Australian rapper Briggs is a self-described lone wolf. “I’m like that kid on the street that doesn’t play well with others.” He’s been known to start twitter wars with fellow Aussie rappers when he’s got something to say. Briggs doesn’t pull punches. His loud, boisterous bravado and aggressive lyrics have him compared to early Ice Cube. Recently, however, this lone wolf is more like the leader of the pack.
Unlike hip hop in the States, Aussie hip hop is predominantly white. Briggs, on the other hand, is Aboriginal, from the Yorta Yorta Nation. His last album, 2014’s Sheplife told an important story: his own. Sheplife was a day-in-the-life account of an Aboriginal man growing up in impoverished Sheparton, a community forgotten and its members treated like second class citizens. In a genre dominated by braggadocious shit-talking and songs about partying, Sheplife was a black man’s account of social injustice. The album turned heads and won awards. Briggs used his platform to represent his people and did so with unapologetic verve. And he was just getting started. A year later, he founded his own record label, Bad Apples Music, dedicated to developing Aboriginal artists.
Briggs is defined by the history of his people. The battle for civil rights is an ugly reality and Australia’s native children are no strangers to it. Similar to Native Americans and African Americans, Aboriginals’ relationship with modern government is a story scarred with genocide, relocation, and indentured servitude. Aboriginals have called Australia home for over 40,000 years yet their recent history has been an uphill struggle to be treated as equals to those that have recently inhabited their land. It’s a shameful truth that even recently the government has been hesitant to fully acknowledge. Classroom textbooks gloss over decades of government officials abducting and relocating Aboriginal children. Despite all this, Briggs’ people are a proud race, and Briggs is no exception. ‘Yorta Yorta’ is tattooed prominently across his forearms.
Briggs sees the potential in his status to make a difference:
“I have a platform and I figured not a lot of people get that and for me to waste it, I wouldn't be doing anyone justice. Not my fans, my family, my friends or myself. I'm gonna get heard by thousands of people and I'm not gonna just talk shit. A lotta dudes out here don't have that. I represent a faction of my community not just myself. When I win everybody from my community wins.”
It has been a very productive year for Briggs. It seems every move he makes, he’s representing his people.
In July, amidst a racially charged scandal, where Aboriginal athlete Adam Goodes was scorned for having a young spectator escorted from a game after spewing racial slurs, Briggs wrote a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald empathizing with the athlete:
“. . . I'm a Yorta-Yorta man from Shepparton, Victoria. I was the youngest and chubbiest of all my cousins, and at the centre of most of the jokes. I learnt to grow a thick skin, so I'm not averse to heckling as part of the football atmosphere. It's fun."
"Does this feel fun to you?”
“Perhaps there's a misunderstanding here: racism is not the paint peeling on the house. Racism is the termite that eats at the foundation. Racism is not name-calling. Racism is a systematic ideology that is designed to oppress and dehumanise a person. A year of heckling and racial taunts can make a four-time All Australian question his future in the game he mastered.”
In the same month, Briggs released The Children Came Back, a moving song detailing Indigenous heroes past and present.
In September he visited Reiby Juvenile Detention Center, where Aboriginal youth average about 60% of the population, to speak to the inmates and perform.
Perhaps everything Briggs has done this past year has culminated into this: Bad Apples Music. Named for one of his hit songs on Sheplife, Bad Apples Music is the first exclusive Aboriginal hip hop record label. With the full backing of Golden Era Records, one of the premiere hip hop labels in Australia and home to Briggs for over three years, Bad Apples Music aims to take an intimate approach to nurturing a select roster of native rappers. Pushing quality over quanity, Bad Apples Music will start with just four acts: Philly, Birdz, Nooky, and at the head of the bill: the A.B. Originals; a super group consisting of Briggs and Trials of the distinguished Funkoars crew. Briggs hasn’t minced words about working with Trials: “I reckon Trials is the best all around. He’s the best at everything. He’s a maniac.” Their first song as the A.B. Originals is entitled ‘Black Balls’ and can be heard on the 2015 Golden Era Mixtape.
His release of Sheplife was the spark for and Briggs shows no signs of slowing down. He originally set out to make an album that would show his peers and the world what life is like for an Aboriginal man in Australia. A year later, he is opening the doors for others to share their voice with the world. With artists, there is always this internal struggle to stay true to themselves; to find the balance of a medium the public will appreciate and a voice that’s true to yourself. Some get wrapped up in a world, forever changed when success and fame come around. Briggs, on the other hand, will forever be a man of the Yorta Yorta people.