Radical Gamilaraay rapper Provocalz has released a new EP, just in time for Invasion Day, January 26. Green Left Weekly’s Mat Ward, who made the music for it, asked him a few questions about it.
1. You used to be prolific, releasing at least two albums a year including a huge compilation with more than 20 Aboriginal rappers on there. Yet this is your first release since 2016. What happened?
I got sick of all the bullshit that comes with the hip-hop scene. We went hard for what we believed in with no affiliations to the Ozzy hip-hop scene, no government funding. Everything we did, we did ourselves and all profits were donated or used to support community groups or individuals. But my main message was improving yourself and your family as the revolution starts at home. So with my son growing up I decided to focus more on my family’s future and rather than spend so much time making music, spend that time making sure I break the cycle and my son has the best future possible, ‘cause words are fucking easy, it’s actions that he needs to thrive. What I've realised is every "scene" is full of bullshit egos and hypocrisy. They used to argue with us, now they’re saying what we said. Much love to all the real ones - there’s not many - and my honesty and loyalty doesn't gel with these fucking rappers or gatekeepers. The only pioneer I recognise in this country’s hip-hop scene is Munk - he always reached out and still does to others - and if you’re not aware, he produced the political Thai hip-hop smash "Rap Against Dictatorship", which was an amazing track.
2. "Buried" has a huge hook. Were you deliberately trying to be more catchy with this record?
Yeah, I tried to make something appealing, a bit simpler to catch ‘em, then hit ‘em with some truth just when they get comfortable. So it’s a good mix of street shit ‘n’ political shit, which is my mentality summed up. I'm SWR [his south-west Sydney rap group South West Royals] and come from street shit, but always did the knowledge ‘cause of hip-hop’s influence, which made me want to learn.
3. Tell us about the lines you rap on "Buried":
Like the blood of a Mongol
Late night, M5
And I'm loving the throttle
Under the night sky
Blood on the Wattle
RIP Pemulwuy, unc
Sydney forgot you
So before the Mongolian empire they used to say they made their coats out of rat skin. They were looked down upon but grew to one of the biggest empires ever. Their downfall was their wealth - after generations of wealth they became soft and lost the hunger and determination to succeed that comes from poverty and facing life’s struggles, so I’m just saying I come from that same hunger. So, “late night M5 and I'm loving the throttle” is like I'm speeding through Sydney under the same sky that saw so many massacres and atrocities, like the ones described in the book Blood on the Wattle - and just thinking about how Pemulwuy fought for this land and paid the ultimate price and yet still most of the people in Sydney have never even heard of him, let alone acknowledged what he sacrificed.
4. Tell us about these lines in "Go Hard":
We're believers in the truth
Knowledge kills confusion
We need dreamers and a youth
That'll lead us to revolution
The Freedom Ride with some guns on the bus
Fully auto, there's no more to say, bruz
The truth will set you free! Ha ha, nah, it'll drive you fucking crazy ‘cause everyone’s too busy lying. But, yeah, “knowledge kills confusion”: If you don't know something, learn about it, build with your people about it, don't be a dumb gronk. Then I just reference the original Freedom Ride, but more like when the Sandinistas rode through the streets of towns they'd taken back with their weapons out and showing their dominance over a corrupt government. ‘Cause racism and elitism is ingrained in Australian society from the bottom to the top - it’s corrupted at every level.
5. Tell us about the meaning of the title track "G.O.D", which stands for "greed over dollars" or "greed over dreams".
Well, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket for the almighty dollar. The world is run by global corporations and the one percent while me and you fight over crumbs, ‘cause no matter how much you hate capitalism, there’s not really an escape. We have to learn to thrive within it and build for our families and communities. It’s either that or take up arms and replace it with some other -ism that essentially won't work, ‘cause humans are fucked. Taking up arms ain’t gonna happen. No matter how much these idealist hipsters, punks etc dream about it, they ain’t ready for the violence that comes with it. People who’ve never been in a fist fight talking about overthrowing government is ridiculous. So that’s where it becomes “greed over dreams”, ‘cause greed’s the reality you have to face and try to accumulate for your children to be able to thrive in this society, ‘cause fuck repeating the cycles of poverty.
6. "Behind Enemy Lines" tells the story of the abuse of children at Don Dale detention centre in Darwin. What's changed, if anything, since you wrote it?
I wrote “Behind Enemy Lines” after seeing that Four Corners episode on Don Dale and I have friends from that area of Darwin that told me about stuff as well. “The system at its core is a child on the floor getting kicked in the jaw." I just feel like that could have easily been me that got caught those times I ran from police as a kid or did certain things. I was lucky enough to get away ‘cause once that system gets it claws on you, it’s hard to escape. Imagine the trauma and PTSD these kids suffer being treated like that, let alone what they had already suffered before being entrapped in the system. I made this track for every kid in Don Dale, every kid in youth prison, just trying to express that pain into a song. In the world of 30-second attention spans, no one gives a fuck any more and it’s hard to do anything while trying to keep your own head above water. I don't have a solution, I just know it’s wrong and I could never treat another human like that… Well, maybe John Howard or Tony Abbott.
7. Tell us about Ancestress, the artist who features on “Behind Enemy Lines”.
I've done a bit of music with the sis. She's a great poet/performer etc and inspiring to see and hear. It’s important with issues that both sides are heard, so I always try to incorporate sisters into my art to provide a rounded view on issues important to us. She has some stuff coming out soon and is continually pushing the boundaries, so keep a eye and ear out for her in the near future.
8. The black and white artwork for the EP is very unusual. Tell us about that.
I saw a very talented artist, Charlotte Allingham, on Instagram (as @coffinbirth). She had very powerful imagery and I had an idea for a while for like a Koori saint, like how they portray Mary etc, but from a revolution. So she's holding a gun with her face covered as though she's the mother of the revolution and wearing a hoodie and hat ‘cause again, this album is a mix of street shit and political shit. So she's a saint born of struggle and pain yet beautiful and has a warmth to her at the same time - an ode to our women, from daughters, mums, aunties and sisters to nannas etc.
9. Any young Indigenous rappers that you recommend listening to?
10. What's coming from Provocalz in the future?
A healthy, happy, strong and intelligent son - and maybe if you’re lucky some more music.
Bonus question: Anything you'd like to add?
Fuck rappers, fuck politicians, fuck you if you’ve got a problem with me. Much love.
You can stream and download Provocalz’s new EP, G.O.D, now for free on Bandcamp, where you can also read all the lyrics. It’s due to be released on Spotify and all other platforms on Friday, February 8.