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Local Knowledge interview: Multilingual Mcs

Author: Jeremy King
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
They set out to make hip hop for the indigenous community, but once Triple J picked up thier debut single, Local Knowledge were set onto a different path.

Local Knowledge are far from your average oz hip hop crew rapping about beer, BBQs and chicks. These are four guys whose lyrics try to communicate some kind of message about their own indigenous culture and the background. As opposed to rapping just for the hell of it, these guys are actually trying to teach a wider mainstream audience about different aspects of Aboriginal culture. And they manage to do it to a phat and kicking hip hop beat.

They only formed a couple of years back and their big break happened in July last year when they were the first ever indigenous crew to play Triple J's Live At The Wireless. Since the Triple J gig, they've played numerous hip hop gigs and festivals and their single Blackfellas was downloaded over 10,000 times from the Triple J website. With an EP out through iTunes and a slew of local gigs coming up, Local Knowledge are a crew for those seeking a little bit more depth from their hip hop, although getting a crowd to go nuts on the dancefloor is also equally high on their agenda.

"We only really started off to do Aboriginal communities." Joel states. "Our aim was to start getting blackfellas thinking about the bigger picture and some of the issues we have to deal with and stuff like that. So that's how it started and then it just kind of blew up. All our good friends who aren't blackfellas started digging it and then kind of here we are. Triple J picked up on us and we're getting heaps of mainstream gigs now which is really good."

For all their mainstream appeal, however, there can be no mistaking the difference in lyrical content of Local Knowledge from other mainstream Oz hip hop crews. This is hip hop that is both political and educational, which doesn't necessarily make it any less fun or accessible. It's just that these guys are a little bit smarter than your average hip hop bears. And as Joel explains to me, the group also try and come to the table with a positive message for their audience.

"The first songs we did were not negative or anything, they weren't 'kill everyone and take back our land' sort of songs." He explains. "It was more issues that happened to us, that were quite close to heart, such as the stolen generation and deaths in custody… and they were quite negative things that we're rapping about. And then we thought 'well we've got all that off our chests'… and so we decided to do some positive songs, to do something to make everyone feel good. So we wrote the Blackfellas single which was released through Triple J and that was about all the different language groups, there are about 500 different Aboriginal language groups in Australia. That went really well not just in the Aboriginal community but outside as well. People started going what's 'Murray's' and Koories'- And then we start talking about all the different language groups and people start freaking out going 'I never knew that'."

For a hip hop community often starved of worthwhile lyrical content, the arrival of a group with something different to say is most certainly welcome. And Joel tells me that their acceptance by their local hip hop community was in part because they infused their culture, traditions and politics into their music. "Even though we survived the changeover from our traditions to the western thing, we try to keep a lot of our traditional stuff which definitely sets us apart." Joel explains. "In the hip hop scene in Newcastle, a lot of the DJs and other lads say that 'we like you because your stuff isn't just that '90s stuff, that US, acid jazz sort of stuff'. We've got fast and uptempo beats and kind even go as fast as 165 BPM which is pretty damn fast. And we've got a whole spectrum of different sounds. We do our shows and put 'shake a leg' stuff in the show which is a traditional dance we've always done and we<