Rapper Sesk is ‘Blacktown’s best-kept secret’

Western Sydney-based rapper Sesk. Photo: Mat Ward.

You can see that western Sydney Aboriginal rapper Sesk has turned his life around when he holds his head up high.

Not only does it give him an air of self-esteem - it also reveals that the large tattoo across his neck reading "GUILTY" has another word inked above it: "NOT".

"It was actually just 'GUILTY' first," he says. "I was getting a few weird looks, so I put a 'NOT' there.

"I don’t really have regrets, but if I had the chance to rewrite my life, I would. I would focus more on my schooling and would not treat my parents and family the way I did."

Sesk, an Indigenous innovator in beautifully brutal, hook-heavy hip hop who is known as "Blacktown's best-kept secret", can't remember the reason he was first expelled from school.

"I was out of school for about half a year, then the people that I was working with got me back in there," he says.

"I ended up staying there for another year, then they expelled me again, just for stupid reasons. The teacher didn’t want us to play footy and I wanted to, so I sort of got into a scuffle with him. I would have been about 14, 15.

"So I got expelled again and the people that got me back in there got me into a bad behaviour school. Then I started going downhill a bit, got expelled from there.

"I wanted to be like the other guys, you know, I saw what they were doing and thought it was mad. Me being a young bloke, led me astray.

"So I started shoplifting first, then started breaking into cars. Then I upgraded to houses. Then started robbing people - robbed a few people over the other side of the station here that I’m not proud of."

He nods over my shoulder, away from the cafe we are sitting at and towards the other side of Seven Hills train station, one stop from Blacktown. The wrong side of the tracks.

"It’s nothing to be proud of, but there’s a car park across the road over there and it used to be packed with cars every night," he says.

"I went one night, pretty much two thirds of the car park ended up burning and I was just sitting there watching them burning from across the road. You know, just a lot of stupid shit."

That Sesk has grown up since then can be heard in his lyrics. Fans can plot his maturation online, from early tunes deifying delinquents to his latest, more contemplative work on crime and abuse.

"My songs have changed A LOT," says the 21-year-old.

"There were a few songs back then that sounded good, people liked it. But now I try not to write songs like that."

One such early song, “You're A Lowie”, disses his ex for sleeping with her father's friend, who was also her supposed cousin.

"Her brother actually came around and wanted to fight," he says.

"So I said, whatever, I’m not gonna back down. And he was bigger than me, you know, I thought I might have a bit of a go on my hands.

"So we went at it, he threw one punch and kicked me in the balls. I went down and my brother went at him and he ran off. No good. And I haven’t heard from him since."

Talking with Sesk about west Sydney, it can seem like a war zone, with families as fortified islands.

He challenges neighbours to fights in his songs. Inked across his chest are the words: "PROTECT THY FAMILY."

"A lot of people seem to have a problem with my family," he says.

"I can’t understand why - but at the end of the day we don’t let it phase us. If someone had a problem with one brother, if they saw another brother then they’d try to start on them too.

"My dad used to tell me, where he’s from in Walgett near Lightning Ridge, if you had a problem with someone you’d sort it out one-on-one. That’s it, shake hands afterwards. But round these areas it’s not like that."

Blacktown got its name when a school for Aboriginal children was moved to the area in 1823 after whites in Parramatta complained about the school being there.

It is now one of the most multicultural places in Sydney. Yet Sesk says, when he was growing up in Blacktown, even the Aboriginal families were pitched against each other.

"I didn’t really have many Aboriginal mates," he says.

"There were only about another two or three families. As more came in they were turning on each other - I don’t know why.

"There was one Aboriginal family that were living in Lalor Park that really had hatred for white people, you know what I mean.

"If you got seen talking to a white person and you were black that they’d put it around that you were a gubbah lover, this sort of thing, and just want to fight with you over it. Stupid."

There is a pause. Then I ask: "Understandable, though?"

Sesk laughs. "Yeah, well, sort of," he says.

"There was a lot of racism and I thought, if this is what white people are like, I just want nothing to do with them.

"But that’s when I snapped out of it and thought no, we can beat them at their own game.

"No offence to you or any other white people, but what I’ve noticed is there is a lot of racism in the police, especially in Blacktown, and one of the things they hate most is an educated Black man, you know what I mean?

"You just play their own game with them and you’ll get by. As in, if they’re gonna egg you on, just be polite with them.

"The young blokes that are up and coming in Lalor Park now, the police will pull them over, take them round the corner and start slapping them.

"I could say a few of the coppers’ names that are bad for bashing kids. My mum’s friend’s son, from Mt Druitt, he was riding along and he got run over, hit-and-run.

"The car took off, but the car behind that car informed the police and it was an undercover police car that ran him over. Now he’s got rods in his legs, can’t walk properly.

"They’ve got the power, I’ve got the badge, I’m the boss, you can’t win. But a few bad cops can make people think the whole lot are bad.

"Like I used to be with white people - because there were a few racists, I’d take it out on all of them. That’s what the police don’t understand."

Faced with such bleak circumstances, it would be easy for any Blacktown kid to go charging down a path of nihilistic destruction. But Sesk was stopped in his tracks when he was about 16.

"My sister talked me into going to a music workshop, my sister and my brother, at Mt Druitt," he says.

"So from there I just turned to music - it was a way of getting my feelings out.

"I was always a person that kept to myself. I had my people but if I had problems going on at home or whatever I always kept it to myself, I never told anyone. I bottled it all up.

"Eventually it just used to get to me and I just used to lose the plot and go off the rails for a couple of days.

"By about 18, 19. I realised, ‘No, I can’t be doing this.’ I sort of just matured a little bit.

"There were a few people that were going away getting locked away at the time, and I thought, ‘No, I couldn’t do that, in and out of jail all the time.’

"I just thought, ‘I’ve gotta do something, I’ve gotta make the change, I can’t keep living like this.’ The music was sort of on and off for a few years, but I’m trying to get serious now."

Next year, he will be on the support bill for West Coast rap legend Ice Cube when he plays Sydney. The offer came in after Sesk was signed to a new Australian label set up by veteran Ohio hip hop group Bone Thugs N Harmony.

"They had auditions to see who they wanted to sign and out of like 800, 900 auditions 20 got through," he says.

Sesk now has a new mixtape in the works, is working on an album, and has released a flurry of tracks in the past few months whose hooks have clawed in plenty of radio play.

One particular track, "Truth" sends shivers down the spine with its melting melody. It is sung by someone who lists their gender on their Facebook page as "plural" and comes across like New Zealand's answer to Missy Elliott.

"Miss Krys?" asks Sesk. "She's a nice girl. I didn’t actually know her till the day.

"She was over at my friend Tofurious’s studio in Plumpton, Mt Druitt. I went over there because I had it organised and she was there because she was meant to be in before me.

"She said, 'Yeah, cool, you go in before me.' Then she heard the beat and she was bopping her head.

"She heard me record the first verse, and as we were about to record the second, she said, ‘Have you got a hook?’ I said, ‘Nah I’ve got nothing, just two verses.'

"I thought, 'That’s a bit weird, what’s she asking that for?' So I did the second verse and she said, 'I’ve got a hook.'

"I thought she was just a rapper. But Tofurious said ‘No she’s got a mad voice, too.' So she sang in this beautiful singing voice and I said, 'That’s gotta go straight on.'"

Its melancholy beauty is matched only by the haunting hook of "Not Afraid", Sesk's claustrophobic take on child abuse, which asks: "Why do you keep on whispering / talking with your face turned away?”

It is the only song Sesk refuses to talk about.

"Most of these rappers these days, they sing what you want to hear," he says. "I speak the truth. Simple."

Reality bites. His debut music video, released in May, is typically raw and close to the bone, yet has already clocked up nearly 30,000 hits on YouTube.

"Still Won't Take Me" features Sesk and a handful of Indigenous friends sitting on the sun-bleached streets of Seven Hills, listlessly holding the Aboriginal flag aloft as Sesk raps about having served his time in hell.

It was produced by Malek Sukkar of Hustle Hard TV, who usually charges up to $1000 to make a video, but did Sesk’s for free once he heard the strength of his material and realised he was Aboriginal.

"You could take an Aboriginal artist to the Aussie hip hop scene and they wouldn’t know him, and vice versa,“ says Sesk.

“And Malek’s sort of in my position, he wants to put them together. So if you’re Aboriginal he wants to help push you, he wants to get you out there.

"I want to be the bloke that can stand there one day and say I brought them together. If there was a way to get them together I’m sure everyone would understand because the two sides together would be good."

I suggest that we go to the graffiti wall that is featured in Sukkar's video so I can take some photos of Sesk's tattoos next to it. He leaps willingly to his feet and guides us down a paint-bombed alley to a deserted back street.

Most of the extraordinary creations were sprayed on the walls by Jase, an old friend of Sesk's mother.

"Jase is in a crew called IBS, International Bomb Squad," says Sesk.

"They’re overseas, everywhere. My mum went to school with him. I didn’t realise, she just came down one day. He’s an old dude."

Jase's intricate artwork is matched only by the ink that covers almost every inch of Sesk's skin, from the murdered aunt on his left shoulder to the pyscho clowns across his calves and the calligraphy etched into his stomach that reads: "FORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED."

It's a sentiment that soaks one of his strongest new songs, the confessional "Dear Lord".

"Dear Lord," go the lyrics. "I was a troubled kid / Growing up in the west / I’ve done some bad things / But I’m asking / For you to forgive / Me for everything / Everything that I did."

Yet Sesk insists he isn't that religious.

"I’ve always believed in God, but it’s hard because back then I was always praying for the right thing, but it just wasn’t happening,“ he says.

“I don’t know whether it was me choosing the wrong thing or whatever.

"My family’s not really religious. There’s a few of us we do believe in God, but then there’s a few of us who say, ‘Nah, you know, if God was real, then we wouldn’t be stuck in this shit’."

It's often the case that, even when Aboriginal people embrace Christianity, it serves only as an accompaniment to their Indigenous beliefs, Christian vestments over an Aboriginal heart.

As if to illustrate the point, Sesk rolls up the leg of his shorts to reveal the words "TRIBAL PUNISHMENT" all the way up his left leg.

Thankfully, he leaves his shorts on. The tattoo show is over.

"Oh, hang on, I almost forgot," he says. "Here, get this one."

He points behind his left ear.

“It's an S, for Sesk.”

So how did the name come about?

"I used to hang around with the Marayong people, who I’ve got the beef with at the moment," he says.

He challenged his old crew in the neighbouring suburb of Marayong to a fight in his recent song "Born As A Bitch".

"There have been words since," says Sesk, but so far, they have declined to rise to the challenge.

"Graffiti was a big thing around them, you know, everyone was doing it. I can’t remember what my tag was, but this other guy had Sesk and I liked it.

"So he said, 'Do you wanna swap?' So I took that on board, I have done big things with it and it’s stuck with me."

So there’s no meaning to it?

"I like to tell people that in Asia it means 'beautiful Black man'," he says. And he smiles.

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[Check Sesk out at www.myspace.com/seskone .]

'Still Won't Take Me' by Sesk.

'Truth' by Sesk featuring Miss Krys.