Hip hop in Australia is undoubtedly the poorer, grubbier, less articulate cousin to America’s mega-machine of rap. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, the context from which American hip hop was born is totally different to what’s been happening across the Pacific. This does mean, however, that to succeed in the emerging rap scene here, a unique sound is necessary. Both Seth Sentry and Remi are artists who have achieved this, and in July they showed the ANU Bar how they are reaping the rewards of Australia’s rap culture.
Although Sentry’s smooth, sample-based production contrasts with Remi’s darker and percussion-driven instrumentation, both artists shine through their sublime lyricism. It’s a joy to see creative wordplay fully utilized in Australian hip hop – although giants like the Hilltop Hoods or Bliss n Eso excel at making uplifting festival anthems, they are liable to criminally neglect the importance of a tangible narrative. Indeed, both Seth Sentry and Remi’s willingness to write imaginatively allows them to show off their other shared characteristic: a fantastic personality.
Both rappers bounced around the stage with such enthusiasm and warm audience interaction that it took the chill out of a cold Canberra night. Twenty-four hours after playing the spacious Enmore theatre in Sydney, the duo made the most of the snug confines of the ANU Bar. There were various call-and-return choruses, obligatory crowd surfing, and a peculiar moment where Seth ‘Moses’ Sentry parted the audience like the Red Sea in order to retrieve two beers from the back of the room. However, all of these antics played second fiddle to the remarkable showing of musicianship from both artists.
After emerging to the introduction of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, Remi’s distinctive stop-start flow became mesmerising. His go-to lyrical feature is the trusty simile, which he uses incessantly (ten times in his moving single ‘Livin’, to be exact), but the Melbourne-via-Canberra rapper’s ability to convey the pain of addiction and depression with eloquence is second to none in Australia. His sophomore album, Divas and Demons, promises to be one of the most exciting releases of the year.
There were no surprises in the headline show; at a Seth Sentry concert, you get what you pay for. He could still be legitimately categorized as a novelty rapper – his biggest songs have concerned his obsessions with shitty cafés and hoverboards – however the moments when Sentry dives into his deeper catalogue are best indicative of his expertise. Even his least impressive songs, such as the messy ‘1969’ and the aimless ‘Dumb’, gain extra life when paired with the competent DJ Sizzle and a live drummer.
Hip hop has come a long way from the grimy streets of Queensbridge 30 years ago. However, the essence is still the same: MCs rap with passion and verbosity and things they care about. Whether it be a focus on hoverboards, Sentry’s estranged father on ‘Violin’, or systematic racism on Remi’s ‘Ode to Ignorance’, the pair are icons for the true pursuit of loyalty to a great genre. Judging by the smiling faces at ANU Bar, this loyalty is more than appreciated.