One thing is clear: a new generation of Australian artists is appropriating rap in their own way, injecting a great dose of African music and deep sounds. But since its emergence in the late 1980s, local rap has always stood out from its American big brother. Often brilliantly.

Sound Unlimited – A Postcard from the Edge of the Underside (1992)

To be clear: Australian hip-hop was not born with Sound Unlimited. But the fact is that this band from Sydney were the ones who pulled it out of the underground by becoming the first rap group in the country to sign on a major label, in this case Sony. In 1992, their debut album, A Postcard From The Edge Of The Underside, carried a delirious number of influences. So much so that the underground scene never really respected them. But that didn’t matter. Sound Unlimited married the tradition of breakbeats with screaming synthesisers on “Sharks and Rodents”, and drew energy from funk and rock rhythms. A bit like the Beastie Boys, but even more versatile. “Kickin’ To The Undersound” or “Unity” even betray an affection for house, embodied by the voice of singer Tina Martinez. Their sophisticated sound was especially well suited to live music, an essential element for Australian music: with international bands struggling to finance tours on the island-continent, local bands had to step in. And Sound Unlimited were always ready to fill in.

Hilltop Hoods – State of the Art (2009)

Might this be THE best known band in Australian rap music? Surely. Made up of rappers Suffa and Pressure, and DJ Debris, Hilltop Hoods has released a volley of classics: A Matter Of Time (1999), The Calling (2003), The Hard Road (2006)... Six of their eight albums have been number one on the Australian charts. But State Of The Art in 2009 is certainly the one that won the most success. Strongly rooted in hip-hop, but also in the nu-metal scene, which is strong in Australia, the group still put out a radio rap, tailored towards 2000s nostalgia. Rock choruses abound, as on “Chase That Feeling” or “Chris Farley” (which opens with a tribute to Jerry Garcia, leader of the Grateful Dead), and easy-listening melodies (“Fifty In Five”, “Parade Of The Dead”...) set the tone for this album. On State Of The Art, the band also has fun with something of a redneck image, from deepest Australia, which is communicated through themes and references, and always accompanied by some very offbeat humour. Not everyone likes Hilltop Hoods, it’s true, but their commercial and popular impact is huge in Australia.

Seth Sentry – Strange New Past (2015)

While trap and the sound of Atlanta conquered the world in 2015, Seth Sentry remained true to himself. The Melbourne-born rapper got his start in drum and bass in the early 2000s, quickly soaking up hip-hop sounds. He has the classic résumé of the rapper who has climbed the ladder gradually: spotted by a radio journalist, popularised by the Internet, and let out of the underground thanks to a debut album, This Was Tomorrow, in 2012. But it is with Strange New Past, this second record, that he truly arrived. It’s a flavoursome album that shines with jazz-infused songs like “Hell Boy”, “Sorry” and “Fake Champagne”. On the latter, he lets fly with some big instrumental segments, showing how much importance Australian rap places on instrumentalists. Naturally, rock influence predominates, populating tracks like “How Are You” and “Run”, on which guitars take up the most room. Seth Sentry also knows how to play the fool on “Dumb, a somewhat naive piece. But one thing is for sure: Strange New Past is no joke.

Genesis Owusu – Cardrive (2017)

Originally from Ghana, Genesis Owusu is an artist who embodies the future of Australian rap, with both melancholy and darkness. Based in Canberra, musically far removed from the frenzied rhythms of the 2000s, the rapper proved, with his EP Cardrive, that a heavy sound is not just a matter of a high bpm. It is the cold anger of “Goondocks”, the poetic interludes of “Tremendous: The Devil’s Soliloquy” and the aquatic sweetness of “Blue Pill” that make this project a centrepiece for the new generation. His status was further enhanced in 2019 when his single “WUTD” was chosen as the music for a high-profile commercial in Australia. Appearing in a mask more and more, making himself seem increasingly enigmatic and his musical direction increasingly mysterious, he released his first album in 2021, entitled Smiling With No Teeth. Of course, Genesis Owusu is only at the dawn of his career, but he is already setting an example.

Sampa The Great – Birds and the BEE9 (2017)

Sampa The Great has nothing left to prove. The singer-rapper was born in Zambia in 1993, grew up in Botswana and then in California before settling on the east coast of Australia and emerging there as an artist. Her entire life story resonates through her music. A free sound, somewhere between jazz, rap and soul, deeply spiritual, and summoning up images that are full of strong black women. Her album The Return, released in 2019, is certainly her most notable achievement. But if only for the incredible track “Bye River” - 7 minutes 42 seconds of esotericism and feminism, all carried by a freewheeling live band - it is the 2017 release, Birds And The BEE9, that enjoys our greatest affection. Ably handling trance, notably on the “The Truth” and on long instrumental tracks, this EP loses us in a musical country which could be African, or the Australian Outback. On “Flowers”, the rhythms become more identifiable, more hip-hop- / jazz-inflected, but the layers of Rhodes Fender retain a measure of depth. With just a few discographic releases, Sampa The Great’s music is conquering the world.

360 – Vintage Modern (2017)

“I’m naturally gifted and they hate that!” This is the sentence that opens 360′s latest album, Vintage Modern. An optimism that departs from the contrasts evoked by the rapper throughout this record. After ten years of success with albums such as Falling & Flying (2011) and especially Utopia (2014), and after opening for Kendrick Lamar and Eminem in Australia, 360 became addicted to codeine and fell into a serious state of depression. When he released his fourth album, he was a man reborn, expressing his newfound joy and strength, but aware of the bottomless pit he had just climbed out of. On tracks like “Way Out”, “Admission or Drugs”, he is almost lecturing us. But no matter: on Vintage Modern, it’s the message that counts, and this touching sincerity makes it all worthwhile. Of course, the very poppy sounds of “Trouble” (featuring Gary Clark) or “White Lies” can sometimes make you miss the wild 360 of the old days, but the hardness of “Coup de grâce” (with Seth Sentry and PEZ) and his spirited performance in “Tiny Angel” show that his talent is still alive.

Carmouflage Rose – Taste (2018)

Steeped in Nigerian rhythms, sculpted in vaporous harmonies and deep electronic bass, Carmouflage Rose’s music exemplifies the current ferment of the Australian rap scene. Although hardly the scene’s best-known representative, this young artist has nevertheless come out of the woodwork thanks to this EP, Taste, and in particular the superb track “Late Nights”, which were tailor-made for smoky, sweaty clubs. Reverbs and distortions give his music a futuristic direction, as on Wildflowers, which sees Africa as the motor of world sound, and Australia a fantastic springboard. This feeling intensifies when listening to “Let Me Down”, featuring Australian singer George Maple. But we know, the world would not sound the same without the Atlanta influence, brought in by the most rap-inflected titles bring “Dennis Rodman” and “Taste”, to our delight.

Sophiegrophy – Bold (2020)

Rapper and singer Sophiegrophy follows in the footsteps of Jorja Smith or Jazmine Sullivan, but with a music that is more permeated by Afro rhythms, and a purer rap, as on the opening track of her project BOLD, “American Honey”. Although still largely unknown outside Australia, she is becoming increasingly popular in her own country, but this fact has not seen her waver from her most basic artistic instincts. “Evol”'s very elaborate productions, firmly influenced by the current Nigerian scene, or “Boii”, influenced by Australian house music with a Future Classic flavour, sit alongside tracks from the TR-808 such as “Shake”, which is white-hot and sweaty. Hailing from Melbourne, she is one of those artists who could well define the future of Australian rap by anchoring it in more feminist, progressive themes.