Melbourne emcee Remi will make his first American appearance this March when he and his team, production duo Sensible J and Dutch, come to the South by Southwest music festival during March, aiming to generate some buzz behind Raw x Infinity, the LP that will get its American debut come April.
Competing on dozens of stages against hundreds of bands for the attention of thousands of potential fans requires hype. Quoting one of Remi's American influences: Believe the hype. He's got the facts to back it up: Raw just received four nominations at the Rolling Stone Australia Awards (to be decided February 25), making him the most the most decorated representative of hip-hop at the ceremony and the only rapper up for the Album of The Year prize.
Four nominations could well come to zero wins. If the ARIAs—Australia's premiere music awards show—are any indication, Sia will take the top prize for Album of The Year and her viral "Chandelier" video will trump the rest of the field (including Remi's polished "Livin" clip). Either Courtney Barnett's critical darling or the mass appeal of 5 Seconds of Summer make those the acts to beat in Best New Talent. Remi accepts these odds graciously.
"It's just so cool to be nominated, you know?" he said. "The best things about those awards as well are that [the nominees] are new acts, like emerging brand new. They don't have to [do] that but they chose to do that, which is rad."
Indeed the selection of less-established acts would be a godsend to American music fans, tired of the copious nominations that a limited number of acts receive for the nation's biggest awards, such as the recent Grammys. The nods granted to sprouting performers such as himself mean something else entirely however. It's the sign of a nation accepting, even encouraging the development of unique music.
The Australian hip-hop scene didn't just pop up with the breakthrough of Iggy Azalea in the United States. Just Us dropped the genre's first album down under during 1988, eventually touring with Run-DMC when the legendary trio came to the continent later that year. As one nation began to develop dozens of subgenres across a host of regions however, the other simply didn't according to Justin "Sensible J" Smith.
"Musically, it's kind of American boom-bappy, a lot of samples still," he said. "Only now in the last three years has any different sort of hip-hop coming out of Australia that's actually slowly getting somewhere. The scene's starting to change. Before you either sounded like the 'golden era' or it wasn't accepted. Now there's some dudes doing some more poppy sounding stuff. Some more electronic-based stuff. Some non-Anglo Australian stuff is making inroads."
Remi and J hold no grudges against the golden age of hip-hop, nor its elevation of the art of sampling—the pair, as well as fellow production partner Dutch aim to put out a new album for Australian fans later this year, emphasizing sampling within atypical genres. Pushing the form forward, with J citing work such as the iconic Since I Left You from Melbourne plunderphones The Avalanches, can result in fresh product. The "non-Anglo" aspect comes out more boldly in the emcee's music. Remi, born Remi Kolawole, and his penchant for Afrobeat comes from hours of Fela Kuti on repeat at family gatherings of the rapper's Nigerian immigrant father, while J's parents traveled to Australia from South Africa.
While hip-hop award nominations for compatriot Azalea gathers wary eyes across the Pacific, race serves as a non-issue within the realm of the performers themselves in Australia. If anything, hip-hop has proven to be a safe gathering ground for all ethnicities. Although indigenous emcee Briggs told The Guardian that "it's not about white rappers or Aboriginal rappers...it's about good and bad," the rest of the nation has struggled to come to grips with new waves of immigrants in the world outside of music.
The issue hits home for Remi, the son of a first generation immigrant and "proud" member of hyrbrid heritage. He released Raw and its aggressive track "Ode to Ignorance"—which throws paint on those who harbor resentment toward Australia's immigrant population—long before the December Sydney hostage crisis, yet the issues it attacks will only amplify in the years to come. Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the nation in a public statement last week that "it's been clear to me that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt."
That can only mean dark skies ahead for those of Islamic background. Indonesia has long provided high numbers of "boat people," and just as an uptick of immigrants fleeing war struck Australia following World War II, so too have heavy numbers of Afghanis and Syrians coming to the continent in the wake of recent wars in their homelands. Remi doesn't come from an Islamic background but the sufferings of his new neighbors should provide fodder for years to come.
"Tony Abbott is fu*king up. I will happily say that. He's a liberal and he's got liberals calling him out, on radio, calling him a fu*king dud. That's usually ride-or-die for them," the emcee said. "At the moment it's mostly Islamophobia...Australia is probably one of the safest places on the planet. Any kind of warmongering that's down through our media is purely warmongering. Methamphetamines is more a threat to our people than ISIS."
Sound like any other Western nations you can think of?
Remi will be entering into the American market just as many of the biggest names have suddenly discovered social commentary deserves an equal place aside hustling tall tales. He grabs mainstream listeners by turning the body up with singles such as "XTC Party" and "Sangria," and then turning his voice up with "Ode to Ignorance" and throwing jabs at Abbott within the title track.
His time will be short in the states following SXSW—a longer tour will require new visa applications, and the soonest Americans can expect a longer tour would be late 2015. The rapper says he'll be keeping an ear to the wind to measure how long of a jaunt he can justify. Raw x Infinity is the shot-in-the-arm bars that American audiences want right now. He should aim to be back sooner rather than later.