Mentorship is a two-way street
Music is a young man’s game as young people dictate what’s cool and what’s not. For people in my age bracket or experience level, our job is to help them through everything we’ve learned and provide guidance or advice, but not speak for them.
Mentorship can be as simple as a DM saying ‘hey, I really like that song’ or as evolved as being in the studio with them and helping them develop their sound and artistry. But it also depends on them. If they’re open to listening, that’s great, let’s continue this conversation. If they don’t, that’s okay too, because people have to go on their own journeys in their own time. Growing up as an artist myself, I always hate unsolicited advice, so I’m always careful about how I give that advice.
Honesty and tact are the best principles
Being a consultant almost crept up [on me] Being in radio for so long, you’re used to people asking, ‘What do you think about this?’ And you just have to give your honest thoughts. I had to learn how to be honest. If I don’t like it, I have to tactfully express it, to say something like: ‘This doesn’t resonate with me. But that doesn’t mean 50 other people won’t love it’. Just because I don’t like it, that’s not the be all and end all. I understand that my opinion may carry a certain weight, but it should not be the only opinion you hear.
People appreciate your honesty. It’s your name, and you can’t pander to everyone. You really have to stand by your morals and your values. People may not necessarily like what you say, but they will respect it because you are honest with them and they appreciate it more than you lying to inflate their ego.
“We want to see artists who are making that cultural impact being recognized, and those kinds of artists aren’t always going to chart.”
The small size of the Australian music industry stops people really talking – I definitely feel that and I see a lot of people discussing it on Twitter. It’s so small, and you see these people at the show. Through social media, you can be contacted very easily. It’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t allow us to grow.
Recognize the impact on both charts and culture
I know because it’s hard [ARIA] We hear a lot of concerns. As with everything, you’re never going to please everyone. I think there are definitely things about their criteria that need to be addressed. But at the same time, it’s the ARIA Awards. ARIAs are charts. So if the criteria you are charted, then you are eligible. And I get that. But we want to see artists who are acknowledging that cultural influence, and those kinds of artists aren’t always going to chart. So we have to find a way where we can reward people who chart because it’s an achievement, but also recognize these artists that mean a lot to the community.
I think it’s always going to be a conversation, trying to make these award shows better. We can also discuss: What does reward actually mean? Obviously it doesn’t define us, but it’s nice for artists to be rewarded for their work and the amount of effort they put in. And as an industry, we need to evolve, we need to always adapt and recognize Australia’s artistry and creativity.
I think we can have it both ways. The ARIAs have a certain obligation to the music industry that they need to recognise, but we should also look at events like the FBi SMAC Awards that really reflect what’s happening in the community in general, not just music. The ARIAs are always going to be prestigious awards. It’s like: There’s the American Music Awards, the BET Awards, and all these other award shows, but everyone looks at the Grammys. I think we can hold the ARIAs to the highest standards for accountability, but also recognize that there are smaller awards and accolades that we should add strength to.
Give artists context and opportunities to evolve
Onefour Mentoring, I encountered many misunderstandings of hip-hop in the music industry. Even a lot of listeners are like, ‘Why are you supporting this? They only talk about violence. But I always think it’s bigger than that. Not only are Onefour really good musicians, they have a story behind them and their environment and the system they’re in. People need to listen, but sometimes they don’t want to. They just say ‘Onefour Insight is violence. We need to ban them. But is this the answer? If we were truly concerned about violence, why not talk about where the violence is coming from? Why are they in this environment, and why such an environment?
It goes deeper, but I compare it to my parents saying that I was listening to music and all they heard were swear words. But are you listening to what they say between those swear words? All you hear is someone who stabbed it or someone did it – but are you hearing the story of how they got to that point or why it’s happening? For me, it’s about making the lyrics relevant and trying to paint the bigger picture to understand why they talk about it. That’s why they don’t talk about surfing, you know.
“I told OneFour at the beginning: This is your truth for now. But at some point, you have to evolve.”
And we talked about artists evolving. They must be allowed to evolve. That’s what I told Onefour at the beginning: it’s your truth now. But at some point, you have to evolve as a musician and more importantly, as a young person, and that only comes with time and experience.
The UK market is a great opportunity
The biggest opportunity for Australian hip-hop in 2022 is to strengthen ties with the UK market. Internationally, the UK has been the most receptive to us and I think whether it’s Afroswing or Drill, we’ve been inspired by what’s happening in the UK and we’ve turned it into our own version. Collaboration, I think, is the most promising way to strengthen those bonds. Create a relationship, send music, send verses.
This is the easiest way at the moment, but travel is where longevity comes from. Because being so far away and seeing stuff on the internet, you don’t get the same feeling as seeing someone live. Someone like Genesis Owusu: his videos are crazy and his songs are crazy, but until you see him on stage you’re like oh shit, okay, I get it. As more Australians get the chance to get out there and people see and feel the power in our bodies, that’s when real change will come.
King, by Hau Latukefu and Christopher Riley, is out now from Penguin Books Australia. Get your copy here