ONEFOUR, DELIVERING DRILL MUSIC DIRECT FROM MT. DRUITT
Words by Christopher Kevin Au // Images & Video by Chris Loutfy
On a crisp Thursday evening, we take the lengthy drive to Hebersham, a humble suburb deep in Sydney's West. We don't know much; all we have is a mobile phone number and a promise that there'll be someone to meet us at the local shops at 8:00pm, sharp. We pull into the parking lot as the sun sifts below the horizon, and sure enough, there's a sizeable crew of burly gentlemen standing by the shop windows. Nike Air Max sneakers pace around the gravel floor, while tracksuits and dri-fit caps are worn in unison like an unofficial uniform. This has to be them, right?
As we walk over towards the group, some members begin branching off and head in our direction. We have confirmation; this is OneFour. Their handshakes are firm, they're polite. They introduce themselves with smiles, some of which are partially hidden by balaclavas and bandanas. The warm greeting is almost enough to make you forget that they're one of Sydney's most brazen rap groups, here to film a video clip for their latest song, 'Shanks and Shivs' at some nearby flats.
But when we chat to OneFour member Lekks14, he warns us that people shouldn't take the crew's kindness for weakness. "People think that we have to be serious, to be staunch. Like we can't smile and stuff like that," he says. "You see a lot of people that have done certain things, they're still out there smiling as well." He's one of four rappers who feature on 'Shanks and Shivs', but OneFour includes well over a dozen other members, most of whom haven't touched the microphone yet. They started off in 2014 (hence the name, OneFour) as a crew of friends who met at parties around the Mt. Druitt area, later taking up rap as a form of retaliation.
"There was these guys making disses against us, so then we replied. And then people liked our reply, and it just went from there," Lekks14 says. Fellow OneFour member JM adds, “We just saw the numbers and realised that maybe there's something in this. People were enjoying it, and we realised we were pretty good at it.”
It's easy to see why OneFour's music has created such a whirlwind of hype in the underground. It's blunt and unapologetic, taking stylistic cues from UK drill and injecting it with West Sydney slang. Their hooks resemble battle cries, sandwiched by no-nonsense verses that hit like sledgehammers. Despite only taking music seriously in 2018, their handful of singles including 'What You Know' and 'Want the Money' have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, as well as co-signs from local rap veterans like NTER and Hau. But there may be another reason for OneFour's immense popularity: The fact that drill music remains largely untouched in this country.
"While everyone else is talking about smoking pot, going to raves and that, you hear us talking about things that we've done out on the streets. No one can really relate to us, and we can't really relate to them either," Lekks14 says, also reminding us that drill music isn't for everyone.
"There's no drillers out there. We're the only drillers. With drill, you have to be rapping about things you've done, you can tell who's faking it and who's not. I think that's why we're the only ones thriving in this scene over here, because people have seen what we've done out there. The streets speak for themselves, and that's why we're here at the moment."
Given their catalogue of violent narratives, it's no surprise that OneFour have gained constant attention from law enforcement; and today, police vehicles circle the video set before officers arrive on foot. Online, OneFour have also stirred up considerable controversy in YouTube comment sections; some question the legitimacy of their lyrics, while others criticise their bleak portrayal of life in Mt. Druitt. Still, the group aren't phased by keyboard commentators.
"We've been getting that for years. Even before the music, we've had all of that, so it's really nothing at this point," Lekks14 says. “Getting further into this music stuff, it isn't worth it to go out of our way to respond. We will never know who these guys are, so there's no use," JM adds.
And of all the OneFour tracks, 'Shanks and Shivs' just might be the most intense. If the title wasn't self-explanatory enough, it's a sharp-edged anthem about street warfare. (Extra points to Spenny14, who manages to mention Manu Crooks and Captain Cook in the same breath in his closing verse) Over an elongated, overcast instrumental crafted by Sonderonthebeat, the track revolves around a morbidly catchy hook that comes courtesy of YP14: "Shanks and shivs/I swear that's all we need when we go there to take that trip." The song marks YP14's debut vocal appearance on a OneFour track, and he's certainly made a firm first impression. "He's unique. Most people I spoke to pointed him out, and rate his verse as the best," JM says of his colleague. "He brings points to the scoreboard. He's a real driller."
OneFour are now attending studio sessions and rehearsals regularly, and the routine has helped them prioritise their music career. The organic buzz around OneFour is getting harder to ignore, and it feels like only a matter of time before their drill-centric sound picks up heavy momentum down under, in the same way many Australian artists have drifted towards grime in recent times. Still, JM admits that "staying out of trouble" may be the group's biggest obstacle to making music. That possibility is raised in 'Shanks and Shivs' when JM raps, "Will I reoffend when I'm with the crew is the question/Maybe not, but what will I do when the opposition starts flexin'? Fuck 'em!"
With rapper CellyOneFour currently incarcerated, we pray that remaining OneFour members remain on the right side of the law. The crew have more exciting prospects on the horizon, including a track produced by a prominent UK drill beat-maker. Just a few days after the release of 'Shanks and Shivs', OneFour perform their first ever gig at The Factory Theatre. The atmosphere is electric; when you see the 20-something members of OneFour onstage, all dressed in black sportswear and barking in unison, they don't like look a regular rap group - they look like an army. And just as their single 'Ready for War' affirms, they're prepared to bulldoze over anything that stands in their path.