When Australian Football League player Nathan Lovett-Murray was growing up, his favourite record was “Black Boy” by Coloured Stone.
“Black boy,” goes the song, “black boy/The colour of your skin is your pride and joy/Black boy/Black boy/Your life is not destroyed.”
Lovett-Murray still marvels at its power.
“So many Indigenous people could relate to that song and just feel proud about being an Indigenous person when they heard it,” he tells Green Left Weekly.
Now, the Essendon defender is about to achieve another goal by taking Coloured Stone, whose members come from the South Australian mission settlement of Koonibba, on tour with Yung Warriors.
Yung Warriors are the next band to release an album on Lovett-Murray’s own Indigenous hip hop label, Payback Records.
“It’s an honour to be able to work with Coloured Stone,” he says. “They are legends in Aboriginal communities with what they’ve done and what they’ve been able to achieve.”
Lovett-Murray knows all about achieving against the odds. His great-grandfather was Aussie Rules footballer, Indigenous rights pioneer and South Australian governor Sir Douglas Nicholls — the first Aboriginal person to be knighted.
“He’s been a great inspiration to Indigenous and non-indigenous people,” says Lovett-Murray.
“What he achieved in his life would have been very tough back in those days, and for him to go out and do that just gives me the belief that I can go out and do whatever I put my mind to.”
That confidence enabled Lovett-Murray to start up Payback Records three years ago when he was just 25 — an achievement the 190cm athlete takes in his considerable stride.
“This is what I do in my spare time,” he shrugs. “My football comes first.”
But the two pursuits are not mutually exclusive.
“There are a lot of similarities with musicians and sports people,” he says. “I’m managing 10 Indigenous rappers on the label and mentoring them and I’m mentoring the younger footballers at the club, too.
“I think giving honest feedback is a big part of it, that’s what you have to do in football and that’s what I’ve tried to do with the record label.
“Also, giving confidence is a big part of it — giving confidence to the footballers to go out and do what they want to do on the field, and giving confidence to the rappers to go out and make the music they want to make.”
It was this natural desire to help young people that led him to start the record label, after he bumped into an old schoolfriend, Tjimba.
“I asked him what he was doing and he said he’d just finished a rap album,” says Lovett-Murray.
“So I went and had a listen and it was the first time I’d ever heard Indigenous hip hop. I just wanted to help him get his music out and I started working with his manager, Richard Micallef, and started learning about the music industry.
“From hanging out with those guys I started meeting other Indigenous rappers who weren’t getting opportunities because they didn’t have a manager.
“So I got everyone together and we talked about what we needed and we came up with Payback Records. Payback is an Aboriginal form of punishment and it’s a powerful word. It’s a word that a lot of people around the world can relate to in other ways and that’s what Payback was about - bringing young indigenous people together and giving them a strong voice.
“When I set up the label I didn’t have a clue about music. I just wanted to give these young people a voice through hip hop music and get them able to do CDs, tours and videos — and that’s what we’ve been able to do over the past two years.”
It’s been a tough journey for some of his signings. Corinthian Morgan — otherwise known as Mr Morgz — is just one example.
“I first went to primary school with him in Shepparton,” says Lovett-Murray. “Then I went back home and didn’t see him for a while, but I knew that he grew up pretty hard, he was in and out of jail.
“When I set up Payback Records a lot of people were saying: ‘You should listen to Corinthian, he’s a really good rapper.’
“So I got him to come down the studio and I was pretty impressed, so I said: ‘Let’s do an album.’
“Half way through the album he got sent to jail, so I went and visited him in jail and said: ‘Look we’ll support you and help you get out.’ So we got him out on bail and finished off his album.
“He got a suspended sentence, so we did a video that got on Rage and we did a national tour where he got to travel to Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, the Gold Coast — and this was the first time he’d ever been out of Victoria.”
It's the kind of story that makes Payback's appeal universal.
“A lot of people have been through some really hard times all over the world,” says Lovett-Murray. "Hip hop is about being yourself and about speaking out and there are a lot of hip hop acts that are very political, that sort of go back to Public Enemy - I had the opportunity to meet those guys a couple of years ago when they did a show in Melbourne.
"Then when you look at other artists like Tupac Shakur, you know, his mother was involved with the Black Panthers and he was always very outspoken, so that’s something that hip hop has always been about.
"A lot of people think hip hop is gangster rap and what they see on TV, but it’s not: hip hop is about being yourself and talking about your story, whatever your story is.
“I feel Indigenous people here have a story and the rest of the world want to hear it — it’s a story that not a lot of people have heard.
"There’s also the traditional elements, the didgeridoo, clap sticks and traditional dancing and that’s something I want to bring in to our Payback shows because it’s what people around the world want to see.
“In the past couple of years, I’ve been able to meet a lot of the American rappers from the boys doing support acts with Snoop Dogg, The Game, Akon, and 50 Cent. They love Aboriginal culture, they love what we’re about, they love what we represent, they love our story, they’re keen to support us.
“The message that I get from them is: ‘Come over and we’ll look after you.’”
Payback Records is planning to take that story to the US in October, with a showcase tour of Los Angeles and New York — and there is a lot of history to be unearthed and spread.
“When I was growing up, I knew that Captain Cook wasn’t the first person in this country,” says Lovett-Murray.
“That wasn’t taught in a lot of schools, but it needs to be taught. There needs to be an awareness among young and old that Aboriginal people have been here for a very long time and our culture needs to be celebrated.
"You know, the missions were set up to wipe out Aboriginal culture, so they didn’t want Aboriginal language spoken, so in Victoria a lot of Aboriginal culture has been wiped out.
"But up in the Northern Territory a lot of Aboriginal people are still speaking their traditional language, English is like a third or fourth language to them and it’s great to see that’s still going on.
"But down here, it really needs to be brought back, that Aboriginal culture, that language that’s been lost. If the research is done it can be brought back and that’s what needs to happen, starting with the schools.
“Indigenous people in this country are treated like second-class citizens. I’ve been lucky that through football, I’ve been able to travel to other countries.
“I got to go to South Africa with World Vision. I saw the poverty there and it was the same poverty I see here in remote Aboriginal communities, but here it’s swept under the carpet and not spoken about.”
Lovett-Murray is also confronted with hidden history in the game he plays every day.
Evidence shows the Aboriginal game of Marn Grook was being played primarily by the Djabwurrung and Jardwadjali clans in Victoria’s Western District before white people arrived.
In the 1840s the founder of Australian Rules football, Tom Wills, observed Marn Grook and thought it would be a good way for Australian cricketers to keep fit during winter.
Does Lovett-Murray think the game should be renamed?
“The research really needs to be done because there’s two sides of the fence where there’s a lot of people do agree and a lot of people don’t agree,” he says.
“Marn Grook was a game that was played by Aboriginal people for thousands and thousands of years and if you look at Aussie Rules now, nearly 10% of the AFL is Indigenous. It’s a game that Indigenous people can play really well and it comes really naturally to a lot of Indigenous people because it’s been played for so long.”
However, Lovett-Murray feels a lot of that natural affinity for teamwork has been lost.
“I think it’s about time that Indigenous people start coming together, because that’s what needs to happen, and we need to have a more powerful voice,” he says. “The way the government works is divide and rule and I think Aboriginal people need to become more aware of this.”
Lovett-Murray's love of teamwork has helped him achieve all his remarkable goals. It’s partly why he is teaming Coloured Stone with Yung Warriors to promote “Just A Thought” — a record he sees reaching worldwide.
“It’s an album that I think is going to do really well and a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it,” he says. “It’s going to be more suited to America and the rest of the world.”
And with a far-reaching leader like Lovett-Murray, the Payback Records team should be chalking up victories for years to come.
[Visit www.paybackrecords.com.au for more information on Payback Records.]
For The People by Yung Warriors featuring Outlawz
Black Boy by Coloured Stone
Koori Boy by Big Georgie B