It may be his second album, but rapidly-rising Sydney hip hop star Skryptcha considers Mindful to be his definitive work thus far, an album that truly announces his arrival to the world. The opening track ‘Graduation’ comes stuffed with rollicking instrumental hooks and audacious rhymes, telling the story of where the young MC has been thus far, but also signalling his readiness to play with the big boys. “I’ve done so much already, but I think it’s all been a bit of an apprenticeship,” he says. “I really do feel like now, things have started to come together and feel a lot more complete. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but they’ve made me into the person I am now, the artist I am. I feel I’m worthy of being on that top level now as an artist. Above all, that song is really an explanation of all the things that have come together to get me to this point.”
Skryptcha’s lyrics ruminate on the state of the world, as well as the place he occupies in it, with uncommon ease and honesty. On tracks like Work Out he lays the practicalities of his life bare, rhyming about the need to work a day job while pursuing a creative path. “I have been doing both for quite a few years now, and I did all throughout this album,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, man! It’s non-stop. You wake up before dawn and you go to work at one job, then you come home and straight away, you start work on the next.” There hasn’t been too much free time in Skryptcha’s life over the last two years or so, but now, with his album coming out, he’s able to pause for a minute and enjoy the fruits of his persistence. “It’s a good feeling to be able to come home with a clear head,” he says, “especially when you have gone through hard times and a lot of work.”
Over the last couple of years Skrptcha has seen many of his friends move west to pursue jobs in the mines, and this experience made for one of the album’s more powerful tracks, The Sun. “I’ve got a whole bunch of mates who left chasing that dollar,” he explains. “At the time I wrote that song it was the peak of the mining tax battle. It was something that really struck a chord in me, seeing these few greedy people running the whole country, the CEOs of those big companies taking control of things.” He realised that behind all the politics and money and big business, there is actually a human element – a generation of young people whose lives are changed in all sorts of ways. “I just wanted to tell a bit of a story through the eyes of an average bloke who has gone to work in the mines to make a better future for his family,” he continues. “I was interested in the way that political row would impact on the average person.”
The rich, soulful sound of Mindful comes courtesy of producer Illmind, who produced the album in his Brooklyn studio. Working with him was something of a dream come true for Skryptcha. “There was a very particular sound I was looking for on this album,” he says, “which was a soul sound with a lot of heavy bass, and he’s really the king of that sound, with his crazy bass lines and really nice samples. I hit him up online, and he was happy to work with me, so I managed to plan a trip to see him as part of a visit to the States I did last year, which was awesome. I spent a bit of time with him in Brooklyn. It was really good to build a human relationship and not just be people who knew each other over the Internet.”
Skryptcha only had a short time in Brooklyn, but still did his best to soak up all the borough has to offer. “I stayed there for a few nights, in a little hostel kind of thing in the Bushwick Projects,” he says. “From where I was, if you went a few hundred metres up into Bushwick, that maybe wouldn’t be the best place for a little Aussie fella to be, but around where I was, there was a really cool, arty vibe – there were little hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, really cool stuff.” The first night he was there, he went to a gig at the legendary and now defunct hip hop venue Southpaw. “I went along there to see Freddie Gibbs and Big Crit, who are two amazing artists. It was pretty sick just to be a spectator at a gig in Brooklyn.”
Skryptcha didn’t get to perform in America while he was there, but hopes to do so in the future, insured by the Stateside success of acts like Bliss n Eso. “They have done big tours throughout the States,” he says, “touring with big US artists playing to big US crowds, not just Aussie expats, and they seem to be pretty positive about the whole thing. I’ve heard them talking about their experiences and they had great times – honestly, it sounds pretty doable. I don’t doubt that people like Bliss n Eso can compete on an international scale – their skills are top class, and as long as you’re bringing skills like that to the rest of the world, you’ll get respect, for sure."
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Skryptcha's [AUS] Mindful is out now through Obese. He launches it at The Workers Club on Saturday August 4.