WHAT IS ‘THIS LIFE’ FOR KOBIE DEE?
Words by Christopher Kevin Au // Photography by Chris Loutfy
I grew up just minutes away from Kobie Dee, on the south end of Maroubra that borders Matraville. Still, I only met him for the first time in August 2018, when he performed at Tasman Keith's Mission Famous EP launch. Back then, his Papertoy-produced single 'Right Now' was on rotation; his articulate delivery, commanding onstage presence and biting social commentary convinced me that he was one of the city's most important voices. Fast forward to February 2019, and Kobie has just dropped 'This Life', a track he wrote two years ago as a 19-year-old. He's held onto it until now, and you can't help but feel like this release might bring some resolve, some closure to the more tumultuous chapters of Kobie's life.
'This Life' is an overcast tale of Kobie's troublesome younger years, teamed with Papertoy production, pensive guitar strings and poignant melodies by Bea Moon. The music video takes us through the neighbourhoods and regular haunts that Kobie spent time in, buildings that anyone who grew up in Maroubra, Matraville or Malabar might recognise. One shot also includes Lexington Place, one of Maroubra's more infamous hubs. "We thought that shooting it right in front of the bakery, it would be iconic for people who live here, because everybody gets chicken schnitzel rolls from Lexo bakery," Kobie says with a chuckle.
"When I was younger, Lexo was off the rails. Now, there's a lot of improvement. But back then, there was a lot of drugs, a lot of alcohol, a lot of violence. I remember when I was little, my mum and I were walking down to the beach, and I had my shoes off. There were police everywhere and when we walked past, they came over and told my mum that I had to get washed. Someone had just been stabbed and I just walked through the dry blood... That made a lot of us grow up a lot quicker."
Throughout his teenage years, Kobie found himself in frequent trouble with the law. In 'This Life', he laments the strain this put on the relationship with his mother; "17, selling dope from the house, putting tears in the eyes of the woman that made me."
"I just went through the rebellious stage like every teen really goes through," he says. "I'd get arrested, get put on curfew and my mum just couldn't hold me down. There was nothing she could do to stop what I was doing at that stage." At 16 years old, Kobie suffered from a near ecstasy overdose, and his mother sought intervention from boxing coach Brad Hardman. Kobie eventually fought his way to become NSW Featherweight champion, and a row of boxing trophies now sit proudly on her living room shelf. "To see where I've come from, to where I'm at now, it's made us a lot closer. She sees that I'm doing a lot better, and she's proud. I'm just not that person anymore," he says.
Elsewhere on 'This Life', Kobie reflects on the community's distrust of police and Indigenous incarceration rates; "Tatted on his arm was that red, black and yellow/Where he wears his pride, deep inside, an intelligent mind just lost in time." Still, despite the song's weighty subject matter, it ends with a glimmer of hope; "I must be a fool to really think that I could have changed it all with a song, but still I try." While Kobie may not be able to heal all of his troubles through music, it feels like a considerable leap in the right direction. "That's my way of trying to get that hope out, trying to send that love out, and to try to bring people together," he says.
While 'This Life' may have been written some time ago, Kobie's life continues to evolve; old habits fade and new obstacles present themselves directly in his path. Still, he's in a good headspace. "I've had some good news, I've had bad news, it's always up and down. Right now, with the release of this song and other things coming, I'm just feeling a lot more motivated and more inspired. Things are only looking up for me at the moment," he says.
And while motivation to make music comes from within, he's got another reason to grind harder than ever before: He'll soon become a father. "I'm about to have my first baby. This is a day I've been waiting for my whole life, I've wanted to be a dad ever since I was a kid myself. I think it's going to change me a lot, especially having that responsibility of another life coming into this world," he says with wide-eyed excitement.
"I know that this life, my career that I'm choosing, that's what's going to help support my daughter. If I ever pass on, it's going to be the legacy I leave behind for my daughter. That just motivates me even more to keep doing what I'm doing, because at the end of the day, it's just going to benefit my daughter, no matter what happens."
Suddenly, that same glimmer of hope that ends 'This Life' - it appears a lot brighter.