Smokey's Blog

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Month: November, 2014

And the ARIA nominees…

Last week I discussed the artists that missed out on an ARIA nom, this week it’s all about the contenders for the Urban award..

Iggy Azalea – The New Classic

It’s 2014 and a young white girl from Mullumbimby drops a song called Murda Bizness and no one flinches. Iggy Azalea clearly possesses a formidable inner-strength: she moved to the US at 16 and actually made it in the toughest market there is – that alone is a big deal but despite nearing a billion youtube views it’s been clunky. Her Atlanta rap accent, described as “verbal blackface”  by Jean Grae may be a necessary affectation in breaking the US market, but given the context of her hippy upbringing in Australia, it’s almost Hollywood in transformation. Never fear though, her casually racist stereotyping of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders show she is most definitely Aussie. If Abbott didn’t break any promises and words mean nothing then Iggy can say she’s the realest. In many eyes she’s odds on to win with a staggering break-out year.

Hilltop Hoods – Walking Under Stars

Every album they’ve released since The Hard Road has won the Urban ARIA Award – even when they repackaged The Hard Road with strings they won with that too! It speaks volumes about the respect and affection held for the Hoods by the public and industry that they stay on top all these years later. For me, Walking Under Stars felt like a revitalising album giving the trio a spring in their step as they uncovered new ground with a renewed sense of purpose. Once again the Hoods are selling out huge concerts and their music is going Gold and Platinum. Phenomenal run of success. They’ve reached legacy status. Clear favourites outside of the Iggy juggernaut.

Illy – Cinematic

One of the hardest working artists over the last five years, Illy is a force to be reckoned with distinguishing himself from the pack with authoritative flows and a knack for writing sophisticated pop hooks. Time and time again his singles find their way to the top of radio rotation culminating in this year’s Tightrope, his biggest tune to date. His ambition and focus can’t be questioned – seemingly writing the last two albums simultaneously – and pulling it off. Seriously impressive. He won last year’s ARIA for the inferior Bring it Back album, so surely the far stronger Cinematic has a strong chance.

Thundamentals – So We Can Remember

It’s as if Blue Mountains crew Thundamentals knew they were onto something special when they gave this album its title. Huge growth between albums showed the boys aren’t playing around anymore – they stepped up everywhere, from production to songwriting to clips – I get the feeling we’re only seeing the start of a long run from them. This ARIA Award has at times felt like it’s a ‘profile’ rather than ‘album’ award and if that continues Thundas don’t stand a chance against this list. If it’s the latter, they could surprise everyone because this album was sharp, insightful and ambitious. Got Love for the underdog.

360 – Utopia

One of the most divisive and inspiring artists in the country – I haven’t seen an Australian artist like him in the time I’ve been involved in this music caper. Utopia hasn’t hit the public’s consciousness like the tidal wave that was Falling and Flying but songs like Price of Fame still shook things up – one of the best hooks of the year. I like 360 and have great respect for much of what he’s done – and we need larger than life characters. In with a shot but he’s up against it.

On the topic of ARIAs

This is the time of year where hours in the day feel like they rush ahead of themselves to get to next year. Award ceremonies give weary industry battlers a chance to get drunk and talk over acceptance speeches. The hip hop community has an uneasy relationship with these events but we’re part and parcel of them now.

Given the ARIA Awards are next week I thought I’d look at the albums that did and didn’t make the cut of nominations in possibly the most competitive year yet. We’ll start with those that didn’t.. bear in mind certain artists below didn’t fit in the ARIA timeline or didn’t have an album, and therefore weren’t considered.

2014 announced the arrival of a few exciting prospects that not only lived up to the hype but went well beyond it – the next few years will be very interesting as major labels swoop and throw a bit of cash around.

Starting with Remi and his electrifying debut Raw X Infinity, an album that suddenly revealed the spectrum of Remi’s talent when many anticipated a fun but inoffensive album of songs like Sangria. Hell naw, this was a statement and a half and showed a well-rounded artist with a vision, and a production team and crew that are seriously dangerous.

I work with these guys so take it as you will, but One Day dropped the showstopping Mainline this year and despite being a collective made up of four groups, the album was lauded for cohesion and chemistry. They went on to all but sell the Enmore Theatre out and generally own a huge national tour.

It’s incredible but really no surprise to see Tkay Maidza making waves internationally, with her self-assured tone and flow working impeccably over more electronic beats. She might be the perfect example of just how much talent lies beneath the surface in Australia – or perhaps not – artists like her don’t come around very often. And she’s a teenager. Scary.

L-Fresh the Lion has proven in the space of a short time that he’s one to watch, with a clear-headed sense of purpose and an infectious force of positivity that is difficult to ignore. He pulled together a strong album and with the right production, the next one will be fierce. You get the feeling this guy has only touched on the things he’ll achieve in years to come. He’s a one of a kind.

There’s no fronting on Kerser and the energy that swirls around him. He’s proudly done it with no radio, single-handedly carving his own lane in defiance of all the industry rules. I admire this dude and no matter how wild the lifestyle is he’s proof that there’s a gang of kids around this country looking to him to make sense of their world. Extra props for stepping up a gear with his productivity too (new album out this month).

Joelistics‘ 2nd album Blue Volume is everything you’d expect from such a gifted songwriter, but it adds a few new feathers to his cap with some truly jawdropping moments, not least the above video. No longer riding the wave of young and most hype, Joelistics is probably the most likely to follow in Paul Kelly’s footsteps if anyone could. Very very good.

Allday has gathered a sizeable following of the back of his quirky hip hop but for me the R&B focus in what is probably more deeply embedded indie pop instincts is what separates him from the pack. It’s a testament to his skill that he pulled it off with enough personality to overshadow the Drake influence and form his own lane in the country. The kid completely polarises the hip hop community and his response seems to be to distance himself from the scene, which is a very hip hop thing to do. Look forward to seeing where he goes.

Mau Power and Archie Roach teamed up for one of the songs of the year in my opinion. If I could program triple j this would be in high rotation as this hook from Uncle Archie is a gift. Emotive, real and unforgettable.

Uncompromising and raw, Tornts comes staunch but hip hop is an artform and skills are on full display on Street Visions, his album from late 2013. There’s a clear storytelling thread that comes through in the songs shining a light on the underbelly of Melbourne. One of the strongest voices coming out of the BTE crew you’d be wise to check in on whatever he does next.

No introducing needed with Briggs, one of the most engaging social media characters online. This album took everything up a notch, his songwriting went widescreen and turned a lot of heads in the process. Simply put, there is no other artist in the country quite like him on stage or off. Sheplife is a powerful record packed with humour, skills and a realness that people in this country need to hear.

Still one of the illest, Delta gave us Pyramid Schemes this year and it’s dope from start to finish with Delts’ trademark solid flow in authority mode once again. I don’t need to go on about the commanding presence the bro has but this album even has Peter Tilbrook from The Masters Apprentices on it. Seek it out.

Crate Cartel keeps releasing music that can’t be overlooked although the title of Geko’s album Real Heads Don’t Listen suggests otherwise. This is a solid album that surprises with it’s dusty DOOMesque observations and style – most songs coming in around the 2 minute mark – all heads should listen.

750 Rebels may never win an ARIA (like most of us) but they’ve steadily repped QLD to the fullest and I’ll always check out anything involving Lazy Grey. Love that they took on Andrew Stafford’s excellent Pig City book for their Kold Heat album.

It was never going to challenge the Hoods or Bliss n Esos but Astronomy Class put out what must be the most original hip hop release of the year, teaming up with Cambodian Srey Channthy on a record that brought the golden era of Cambodian soul and rock into local hip hop. Songwriting is vintage OB: multilayered, insightful and sharp.

No doubt I’ve unintentionally missed things (apologies!) but here’s a few more to consider. Perth’s Coin Banks impressed with the Tails EP and this single. Diafrix just put out one of their best songs to date The Sign. One of the most loved people in our culture is Hau and he dropped the Football, Feasts and Funerals mixtape with news that more music is coming in 2015. Chelsea Jane dropped this and raised the stakes – hopefully an album soon? Daily Meds just released their best album including this great single Beneath the RadarMilwaukee Banks are on the horizon, Sarah Connor keeps doing good things, Mathas will be putting out an album in 2015, Baro stays cool as, we’re only starting to see what Citizen Kay will do. Phew. What else? K-21 gave us this chiller, Kween G kept us waiting for her long player, Miss Hood is on the way up as is Philly (with Steven Motlop) via Nathan Lovett-Murray’s Payback Records.