When gritty Aussie hip-hop outfit The Herd hit the airways with Scallops back in 2001, the band forged themselves into the Aussie psyche. This was Aussie hip-hop, from a crew composed of Ozi Batla, Urthboy, Berzerkatron (MCs), Unkle Ho (beats), Traksewt (piano accordion, clarinet and beats), Sulo (beats and guitar), Toe-Fu (guitar), Rok Poshtya (bass) and singer Jane Tyrrell. They didn’t emulate American stylings, but instead pioneered a distinctly Aussie hip-hop sound and presented music that predominantly featured politically oriented lyrics.
One of their better known political pieces was 77%.
It declares: ‘77 per cent of Aussies are racist,’ and according to Dale Harrison, aka Rok Poshtya, ‘Ozi Batla wrote the lyrics in an afternoon after the Tampa incident. He was sitting in his backyard; his neighbour who was just over the fence started spouting anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric and he argued with him for a while and went home and wrote this song and pretty much had it finished within the afternoon; it was one of those that keeps getting more relevant. The lyric in that song particularly gets me: ‘take Aussie from my name’; it was a full-on statement and now it’s even more so because there’s a real thing that you can’t say anything negative about Australia and not be bailed up with this patriotism thing…
I am Australian too and I can have that opinion too; it’s part of that freedom to to say what you please, unless it impinges on the dignity of someone else.
The Herd are a multicultural crew, so they’re pretty passionate about issues such as this.
‘We have always been a multicultural crew; we are first-, second- and third-generation Australians. That is what Australia is to me – we are a multicultural nation, with different religions and different languages. We are bunch of people of all different colours. We sing songs about Australia from where we are but they are not gung-ho Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oy Oy Oy songs. We like having a political aspect to our lyrics to bring people to the next level.’
You certainly won’t find The Herd rapping about hos, or the size of their dicks.
‘If we put something out like that,’ laughs Dale, ‘it would be an EP at most. Probably just a seven inch!’
Although it’s 16 years now since The Herd stepped up, getting crowds jumping along with songs like We Can’t Hear You, with subjects that ranged from their well-known anti-war stance and anti-corporatism to more personal topics such as divorce and the slow death of the Australian outback/country.
What happens when that comfortable kid becomes a middle-aged man?
Does that come to the stage as well?
‘We realised this when we started out,’ laughs Dale. ‘At that time most of the rappers had been doing it for a while. You look into the future and there weren’t many people. The culture was so young in Australia and commercially it took off a lot later. It wasn’t until 2001 or 02 that people made a living in a meaningful way, and I remember us looking forwards and going wow, what does 10 or 15 years away look like? Because at that time no-one had done it that long. But hip-hop is a tool; it’s culture and a lifestyle rather than a subculture. Subculture is something you do when you are 18–25 or it’s something for 12–15 whereas hip-hop is much more a set of a way of doing things. Folks in rural Germany will have their own way of rapping now, or writing or… and basically it’s stories. When it comes down to it, if you are telling stories about your street corner and dealing drugs, or Urth Boy’s latest album, your mother’s history and growing up in Australia. Middle-aged stories need to be told as well…’
Yes they do.
The Herd are featured at Earth Frequency Festival this weekend – Friday till Monday at Ivory’s Rock.
For more details go to earthfrequency.com.au.