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III. Cartel: Developing the Melbourne hip-hop scene

Words by Dina Amin

Photography by Anne Moffat

For some, music is a way of expressing one’s identity; it enables a voice, an opportunity for validation. For III.Terra – Melbourne-based producer and sound engineer – music is a means of giving something back.

Born and raised in Canada, III. comes from a strict Islamic background. Half Iraqi, half Afghani, III.’s appreciation for music, in particular hip-hop, began at the age of 13 when he discovered Nas and Biggie Smalls. When he was 15, his family moved to Perth and III. quickly became a victim of Islamophobia. III. used music as a means of expression and escapism, often running to his room to listen to beats and write rhymes. His appreciation for music evolved into a love of dance, the latter leading to a newfound respect from his classmates.

After high school, III. studied a Bachelor of Audio at Perth’s SAE campus, where he graduated as a qualified sound engineer. Why did he pursue sound engineering and not song writing?

“Sound engineering caught my attention more than rap itself; the versatility of being able to work with so many artists and being able to inspire at the same time. Eventually, I might become a rapper. Who knows? But that’s later down the track. Ever since I was young I wanted to make a difference in the music scene and I think the best way to make a difference is to be involved. With rapping it’s a lot of concentration on yourself, your own lyrics. When I did start rapping, it was simply a way of expressing myself. I want to make music with people. I’m a giver; I want to give and help as many people with their music as I can.”

On his 20th birthday, III. took a huge risk and flew to Melbourne, believing that there was no better place in Australia for musicians.

Struggling to make ends meet, III. was initially living three hours outside of Melbourne with his sister. Desperate to start networking, he regularly took the three hour train ride into the city, introduced himself to rappers and producers at clubs and begged his way into engineering partnerships. Now, three years on – after being a successful club promoter (YoYo, Trill) and frequent collaborator –  III. is a locally respected sound engineer and producer. He runs a recording studio called Next Level Studios in Brunswick and works for the renowned organisation, Indigenous Hip Hop Projects.

Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP) was founded in 2005, a government funded organisation that travel to various rural areas in Australia, tackling certain criterias in indigenous communities. While addressing topics like health, unity and suicide prevention, IHHP run five-day music courses, empowering the community with interactive song and dance. In the space of the five days, everyone works together to make a music video, record, produce and mix a song.

“Other people (that go out there) just talk and hand out pamphlets, it’s boring. What we do, we give them sweatbands, we give them shirts, we make music with them,” III. enthuses.

How does one join the IHHP team? “We are always looking for people, dancers, videographers, MCs, sound engineers, artists. They can email us, check out our website.”

III. was invited to join IHHP after doing some work for Bunjil (Bunjil Music Business Project), a training and mentorship music program for Indigenous people. As part of Bunjil, III. ran classes on producing and recording, giving back to the community what music gave to him: a voice.

When he’s not travelling with IHHP, III. is kicking back in his studio: recording, producing, mixing and mastering.

“A lot of people just like to offer services with music. You go to studios and they all offer these services, like just record and then leave, you know. It’s not organic. As a sound engineer, you need to connect with the artist. You need to create a relationship. Art is a relationship between you and whatever art you do, it’s a bond. So you should have the same bond with the person that’s doing a particular art form. They have to have as much dedication and commitment as you do…if you’re just offering a regular everyday engineering service, your passion will go away because it’s just work for you.”

III. approaches artists via Soundcloud and Facebook and hears about them through mutual friends.

“I have meetings with them (artists). I have chats with them. I listen to their stuff, I do my research. If I don’t like their stuff, I’ll let them know straight away. I don’t tell them I don’t like it, I tell them what they can work on…I listen out for that ‘thing.’ That little something that makes them different from everyone else; a sound that immediately gives you shivers. Personality plays a big role in that. If a person can bring out their personality through their music, then that’s when you know ‘this is an individual.’

“What I look for in an artist is commitment, dedication, perseverance, talent and leadership. Knowing what they want, knowing their direction and having an open mind.”

III. charges per song, not per hour. “With usual studios, often the mix isn’t included. The artist has to pay for studio hire, the engineer per hour, and on top of that they have to pay for a mix, which is extra.”

For III., the real reward is providing opportunity; providing a voice. The money is just a bonus.

“I want to be able to get to a point where I can start a foundation that will help people get into the music industry. That’s my big dream, to create a musical foundation that helps people find themselves and their dream through music and not have to pay big lump sums of money.”

Currently, III. is in the planning stages of III.Cartel, his forthcoming record label. III. is inspired by Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), the independent Californian-based label, home to Kendrick Lamar and SZA, among others.

“TDE built their label through their artist. I’ll first build them (artists) up, develop them and then build the label around that…artists make the label.”

Through III.Cartel, III. wants to develop the hip-hop scene in Melbourne, a scene that he doesn’t believe is getting the respect it deserves.

“It (Melbourne Hip-Hop) hasn’t gotten to that point where it’s been established. It’s still finding its sound. That’s something that I want to be a part of…it’s frustrating for me because Australia is capable of so much more and there’s so many talented people here that don’t get the awareness they deserve. I want to be that type of dude that gives opportunity.”

III.Cartel will be an umbrella of opportunity: record label, collective, marketing business, TV show, radio show.

“If Kendrick Lamar came out here, what radio station would he be interviewed on? If he goes out to the UK, he can go on Tim Westwood or BBC Radio 1 because that’s the hip-hop radio station. But here, what? Fucking Fox FM?

“No. There needs to be a proper dedicated hip-hop FM in Melbourne, something that can have people like Drake freestyling on it and Australian rappers freestyling as well. Everyone can work together in this sense….PBS and Triple R have good hip-hop programs, but we need something available 24/7, something that we can tune into at any time of the day.”

For more info on Indigenous Hip Hop Projects, head to www.indigenoushiphop.com

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