Words by Alana Mitchelson
Photography by Aidan McLaren
Hip-hop artist Remi says a rapper’s real job is being involved with and representing a community. Once reaching a certain level in the Australian hip hop scene, it becomes clear that it’s pretty tight knit. Even though there is so much land separating cities across Australia, everyone is influenced by everybody else.
Remi’s noticed that Australia is starting to groove into a very interesting phase of hip-hop music. “The best way to describe it is that Australia is such a young place,” he says.
“I think now that the music scene has started to age — people are beginning to have more freedom to express and experiment with new beats and there are some young emcees emerging in Melbourne who are really good at what they do.
“But I know there are beefs that go on in the States and that rap, for them, is something that can get them off the streets or help their families out of a really bad situation. Their art takes shape out of a really serious struggle.”
Remi visibly holds so much respect for the roots of the hip-hop genre and doesn’t pretend his personal struggles have been anywhere near as painful or confronting as those less fortunate in his industry who have had it really tough.
He is very conscious of the fact that his approach to rap offers listeners another point of view as he makes music solely for the pure love of it.
Raised by a Nigerian father and Australian mother, Remi’s earliest memories of music featured a fair amount of African music, like Highlife, which was often played at family gatherings during his childhood. It was also not uncommon for the likes of Miles Davis and Michael Jackson to resonate throughout his parents’ house as he was growing up.
It was not until his university years that Remi was first introduced to rapping, when a university friend randomly dared Remi to rap. Inspired by a sense of creative freedom, Remi began writing lyrics and, through a friend, was soon put in touch with beatmaker Justin Smith (Sensible J).
Aware that the producer was of South African background, Remi playfully sought to invite J over for dinner, trick him with delicious home-cooked African cuisine and convince him to form some kind of a collaboration. The guys have now been working together for about four years along with Daniel ‘Dutch’ Siwes, who is responsible for mixing and mastering their tracks.
“We’re just like family. I spend more time at their house than my own house. I’m just like the bad smell that hangs around and makes music,” Remi laughs.
Remi draws inspiration from all kinds of places; be it hip-hop music itself, the news or conversations with friends. Remi and J even often initiate a discussion surrounding an injustice they’ve seen on a given day which could spark up enough interest for a song.
The duo have found that sometimes technical precision in music composition can be overrated. Parts of their track ‘Raw X Infinity’ was actually recorded on a smartphone.
Remi explains that the raw sound it produced added character to the track. Sometimes tight drums are not necessarily the cleanest sound.
Remi feels there is quite a strong rapping community in Melbourne.
“A lot of people are known to say that hip hop’s gone down the drain and I’m like ‘You obviously don’t listen to the hip hop I’m listening to.’ Hot music is so readily available. Just go on any online playlist any day and you’ll find a new artist that’s as good as anything you’ve heard or better. I’m hearing them all the time.”
Remi’s best advice for emerging artists is to not be scared about putting themselves out there “into the universe” as much as possible because they might be surprised by just how many opportunities will emerge. In his opinion, two of the most important things one could possibly do would be to garner the support of community radio stations and play loads of live shows.
Secondly: listen to your favourite artists because there is always something new to learn from them. Remi has found there are certain artists who might write a rhyme that no one else will necessarily pick up on that he really likes. He urges hip-hop artists to find a quirk like that, add their own twist, replicate it and learn from mistakes.
Lastly, have a team. Aside from having people to bounce ideas off, the more people there are in your crew means more people rocking up to your shows. Remi recalled having about 10 people at his first gig and that, while it might be hard, it is important not to feel too disheartened.
“I’ve literally played to a room of four people. Three of them I brought and then the other one was a bartender I think. But you’ve got to stay motivated and the only way you’re going to do that is by having fun and really appreciating your art. If you care about that then hopefully people will come to you.”
Remi, J and Dutch intend to one day pursue music as a full-time gig, but for now they are realists and each have their own part-time retail or admin job.
“So many musicians complain about being broke but if you’ve got a job you don’t have that problem.
“And sure, sometimes it can be trying on your art, but so many artists are hermits. They can stay inside, get cabin fever and can’t create.”
When Remi first started touring, the only way they could stay on the road was by having enough money to pay for flights and accommodation. He stresses that you do not “under any circumstances” want to be in debt to anybody, especially when you first start out.
“I don’t know how but if you’re doing the right things and staying true to yourself, you’ll usually find a bunch of people prepared to support you,” he says.
“Music is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. It’s about releasing whatever’s inside of you, like creation. Just be ‘you’ and hopefully things will come to fruition.”
Keep up to date with Remi here