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Although hip hop has been one of the most vibrant and consistently interesting genres within Australian music for the better part of this century, newcomers could well be forgiven for considering it bland and white-washed, given key artists that have been hogging the spotlight and acting as unworthy torchbearers.
Thankfully, of late, the tables have turned in a big way. Most — if not all — of the year’s best homegrown hip hop has emerged from artists that break from the straight-white-male mould — REMI, Tkay Maidza and L-Fresh The Lion are but a few. Now, with the clock running out on 2016, the genre has thrown another three-pointer at endgame: Meet A.B. Original, the dynamic duo of Funkoars MC Daniel “Trials” Rankine and Adam Briggs; known mononymously by his surname.
With Reclaim Australia, their hotly-anticipated debut, the sharp-tongued twosome have created something with the vitality and freshness that comes with being a freshly-minted act, while also being executed with the assertive precision that reflects the veteran status of both men, who have been performing for years on end.
An easy comparison point comes in the form of Run the Jewels — two veteran MCs fearlessly trading bars over brassy production, as displayed on the bombastic 2 Black 2 Strong. Still, there’s far more to A.B. Original than this sole paralle, and the rest of Reclaim Australia puts in a solid effort of showcasing this.
If it wasn’t clear from their pun-laden name, A.B. Original both take great pride in their indigenous heritage — Rankine’s family comes from the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia, Briggs a Yorta Yorta man from the Goulburn-Murray junction. Their lambasting of systemic racism and blackface defenders doesn’t just stay on their social media, and nor should it. Songs like January 26 and Sorry (which feature Dan Sultan and Caiti Baker, respectively), are both blunt and unapologetic in their takedowns, mixing trademark humour with deeply-rooted introspection.
By extension, these songs are also reflective of the balance that makes Reclaim Australia such a successful experiment: It’s playful, but never to the point of losing sight of the message. It’s forthright and unapologetic about the issues it discusses, but neither Briggs nor Rankine are ever in a position to let a punchline or sarcastic quip slip through their fingers.
“It don’t get blacker than this,” the two chant on 2 Black 2 Strong. What a twist, then, that Reclaim Australia is telling of perhaps the brightest hope in locally-produced hip hop right now. Love it or leave it, haters.
Watch: A.B. Original – ‘January 26’