FOR BRIGGS, POLARISATION IS JUST PART OF THE PROCESS
Words by Christopher Kevin Au / Photography by Chris Loutfy
Briggs is filled with wide-eyed awareness about where he stands, not only as a rapper, but as one of Australia's most vocal commentators on politics, culture and Indigenous issues. Of course, those realms are intertwined when it comes to Briggs' catalogue, which might be why so many people find him so intensely polarising. Still, the Shepparton veteran feels right at home when he's reclining on the more extreme ends of the spectrum. "People are either going to fuck with me, or they're not. I like 5 stars, or I like 1 star. That middle grey area is not where I intend to live," he says. "You don't want to eat at a 3.5 star restaurant. You either want to eat at the 5 star restaurant, or see what the fuck is going on with the 1 star restaurant!"
It's an ethos that all artists and creatives would subscribe to, but Briggs takes it to greater lengths than most. As one half of A.B. Original, he created a hip-hop hallmark moment with 'January 26', a track that ignited national debate regarding the date change. triple j host Hau Latukefu credited the song as the catalyst for the Hottest 100 countdown's move to January 27, further adding, "Bloody hell, I can’t begin to tell you the importance of this record." Briggs' latest single, 'Life Is Incredible' is another song that's set to split listeners and was also slated to be an A.B. Original release, but ended up as Briggs' first solo offering since 2014. While the track is filled with sugar-coated melodies, twinkling keys and an overblown pop hook, it's all wrapped in enough sarcasm that becomes crystal clear when the song proclaims, "Being white is incredible!"
"The whole thing came about because of Pauline Hanson saying, 'It's okay to be white.' I was like, 'It's okay to be white?!' It's incredible to be white," he says, adding that the parody track exists in the context of Indigenous life expectancy and mortality rates. Briggs describes his verses as "impulsive and emotional... short little jabs" that reference "Tim Tams and Bintangs, shoeys and skid pants" and other overblown, surface-level elements of Australiana. "In reality, we have a rich culture that's over 50,000 years old, the oldest civilisation on the face of the planet, that's not acknowledged in a genuine way," he adds. The track has already ruffled many feathers, but for someone like Briggs, that might be the greatest sign of success. "Each release, I give less of a fuck. When I started out, my fuck levels were not great, and with each release, they've depleted. It's been a steady decline," he says. "I guess that's part of what I do. I try to present a question or a statement that brings a choice to the listener."
While this is the first we've heard from Briggs in a few years, he's been keeping busy on other fronts: He's writing with Matt Groening for animated series Disenchantment (he's constantly delivering The Simpsons quotes from the Golden Era seasons) and more recently, he's been manning The New Australia, a Beats 1 radio show named after the Apple Music playlist of the same name. There, he champions Australia's blossoming hip-hop scene, which is going through unprecedented sonic and cultural shifts. "The New Australia, for me, was just about the new talent. There's kids on there that still do boom-bap stuff... and then there's the other side which is more trap stuff, or R&B, soul stuff," he says. Briggs credits streaming services with diversifying the palettes of artists, resulting in more world-class product coming from down under. "All these kids have different tastes, they have a different way of consuming music, they have different exposure... The music that kids make isn't defined by the suburb they're in," he says.
Indeed, The New Australia playlist currently holds everything from a sunny Afrobeat anthem by Mark Akox, an oft-quoted underground anthem by Huskii, and even a hardstyle crossover by Hooligan Hefs. Briggs has his own favourites from The New Australia: "I like Triple One, they have that youthful fun about them. They're like respectful frat boys. I like Kobie Dee. My actual favourite is Milan Ring, as far as live talent, she plays so many instruments and produces her own stuff and sings… she's the best."
And speaking of Kobie Dee, he'll be just one of many artists joining Briggs on the grandiose stage of the Sydney Opera House, when the Bad Apples House Party hits on May 30 as part of VIVID. Other homegrown stars like The Kid Laroi, Jesswar, Nooky and Rebecca Hatch are on the bill, as well as David Dallas from across the Tasman Sea. "To be a kid from the streets of Shepparton, to take over the most iconic building - wait, it's not the MCG - but it's crazy," he says. "To me, it's a pretty powerful statement and it is reflective of what The New Australia represents. Could you imagine putting on this lineup 10 years ago at the Opera House? Not a chance." Whether it's his own music, curating radio and playlists or throwing gigs, Briggs' mission is clear and crucial at this stage of local hip-hop's exponential growth: "I'm just trying to create more opportunities, not just for me but everybody around me. And I try to change what shit looks like out here, what rap looks like, and what hip-hop is."