video on JDZmedia indicates that ChillinIt has plenty of international appeal, but his thick Australian accent and tracks alongside locals like Wombat sees him wear his roots on his sleeve. With his mix of witty wordplay, somber soul-baring and nods to everyone from Big L to Adam Gilchrist, ChillinIt is one of Australia’s most magnetic underground heroes.
Elijah Yo is a young Maori/Tongan rapper originally from New Zealand, but he’s since moved to Australia and now proudly represents Sydney’s culturally-diverse Western suburbs. He was introduced to the genre by his father, who promoted acts like The Game and Boyz II Men, and an older brother, who fed him a steady diet of ’90s rap classics. It has clearly influenced his output, from raw freestyles to overblown homages to throwbacks to West Coast rap. And while some of his catalogue relies on the loud and proud, Elijah’s intensely down-tempo single “Missed Calls” – reflecting on the suicide of a high school friend – might just be his most engaging.
Blending nonchalant delivery with jazz-infused backdrops, Genesis Owusu hails from the nation’s capital of Canberra and gained widespread praise for his Cardrive EP in 2017. Despite his fairly relaxed approach to hip-hop, his live shows are a vibrant blaze of color, leading to cross-genre tours with the likes of Cosmo’s Midnight. This year, his self-awareness and honesty came to the forefront with single “Awomen, Amen,” an “ode to the female” produced by Simon Marvin and Perrin Moss of Hiatus Kaiyote. “I have been gross and misogynistic before, I’ve been a teenage boy,” Genesis said. “I didn’t write this song as one of the ‘nice guys,’ I wrote it as a man who is trying to understand and do better.”
HUSKii has established himself as Australian rap’s cult leader, delivering overcast confessionals drenched in crippling self-doubt and suicidal contemplations. Having built a buzz through the coastal city of Wollongong, HUSKii dropped his BRAiNUMB EP in 2017, a confronting five-track release where he battled his personal demons on record: drugs, family, and foes. Months later, his equally solemn track “Body the Booth Ep. 4” quickly established itself as an oft-quoted underground classic, snagging over a million views thus far. Since then, he’s formed a devilish duo with Melbourne rapper Lil Sknow, delivering a series of tracks under the Trap Sessions banner.
Born in Papua New Guinea, soulful 21-year-old Kaiit is now based in Melbourne and has been one of the year’s most acclaimed artists. She released the Live From Her Room EP in September; an intimate, uplifting effort which led to sold out gigs across Australia. On top of the EP’s romance tales, other tracks like “Duffman” discuss struggles with racial identity and have resonated hugely with Australia’s multicultural audiences. Lead single “OG Kush Pt. 2” was posted by Jill Scott on her Instagram page, where she called Kaiit the musical lovechild between herself and Erykah Badu – a compliment not to be taken lightly.
The Kid Laroi
At 15 years of age, Indigenous artist The Kid Laroi certainly has a lot on his plate. He burst onto the Australian scene earlier this year on his 14 With A Dream EP, where he switches between rapping and singing over woozy trap production inspired by the free-spirited Soundcloud generation. He often finds himself in the studio and onstage with local heavy-hitters like Manu Crooks, Miracle, and B Wise, and recently nabbed his first international support slot with R&B duo THEY. in October. Moreover, rapper Lil Skies has taken to Instagram to preview a collaboration between the two, so expect to see a lot more of Laroi as we head into 2019.
Milan Ring already has co-writing credits with D.R.A.M and has shared writing sessions with SZA, and the Sydney-based powerhouse is taking her solo career to new heights in 2018. With a preference for crafting lush, hypnotic soundscapes that move in slow motion, Milan touches on soul, electronica and the emotional weight of throwback R&B. Her latest single “Drifting” unites her versatile sounds eloquently, and her live show is one of the country’s most impressive: Milan sings, creates loops, drops beats and samples (she released a beat tape last year) and plays guitar throughout, with a solo or two thrown in for good measure.
There isn’t a massive drill movement in Australia just yet, but OneFour might be the controversial crew to bring those sounds to the forefront. They’ve been active since 2014, employing the ominous instrumentals and assertive delivery found in UK drill, tailored to their own Australian narratives. They’ve got hooks that sound more like rallying calls to battle, and bars that are uncompromising to say the least – evidenced by their freshly-released single “What You Know.” Their videos are a simple yet effective accompaniment to the blunt sounds, showing the sportswear-clad crew roaming around their West Sydney stomping ground in Air Max Plus kicks.
Since gaining widespread attention with an iPhone-filmed freestyle and an appearance on Risky Roadz, Perth emcee Shadow has been impressing us with his concise flows and assertive stage presence. And while Shadow has earned his stripes in Australia’s blossoming grime scene, he’s looking to further expand his horizons on an EP due in early 2019, which sees him spit across a range of beats and BPMs. Shadow has already proven his versatility on the microphone, though – this staunch collaboration with Tornts delves into the darker side, while his cheekier bars can be found on this smoke-filled duet with the aforementioned ChillinIt.
Sydney duo Slim Set are an acquired taste, but you can’t deny their hyperactive energy. Emcee Dev honed his skills by battling punters at house parties, and has since developed his own off-kilter flow that houses charisma and exuberance in equal amounts. Meanwhile, producer Atro’s beats range from bouncing to guttural, crafted in the robotic future and delivered straight into your earholes. Atro has also DJ’d regularly at grime events around Australia, and even a Magic: The Gathering card tournament – talk about a stellar portfolio! Slim Set have raged their way through support slots for AJ Tracey and Father, while their Feed EP remains on high rotation.
For more in this series, check our list of the 10 Ethiopian rappers to know.