Considering the staggering amount of words that usually fit into a hip hop track, Aussie rapper The Tongue aka Xannon Shirley claims it is the genre that provides the best form of "edu-tainment".
Performing at this year's Oxfam's 3Things youth festival to raise issues of global poverty and injustice, The Tongue says he takes his duties as an artist very seriously. "I did a very similar event last year in Sydney, which was a great success so it was a no-brainer to do it again," he says. "I feel the strength of hip hop is in its directness. Hip hop songs have at least three times more words in them than the average rock or pop song, so it's definitely a form of music that has the potential to convey a lot of information to the listener. My first introduction to hip hop was Public Enemy and they proved to me early on that music can be a medium for education - 'edu-tainment' as they call it. That's how I've always approached it. It's good to have a party and stupid songs about running amok but you've also got a responsibility to say something that's useful or insightful and inspiring."
For that reason, Shirley claims hip hop is a perfectly-suited genre for an event like 3Things. Centered around the concept of the average person doing just three things to make the world a better place, Shirley claims he personally takes environmental issues to heart. "We're trying to encourage people to do just three things that might affect the issues they care about. It's important because there's so much going on in the world at the moment. I know that the media is incredibly overwhelmed with bad things going on in the world, there are a lot of horrific things happening and it's easy to just think, 'it's all too hard, I can't do anything about it' - but that's a cop out! Small steps are important, and you can start with just three. For me personally, I've taken one small step recently in getting solar panels on my roof. My most recent album is also called Alternative Energy, so you can take that quite literally too! Look, the world needs to change its emotional energy to literally change energy because oil will run out eventually."
According to Shirley, in the year 2011 there really is no rational reason for humans to continue to destroy the environment anymore because there are alternative ways of going about it. In fact, in many ways Australia happens to be one of the countries still very much behind the rest of the world as far as preserving the environment is concerned. "Installing solar panels is one way of making a big difference," Shirley points out. "And they're not expensive; they're actually the opposite down the line because they start to reduce your electricity bill significantly. I'm really confused about how our government continues to be so terrible about saving energy and the solar energy thing. For example, in Israel it's been compulsory since the 1970s!"
Shirley definitely knows his stuff, despite being one of the busiest artists in Australian hip hop at the moment. Having just wrapped up a sold-out tour with Drapht around the country, he's also been undertaking a masters degree in teaching high school English and planning to release a 'Sextape'. Oh yes, you read it correctly. "It's all been really hectic because I'm back at uni at the moment and I'm working," he says. "I'm doing teaching which is pretty much what I'm trying to do through my music anyway. But otherwise I've got a mixtape coming out this year - Sextape is the title of it! Hardly any rappers in Australia do mixtapes, and that's something that's huge in America, though. It's a cheap way of doing music because you get other people's beats so you just write the raps and record it. Hopefully I'll be the best mixtape guy in Australia! It's called Sextape because I feel like sex is an issue that hardly any Aussie rappers talk about, funnily enough! Yet, there are a lot of politics that go with sex. I'm going to have a few singles out this year as well then look at doing an album next year. I've been spending a lot of time on the road with Drapht which was exciting because his album went number one - actually, he was the only Australian artist this year with a number one album! He's been around for so long now; he's the people's champ!"
If only mainstream media would catch on, however. As Shirley laments, it seems that no matter how ground-breaking Australian hip hop has proved itself to be in the last decade, it's clear that the media are simply just not catching on. "Bliss N Eso are doing unbelievably well at the moment as well," he lists. "Just the other week we did the Come Together Festival which is normally an indie-rock event at Luna Park in Sydney, but this year it was a special theme of an all-Australian hip hop lineup! I mean, doesn't that tell you something! We've reached a point where young people feel like hip hop is their music, the music that speaks to them. Meanwhile, most of the media are ignoring it. You don't see rappers on Kerrianne! You don't even see them on Spicks and Specks, even though the music is huge and pushing so many boundaries! I just don't see why amazing rappers like Urthboy haven't been invited. I don't have a problem with hip hop going mainstream; I just wish they'd pay attention."
The Tongue [AUS] plays The Oxfam 3things' Hip Hop Approach at The Prince Bandroom on Thursday July 7.