Plenty of meat in Bunz's raps

June 16, 2014
Bunz on stage in Dundas, Sydney. Photo: Mat Ward

The Merry Grinchmas Mixtape
MC Bunz
Released December 25, 2013
Free download

When Glen Anderson was playing sport with his schoolfriends, he was suddenly surrounded by police who ordered him to lay flat on the ground.

"I was playing football in the middle of the football field and eight coppers ran over to me and went, 'Get down on the ground, get down on the ground! You just broke out of Long Bay jail!'," he says. "I'm like, 'Fuck, what? I'm a 17-year-old fucking schoolkid! Do you want to see my ID? I'm not breaking out of Long Bay!'"

Nearly a decade on, such racial profiling is one of the many troubling topics the Aboriginal rapper has tackled on his hard-hitting free mixtape, released under his musical moniker, MC Bunz. On "Gladiator Bars", he raps:

Evidence isn't really part of my beliefs
When your skin colour's making you a target of police

As an Indigenous kid, it was something he'd become used to. "When I was younger I used to get strip-searched in the middle of the street and shit for no reason," he says. "They just stereotype."

The bearded Bunz - who resembles a young Gil Scott-Heron in looks, charisma and intelligence - is talking in the car park of Dundas Community Centre in north-west Sydney, surrounded by housing tenements. Two members of his rap crew - Maori emcee Merc Mason and Australian rapper OneTwo Pierce - stand with him. Aboriginal rapper and actor SESK - the fourth member of their crew "Or Go Kill Yourself" - is absent.

Bunz has just ripped through a blistering solo set as the opening act for a huge bill of western Sydney rappers. His rapping is as angular and aggressive as the shapes his two-metre frame throws on stage. But in person, he is so softly spoken that it's hard to hear his voice over the sub-bass that booms out through the walls of the venue. As the last rays of the sun slip down the steep slopes of Dundas, the white cockatoos in the surrounding gum trees also ratchet up their racket, threatening to drown out Bunz completely.

"What is that?" he asks quietly, flinching at the birds' screeching. "This is like we're near a beach or something," he laughs. "Like you hear around my area."

Bunz was raised in La Perouse, a beachside suburb well known for its strong Aboriginal community, on Sydney's south coast. His Aboriginal father, whose roots are down the coast in Wreck Bay and "somewhere further up the coast", left his white Australian mother when Bunz was seven or eight.

"She had little jobs on and off," says Bunz. "Mainly being a mother, because she's had five kids - my four sisters and me."

One of his sisters was born to his stepdad, who is also Aboriginal.

"To be honest I don't know much about my Aboriginal background," says Bunz. "I know more about the European part of my family, because my great uncle has got all these books and he's been tracing back the history of that side of the family."

His uncle's research threw up an ominous namesake.

"Someone named John Howard," says Bunz, breaking into laughter at the mention of the former prime minister's name. "No relation to the John Howard! No relation!"

The rapper regains his composure.

"He stole six pairs of female stockings," he says. "Or something like that, when he was 14. He got sent on a boat to Australia - Tasmania - he was on a chain gang and a bunch of different stuff and eventually he would have bred out, which would have led on to me. So I'm a product of John Howard the stocking stealer."

He cracks up laughing again. But prison is one serious subject that Bunz can't escape. On "Gladiator Bars" he also raps:

Oppressive system and I'm thinking that they'll never fix it
Brothers get convicted
See them victims of a death in prison

"I just know a lot of people that have gone to prison," he explains. "My cousin just got locked up on [State of] Origin night. He'd just got out of open shoulder surgery, had been out of that for like three weeks, and now he's in jail for seven months."

The jailing rates of Aboriginal people continue to skyrocket. But it is hip-hop that has kept Bunz out of jail, as he raps on "This Is Crazy":

It's crazy but I wouldn't trade it for a different time
I'm telling you now, music will save you from committing crime

He traces the therapeutic power of music back to his ancestors, rapping that he's "rocking the dirty rhyme in the hat, bringing the Aboriginal corroboree of rap".

"Yeah, to a certain degree I consider my music like the modern-day corroboree," he says. "Just as they felt about their corroborees, that's the way I feel about making my own music. It's just spiritual, therapeutic - that's what the corroborees were, they were able to let things out. For me that's what my main cause in music is. It's therapy for me - and for someone else, it's therapeutic to them, when they're listening to it."

Merc Mason nods in agreement. "I started doing it for therapeutic reasons," says the Maori rapper. "It's just an easy way to vent anything you have to say. I don't think there's any boundaries on hip-hop or any type of art. There's no boundaries on what you can or can't express. So if it can be done, why not?"

As Bunz raps on "Gladiator Bars":

Check the melody
I'll forever be
Making music so I can use it
For seeking therapy

Music therapist Andrea Frisch Hara goes as far as to say: "Rap music's form is about as close to perfection as one can get to a therapeutic medium." But the therapeutic power of Bunz's music is helped by its sheer quality. His mixtape is as highly produced as it is highly politicised, sounding better than 95% of the music out there - including mainstream releases.

He says it was a grime-influenced British expat rapper who perfected his sound.

"Shouts out to my UK friend Big Red Cap," says Bunz. "I just recorded it all at my house and then I gave it to him and he mixed it down for me and got it sounding the way it was. Now I know that he can do that - I'm gonna release everything."

Merc Mason nods. "It was done with Sony's program Acid," says Mason. "Just a couple of flicks of a button and yeah, it's mad."

OneTwo Pierce agrees. "He's a champion as well," he says. "He's a good bloke. Which makes it even better."

The feeling is mutual. Asked later about Bunz, Big Red Cap flips his lid. "Bunz has a way with words I haven't heard before," he enthuses. "A truly impressive MC, and I've worked with a lot of people. The world can't be deprived of bars like his. Motherfucker is raw as fuck! He recorded the whole mixtape in about a week. Man's a fucking machine."

The track they collaborated on also appears on Big Red Cap's latest mixtape, I Jack Beats All Day Vol 3.

"Jack Beats 4 has about 10 different Australian and Aboriginal rappers as features on there," says Big Red Cap, who arrived in Australia about 18 months ago. "I wanna show the UK what Oz has to offer."

He is not the only British emcee to heap high praise on Bunz. World-famous British-Iraqi radical rapper Lowkey got Bunz to support him when he played Australia, prompting Bunz to rap:

I'm knowin' that I'm dope I had Lowkey say I'm
One of the best that he's heard in his life

It is foreigners, rather than Australians, who seem to pick up quickly on the quality of Aboriginal hip-hop. The Australian Aboriginal Hip-Hop Facebook page, which uploads Munk's weekly Indigenous Hip-Hop radio show to the web, has followers in more than 20 countries. Yet the content stands in stark contrast to the barbecues, beaches, bros and babes image that a lot of Aussie hip-hop projects.

"I don't celebrate Australia Day and that type of thing," says Bunz. "I've got a new track on how we're one of the only countries that can celebrate the day when they raped and murdered and pillaged a country. We're still one of the only countries in the world that celebrates it, rather than acknowledging it and trying to change it or moving forward."

But he is also at pains to point out that he is not the media stereotype that got him racially profiled by police as a kid. On "Feeling Alright" he raps:

See I've got lyrics to give
Cuz music is a job with an infinite shift
It's fight or flight on some visceral shit
Cuz I'll never be that typical Indigenous kid

Asked who the lyric is aimed at, he says: "Just the way that government, the stereotypical way it looks at Aboriginal kids, Aboriginal people. I don't want to fall into their stereotypes. There's nothing that's really changed since the days that we were considered flora and fauna. we're still segregated off. It's just as racist as it's ever been."

On "War Of The Words, such anger spills over:

To this day we're still slaves in our homes
So when we have a black PM is the day that I vote

"Yeah, I don't vote," he says. "I'm marked down as voting, but I don't vote for anyone, I just leave it blank. Most of the time I write 'fuck the government' on it."

He's not alone. It is estimated that half the Australian Indigenous population is not enrolled to vote and only half of those enrolled show up on polling day. At the last federal election, 5.92% of the total votes cast for the whole of Australia were informal – the highest proportion of spoiled votes for nearly 30 years. One of the candidates was incumbent prime minister Kevin Rudd, feted for his Apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations. Bunz isn't having a bar of that, either. On "This Is Crazy", he spits venom at the fact the Apology came with no legal reparations.

Sorry isn't nothing but a statement they made
Cuz it doesn't mean shit if they ain't making a change

"I think it was just a fake show, a fake front," he says. "To a certain degree they should apologise. Other countries have apologised, like Germany to the Jews for the Holocaust. But here, nothing came from it. There was no change, nothing was changed about it. It was just a word, really. It had no meaning behind it."

Bunz does, however, have reverence for some leaders, referencing Martin Luther King on "Gladiator Bars":

We're marching in the streets trying to bargain for a piece
Gotta stand up and fight - what if Martin didn't dream?

It's a line that brings to mind a statement from African American activist Marian Wright Edelman: “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back - but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”

"Yeah," says Bunz. "I'm just trying to tell people to wake up and take control. It's a question I often ask myself too, what if that hadn't happened in America, where would they be? Or even if our own people hadn't fought, where would we be now?"

He also tips his cap to a modern-day Aboriginal fighter - boxer Damien Hooper, who shot to worldwide fame at the 2012 Olympics when he was reprimanded for entering the ring in an Aboriginal flag T-shirt.

I want change so I'll aim for the future
Fight for recognition like I'm Damien Hooper

Bunz likens Hooper to another Indigenous athlete who shot to fame at the 2000 Olympics. "I just think it's like the Cathy Freeman situation where they tried to stop her from waving the flag," he says. "It's bullshit. It's like, there's a rapper in the UK, Mic Righteous, he was on BBC Radio and said 'Free Palestine' and the word 'Palestine' got censored. It's bullshit."

He is not the first Aboriginal person to draw parallels with Palestine, but is warier than most of religion, rapping:

Fuck the bible and its pettiness and lies
Fuck the people that are mentioning the Christ

"Yeah, I don't believe in the Bible, God and all that type of stuff," he says. "It was forced among all the Aboriginal peoples. It's something I've refused to believe in, to a certain degree, because of that, but also because I just look at how bullshit it all is. I've just never been a religious person, never had it pushed on me or anything when I was younger and as I got older and looked into it a little bit I realised how far-fetched it all is. You can't tell me that some white dude that looks like a heroin addict was walking on water."

As Malcolm X put it: "I never have met any intelligent white man who would try to insist that Jesus was white. How could they?"

"Well exactly," says Bunz. "It says it in the Bible anyway, he had hair like sheep's wool, skin of bronze. He doesn't sound very white to me." He laughs, but he also has bigger fish to fry, rapping:

Religion ain't the only thing that's threatening your life
Cuz the US government's the biggest terrorist alive

"Yeah, I consider them the biggest terrorists," he says. "Their invasion of Iraq was a way bigger terrorist act than what Osama Bin Laden supposedly did on two, three buildings. You know, just because they supposedly got however many thousand people got murdered, it doesn't give them the right to go to another country and murder millions."

And when Australia gets involved in such wars, its people shouldn't be surprised when refugees come calling. The irony is not lost on Bunz, who torpedoes Australia's boat people policy on "War Of The Words":

I reckon that this place is a joke
Founded by a bunch of criminals that came on a boat
We all got a right to demand
But some will die for the chance
Of a better life in this land
So with the mic in my hand
I'll tell you why we're suffering
They don't give a fuck so I don't care about the government
They were boat people and nobody gives a fuck
When others try now they're stopping them from coming in

"I think it's hypocritical that a government that came on boats has all these policies about people that come on boats," says Bunz. "If you came on a boat, then why are you going to complain about other people coming on a boat?"

It's particularly ironic in the case of Tony Abbott, who was born in London. The avowedly Christian Prime Minister - who once said "Jesus knew there was a place for everything and it is not necessary everyone's place to come to Australia" - evidently didn't take Australian citizenship until he was 23.

When that point is raised, Bunz laughs and points at OneTwo Pierce. "That's your little friend that is," he says.

OneTwo Pierce half-grins, then says, defensively: "I don't support Abbott. I support that party. If they've got a fuckwit in charge of the party, I can't help that."

There is a pause. A voice suddenly calls out from the gloom to our left: "Hey! Is that Bunz?" It's the unmistakeable rumble of anti-authoritarian Aboriginal rapper Provocalz, who saunters into view wearing a promo shirt emblazoned with a picture of himself in a balaclava with two middle fingers held aloft. The words read: "FUCK TONY ABBOTT." He shakes hands with everyone, including OneTwo Pierce.

Provocalz has collaborated on tracks with Bunz, but only via the net. The pair have never met in person before, despite living in the same city. Bunz grins. "Me and Provocalz are working on a mixtape as well together," he says.

"Bunz is a beast," says Provocalz. "Recently we decided to drop a little mixtape together of some real raw hip-hop shit which the scene is lacking. I've got respect for Bunz 'cause he's got mad bars and dope punchlines that deal with real shit. He's down for the mob and I've got nothing but love for my people. He's one of the illest in the country, easy."

Provocalz's older brother, Benjamin Native Sun Lawson - who hosts The People's Radio show on Koori Radio - feels the same way. When he is asked later why he has had Bunz as a guest on his show, he says: "Because the brother has flow, lyrics and don't rap about bullshit."

Back outside the venue, a crowd is gathering around someone who has been ejected from the gig. It's an all-ages, alcohol-free event, but this twenty-something is staggering drunk, falling over, then running clumsily to the venue's back doors and hammering loudly on them to be let back in. His attire is well-lit by the car park's neon lighting - he's wearing a Provocalz "FUCK TONY ABBOTT" T-shirt. Provocalz, who is watching the proceedings with an air of resignation, wisecracks from the side of his mouth: "Yeah, that'd be the Provocalz fans - the scumbags."

The crowd starts to swell with rappers who have come out from the venue - all wraparound shades, chunky chains and sculpted mullets. The drunk starts throwing punches, some of which connect with a sickening crunch. The night's headline act, J-Neri, suddenly leaps over the melee and onto the drunk, screaming "FUCKING WANKER! PISSING ME OFF!"

The prostrate drunk is motionless, not so much ordered to lay on the ground, more like flattened. At least, this time, the police had nothing to do with it.

Catch MC Bunz live in Sydney on June 27. Read interviews with Provocalz and SESK in this free book.

Video: MC Buns the TakeOver feat BIGREDCAP and YellowWivaD. HUSTLEHARDTELEVISION.

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