Native Ryme bring heritage to hip-hop

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
DeeKay, top, and C-Roc rock Sydney. Photos: Mat Ward

The Debut Recordings Volume 1
Native Ryme
Native Ryme Entertainment Group
November 2012
www.nativeryme.com

When you're representing a culture that has lasted 60,000 years, it doesn't matter that your debut album has taken a mere 18.

"We've always prided ourselves on coming from a culture that's been a song and dance culture for millennia, you know," says C-Roc, whose rap group, Native Ryme, are only just releasing an album a generation after he formed the band in 1994.

Native Ryme's journey has been every bit as epic, in its own way, as that of the first Australians. Native Ryme were the first nationally recognised Indigenous rap group in Australia. In 1998, they became the first hip-hop group in the country to win a certified national music award.

Under the management of multi-ARIA Award-winning artist Martin Lee of Regurgitator, the group released their first single, "Together". A collaboration with Australian rock legends Tex Perkins and The Cruel Sea, it gained Native Ryme gold/platinum sales and extensive radio play when it featured on the ARIA-nominated 2001 Mushroom Records album "Corroboration", which also featured Kylie Minogue, Dan Sultan and others.

Native Ryme toured with The Cruel Sea until 2003, which led Tex Perkins to exclaim: "It’s either you have it or you don’t. Native Ryme have it." In 2004 they went on tour with US Grammy Award-winning rap icons Naughty By Nature, gaining the Aboriginal group major label offers in Australia and in the US.

It was all a bit much for two kids from remote Australia, as C-Roc and his writing partner DeeKay are. They stepped back from the limelight, instead running hip-hop workshops in remote communities right across Australia at a prolific rate - 176 in just 10 months at one point. They found it so emotionally rewarding that they kept it up for eight years.

"You know, I came from a simplistic lifestyle," C-Roc tells Green Left. "It was rough, then to win an Australian music award and be told by Grammy Award winners that what I have is world class, it's pressure in the sense of, well, what shall I do?

"The industry gave us everything on a platter, you know, the biggest stars in the country were at our parties, it was there for the taking, whatever our hearts desired, it was there, whatever it happened to be back then, but it didn't satisfy what mattered.

"A true artist will always be a conflicted being, because you walk a fine line between sanity and insanity. You can go on and do whatever you need to do in your life, but if you're not happy with 1 million, you're not going to be happy with 2 million and you're not going to be happy with 10 million.

"We'd never be where we are today if I didn't find myself on the bones of my arse in the gutter, losing my mind. That's what happened to me when I started losing it. I had to go away personally and find out what was making me sick - and what was making me sick was I had to make peace with myself and start bringing more compassion."

Sitting on a park bench on Sydney's Oxford Street at 1am, having just completed Native Ryme's first show of a three-year album tour, C-Roc finally seems at peace with himself. As he speaks in his quiet, clipped, but contemplative way, he is approached by old friends, fans and well-wishers who drift up to say hello, shake his hand, and praise him about that night's superlative performance.

He's come a long way from his traumatic childhood - a subject he comes out swinging against on the album's opening track, "Same Song", whose proceeds are going to educational programs against domestic violence. The classy and classically-driven track wastes no time in establishing that Native Ryme are in a class of their own.

The morning rises
She gets up with her kids
To make sure they're all right
She's got her make-up on
She says it helps her face another day
Then her kids look up and say,
'Mummy, why we gotta stay? We can run away.'
It don't seem that much
But Mummy, she got the world on her shoulders

"I come from the Gulf of Carpentaria in a remote community," says C-Roc. "My mother had me when she was 15, my father was 15. He was around for a little bit. I knew of him when I grew up, I knew who he was, but he didn't really want too much to do with me, that was my perception.

"My grandmother, his mother, would invite him to interact with me, but you're in the same house with your father for a weekend and you see him once around the corner, as a kid you take note of that, you know. You're a sponge, an emotional sponge, so you take that quite personally.

"So my whole experience - which built my soft spot now - is I don't like seeing people belittled. I don't like seeing someone put down because someone wishes to feel stronger about themselves, which actually means probably they're more weaker than the person, you know what I mean? I have a really weak point for bullies, I don't like bullies.

"I grew up in a really, really violent household, really violent. As a kid, I examined what was going on, why it was going on, my perception of why it was going on. I had an aunty who was actually murdered by her partner. That's why I wrote 'Same Song'. You know, I have a four-month-old daughter now, so I'm her first example of what a man should be. And I can be a part of the problem or I can be a part of the solution. So me being a part of the solution is I be an example to her of what she should look for in a man.

"I had to think, how do I want to end this song, does the lady die, or does she get away? And I thought it would be more empowering if the message was strength and empowerment, you know. A song that ended with promise and a new day. I try to write music that stimulates the human being rather than encase them into something that's going to imprison them, you know what I mean?"

It's dark now, no sound
Tiptoe and brown bag
Baby sleep, baby's hush now
Yellow cab, 'Sir, drive now.'
He sleeps, snores sound
Cellphone, 'Sis, you come now.
You're all right, you're strong now
He cries, and you smile now
He cries, and you smile now.'

It was that freeing of the human spirit from all forms of abuse, both intimate and institutional, that drove C-Roc to work in remote communities.

"I knew first hand that you can treat a child so badly and bury them by truckloads of negativity, but if you feed them a teaspoon of positivity the right way, it'll outweigh - it washes clean - the negativity," he says. "And that's what I experienced as a child, you know, my uncle who was my male, my father figure, would come back about once every six to 12 months and I could put up with 12 months' worth of negativity, of seeing my mother being bashed.

"I used to walk out and find an uncle with, you know, a .303 barrel in his mouth and saying to me, 'You don't need to be seeing this.' And by the age of eight I was, like, you know, 'Point it at your head. Don't point it at your jaw. If you're going to do it, do it properly,' you know, because my mother told me to say that. 'If you wake up in the lounge room and he's got a gun in his mouth, tell him to put it through his head, not his mouth.'

"That numbs you, you get numb to what it means to be human. And a lot of the Indigenous youth these days have such depth when it comes to their emotional capacity. They're such compassionate and caring young people, but they're conditioned to lock that in their shell, you know, and be hard because that's what society expects them to be and that's what they have to do to protect themselves."

Many Indigenous people lose that battle to protect themselves, and C-Roc has written a dedication to all those lost in the struggle - a heartfelt and heart-breaking love letter titled, "We’ll Always Love You".

"I wrote 'We’ll Always Love You' a long, long time ago and it was a track that was directly connected to my personal experience," he says. "You can't really write about someone else's loss, because everyone perceives things from their own angle. So 'We’ll Always Love You' was about my life and how I've lost a lot of friends, you know, a lot of friends.

"It's a tragedy what's happening in Indigenous communities, the amount of suicide. From us leaving Brisbane to coming to Sydney, we got three phone calls from three brothers committing suicide. I know friends who aren't Indigenous who have never buried somebody..."

He laughs a bitter, empty laugh.

"...and it shocks me, you know? Then you start realising, 'I've got a pretty shitty end of the stick here.' What my culture is going through is pretty bloody bad and it's a human rights issue. The Australian government hasn't addressed anything in recent years, like black deaths in custody. None of the recommendations that were put were followed through."

The Aboriginal remand population has increased by more than 500% since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody two decades ago. Today, Australia jails black males at a rate more than five times greater than South Africa did during the dying days of apartheid - and in Western Australia, more than eight times.

It is an issue C-Roc unlocks in the towering "Black Phantoms Weight In Gold". The song showcases the band's ability to control a stage show, building and building on level upon level of emotion until it hits the audience right in the chest.

Words as weapons
Keys to unlocking the gate
People from everywhere
Hold me from unlocking the gate
Here are the keys
Murri here are the keys
Now free yourself
Come join the free

"Oh yeah - whoah," says C-Roc when asked about the song. Then he draws in a sharp breath and exhales. "I've got a cousin-brother - I call him my cousin-brother because my mother and his mother are sisters - he's doing nine years right now, all for something stupid. 'Black Phantoms Weight In Gold' is about the mentality, the psyche, that tells someone to make a decision on the spur of the moment that in return is going to lock them in a cell for nine years, you know."

I think about your fate
What's my cousin-brother doing lately
Stay strong
Murri stay strong
I send you spirits
From the ancients
That walk along with me

Several days' worth of beard growth obscure a tattoo on C-Roc's neck that reads "Property of..." It's a reminder that he also served time for doing what he calls "just something stupid".

"Just, you know, having misdirected aggression towards the system," he says. "I didn't really know which part of it was actually my enemy, or why it was my enemy. So I went in for, you know, just assaulting police officers and stuff, just meaningless stuff, you know. And they tend to slam young black people with 10 times harsher sentences. I wear white when I go to court, because white is saintly, angelic. I never wear black when I go to court."

He laughs.

"At the end of that track there's actually a speech by a black activist in Brisbane called Coco Wharton and he talks about the Palm Island riot [after the death in custody of Aboriginal man Cameron Doomadgee there in 2004]. He says, you know, if they wanna take your rights, they're going to come in your home and take your rights. Then you need to fight them. You need to fight them, and you need to fight them, and you need to fight them. If you've got to go to jail, then you go to jail for something that's worthwhile.

"It's a track that sort of flips its meaning. It talks about the mentality of prisoners, but it also talks about how silly it is. It's a beautiful track, it names the prisons and it's meant to be a message also to them to say that, you know, we haven't forgotten about you, you know, we know you're in there and just know that we're thinking about you."

Woodford, Lotus, Stewart's Creek, Palem
Young Murri I feel your pulse
Got you up on this phone now
SDL, Wolston, Arthur Gorrie, Townsville
Young Murri I feel your pulse
Now sit back and hear the song

Bathurst, Broken Hill, Silverwater, Cessnock
Young Koori I feel your pulse
Got you up on this phone now
Cooma, Grafton, Long Bay, Metro
Young brothers I feel your pulse
Now sit back and hear this flow

In the same week that Native Ryme's tour started, the corporate media ran a story hailing a surprise reduction in the NSW prison population. There was no mention of Indigenous jailing rates. To C-Roc, such coverage is of little surprise. He rails against the corporate media in the track "Conspiracy Theories", which he wrote after watching the coverage of the so-called Australia Day "riot" on January 26 this year.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had told the media it was time Aboriginal people "moved on" from the Tent Embassy, which was celebrating its 40th Anniversary that day. A group of Aboriginal activists and their supporters then went to the Canberra restaurant where Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard were eating. When the protesters banged on the windows, Abbott and Gillard were bustled out of the restaurant by a phalanx of police and Gillard lost her shoe in the process. The media called it a riot.

"I like seeing myself as somebody that doesn't take mainstream media at their word," says C-Roc. "I like to look at it, then look at all the different things that could have possibly happened - and I had question marks from the get-go. And it just reminded me that every election time it's boat people and Indigenous people, they become the whipping post, you know? And it's all conspiracy."

If a "conspiracy" can be taken to mean two or more people conspiring to achieve a certain outcome, then that is certainly the case with the corporate media. The outcome is the news story, the conspiracy is the arrangement the time-pressed journalists and their corporate bosses have with governments and corporations to run their press releases more or less untouched.

News agencies such as Britain's Press Association require their reporters to file 10 stories in an eight-hour shift. One reporter for the Australian Associated Press boasted to this writer that his "record" for churning out a story was a 1500-word feature in 25 minutes. How is a reporter meant to even think in that time, never mind check any facts?

That lack of time - combined with an alignment with the establishment, mixed up with media bosses who sit on the boards of the corporations on which they are supposed to report and topped off with an inability to think outside the box - makes for woeful output.

"'Conspiracy Theories' is about that," says C-Roc. "It's all conspiracy. There's partnerships the media have with the government to bash Indigenous people and immigrants and boat people, whatever suits their political agenda. It's to drum up support and take the population's minds off real issues."

But Native Ryme are not all about dark and heavy issues. Their great strength is in their range of dynamics - and there are plenty of fun moments on the album, too.

"Look, if I had my way, it'd all be up, you know, just by how my heart beats," says C-Roc. "But the inner core of me is a writer so I like to write about different things and it's an album that reflects the human spirit. We all go through things and we have good times and bad times and loss and love and deprivation and promise, you know?

"When I make my music, I make music that has a certain place in the human experience, you know what I mean? We're all here to experience it. I mean I could always be an angry black man, it's quite easy to do that, but I choose to expand people's consciousness, you know? Think bigger."

Reflecting the human spirit means the album veers from dark, heavy subjects and radical politics to party tracks and even unashamed love longs, like "Heat".

"Yeah, we need the baby-making, you know, we need to boost the population," smiles C-Roc. "I grew up on R&B, you know, my uncle introduced me to R&B, in the late Seventies and Eighties, so to make a track that was slick like honey and nectar and cupids and the sensuality between a man and a woman is a mutually balanced moment of energy where nothing else matters, you know, it's an escape.

"And everybody knows that feeling when you totally adore someone, you're totally in love with somebody, how when you're with that one person time just stops, you know, the heat of that moment in time where you, you know, when you don't have it you long for it, and when you have it, it goes so quick, you know."

He has also written "Boss", about the kind of person that might inspire such feelings.

"Yeah, I wrote it about a female that I actually know, who is young, stunning, beautiful, Indigenous - she didn't need to be Indigenous, but it just so happened - and it was about her governing what she does with her life, you know. She goes out, she's seen maybe as, you know, something - not another gender - but she governs that conversation, that man wants to come to her and say something, she governs what he says to her, you know what I mean?

"She's strong and her own boss, she's stunning and beautiful. Her mind is just as strong, as strong temperament-wise as her physical body is, she's the new thing, she's... Maybe it's a subliminal thing for me, now that I have a daughter, that I hope that she grows up knowing that, you know, people treat you how you allow them to treat you, so, you know, you live your life in a way, in a manner that doesn't demand respect, but people can't help but give you it because of how you hold your shoulders back. Yeah."

The way C-Roc and DeeKay hold their shoulders back, and push musical boundaries forward, certainly commands respect.

"DeeKay comes from an angle that's very militant in the sense of he gets involved with the community and plays a strong role," says C-Roc. "Not in an intimidating role, but DeeKay is a respected song and dance man, so he teaches traditional song and dance and people take their children to him. He has a right, the traditional right to teach certain songs and dance."

That musical ability, passed down through thousands of years, comes to the fore in the slick hip-hop of "Bounce".

"'Bounce' is real Jay-Z," says C-Roc. "Real jigga, real homeboy, you know, it's slick. It's the ability to feel rhythm, you know. We've always prided ourselves on coming from a culture that's been a song and dance culture for millennia. So we wanted to do a track that showed our ability to hit that slick a little bit more than most groups could attempt to do - but quite easily."

He smiles.

"It was a little bit of a statement."

READ NEXT: Izzy n The Profit, the rappers who know no fear

To win a copy of the album, email your details to AboriginalHipHop@gmail.com. Winner picked at random.

Below is the full, unedited, Q&A.

C-ROC'S FRIEND OF 15 YEARS, ALI CORBETT: If you want to be told the future and way of the universe, that's that man [she points at C-Roc].

C-ROC aka CAMERON CALLOPE: Actually I have invested in that sort of thing. I take time out, I meditate, purely because everything is important, you know what I mean? Everything is important, from the leaf in the tree that's got the same mathematical make-up as my face, you know what I mean? We all, they all, have our special place in the universe and nature should be respected for that, you know? When I make my music, I make music that has a certain place in the human experience, you know what I mean? We're all here to experience it. I mean I could always be an angry black man, it's quite easy to do that, but I choose to expand people's consciousness, you know? Think bigger.

GREEN LEFT: I think you did tonight. Tonight was such a diverse show, you know?

C-ROC: Tonight was me. Tonight was a show where we went back to being artists, you know. I went back to being me. And it was fun as hell, you know? It was, it was getting back to the raw, organic roots of what makes you tick, you know what I mean?

ALI CORBETT: What makes humanity tick and how you tap into that? Cameron! If I can, how do you begin to effect change?

C-ROC: Change comes though interaction, through communication, by dialogue. A tree becomes greater than its environment by interacting with its environment. You can't evolve unless you interact, it's a contradiction, you know what I mean? So as a musician, as an artist, you can only become a greater artist if you open your mind, you know, and expand your opinion of what it's all about.

GREEN LEFT: What I want to do is talk about each track on the album, is that OK?

C-ROC: Yep. [Starts singing into the microphone] De-da-de-de. This is a song for you.

GREEN LEFT: So it starts off with "Same Song", "A track written to highlight the issue of domestic violence." Can you tell us what inspired you to write it and the process of writing it, and who collaborated with you on it, and who did the music?

C-ROC: Erm, I grew up in a really, really violent household, really violent. Yep, you know, I grew up in a really, really violent household and I saw, as a kid, I examined what was going on, why it was going on, my perception of why it was going on. I had an aunty who was actually murdered and... was murdered by her partner. That's why I wrote "Same Song". Erm, just about... I had to think, how do I want to end this song, does the lady die, or does she get away? And I thought it would be more empowering if the message was strength and empowerment, you know. A song that ended with promise and a new day rather than... you know. So I try and write music that stimulates the human being rather than encase them into something that's going to imprison them, you know what I mean?

GREEN LEFT: You're starting a conversation, rather than dictating, is that what you're saying, or...?

C-ROC: Exactly! Well there you go, you asked me a moment ago...

GREEN LEFT: The interaction...

C-ROC: Yep, it's about dialogue, it's about asking questions, you know? Erm...

GREEN LEFT: When you say you grew up in a violent home, can you tell us a little bit about your parents and where and how you grew up and school?

C-ROC: I... come from the Gulf of Carpentaria in a remote community. My mother had me when she was 15, my father was 15. He was around for a little bit. I knew of him when I grew up, I knew who he was, but he didn't really want too much to do with me, that was my perception. If you go with your... You know, my grandmother, his mother, would invite me... or him to interact with me, but you're in the same house with your father for a weekend and you see him once around the corner... As a kid you take note of that, you know, you're a sponge, an emotional sponge so you take that quite personally, you know, erm... So my whole experience was... which built my soft spot now, that is I don't like seeing people belittled. I don't like seeing someone put down because someone wishes to feel stronger about themselves, which actually means probably they're more weaker than the person, you know what I mean? I have a really weak point for bullies, I don't like bullies, you know. So when I do shows I show... You know, I have a four-month-old daughter now, so I'm her first example of what a man should be. And I can be a part of the problem or I can be a part of the solution. So me being a part of the solution is I be an example to her of what she should look for in a man. He should be intelligent, smart, he should ask her about her day. When she talks to him in baby talk he should be captivated by whatever she's saying because he cares about her, you know?

GREEN LEFT: There's a lot of misogyny in rap against women and I don't see that in Native Ryme. Is that a conscious decision, where you don't want any form of bullying?

C-ROC: I think everyone is a product of their environment to a certain extent and then it becomes a choice, what you need to do and if some men are still doing that, then that's because they need to educate themselves on the reality of the situation, you know?

GREEN LEFT: Shall we move on to "Stand Down"? "Written about the mentality of young Indigenous men in the 2000’s."

C-ROC: "Stand Down" is actually majority written by DeeKay, he erm... DeeKay comes from an angle that's very militant in the sense of, erm, he... gets involved with the community and plays a strong role. Not in an intimidating role, but a role where they know they... DeeKay is a respected song and dance man, so he teaches traditional song and dance and people take their children to him to... He has a right, the traditional right to teach certain songs and dance. So he's a song man traditionally anyway. So "Stand Down" is... you probably need to talk to him on what his psyche is on that song, you know? But what he's said to me is it was the changing times of, you could run head on into a situation blindly or stand down and reconsider, you know? Then again, you have to talk to him! I can double guess.

GREEN LEFT: You talked about him teaching song and dance. Can you just tell us about all the work that you've done in communities for the past eight years? You've been prolific - 176 in one year.

C-ROC: In one year. Not one year, 10 months!

GREEN LEFT: Ten months! When you tell us a little about, when you turn up, what happens? Tell us the process of doing those workshops.

C-ROC: This is an extension of the last question, which was what was it like me growing up in an abusive family.
I knew first hand that you can treat a child so badly and bury them by truckloads of negativity, but if you feed them a teaspoon of positivity the right way, it'll outweigh, it washes clean the negativity you know? And that's what I experienced as a child, you know, my uncle who was my male, my father figure, would come back about once every six to 12 months and I could put up with 12 months' worth of negativity, of seeing my mother being bashed and... You know, I had to wake up and walk out into my lounge room and have uncles with guns in their mouths, saying, you know, "Cameron you go away because you don't need to be seeing this", you know? And you get numb, you know? And I got to the stage in my life where...

ANOTHER OF C-ROC'S FRIENDS APPROACHES: We're not getting any younger Cameron.

C-ROC: I know, I know.

GREEN LEFT: You were looking young up there.

C-ROC: I should have had a shave, I should have cut my hair...

GREEN LEFT: Let's talk about "Top Of The World". "Up tempo mainstream hip hop." It's just a party track?

C-ROC: It is. It's...

GREEN LEFT: That's the great thing about your collection of songs is...

C-ROC: It's a big ride...

GREEN LEFT: It's got everything from hardcore politics, radical politics and dark subjects all the way through to party tracks.

C-ROC: Yep. Yeah, and it's an album that reflects the human spirit. We all go through things and we have good times and bad times and loss and love and deprivation and promise, you know? So "Top Of The World" was something that... I grew up on R&B, you know, my uncle introduced me to R&B, you know, in the late Seventies and Eighties. So it isn't... Look, if I had my way, it'd all be up, you know, but erm, just by how my heart beats. But as a... the inner core of me is a writer so I like to write about different things at least that the human, that we as humans can find some basic... You know, there's so much going on about difference. We have more in common than we have difference, you know what I mean? I want to make music that shows it's so much bigger than we all love or we can relate to, you know? Someone knows about "Same Song" or what's the message behind it, you know? "Top Of The World" means, for me, meant a blossoming, you know, a rebirth. And a rebirth in a way that today, these days, me and DeeKay respect and honour the privilege that we get to live today of having great music and having to share with people and having people that find a connection with our music and we can stop these days and actually and carefully think of words we can say to this person that might make a difference to their life, you know what I mean, rather than being blasé about it.

GREEN LEFT: "Conspiracy Theories". This is...

C-ROC: I love that track.

GREEN LEFT: Yeah, tell us about it.

C-ROC: "Conspiracy Theories" was written after the Australia Day "riot" in Canberra.

GREEN LEFT: So-called "riot"...

C-ROC: I like seeing myself as somebody that doesn't take mainstream media at their word. I like to look at it then look at all the different things that could have possibly happened and I had question marks from the get-go. And it just reminded me that every election time it's boat people and Indigenous people, they become the whipping post, you know?

GREEN LEFT: The punchbag.

C-ROC: And it's all conspiracy. It's to drum up support and take the population's minds off real issues to satisfy a political agenda. And "Conspiracy Theories" is about that, it's all conspiracy. There's partnerships the media have with the government to bash Indigenous people and immigrants and boat people, whatever suits their political agenda. And that's what it's about, you know, it’s...

GREEN LEFT: It's about blaming the victim.

C-ROC: Yeah.

GREEN LEFT: That's the way you get away with oppressing people.

C-ROC: Yeah, it's erm... It's a track that needed to be done and I was pleased that, that erm... I was able to write a track like that, you know? It was a track that I always wanted to write, but I wasn't sure how we'd go about it and Australia Day...

GREEN LEFT: I was at the Opera House that night watching [Aboriginal activist and academic] Gary Foley perform...

C-ROC: OK, yep.

GREEN LEFT: And he said, "Just watch the media perform tomorrow, they will come out with such bullshit, you just watch how they report it." And I had friends down there in the supposed riot, fellow activists who were down there and the disconnect between the way it was reported... There's a lot of ignorance among the people that work in the media. A lot of them don't know, basically, don't know what they're doing. They just accept the establishment view, you know. There's a lot of ignorance and a lot of... failure to think outside the box and think critically. And I think there's a lot of that as well as... as well as the conspiracy, you know.

C-ROC: Yeah.

GREEN LEFT: "We’ll Always Love You". "A track written in dedication to all Indigenous peoples lost in the
struggle of basic human right and recognition."

C-ROC: Erm, I wrote "We’ll Always Love You" a long, long time ago and it was a track that, erm... was directly connected to my personal experience, you know. You can't really write about someone else's loss, because everyone perceives things from their own angle. So "We’ll Always Love You" was about my life and how I've lost a lot of friends, you know, a lot of friends. It's a tragedy what's happening in Indigenous communities, you know. The amount of suicide, like I said, you know, what happened was...

GREEN LEFT: I think that's the main difference between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians is Indigenous Australians put up with so much more death.

C-ROC: Yeah, and that numbs you, it does, it really, really does. The idea like, as a kid, I was saying a moment ago I used to walk out and find an uncle with, you know, a .303 barrel in his mouth and saying to me, "You don't need to be seeing this." And I was, by the age of eight I was... I was, like, erm, you know, "Point it at your head. Don't point it at your jaw. If you're going to do it, do it properly." You know, because my mother told me to say that. My mother told me to say that. "If you wake up in the lounge room and he's got a gun in his mouth, tell him to put it through his head, not his mouth." You know, and that numbs you, you get numb to what it means to be human. And a lot of the Indigenous youth these days have such depth when it comes to their emotional capacity. They're such compassionate and caring young people, but they're conditioned to lock that in their shell, you know, and be hard because that's what society expects them to be and that's what they have to do to protect themselves, you know.

GREEN LEFT: That's the way to deal with it.

C-ROC: Yeah, so "We’ll Always Love You" was written about the mentality of things and what's happening and to bring dialogue to address things, you know. The Australian government hasn't addressed anything in recent years, like black deaths in custody. None of the recommendations that were put were followed through, you know. And, like I said [on stage], you know, from us leaving Brisbane to coming to Sydney, we got three phone calls from three brothers committing suicide. You know, I know friends who aren't Indigenous who have never buried somebody [laughs]. And it shocks me, you know, I'm, like... Then you start realising, "I've got a pretty shitty end of the stick here." You know, what we... my culture is going through is pretty bloody bad, you know, and it's a human rights issue. So "We’ll Always Love You" addresses that, but also shows compassion, you know, and talks about those things in a respectful way, too.

GREEN LEFT: So, "Dirty". "A track written about the state of the urban music industry..."

C-ROC: [Laughs]

GREEN LEFT: "A snap at a few groups as well as direct words to the current culture of Australian urban music and culture." Tell us what you mean by that.

C-ROC: [laughs] Erm...

GREEN LEFT: A direct snap at a few groups... A snap at a few groups.

C-ROC: A snap at a few groups in the sense of erm... erm... There was a gentleman a moment ago that... erm - you can quote me on this if you want - who just jumped into a cab behind us here, who's a certain...

GREEN LEFT: I didn't notice, did he have a poncho on?

C-ROC: There's a erm, no, erm, the guy that I waved to, who I've gotten calls to say this guy's totally just badmouthing you, you know?

GREEN LEFT: The [deleted] Records crew?

C-ROC: Well, look, you know...

GREEN LEFT: I won't quote you on that. I don't want to start fights...

C-ROC: Yeah, erm, you know, so, and I'm a guy that erm... Look, long story short, I don't chase those kind of things, you know, I think that in time, when these people actually meet me, they realise that me and DeeKay are just two young, two kids at heart, from a remote area that just wanted to dream and dream, you know what I mean? At heart I'm still that little kid from the bush and I protect that in me, you know, I protect that with my life, that kid still inside of me, because it reminds me of who I am. So when you get this track called "Dirty", it was a reflection of that - me protecting that inner child that was so innocent and seen so badly and I'm out here trying to do things and people who've never met me before in the hip-hop and Indigenous hip-hop community want to say some things. The first line of "Dirty" is, "Keep your dirty mouth out of my business." You know, "This is real, G. We do real things." You know, in the sense that, you know our personal lives, we might well have protracted stuff, but when it comes to doing things for the community, we've gotten out there and done things that had the best intentions, you know. Sometimes when people say things it's hard not to take it personally, you know what I mean? That's what "Dirty" is...

GREEN LEFT: Jealousy probably plays a part...

C-ROC: But it's also establishing, you're saying that, "But we both know the truth of the thing." You know what I mean?

GREEN LEFT: That you... what?

C-ROC: In regards to them, you know, they can be saying stuff and things, but we both know the truth. We know the reality of what's fully going on.

GREEN LEFT: Sure. "Think About It" featuring Sneake1...

C-ROC: We did it tonight, yeah.

GREEN LEFT: "A heavy street level track with lots of attitude." Tell us about that and how you got together with Sneake1 and your friendship with Sneake1.

C-ROC: Erm, I, you know, I knew of Sneake1 for a while and I checked some of his stuff out and I really liked it, I liked it. And I watched him online and on Facebook and stuff, but he's always driving, he's always doing stuff, you know, he's always hyping things up about what he does and everything...

GREEN LEFT: That's what brought the street level.

C-ROC: Yeah, look, I love the guy, I think he's got a great heart and he does things for the right reasons, he does it because he loves music, he loves those sort of things, you know.

GREEN LEFT: Cool. "Bounce". "One of the original tracks that has survived the cuts over the last 12 months. True
hip hop at its finest."

C-ROC: "Bounce" is real Jay-Z, real jigga, real homeboy, you know, it's... It's, you know, it's.. it's... slickness of the tongue that only Jesus can give you, you know what I mean? So the verses and the raps in "Bounce" is erm... it's slick. It's the ability to feel rhythm, you know. We've always prided ourselves on coming from a culture that's been a song and dance culture for millennia, you know. So we wanted to do a track that showed our ability to do, do a track that hits that slick a little bit more than most groups could attempt to do, but quite easily. It was a little bit of a statement, but just slick hip-hop, you know, it's just... Yeah.

GREEN LEFT: So, "Black Phantoms Weight In Gold".

C-ROC: Oh yeah... whoo!

GREEN LEFT: Deep and heavy. Probably one of the biggest issues in Australia is black deaths in custody and the fact that today we jail Indigenous men at five times the rate of apartheid [South Africa at its height], eight times in Western Australia. Incarceration rates... Remand has gone up 500% since the Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody, incarceration rates are up 500%. What is your...? I mean, you've served time, right?

C-ROC: Yep.

GREEN LEFT: What is your take on... I mean I've spoken to others who've said the prison industry is just big business...

C-ROC: Well, it's privatised...

GREEN LEFT: In Victoria it's the highest rate of privatisation in the world, yeah... [Friend and fellow rapper Lez Beckett approaches]. Can we just talk about two more tracks?

LEZ BECKETT: Yeah, but he's gay.

C-ROC: Ha ha ha! If I was, you'd want me!

LEZ BECKETT: Yeah! Or...

C-ROC: Yeah, look, "Black Phantoms Weight In Gold" is about the mentality of young black men and,
you know, you can go... my cousin, I've got a cousin-brother - I call him my cousin-brother because my mother and his mother are sisters, so my cousin, that's my brother, his mother is my mother and erm... he's doing nine years right now, all for something stupid. "Black Phantoms Weight In Gold" is about the mentality, the psyche that makes someone or tells someone to make a decision on the spur of the moment that in return is going to lock them in a cell for nine years, for nine years, you know. At the end of that track there's actually a speech by a black activist in Brisbane called Coco Wharton and he talks about the Palm Island riot and he says, you know, if you wanna, if, if, you know, if they wanna take your rights, you know, they're going to come in your home and take your rights then you need to fight them. You need to fight them and you need to fight them and you need to fight them. If you've got to go to jail then you go to jail for something that's worthwhile. It's a track that sort of flips its meaning, it talks about the mentality of prisoners but it also talks about how silly it is, you know, we have so much problems with this, we need to start using our young men, our young people as... yeah, so, erm... it's a beautiful track, it names the prisons and it's meant to be a message also to them to say that, you know, erm... you're not, we haven't forgotten about you, you know, we know you're in there and just know that we're thinking about you.

GREEN LEFT: So it starts off talking about how you could go to jail for completely futile things but ends up saying you could go to jail for fighting for your rights.

C-ROC: Yeah, you know, why go to jail for something stupid, you know?

GREEN LEFT: Can you tell us why you ended up inside?

C-ROC: Erm, just something stupid, just, you know, erm.. Having, having misdirected, erm... aggression towards the system and I didn't really know what, or which part of it was actually my enemy, you know what I mean, or why it was my enemy, which part of it was my enemy, you know, and why it was my enemy, erm... you know, so I went in for, you know, just assaulting police officers and stuff, just meaningless stuff, you know. And they tend to slam young black people with 10 times harsher sentences. I wear white when I go to court [smiles] because white is saintly, angelic. I wear white, I never wear black when I go to court! [Laughs]

GREEN LEFT: Right, right. And I think there's a lot of unexamined white privilege in this country where people don't realise, you know, the privileges they have from being white.

C-ROC: Yeah.

GREEN LEFT: "Heat", tells us about "Heat". "Featuring the vocals of Indigenous singer SHAE J, this track is one of the slickest on the album. Written to impress the ladies." THE LAYDEES!

C-ROC: Yeah, we need the baby-making, you know, we need the baby-making. We need to boost the population. They're cutting the baby bonus, but they haven't cut it yet! Erm, I don't know... Like, I said, you know, my heart drops in R&B, so to make a track that was slick like honey and nectar and cupids and the sensuality between a man and a woman is a mutually balanced moment of energy where nothing else matters, you know, it's an escape. And everybody knows that feeling when you totally adore someone, you're totally in love with somebody, how when you're with that one person time just stops, you know, the heat of that moment in time where you, you know, when you don't have it you long for it, and when you have it, it goes so quick you know. Yeah. It's a baby-making track you know [laughs].

GREEN LEFT: It's deeper than that. "Boss". "A track about a young black woman in today’s society. Smart, business savvy and
beautiful."

C-ROC: Yeah, I wrote it about a female that I actually know, who is young, stunning, beautiful, Indigenous, erm - she didn't need to be Indigenous, you know, but it just so happened - and erm, she... It was about her... governing what she does with her life, you know, she, she, she goes out, she's seen maybe as, you know, something, not another gender, but she governs that conversation, that man wants to come to her and say something, she governs what he says to her, you know what I mean, she's strong and her own boss, she's stunning and beautiful. Her mind is just as strong, as strong temperament-wise as her physical body is, she's the new thing, she's... Maybe it's a subliminal thing for me, now that I have a daughter, that I hope that she grows up knowing that, you know, people treat you how you allow them to treat you, so, you know, you live your life in a way, in a manner that, erm, doesn't demand respect, but people can't help but give you it because of how you hold your shoulders back. Yeah.

GREEN LEFT: That's a good example.

C-ROC: So, yeah... You deserve everything that comes to you, since you got yourself out of the gutter. From major depression that made you stop performing, from eight years ago till now, that was some major, black depression, you know, that was some depression.

GREEN LEFT: Is that why you went off into remote communities to do workshops? You became disillusioned with it?

C-ROC: I became disillusioned, but it was erm, it was erm... I was trying to find some way to recreate myself. When I was there I had a great time, you know, I loved it, but I think I needed them as much as they needed me, you know what I mean. You know, I came from a simplistic lifestyle, it was rough, then to win an Australian music awards and be told by Grammy Award winners that what I have is world class...

GREEN LEFT: It's a lot of pressure.

C-ROC: It's pressure in the sense of, well, what shall I do? A true artist will always be a conflicted being, because you walk a fine line between sanity and insanity and you don't mean to... You'll find that they're the most emotional and supportive people you'll ever meet... but I was my own worst enemy. Me and DeeKay stopped talking for six years, you know, because we got that far down the road of unhappiness, you know. Not disillusioned with the industry, you know, disillusioned with ourselves. The industry gave us everything on a platter, you know, the biggest stars in the country were at our parties, you know, it was there for the taking, whatever our hearts desired it was there, whatever it happened to be back then, but er... it didn't satisfy what mattered. You can go on and do whatever you need to do in your life, but if you're not happy with one million, you're not going to be happy with two million and you're not going to be happy with 10 million.

GREEN LEFT: You've got to be happy inside.

C-ROC: Exactly. But that's what we are now.

GREEN LEFT: Cool.

C-ROC: We're stronger.

GREEN LEFT: Cool. It's been the right way to do it.

C-ROC: Oh, we'd never be where we are today if I didn't find myself on the bones of my arse in the gutter, losing my mind.

GREEN LEFT: And that's what happened to you when you split?

C-ROC: That's what happened to me when I started losing it. I had to go away personally and find out what was making me sick and what was making me sick was I had to make peace with myself and start bringing more compassion.

GREEN LEFT: You seem at peace with yourself.

C-ROC: Well, I hope so, you know. I mean, I don't think we're ever going to be immune from what we feel as human beings and that still makes us human, you know, you've gotta be in it to win it! [Laughs]

From GLW issue 944