The release of a new Australian hip hop album is not a groundbreaking proposition in 2012. Seeing an entire rack of local albums at JB Hi-Fi or finding out that an Aussie hip hop album has hit the top of the ARIAs is not out of the ordinary. In 2002 however the idea of homegrown hip hop culture becoming a profitable industry was still out of reach. That all changed in large part thanks to one label, Obese Records. The monumental Obesecity compilation, released that very year, brought together the cream of the Aussie crop at the time. The sheer list of talent included on the album is incredible as is the fact that a large part of those involved have gone on to have lasting, successful careers. For those involved however it was never about attention or money, it was about the culture. “Doing it for the love” is a clichéd phrase for a reason. That same love is what has brought together the best and brightest of today’s scene for Obesecity 2.
Unlike most sequels, this was not conceived as a profit spinner, it’s a celebration of how far the scene has come in the ten years since the original release. The two-disc album features 33 original tracks and finds a variety of young talents holding their own alongside respected veterans. “I was only 12 years old when it dropped and at the time I was just discovering that hip hop was actually coming out of Australia,” says MC Dialect, now 22 years old. “Prior to that I was really only exposed to hip hop from the US so it was a pivotal release.” The Adelaide native is a prime example of the artists involved on Obesecity 2. The vocal half of duo Dialect & Despair, he appears on the album standout Ghost In A Shell. “It was very humbling to be asked to be a part of Obesecity 2 and for me personally it signifies where I have come from to now.” Like his fellow upstarts Despair has graduated from a fan to making his own contribution to the Obese Records legacy. “It’s crazy to think that another young kid will be potentially having the same experience.”
It has been quite a journey for Fluent Form since he first heard Obesecity. "Around that time I dropped out of high school, due to a lot of drug use and random stupidity. I was very deep into my hip hop journey but hadn't really heard a lot of local hip hop.” The Melbourne wordsmith is part of the burgeoning Crate Cartel crew and contributes the international collaboration The Code alongside New York MC Has-Lo. Like many of his peers, his idea of Aussie hip hop was still fresh and its potential for rapid growth still unfulfilled. “A friend of mine came over to my place one time and had a copy of Obesecity on him. After a few listens, I realised there were other Australians who shared the same passion as I for hip hop music and culture.” Currently working on his third solo effort, the prospect of being a productive and respected artist did not even enter his mind back in 2002. “It would be many years later before I started writing seriously as I was too busy messing around with my friends." Hailed by many as the future of the Melbourne scene he is honoured by his chance to make a mark under the Obese banner. "Guess you could kinda say we're taking the proverbial torch and running with it. To be counted in the next generation of artists is humbling."
A veteran of the hip hop scene Ciecmate has a unique perspective. The Melbourne-based MC and producer is one of only four artists to appear on both Obesecity compilations. “That was soon after I first moved to Melbourne, being on the first one was the beginning of something big.” The arrival of the first Obesecity came at a transitional period for the local scene. For Ciecmate it was the definitive starting point of what he would dedicate his life to. “It was what made my hip hop more than something between mates sitting around in the lounge room. It really cemented a place for me in the scene.” He has since established his rep as an artist and member of respected groups like Hospice Crew and the Hired Goons. “There’s not much I don’t do, the question should be what don’t I do, which is hardly anything,” Ciecmate says with a chuckle. Alongside contributions from longtime counterparts Newsense, Bigfoot and Lazy Grey he showcases his skills on the tongue-in-cheek anthem Bags Not, featuring Maggot Mouf and DJ No Name Nath.
As has been proven since the release of Obesecity, a lot can happen in a decade. “There are acts that are selling platinum records now and mainstream audiences are open to rap in the charts,” Dialect says of the modern hip hop scene in Australia. While Obese Records has undergone considerable changes Dialect believes they haven’t lost sight of their roots. “Even though so much has changed in the surrounding scene what has remained the same is that the Obesecity release is supporting emerging and independent artists. That is a great thing.”
As a prominent part of the current Melbourne scene, Fluent Form sees Obesecity 2 as a true reflection of where local hip hop is. “It really displays the amount of growth and how far hip hop has come in this country.” Emerging at a time when the scene was still finding its place on the Aussie music landscape, Obesecity set the stage for future success. The 2002 compilation showcased now-household names the Hilltop Hoods and Koolism, both ARIA award-winning groups. It also featured the future Muph & Plutonic (on solo tracks), Obese label head and rapper Pegz, the late great Hunter and even criminal showpony Chopper Read. “The first Obesecity compilation paved the way for a lot of the artists on the second one, whether directly or indirectly,” Fluent affirms. “Now local hip hop [artists], for the most part, have got their game on lock from a professional viewpoint.” As a culture that was founded on purity the Aussie scene has had to learn how to balance art and business over the ensuing years since the release of Obesecity. Aussie hip hop could only remain underground for so long before bubbling over to the surface. Obesecity represents the start of that turning point.
As someone who has been active on the hip hop scene for over a decade, Ciecmate is inspired by the evolution of the scene and quality of artists that appear on Obesecity 2. “The few of us who appeared on the first Obesecity have grown and hip hop in Australia has grown through the new artists on this second compilation.” Across the two discs a spectrum of styles and perspectives are represented, from the social commentary of Sydney’s Tommy Illfigga and indigenous MC J Point to the uncompromising passion of Maundz and comedy-laced style of In Good Company (Whisper, A-Diction and Syntax). “It shows that hip hop is a force to be reckoned with in this country, the scene has expanded significantly and there are so many good artists out there,” Ciecmate says excitedly.
The release of Obesecity is a milestone not only for Obese Records, as a record label and music distributor, but also for the artists involved both past and present. “I think that it represents what an independent label with a vision and drive can achieve in an ever changing and tough industry,” Dialect affirms. The emerging MC was all too happy to be involved, aware of the boost the label provides to burgeoning hip hop artists. “They have provided a great amount of support for emerging and independent artists and created avenues for hip hop artists that previously never existed in this country.”
Obese’s dedication to up and coming performers and hip hop as a culture is what stands out to Fluent Form. “They help push and distribute a lot of indie artists such as myself, and have been holding it down for a long time now.” Before the dream of having a record label was realized or even conceived, Obese Records began at a humble shop front on Izett Street in Prahran, where it still remains today. Both the store and the label are viewed with great reverence by Fluent and his counterparts. “Even the retail store holds a special place for hip hop fans. It's great to see the store is still in action in these days and times when retail stores are going under.”
For someone like Ciecmate who has been there since more formative days Obese has been a home away from home. “It was just a store, a hang out spot. It was like a writer’s block for MCs, they would go there and kick raps to each other. So for me that’s Obese, it always [has] been about that grass roots hip hop movement.”
BY ANDREW HAZARD HICKEY
Obesecity 2 featuring Dialect & Despair, Ciecmate, Fluent Form, Tommy Illfigga, J Point and many more is released this Friday August 17 through Obese Records.