Heavyweight hip-hopper builds a fine body of work

Issue 
JPoint rocks Sydney this May. Photo: Mat Ward

Eklectic Methodz
Jpoint
Northern Orphanz Recordings
www.northernorphanz.webs.com

Rapper JPoint is building up a strong body of work - and not just in the music world. The Indigenous emcee runs his own record label, produces music for other artists and has a string of releases under his belt.

But he is also competing above the belt - by entering his first body-building contest. For JPoint, it's been a transformation.

"I was 125 kilos, so I was really overweight," the 33-year-old tells Green Left. "But I just set small goals every week, I'd go for a kilo or whatever."

The rapper, from Innisfail in Far North Queensland, shed nearly a third of his weight to get down to just 85 kilos.

"Right now I'm up to 94, 95, because I've been bulking up," says the emcee, who is looking a little more stubbled and relaxed than he did in his sinew-and-singlet rap performance in Sydney a few months earlier.

"But I'm about to change my diet again and cut up so I can be ripped. I was going to compete last year, but I tore the muscle in my neck. I couldn't move my arm for a while so it really put a halt on everything, but this time, this June, this year, coming up, I'll grace the stage. I'll be closer to 80 kilos, but I'll look like 100. You end up looking bigger when you're cut. You'll see."

He chuckles quietly, but he does not take body-building lightly - it has helped lift a great weight off his shoulders. As he raps on his delectable debut album, Eklectic Methodz:

Society put me in a chamber
Threw away the key for my bad behaviour

And:

You can lock me up and throw away the key
Wrap me up in chains and watch me sink to the bottom of the sea
You can beat me till I'm black and blue
But note this: When I'm back on my feet, I'm coming back for you

The casual listener might think he'd been jailed, but he is rapping about a prison of his own making.

"When I was in my 20s I was overweight and didn't have a job, didn't really have money," he explains. "I was caring for my grandfather, which was cool, but I felt like I wasn't really doing anything with my life and I was just wasting away. In Innisfail you just drink and when the weekend comes it's like big benders and everyone just drinks their lives away and gets up to maniac stuff."

Innisfail is famous for it. When Cyclone Larry devastated the fruit-producing town in 2006, former deputy mayor George Pervan was quoted on commercial radio asking southern Queenslanders to "send up a truckload of piss so we can all get fucking drunk". JPoint felt he was trapped.

"I guess I was blaming society," he says. "I felt like they had put me there and had forgotten about me. But that's just being a young man and not really having the clarity or the vision to see what you could become. I just kind of blamed the world, you know, for being bad. I put myself in a chamber and blamed society for doing it, but it was myself, just having so much self-hate. When you're in a destructive mode, you just feel like you're in a dark place. There's no light and you just can't help anyone."

Now, the rapper is helping young men who are imprisoned for real, at Cleveland Youth Detention Centre.

"I moved to Townsville when my grandfather passed away, four years ago," he says. "I started making songs back when I was in Innisfail, but coming here opened up more opportunities for me. I started working at the detention centre straight away, like three months after I moved here. My mate Johnny Row, he was making tracks with the juveniles, and then I took over.

"So that in turn helps me with my writing - my writing's really evolved, my music and my beat-making, because I'm making songs every day with the boys, that's my full-time job. Some of them have been there for a long time, as long as me, because there are boys who reoffend all the time. It's sad but it's also good, you know. It's really rewarding to build these relationships. They're like little brothers to me, so I end up falling in love with them, you know, like in a big brother way. So I've gone from being in a chamber to being an idol for young boys at my work."

His idol claim is no idle boast. JPoint was the only Aboriginal artist to feature on Obesecity 2, the latest compilation from hip-hop heavyweight label Obese Records, with his track "Super Fly Aboriginal". His second self-produced album is due out in May on his own label, for which he designed the eye-catching logo after professional graphic designers could not quite get it right. He is set to play Yabun, Sydney's annual Survival Day festival on January 26, amid a national tour. He makes an ideal idol.

"There's a lot of little clones coming out of Cleveland, which is funny, but I try to tell them, 'Don't replicate me. I'm flattered, but just be yourself.'"

As with his weight-lifting, he realises the gravitas of the graft. "I have some guidelines," he says. "I tell them you've got to tell your story and even some kids will come in and use the word 'nigger'. It doesn't happen that much, but when it does I tell them straight away: 'Back home, do you use that word around your family? Do you really use it around your friends all the time? It's a terrible word and it's not our word anyway.'

"So straight off the bat I say back to them the words that they would use, like 'bala' or 'sissy' or 'cuzzy' or 'cuz' or 'bruz', you know, things that you use every day. Then I'll go back to: 'Do you use “nigger”? Because to be honest, that's not a word you use.' They kinda understand straight away. I say: 'Look, just tell your own story, tell it how you see it and people will think that's cool.' And it ends up being cool and they end up changing, you know. But I'm not forcing them. I'm just letting them know it's cool to be themselves and they don't have to put up a front."

On his track "Hip-Hop's Destruction", JPoint gives a bum rap to rappers who put on a false front. The track brings to mind a quote from one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc:

"To me, hip-hop says, 'Come as you are.' We are a family. It ain’t about security. It ain’t about bling-bling. It ain’t about how much your gun can shoot. It ain’t about $200 sneakers. It is not about me being better than you or you being better than me. It’s about you and me, connecting one to one."

JPoint agrees. "The real hip-hop is people see a way of telling their stories or it's a way of expression," he says. "But then there's the other hip-hop. So there's the pure speaking your heart or letting people know what your story is and just telling the truth. And then there's this other thing where people see it as a way to make money and it's such a Catch-22. It's not that easy - because everyone can make a song and the internet's just blown it wide open - to kind of come back to being yourself.

"Just tell your story, don't try to wear a mask, like saying you're this high-flying millionaire type. There are people who can do it, like Flo-Rida and stuff, but when there are other rappers, like, locally, who try to portray that gangster image, it just doesn't work. People have wised up to what real is, so they respect you if you just tell your stories and what you know. They respect your music and they want to get involved in it, but if you're going to become something that you're not and play this role - and especially a negative one at that - that time's kind of passed.

"I guess it just comes back to role models and the guys who are portraying stuff - younger people want to become them and rap like them, and it's just not viable."

One of JPoint's hip-hop heroes, Tupac Shakur, reflected both sides of hip-hop. But JPoint has grabbed one of Tupac's grittiest tracks, "Brenda's Got A Baby" and taken the lament for teenage mothers several steps further in "Brenda Had A Baby".

"That's my favourite Tupac song," says JPoint. "It's pretty personal and it's pretty classic, but also because of the content, with the young girl having a baby and she's got no help. That happens a lot. So I just wanted to elaborate, because the baby is the victim too, the mother dies."

By age four, she was abused
The chamber was dark and she felt confused
There were no tea parties, no kitchen sets
Just the touch of a monster and his vile breath

“I just wanted to explore it,” says Jpoint. “I don't know if Tupac was going to go back to it, but the baby goes through some bad stuff in my version, then it comes out good, the ending is good."

She finds there are people pure in heart
Who've worked through adversity and chose the path
Of the righteous, they give her strength to succeed
The skills and abilities to chase her dreams
She's a woman now and I believe she'll survive
She walked through the flames and came out alive

"The whole thing with young mothers, that's just a big problem,” says JPoint. “At my work in juvenile prison, even today, one of the boys, his girlfriend came and brought the new baby in to show him. And that happens a fair bit, it's not like a one-off - these boys are fathers and they're just kids themselves. It's ridiculous.

"I'm happy for them because creating a life isn't something to be frowned upon, it's a beautiful thing, having a child, but then you feel for these kids - do they actually know what they're getting involved in? It is life changes and it's fun and games, but then they'll leave and try to get a job and then they feel like there's no option so they just resort back to crime and then they go to jail and then the child grows up with no father.

"I just wanted to kind of continue the story, it's purely out of love for the song. I just wanted to see if I could make it go a bit longer and to kind of show there was a way for the little girl to get help and she breaks the cycle in a sense. They always want to try to fix these problems with the crime and youth and all that but it's got to, you've got to go back a generation - or go back two if you have to - and fix the problem there. You can't just… it's like putting a band-aid on a big open gash, you know."

On the same mixtape that contains "Brenda Had A Baby", JPoint goes back a few generations in his own family and proves that sticking to your own story can be as rich a mine of material as any.

I spit words, verbs, paragraphs and pie graphs
But that's maths man?
I'm just making you laugh
But get serious
Monster maniac hype original
NQ born, half-Malay Aboriginal
Terrorist! Bomb threat! Sound the alarm
And move to the exits before you're harmed

"A lot of Aboriginals in Innisfail, they have Malay or Chinese blood in them, from the immigrants," says JPoint. "When I grew up, when I was only a little fella, my grandfather would teach me Malay and talk about his father - his dad was full Malay, from Malaysia, and his mum was Aboriginal. So I kind of carried that one.

"But if you come to Innisfail, the Aboriginals, you know, we have that same 'look', that Asian-Aboriginal look. So I like to chuck it in there because I'm proud of being Aboriginal and being Malay. I'd say I identify more with Aboriginal, but in the later part of my life I really want to learn more and travel over there and try to reconnect with family and stuff. I'm trying to get back to both sides of my roots."

South-east Asian trepang traders were bartering with Aboriginal people at the Top End of Australia long before they were colonised by Europeans.

"Yeah, the East Timorese," says JPoint. "Especially one of the tribes somewhere, there's a strong Aboriginal influence, so our people look like theirs and theirs look like ours - and that's from back in the day trading women and stuff, so you're not just breeding with the same people."

That multicultural mix is reflected on the track that closes JPoint's album, a showcase for the artists on his record label. "I just wanted it to be unique and have some totally different perspectives," says JPoint.

"Paddies, he's a Torres Strait man; I'm Aboriginal; Paulie, he's half Aboriginal, half Torres Strait; Tha Rash, he's Aboriginal-Malay; Johnny Row's Caucasian, he's Greek; the Baptist, his mother's English and his dad was from Tuvalu; Stevie Mitchell - PBoy - he's Aboriginal, his brother is Anthony Mitchell of The Cowboys [The North Queensland Cowboys rugby league team]; Robbie Gore, he's Caucasian; DB's Caucasian; Smizler, he's Caucasian.

"I don't see boundaries, my best mates are whitefellas or Filipino, everything. I personally just like to show all the guys who are on the label and they're very diverse so that's something very cool."

Like a lot of his friends, JPoint - who was born John Edwards - did not know his own father. It's why he named his record label "Northern Orphanz".

"Me and Johnny Row, we created it," he says. "In Innisfail where all of us boys hung out, we've got grandparents, all of us, and we have our mothers, but we never knew our fathers. So Johnny didn't have a father, I didn't have mine, a lot of my close mates didn't know theirs. My cousin Joe, he just met his dad, like, three years ago. I had my grandfather and he basically raised me. I hardly dealt with my mum - I was at my grandfather's all the time - so he raised me up, and I had good uncles. My grandfather was so awesome. He meant the world to me, you know."

Naturally, JPoint was devastated to lose his grandfather, but he has had plenty of loss in his life, as laid out on his track "This Is Not Goodbye".

I sit back, reminisce, think about you
Jason Dwayne Edwards, I think about you
Big brother, seven years senior to my age
Role model to a boy who was naked to the flames
Of a lifetime without you realm of the physical
The day you went away, mum was sad and hysterical
People are saying to me they've been where I've been
So they must have lost a brother at the age of 14
Damn, the whole event was a straight-up mess
There's been a hit and run and we have no suspects
Police don't care, another Murri man gone
But I love you brother Jay, in my heart, you live on

Turning pages
And they keep on turning
Take a moment
And I took my moment
Realise
Oh, would realise that I miss you
My heart still yearns to the day that I'm with you
Seasons changed, pictures fade
And they keep on fading
This is not goodbye
This is not goodbye
Understand, this is not goodbye

So as the years go by our family life rebuilds
But nothing stays the same, so something's got to give
Then the news, three uncles lost at sea
They've sent a search party, have to wait and see
So I start to stress, consumed, anticipation
Out at the Ramsays' place, that's my relations
Silence, tears, then the phone makes a sound
Voice on the end, uncle Tim's been found
That's a miracle, feels like a state of relief
Catch my breath for a second and I start to believe
But there's no second call and it never gets better
Shed a tear for my uncle Tommy and Uncle Edsa
I miss you, gentle and kind words with wisdom
But I was too young to sit down and listen
Hard head, but I grew, and I flipped my direction
Rearranged my path and I heed every lesson

Johnny Edwards, uncle, grandfather and dad
Many titles you held, the best friend that I had
Raised me up from birth, taught me right from wrong
Gave me shelter and love, kept me safe and warm
And for that I was grateful, overcome by love
You gave me sense and a purpose and that made me strong
A cornerstone in the family, foundation of rock
Even though there were loved ones, you cherished the lot
So when you needed my help, I put your life in my hands
I carried the weight 'cause I was proud of the man
Who gave me a gift I could never repay
'Cause your life was priceless, nothing more to say
So when the phone call came and they said you'd passed
And the walls came down and the world got dark
I was truly hit hard and it made me sad
To lose the life of a man I called grandad

I've seen a lifetime of agony, pain and scars
And so far I've carried the weight, it felt hard
No regrets, I've loved and lost, but I've learnt
To appreciate all the ones who turned
This fractured husk into a man of integrity
Stand up on feelings to the best of my ability
And life is full of moments we hold and we cherish
From the time of our birth to the day that we perish
So I've written a ballad for the ones we remember
Family and friends who are gone, but I'll never
Forget all the names, though the seasons change
You've inspired my life, in my heart you'll stay
To the death, and when the final price is paid
When the flowers are withered and the caskets laid
I'll extend my reach to the light that shines
And we'll meet in the heavens till the end of time

"It was a very tough time for me as a young fella, losing my only brother," he says. "It was hard on my mum, she always carried that with her."

But for JPoint, the pain keeps on coming. "She actually passed about two weeks ago, so I'm dealing with that right now. She had a lot of health problems. She didn't want to stop smoking and had triple bypasses and all that."

Indigenous Australians experience much higher death rates than the non-Indigenous Australians across all age groups and for all major causes of death, the federal government notes.

"Yeah, well, it does feel like I have a bad run with it," says JPoint. "But with my mum she was diabetic, had heart problems, went for a triple bypass and then a quadruple one, she had a stroke about two and a half years ago."

JPoint's mother was just 59. Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is still far lower than for non-Indigenous Australians - 11.5 years lower in 2005-07, the latest statistics available. In some communities, such as Wadeye, life expectancy is as low as 46.

"You know, other people around her age - Indigenous - have passed away in the last three or four months as well," says JPoint. “So there's been a fair few funerals. There's a funeral that we have to go to on Friday and then a week after is my mum's. We had to delay hers just because there were other Indigenous people in her age group who were passing away, so it's a big problem. You know, we've got to get on top of this - what the hell?"

On JPoint's hook-laden heavy-hitter "Hip-Hop Head" he raps: "My life, I keep it simple like a bassline." For the rapper, this is the key to health, and the key to life.

"I like to not make goals extravagant or big - so, small goals," he says. "The distance is far, but the goals in between, there's heaps of them, so I set simple goals every week. Keep it as simple as I can, keep my diet as simple as I can. My family have diabetes and heart problems, so that's another reason why I had to start working out and just eating healthy. Even my music, keep it simple."

He also sees the battle he had with his own health as like the battle against Aboriginal injustice - a topic he tackles to the ground in the seething "War and Rez".

War, resolution, conflict
War, resolution, conflict
Better days, mass genocide
People shied, people fade
War of the masses
The outcome disastrous

I've got 20 fucking bars to release this stress
Panic button on the right just in case we flex
The mental backbone
Brainwaves travel the blaze faster
Burn when they catch different shades like sunglasses
Disaster we inflict to the maximum
Compress the microphone crowd satisfaction
Optimal, we can gauge by percentage
Ones who's forgotten, ones who's remembered

"You know all the Aboriginals that were killed just before the turn of the century,” he says. “Massive tribes getting killed and stuff. Even up where I'm from, there's a national park up there called Palmerston, and the guy [Christie] Palmerston who came into the Innisfail area and explored, he ended up getting some trackers from another area. But they went in and they gave gifts of, like, meat and stuff to the tribe up there and poisoned them - a whole heap of Aboriginals over at my place - and, yeah, they named a national park after him. My uncle, he's up in Darwin, he did a whole thesis on it and it's documented.

“With my family, like, my grandmother, she was under the Act. You know when Aboriginals couldn't go from one place to another and they had to let the police know and they couldn't have their own money and they had to be trading for rations and there was a lot of taking wages away and stuff like that?”

The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was used to strip Indigenous people of their human rights.

“It goes back to all that nonsense.,“ says Jpoint. “That's in our bloodline as well, we have documents. My grandfather told me stories of people living on the outskirts of town, getting less money and all this other nonsense - expecting Aboriginal fellas to work the same, as hard, for half - even less - and then having policemen taking the money away and giving you some rice and flour or whatever and just... ah... it's ridiculous. But we're getting it back, we're working on that."

Just as he slowly won his battle with his demons, so he believes his people can win back their rights. The key is in taking it little by little, kilo by kilo, one rhyme at a time.

"The distance might be far, but so long as you've got small goals, just travel," he says. "You get there eventually."

We have a copy of Eklectic Methodz and five copies of Tha Rogue Mixtape to give away. Email your name and address to criticalfilms@gmail.com. Winners picked at random. Download The Rogue Mixtape free here.

READ NEXT: Rapper goes from petty crime to stealing the show

Below is the full, unedited Q&A…

Tell us about your childhood - where you grew up, who your parents were, what they did, and so on.

I grew up in Innisfail. I was there from the time I was born until about 18. My mum raised me. I didn't know my father. So it was just my mum and my brother, older brother. My grandfather also raised me as well. He worked on the council until he was 65. Then I looked after him, I was his carer. When I left Innisfail at 18, I went and DJ'd in a nightclub for a few years. I DJ's an R&B hip-hop club in Cairns. Then I went back to Innisfail with my grandfather. Then I moved to Townsville when my grandfather passed away, four years ago.

So you're 32?

Yeah, but I turn 33 on Friday.

Tell us about your life after you moved to Townsville. What you do to get by, how you keep so fit and so on.

I moved to Townsville. I started making songs back when I was in Innisfail, making my music and stuff, mixing. But coming here opened up more opportunities for me. I started working at the detention centre, straight away. Like three months after I moved here. My mate Johnny Row, he was the one at first, he was making tracks with the juveniles... and then I took over. So that in turn helps me with my writing - my writing's really evolved, my music and my beat-making, because I'm making songs every day with the boys. So yeah I work in the detention centre right now. Cleveland Youth Detention Centre. There are only two detention centres in Queensland - there's one here in Townsville, we take all the boys all the way up to the Gulf. And Brisbane Youth Detention Centre takes the rest, and they also take girls.

That sounds like rewarding work.

Yeah it is, the relationships I build with the boys - I end up falling in love with them, because some of them have been there for a long time, as long as me, because there are boys who re-offend all the time. So it's really rewarding, you know, to build these relationships. They're like little brothers to me, so I end up falling in love with them, you know, like in a big brother way. It's sad but it's also good, you know. You don't want them in the detention centre all the time but... I work with the boys, yeah, that's my full-time job. The music is still the main priority for me, it's a big love. So I'm doing everything within my bounds to do that and also work at the detention centre.

You rap about being "half-Malay Aboriginal" on "Hit Em High Hit Em Low". Tell us about that.

My family, well a lot of Aboriginals in Innisfail, they have Malay or Chinese blood in them, from the immigrants. When I grew up, when I was only a little fella, my grandfather would teach me Malay and talk about his father and his mother being Malay - his dad was Malay and his mum was Aboriginal. So I kinda carried that one. But if you come to Innisfail there's a lot of... the Aboriginals, you know, we have that same 'look', that Asian-Aboriginal look. So I like to chuck it in there because I'm proud of being Aboriginal and being Malay.

And how far back do the Malay roots go there in Innisfail?

Well, my grandfather's father is full Malay, from Malaysia, so that's - what - is that fourth generation? And there's all other families that have Malay bloodlines, so I just like to chuck it in there because I like to be proud of both - Aboriginal and Malay.

And what aspects of Malay culture do you most identify with?

Well I'd say I identify more with Aboriginal, but in the later part of my life I really want to learn more and travel over there and try to reconnect with family and stuff. But yeah being in north Queensland I mainly identify with Aboriginal but I'm trying to get back to both sides of my roots. That's why I like putting it in there and letting people know.

There's a long history of trade between the Aboriginals and Indonesia well before Europeans arrived, isn't there?

Yeah, the East Timorese. Especially one of the tribes somewhere or one of the areas where the people live, there's a strong Aboriginal influence, so our people look like theirs and theirs look like ours - and that's from back in the day trading women and stuff [laughs], so you're not just breeding with the same people I guess [laughs].

Yeah there were skin groups for that reason, right?

Yeah.

Tell us about choosing 2Pac's "Brenda's Got A Baby" to elaborate on, on "Brenda Had A Baby". Why that track in particular?

Well, that's my favourite Tupac song, it's pretty personal and it's pretty classic, but also because of the content, with the young girl having a baby and she's got no help. That happens, I’ve seen it happen before, not so much in my family, but it does happen a lot. It's like not like a strange story to me, kinda thing. So I just wanted to elaborate, because the baby is the victim too, the mother dies. I just wanted to explore it, I don't know if Tupac was going to go back to it but yeah obviously the baby goes through some bad stuff in my version but then it comes out good, like, the ending is good. It just rang with me, like the whole thing with young mothers, that's just a big problem. Even at my work, there's this boy, in juvenile prison, and even today one of the boys, his girlfriend came and brought the new baby in to show him. And that happens a fair bit, it's not like a one-off - these boys are fathers and they're just kids themselves. It's ridiculous. I'm happy for them because creating a life isn't something to be frowned upon, it's a beautiful thing, having a child, but having a kid, it's just, like - ahhh - it's really good, but then you feel for these kids - do they actually know what they're getting involved in? You know? It's life changes and it's fun and games but then they're forced to - they'll leave and then they try to get a job and then they feel like there's no option so they just resort back to crime and then they go to jail and then the child grows up with no father. But yeah I just wanted to kind of continue the story, it's purely out of love for the song, I just wanted to see if I could make it go a bit longer and to kind of show there was a way for the little girl to get help and she breaks the cycle in a sense, so... Yeah I believe... They always want to try to fix these problems with the crime and youth and all that but it's got to, you've got to go back a generation or go back two if you have to and fix the problem there. You can't just - it's like putting a band-aid on a big open gash, you know.

On "Hip-Hop's Destruction" you rap about pop hip-hop versus the underground. The former Minister of Defence of the Black Panther Party, Geronimo ji-Jaga, who was also the godfather of Tupac, noted: “Hip hop is indigenous and it’s powerful and it scares the hell out of these people, right? So, they have to get control and employ Cointelpro-like tactics. After the leadership of the Black Panther Party was attacked at the end of the 60s and the early 70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for up-coming generations became the pimps, the drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The result was that the gangs were coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them.” What are your thoughts?

Well, I know what you're saying. First off with the pop hip hop thing, hip hop and pop hop I don't like pop hop that's why the song was made. But within that quote how they tried to change the direction of then minds kind of thing and how the role models changed because the Black Panther Party was a really strong movement and it was good in aspects, but it had some of its bad parts to, but it had a really good, positive role. But in destroying it and having these drug dealers and pimps I could see where that happened. But I think there's a... the real hip-hop is people see a way of telling their stories or it's a way of expression, but then there's the other hip-hop. So there's expression, which is the pure speaking your heart or letting people know what your story is and just telling the truth. And then there's this other thing where people see it as a way to make money and it's such a Catch-22, it's not that easy because everyone can make a song and the internet's just blown it wide open, to kinda come back to being yourself. You know, just tell your story, don't try to wear a mask, you know like saying you're this high-flying millionaire type. I'm not saying that… There are people who can do it, like Flo-Rida and stuff, but when there are other rappers, like, locally who try to portray that gangster image, it just doesn't work. People have wised up to what real is, so they respect you if you just tell your stories and what you know. they respect your music and they want to get involved in it, but if you're going to become something that you're not and play this role and especially a negative one at that - that time's kinda passed. No one's going to... I guess it just comes back to role models and the guys who are portraying stuff - younger people want to become them and rap like them, and it's just not viable.

What sort of tracks do the kids in detention want to make?

Well, they always want to make the partying and drinking kind of thing. I have some guidelines. I don't, like, I tell them you've got to tell your story and even some kids will come in and use the word "nigger". It doesn't happen that much, but when it does I tell them straight away that, you know, 'Back home, do you use that word around your family? You know, do you really use it around your friends all the time? It's a terrible word and it's not our word anyway.' So straight off the bat I like to reinforce, you know: 'The words you use at home, you must...' you know, I say back to them the words that they would use. Like balal or sissy or cuzzy or cuz, or bruz, you know. Things that you use every day. Then I'll go back to, 'Do you use nigger because it's not, to be honest, that's not a word you use.' And they kinda understand straight away. And I say 'Look, just tell your own story, tell it how you see it and people will think that's cool.' And it ends up being cool and they end up changing, you know. But I'm not forcing them. I'm just letting them know it's cool to be themselves and they don't have to put up a front. It's been good, the boys look up to me at work so I rap and there's like a lot of little clones coming out of Cleveland which is funny but I try to tell them, 'Don't replicate me. I'm flattered, but just be yourself.'

Do you get a lot of diversity coming out of that then?

Yeah, some boys are just natural rappers, their style is there, they just need a little nudge and then it comes out. But definitely there's different styles, like I've got a real 1990s throwback to Nas and all that, that's my style. That's where I came from. But it's also - a lot of people say I sound old skool which is funny to me because the 1990s isn't that old, but a lot of younger people think I sound old skool [laughs]. That's all good.

Tell us about the sample on your intalude "A Fair Question?" and why you choose it.

It's from 'Cool Runnings'. I just chucked it in because I like what he's saying: Material things, awards and accolades, they don't define who you are. There's nothing wrong with receiving acknowledgement for doing something good, but if you wake up and you set out to do something to get acknowledgement, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

Tell us about the film sample that opens your album "Eklectic Methodz".

Oh [laughs]. Well that's off 'Dexter'. [Dexter is an American television drama series that debuted on Showtime on October 1, 2006. The series centres on Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter pattern analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer.] The scene was really cool, him and John Lithgow. I listened to it more and started thinking about me and the demons that I have. You know, sometimes it is hard to control the demons but no-one's perfect and you can't exist without them. You need the dark and the light to co-exist. It makes who you are. I'm not totally perfect, I've made mistakes. I have demons, other people have demons and sometimes some people have a better grip on them, some people don't. It's just kind of letting people know that I'll try and help you with yours if you try to help me with mine.

You use a lot of film samples in your work - tell us about that.

I will enjoy watching a film but if I hear something I go yeah that'd be cool. My cousins, they know me and we'll be watching a film and they'll go, 'You should put THAT in your music'. Yeah they know I just like using bits out of movies that's all.

You produce your own beats and have a very clean production sound. You use a lot of classical guitar and melodic sounds, as if you play live into the sequencer rather than just laying stuff out on screen. Can you tell us about your production techniques, what equipment you use, how you build a song, where you get your unusual sounds and so on?

I use Adobe Edition - it's like Cool Edit - and I use Fruityloops 5. I'll go looking through, like Cash Converters and I'll just go looking through old records and even CDs like 'Cool Moods' and all that and I'll just sit down and listen to it all and then I'll find a little sample then I'll use the sample and then I'll build up around it, drums, put more bass through it, filter it and cut it up, then re-work it and then - luckily for me - there's other guys who I work with at Cleveland who are live musicians. I'll get them to put a little bit of extra twang on it. So I'll start with a cool sample, but then re-work it, re-work it, re-work it, cut it up, chop it up, then - not every song will have live, sometimes I'll cut a sample up and then I'll be happy with it. But yeah I'll get the players, because they're very skilled musicians who I work with, the guy who plays on 'Secret Moments' plays on a few other songs, we've got the North Ward album, he played on that, he's playing on my second album but we'll talk about that later. Yeah that's basically it, it's just finding the right sample, but I'll hear something, I'll go through a lot of crap just to find... It's not like... I could buy 10 second-hand CDs from Cash Converters and go through them all and maybe find 10 seconds or something or hopefully 40 seconds or 30 seconds and go 'Yep, that's useable.' But there's a lot of mucking around. Some days you'll get 10 discs and you're thinking 'Oh man, I've got a few songs here' and then... For a good sample all you really need is just one good bit, but that's not always the way. I've also got a keyboard which I'll - I like synthy sounds so I'll go that way. Fruity 9 is really easy to use but with Fruity 5 it kind of forces me to use Adobe and be more intricate and perfectionist with it. So it's really moulded my style, so I just stick with Fruity 5. Some of the songs I do, people think I've got an MPC - it's like a sampler, like a drum machine which you can also feed samples in. A lot of producers use them but I don't, I can do the same thing with my computer.

Tell us about the production work you do for other artists.

I do stuff with Johnny Row and also the North Ward. I've just started working with other artists around the country. We just kept doing our own sound and making our own style. Now I'm happy that it turned out that way because people say you've got a cool style. It worked in my favour, but I didn't realise it back then.

Tell us how the "Orphanz" part of your collective's name came about.

Me and Johnny Row we created it purely out of - in Innisfail where all of us boys hung out, we've got grandparents all of us and we have our mothers but we never knew our fathers. So Johnny didn't have a father, I didn't have mine, a lot of my close mates didn't know theirs. My cousin Joe, he just met his dad, like, three years ago. I had my grandfather and he basically raised me. I hardly dealt with my mum, I was at my grandfather's all the time, so he raised me up and I had good uncles.

Did you not grow up wondering what your father was like?

Oh definitely. Any child would wonder what their mother was like or their father.

Did it play on your mind a lot?

No, because my grandfather was so awesome, it didn't really bother me. He meant the world to me, you know.

Tell us about the artwork.

Yeah the logo's awesome. That was funny. Johnny had this vision, he said he wanted, like, a little boy, holding a mike. We paid some professionals and they couldn't nail it and I said, 'Oh, I'll give it a shot.' I did it in one day. I did the boy but I hadn't done the lettering around it yet and as soon as I showed him the picture he was like, 'Oh, that's it!' Then I just designed the rest of it on the computer. Yeah, it came out really cool.

Do you do graffiti or have you always just drawn?

Yeah, I just draw. I'm no good at graffiti stuff.

On "Make Way" you rap: "Society put me in a chamber / Threw away the key for my bad behaviour."

Yeah, well going back to the demons and stuff. When I was in my 20s I was overweight and didn't have a job, didn't really have money. I was caring for my grandfather which was cool, but I felt like I wasn't really doing anything with my life and I was kids like just wasting away. In Innisfail you just drink and when the weekend comes it's like big benders and everyone just drinks their lives away and gets up to maniac stuff. So I guess I was blaming society. You know, I felt like they had put me there and had forgotten about me. But that's just being a young man and not really having the clarity or the vision to see what you could become. I just kind of blamed the world, you know, for being bad I blamed the world. I put myself in a chamber and blamed society for doing it, but it was myself.

On "Dat's Real" you rap "You can lock me up in chains and throw away the key." Tell us about that.

Yeah it was, you know, just having so much self-hate. When you're in a destructive mode, you just feel like you're in a dark place. There's no light and you just can't help anyone.

When did you change?

I guess when my grandfather passed away and I just looked at myself in the mirror and thought 'Oh man, I hate being overweight and I hate just not reaching my full potential.' And people would tell me, like, 'Man, you're so talented and you can make music so easily' and that kind of was a problem because I could make beats and stuff and it wouldn't be a challenge. So I just started thinking, 'Oh, everyone can do it.' But yeah I was overweight and I just thought, 'Oh man, I'm just really destroying myself, and for what?' So I just changed, I just said, 'No that's it, I'm losing weight.' So I started losing weight and just started setting small goals. I was 125 kilos, so I was really overweight, but I just set small goals every week, I'd go for a kilo or whatever. So once I got down to, you know, 90 or 85, whatever it was...

So you lost 40 kilos?

Yeah, yeah it was, Right now I'm up to 94, 95, because I've been bulking up. I just needed to change my size, but I'm stripping up, I'm about to change my diet again and cut up so I can be ripped.

So you might end up like 125 kilos of muscle instead?

No, that's the thing, you'll see me closer to the date, I'll post photos on my thing. I'll be closer to 80 kilos, but I'll look like 100. You end up looking bigger when you're cut. You'll see [laughs]. So I’ve gone from being in a chamber to being an idol for young boys at my work and now I've got an album and I'm competing in body building in June. I was going to compete last year but I tore my trap, I tore the muscle in my neck. I couldn't move my arm for a while so it really put a halt on everything but this time, this June, this year, coming up, I'll grace the stage. Yep [laughs].

On "Hip-Hop Head" you rap: "My life, I keep it simple like a bassline." Tell us how you keep your life simple.

That goes back to what I just said. I like to not make goals extravagant or big. So small goals. The distance is far but the goals in between, there's heaps of them, so I set simple goals every week. Keep it as simple as I can, keep my diet as simple as I can. Even my music, keep it simple. Go to the bounds that I can do, but just - yeah, no time for wasting time. When I got to my late 20s too I realised that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do. I said, "nah, there's no time really to waste any more, just do what I'm supposed to do. Keep it simple.' That's the best way.

On "My Life" you rap: "Every man's got a war story." Tell us about that.

Yeah, it just goes back to reflecting on myself and, you know, having crazy demons. Everyone's got them. Just know that, you know, we all go through tough times. Sometimes we don't admit that we have these demons, but I think if you can reach out... You know, if you've got these demons, you know, someone's could be cocaine addiction or another person could be alcoholic or another person could be very abusive and hurt people. They tend to think that the world's shunned them and doesn't want to help them or be a part of their lives, but if you know that every man's got a war story. Sometimes they think there's no way out, but in that song I'm just trying to let people know, man I've done some crazy shit, too. You're not the first person who's done that and if you need help I'm here for you because I've done crazy shit, too.

You rap in Spanish on "Secret Moments" and seem able to rap even more extensively in Spanish when performing live. Tell us about that - do you speak any other languages? What are your thoughts on secondary languages not being compulsory for Australian kids and the fact Aboriginal languages aren't taught in most schools?

I learnt it off Google [laughs]. I just learnt the phrase over and over and then I said it in the song. I do have a weakness for Selma Hayek [laughs]. I speak a little Malay and I'm just re-learning my Aboriginal language, you know, Mamu.

And one day you'll do a track in it?

Yeah, definitely, definitely. I don't have it down pat just now.

And what do you think of the fact it's not taught?

Ah you know, it's just part of trying to take Aboriginality out of Australia.

Assimilation, the cultural genocide.

Yeah, yeah, that's it. With my family, like, my grandmother, she was under the Act. You know when Aboriginals couldn't go from one place to another and they had to let the police know and they couldn't have their own money and they had to be trading for rations and there was a lot of taking wages away and stuff like that? It goes back to all that nonsense. That's in our bloodline as well, we have documents, a lot of our... my grandmother being under the Act and even my grandfather's mother being a part of it as well, so...

And that's when all the languages started dying out, well long before that, but when people are not allowed to speak their own language...

Yeah, yeah that's it, especially on the east coast. In the middle, it's a bit more... you know, they were kind of out of the way for the white fellas to get to. Yeah on the coast it was like, yeah, you change or... Yeah, like my grandfather told me stories of people living on the outskirts of town, getting less money and all this other nonsense - expecting Aboriginal fellas to work the same, as hard, for half, even less, and then having policemen taking the money away and giving you some rice and flour or whatever and just... ah... it's ridiculous. But we're getting it back, we're working on that, so... no worries.

It's a long way to go though, huh.

Yeah well at least, like I said, the distance might be far, but so long as you've got small goals, just travel - you get there eventually.

Sometimes it can feel like we're going backwards with the Stronger Futures laws, when they're telling people they've got to move into hub towns and off their homelands, it's more likely to be killing the few remnants of language and culture that are left isn't it?

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. It's like, ah, my uncle, he's working for the South Australian government now and he's doing work with the [people] at the top, at the top part near Uluru, so he flies up and then he goes there and he's telling me that you know the state of things there, it's just ridiculous, like, they're trying to help them by taking their money away and giving them this barter system and big jails and just really, that can mindfuck you, a big jail in your community. You know these big fences and then... and not giving you the right of the - saying you don't have the ability or the judgement to spend your own money, we've got to put half of it or more than that on this card because you're going to spend it and then the rest of the money goes on their rent and they have no money at all.. ah, I dunno.

It's shocking. And now they're rolling out the Basics Card to the whole country and that's how they're claiming it's not racist.

Oh, man [laughs].

On "It Is What It Is" you rap about "slavery for a wage" and say "fuck the corporate practice". This song will resonate with Green Left's readers. Please tell us all about it.

That's not my words, that's my boy Tha Mock. I'll get him to talk to you, he's big on that, he can go on and on.

On "War & Rez" you rap about mass genocide. Talk about that please.

Ah you know all the Aboriginals that were killed just before the turn of the century. Massive tribes getting killed and stuff. Even up where I'm from, there's a national park up there called Palmerston, and the guy [Christie] Palmerston who cam into the Innisfail area and explored he ended up getting some trackers - yeah, I think it was trackers - from another area or something. But they went in and they gave gifts of, like, meat and stuff to the tribe up there and poisoned them, a whole heap of Aboriginals over at my place and yeah they named a national park after him. My uncle, he's up in Darwin, he did a whole thesis on it and it's documented. It's too late now, that's why they've got a national park.

What's the name of your uncle?

I think my Uncle Graynme Ramsay. Yeah, cos I remember reading it years ago when I was in TAFE. I can find out properly.

Tell us about the Michael Caine sample in "War & Rez".

It's off 'Batman', the second one, when he's talking about the Joker, the Joker doesn't think in the same way, just a mad man but there's a method to his madness but no one else can see it, some men just do things because of what they are. He never stopped being who he was - I like that. To everyone else it seems like madness but to him it's completely sane. When I was losing weight people thought I was crazy and stupid, you know, 'You're dieting and you're never going to get anywhere, it doesn't do anything.' But I thought going to the gym at five in the morning and going up Castle Hill and having 1980s rock music playing when I'm doing these things - I was just in my own world. It made sense to me, it didn't make sense to anyone else but it made sense to me.

Tell us about "Super Fly Aboriginal" on Obesecity 2, how that came about and the feedback you've had from it.

Well I know Tirren - Pegz - Tirren Staaf, he co-owns Obese Records. I've just known him for years, we were just having one of our conversations like, you know we talk and stuff and when he comes up north he likes to hang out and even when I was in Melbourne last I went and hung out with him - he's just a cool guy, I like him. We were having a conversation and he said, 'Are you putting a sing in for Obesecity?' And I said, ‘Well, we've got Johnny Row's song "Hell Yeah" which I produced, and I said, 'Well, that's kind of my contribution.' And he said, 'Ah man, don't be slack, you know, put a song in.' Cos he said 'You know I'm on the board and there's a few other people but if everyone likes it, you know we'll put it on the album.' I sent it through and he was like, 'Man, right now is your time, your rhymes are ill on it and just - it's definitely going on.' I was like 'cool'. And that was basically it. You know, I've known him for years and he asked for a track, Obese Records liked it and yeah it went ahead. The blessing of being on Obesecity - I was in Adelaide the other month at this hip-hop show, met some Adelaide boys and they were like they knew who I was straight away. That was cool, I'd never been to Adelaide before and these guys were just like 'Man, your song's cool', they loved it and it's been getting good feedback. I don't think there's many Aboriginals on Obesecity 2 - if any - I think I'm the only one.

I think you are.

[Laughs] So that's quite an honour in itself, too.

But there should be more.

More on that album?

Yeah, everywhere I think , you know. I think it's going to get a lot more attention in the coming years, Indigenous hip-hop.

Yeah, you know The Last Kinection have done well and Jimblah.

Yeah and Urthboy at Elefant Traks is pushing the Indigenous hip-hop angle a lot.

Yeah, yeah, so now it's a good time for it. You know with my style and just trying to stay ahead - well, not ahead, but being who I am - but also having the strength to rap it out with other guys in the top calibre, you know I have this sense that if I'm going to do something I'm going to do it two timesfold or five timesfold, Just being at the standard or the baseline isn't good enough for me personally. So I've just gotta work a little bit extra harder so I'm up here kind of thing.

On "This Is Not Goodbye" you rap about losing your brother. Please talk about that if you can.

Yeah that's fine. So I was like 13, 14 - Grade 9. My brother was killed in a hit-and-run. It was a very tough time for me as a young fella losing my only brother. It was hard on my mum, she always carried that with her. She actually passed about two or three weeks, no, two weeks ago.

Oh no. Sorry about that.

No that's cool, so I'm dealing with that right now. But yeah she had a lot of health, health problems, like she didn't want to stop smoking and had triple bypasses and all that, yeah. So the song's about losing my brother, and I lost two uncles at sea as well about two years later and then my grandfather who I cared for, but yeah.

Also please talk, if you can, about the loss Indigenous people experience in their lives as compared with non-Indigenous Australians. ("Indigenous Australians experience much higher death rates than the non-Indigenous Australians across all age groups and for all major causes of death," the federal government notes.

Yeah, well, it does feel like I have a bad run with it. But with my mum she was diabetic, had heart problems, went for a triple bypass and then a quadruple one, she had a stroke about 2 and a half years ago.

And how old was she?

59. You know, other people around her age - Indigenous, have passed away in the last three or four months as well. So there's been a fair few funerals, like even, there's a funeral that we have to go to on Friday and then a week after is my mum's. We had to delay hers just because there were other Indigenous people in her age group who were passing away, so it's a big problem. You know, we've got to get on top of this - what the hell? You know, you've gotta look after yourself. If your doctor says stop smoking, you stop smoking. Or if you've got to change a little, take bread out of your diet or do whatever. We have to get through to our people that, you know, enough's enough. That's the tragic thing in all of this, it's more like, blackfellas are just scared of doctors and hospitals, whereas we should be embracing them as, like, friends.

Where do you think the problem lies?

It's just education I think blackfellas are just scared because they don't know properly and they're too scared to ask questions. There’s a stigma that if you go into a hospital you're going to die. Whereas if they asked more questions they'd get the answers and they wouldn't be so scared. But that's the main thing, blackfellas don't want to go to the doctor's they're like - ah - that's the first thing they think, they're going to die. 'Go get a flu needle.' 'Nah, it makes you more sick, I don't wanna die.' Or 'Go to the dentist' and it's like, you know, 'Woaaah, I know someone who went there and they died.' So that's the main thing. They're scared to go and they're scared to ask questions. Be educated and express and communicate your thoughts. No matter how scary they are, you should ask someone. That's the main thing and they're a bit too laid back. I know people who aren't so laid back, but their medication, they think it's all a game, lah-de-dah, it's a big joke. But you've got to follow these things. I'm not going to say that every Aboriginal person is an alcoholic and all this crap. Everyone, you know, we've all got the same problems.

Well the government's own research shows that non-Indigenous drink more heavily.

OK, well there you go.

But that's not what I was hinting at. I just know there’s a big gap in life expectancy and was wondering what your thoughts were about it.

Genetics do come into play, like, my family they have diabetes and heart problems. So that's another reason why I had to start working out and just eating healthy. You know, because I want to be around for my grandkids and stuff, so, there's nothing wrong with that.

There's some pretty radical lyrics on your multi-collaboration closing track "Welcome 2 The Orphanage". Please tell us about that and what each rapper brought to the song and also brings to your label.

Well, I haven't heard that song for a while. But the song itself I just wanted it to be unique and have some totally different perspectives. You know, Paddies, he's a Torres Strait man; I'm Aboriginal; Paulie, he's half Aboriginal, half Torres Strait; Tha Rash, he's Aboriginal-Malay; Johnny Row's Caucasian, he's Greek; the Baptist, his mother's English and his dad was from Tuvalu; Stevie Mitchell - PBoy - he's Aboriginal, his brother is Anthony Mitchell of The [North Queensland] cowboys [rugby league team]; Robbie Gore, he's Caucasian ; DB's Caucasian; Smizler, he's Caucasian. I don't see boundaries, my best mates are, they're whitefellas or Filipino best mates, everything, so just to get all different ranges of views. I can't really speak for anyone else, but yeah, you know, when you get an opportunity to drop a verse sometimes you want to be controversial or open up eyes and ears. But basically I didn't have an intention for the song, I just said, oh, can you just drop something and the guys just dropped what they felt and, yeah, I personally just like to show all the guys who are on the label and they’re very diverse so that's something very cool.

What are your plans for the future?

OK, so the second album I start recording next month. It's all written, the songs are already set up. They're all ready to go, I've just gotta do the vocals, like there's dummy versions, but yeah, I'll record the album, I've got a few film clips planned, so if things go well, distribution in April, May, in the stores and everything so this one's gonna be, really pushing this one and I'm looking at two distributors. I can't say who yet, I've just gotta decide on who I'm going to go with, so it's just a matter of, not if I can, it's just when.

Have you got a title?

I was going to go with Eklectic Techniques but I'm scrapping that now, I don't know exactly. I'm just hoping that like everything else it just kind of comes to me and I'll know. The first album you get your whole life to write. This one's all totally new. Eklectic Methodz had older songs and newer songs. But this one's got the one style. I think everyone's going to be very happy with it. There's a bit more singing on the hooks - not me singing - there's a little bit more R&B in there, kind-of style, but there's also that really cool hip-hop sound that I like doing, the really cool word-play. There's some songs that are just built for the radio, which is cool, because I'm kind of really trying to diversify myself even more and hit more targets, target audiences. But you'll get to hear it and hopefully the people will enjoy it.

Is there anything we should have asked or anything you'd like to add?

I'm gonna be in Sydney January 26 for Yabun festival. I'm on the main stage in the afternoon. I've gotta get back to these other guys in Perth, so Perth maybe in April, and if things go well at the end of the year a bit of touring and really push the name, push the brand and first of all just the album and some really cool clips. I don't wanna talk about what I'm gonna be doing in them but if it comes off - and I hope it does - god willing [laughs] there's gonna be some really cool film clips. Like Arnold says... what is it... ideas. It's evaded me. Obviously you have an idea first in your mind, so it's there. If it's what I see in my head, it should work. It WILL work. That's a guarantee from Jpoint.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.