Aussie hip hop has always played it fairly safe. The sound itself, within the mainstream anyway, has become more and more pop-driven and there had never been any Biggie Smalls-type slayings or senseless violence – until recently. An MC by the name of Kerser appeared a few years back armed with a street sound, bitterly humoured lyricism and a truckload of baggage and it seemed as though things were changing. Hell, there was even a drive-by shooting at Ferntree Gully Hotel last May with Kerser the target but luckily, they had a shitty aim. Despite the image that precedes him, and the lyrical content of his music that occasionally pushes beyond the edge of good taste, the Sydney-based MC’s latest album No Rest For The Sickest is doing surprisingly well on the ARIA chart while topping the ARIA Urban chart. Even Kerser is shocked at the commercial success his latest offering has enjoyed, and under any hard-talking boasting lays a young man in love with music and just trying to get by.
It all started when Kerser was 11-years-old in Campbelltown (not exactly the Sydney suburb they put on postcards), rapping along to Tupac who eventually moved from idol to influence. It wasn’t long before Kerser figured out he could write his own raps and by 18 he was recording his own songs. “I think a lot of Australian hip hop artists had that whole happy, BBQ vibe which was good for its time,” Kerser says. “A couple of years ago I was really into it but I think from the YouTube views I’ve got and other stuff like that, it’s clear people are getting sick of it all.”
This street versus suburban hip hop war culminated in a rap battle with none other than bad-guy-turned-good rapper 360, generating an insane amount of YouTube views. Debate still rages over who won but the Kerser camp considered it a clear win by knockout. It was a great publicity stunt for two rappers that were about to embark on respective national tours and while the fans were suckered in by the venom of it all, the shit talk was hilarious. 360 got it going before the battle saying, “I’m gonna fuckin’ destroy the c*#t, let’s be honest.” While Kerser promptly responded after the battle saying, “I didn’t like some of his  tactics in the battle – he twisted the truth a lot and I thought that was a bit dirty.” Although it’s a far cry from The Waitress Song, it seems like everyone’s twisting the truth here.
Still, with his growing success has come some genuine hate (and the aforementioned bullets) and Kerser is dealing with it all as best he can. Someone was always going to take the eastside/westside shit seriously – angry young punks. Somehow though, Kerser’s a really humble guy, more humble than might be expected as he paves the way in a style of hip hop that is usually full of boastfulness and conceit, and seems to be putting his career first. “I do get some shit on Facebook and my YouTube channel but as soon as it appears I have people working on those pages that just delete and block the users straight away,” he says. “They can go and have their say on blogs and other places but these are my spaces for my fans so they can enjoy what I do. We try to eliminate it but honestly, I don’t let it get to me and you can’t stop it. Plus the more things grow for me the more it’s gonna happen, I know that.”
The mention of having “people” begs the question of whether Kerser is being watered-down or censored in some way as his profile grows. After all, someone did try to shoot him and even if it was all for show is a quasi-street war, Kerser’s profile is continuing to grow and with it his economic value. People have a stake in him now. “Not at all,” he says. “If I sensed that anyone was trying to curb me or change me I wouldn’t be a part of what they’re doing. A big part of joining Obese was that I keep total creative control and I think things would be quite obvious to my fans quite quickly if I had a team telling me what to say or do.”
While gimmicky, offensive raps have always been and probably always will be, Kerser at least acknowledges that some of what he says is simply to rile people up. “If I’m taking shots at other rappers or other music artists that’s never personal, that’s just a tactic to turn a lot of heads, ya know?” he admits. “But when it comes to my personal stories I never make stuff up to get attention; if I spill my heart it’s all true. I’m prepared for most stuff to come out about me and I write about a lot of it but I’d prefer, when I talk about my upbringing, that my mum and dad aren’t looked down on. They tried to do best they could and I want to keep my family life separate to the media.”
Even though Kerser stands by his opinions, he has grown up over the past few years and admits that he has a few regrets. “On the first album there was a lot of drug talk and party talk and funny shit but now when I write a track I actually think about what I’m gonna say,” he says. “I’m still gonna do the comedy tracks but I’ll make it clear it’s a joke. I’m taking a more mature approach to things, I think things out and there’s more pressure. I get comments every day from young kids anywhere from the age of even 13 telling me they look up to me and I don’t want some kid to listen to those old tracks and then wanna go and try drugs. That was never the intention, I was just writing about my life; I wasn’t picturing a 13-year-old kid listening to those songs.”
Kerser predicts that as the face and tone of Aussie hip hop changes, the violence that has plagued so much of the US scene might find its way here. “Those people that were making that BBQ, party music had a different upbringing to the people that are writing this gutter, street sound,” he says. “People are just expressing what’s really going on in their lives so there’s nothing wrong with that but there’s a street essence to it all where you’re watching you’re back. This style of music isn’t about portraying an image but you’re talking about real stuff and it brings out that street mentality in other crews where they’re like ‘fuck that and fuck you’. I think as this grows there’s gonna be a lot more violence that’s for sure. Once I’m on stage though, I’m not thinking of that shit at all. I’m just so pumped to be there.”
BY KRISS WEISS
Kerser [AUS] plays The Hi-Fi on Saturday February 9 with an under 18s show at 3pm and 18+ at 7.30pm. No Rest For The Sickest is out now through Obese Records.