Remote rapper looks on the bright side of strife

April 12, 2013
Bryte sees the two sides of Australia.

The Bryte Side Of Life
Too Solid / MGM
April 5, 2013

Bryte's new album, The Bryte Side Of Life, may urge his listeners to think positive, but it's not all sweetness and light. The Aboriginal rapper has lost none of the political bite that snarled from his award-winning first album, Full Stop, four years ago.

The Perth-based performing poet kicks off his latest long-player with "World On Strike", a rallying call for global industrial action.

"The government should be afraid of us, we shouldn't be afraid of the government," Bryte tells Green Left. "'World On Strike' asks, 'What would happen if the world went on strike? If we had control? If we just stopped doing whatever we do?'

"The song is also about money. You know, essentially, money is just paper. It's only when people put their belief into it that it actually becomes something more than that. And it's also about banks and the financial crisis, because essentially money runs the world. You just have to look at the things that are going on and it's plain to see.

"What would happen if the world went on strike? Because we're the little ant workers, we're the people who run the world, essentially. What if we just decided to stop and say, 'Hey, you guys are doing this all wrong. If we stopped right now, that means your world stops as well.'"

I want to talk about the evil around us
I want to tell you about the numbers that determine your life
I want to talk about the system that's round us
And what would happen if the world just went on strike
I want to talk about when to evolve
I want to tell you what makes me pick up the mike
I want to talk about the word 'control'
And what would happen if the world just went on strike

A clue as to what might happen if the world just went on strike lies in the history of global union The Industrial Workers of the World. Since forming in 1905, it has faced sabotage, murder and - in Australia - a straight ban. Similarly, when the Occupy movement swept the world in 2011, the media ignored it, then vilified it and all but destroyed it. Last year, when the biggest strike in history took place in India, it received so little media attention that it was dubbed "The Biggest Strike You've Never Heard Of".

Bryte is all too aware of such cruddy corporate coverage, giving the media a bum rap on Full Stop and in his new song, "Brainwash".

"On Full Stop I touched a little bit on how Indigenous culture, especially in Australia, was put in a negative light," he says. "It almost seemed as if it was only important to them when they wanted to use it to capitalise on tourism or something like that. We've got this amazing Indigenous culture, but then they're feeding all this bullshit to the public.

"'Brainwash' is really about that as well, but, I think, on a wider scale. Like every time you walk outside your door, they're trying to sell you something. Like if you watch TV during the day - usually I don't because I just can't stand them trying to sell me something every single five seconds of the day and I think music is what breaks me away from that."

Music has been Bryte's saviour, rescuing him from a life of petty crime. He was raised by a white foster family after he was born in Brisbane to a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and cerebral palsy. It was an upbringing that made him look at things twice.

"Yeah, I think having my Indigenous roots and growing up as a foster child in a white family, seeing both sides of society, just gave me a unique perspective on the opinions and the views of people from different backgrounds and different cultures," he says. It's a perspective that has helped Bryte, also known as Brian Lloyd, in his work running hip-hop workshops.

"For the past six years I've been able to work with not only Indigenous people but also I've been able to work with people from different countries who have migrated here," he says. "It's really eye-opening, the trials and the struggles that they go through.

"Without being harsh at all to anyone, I think growing up as a foster child and in a white family, I saw just sort of stereotypical stuff about Indigenous people and people from overseas who'd migrated here. It was kind of natural - as a kid I just thought that's how the world worked. Then as I grew up, I turned 18 and moved out of the house, I started to see the world a bit more clearly and what was going on, and that being called a 'boong' in school is actually uncool, it wasn't the thing to do, and those are the sort of things you come to realise.

"I mean, I love my foster family with all my heart and they brought me up. They helped me along the way to realise who I truly am, as well as my biological mother, and I think music has paved the way for me."

His musical ability flowed from his mother's genes to Bryte and his biological sister, Jessie Lloyd, of award-winning Indigenous band Djiva.

"My mum isn't talented in music at all," says Bryte. "She always says, 'I don't know where you got it from, but you must have got it from me,' because my sister Jessie and I, we both have the same mother but we have different fathers. So it must have been from mum's blood somewhere in there, I'm not sure where it came from."

His sister was the musical force that paved Bryte's way to Aboriginal music college Abmusic. Jessie's invitation to join her in Perth took him away from a blurred Brisbane he describes on his new song, "Memory".

Wake up, like, what the fuck happened to me?
With no memory of last night's activities
Eight bucks to my name and I'm back on the street
Trying to piece together the blurred imagery
Get home and get busted
Walk in the door, see the look on my girlfriend, disgusted
She knows I can't be trusted
To have just one beer at your Christmas function

"I was just hanging with mates, really good friends of mine and maybe some less-than-reputable characters," laughs Bryte, who was spending his time shoplifting, bombing Brisbane's brickwork with graffiti and blasting his brain cells with booze.

"I was just drinking a lot," he says. "So I decided to make the change from Brisbane. As I was staying with my sister, I was only supposed to be in Perth for two weeks and then I found out about Abmusic and I just thought, 'Oh, this is my opportunity to learn about the industry.' This is something that I encourage when I go out and do my workshops as well, to get people to come and find somewhere to stay, maybe a hostel and get them to come to Abmusic, which is what I did.

"I learnt how to play the drums, I learnt music knowledge and reading and writing music. I learnt about the music business, how to manage yourself as an artist - and it's just kind of taken off from there. All of my experiences that I have, I always pass them on. It's like the storytelling, you know, from back in the day, you know from the old times, the Dreamtime, telling those stories, because there's information in those stories that needs to be learned."

In Perth, he also met another great Indigenous storyteller - fellow Abmusic graduate Candice Lorrae, who is now known as recording artist Ulla Shay. Hearing her voice can leave listeners love-struck - whether it's on NITV's Noongar language-teaching children's programme "Waabiny Time", on stage with Bryte, or gliding over the Motown backbeats of her album "Better Place". So what did Bryte fall in love with first - the voice, or the person?

"Oh, I met her before I heard her sing," he says. "I didn't meet her at Abmusic, I was introduced to her by my sister. We kind of just went around to her house and she was into a lot of R'n'B and a lot of hip-hop and I kind of just got to know her and she was just an amazing person, so talented and awesome.

"She was just really knowledgeable. She knew a lot about music and the industry. I was amazed and I was mesmerised by her and we just kind of grew from there. I think the first time we kissed was at a NAIDOC ball behind the curtain, we kind of snuck in behind the curtains." He laughs. "It was cool, yeah."

The pair got married just a month before the release of Bryte's latest album, which was delayed due to his work with at-risk kids.

"Yeah, it was delayed for a little bit there," he says. "I was doing some work out in the Kimberleys in a few remote communities, doing hip-hop workshops, teaching kids how to write hip-hop lyrics and breakdance and a little bit of production. A lot of them enjoy rapping and there are excellent dancers out there that you wouldn't believe, they're just so talented. They're out in the middle of the desert and they learn all their moves from, like, Rage and YouTube, and they get all their music from the internet. We make songs with them."

A 40-second time-lapse video of Bryte tagging the Desert Feet truck in the remote community of Jigalong.

Such work may be the answer to the rocketing rates of Indigenous incarceration. Western Australia locks up more Aboriginal juveniles in proportion to population than any other state. Some lawyers say pouring government money into at-risk communities is a far more effective way to reduce crime than pouring government money into prisons, which produce more crime.

"Absolutely man," says Bryte. "You can utilise hip-hop for so many things. I think about the changes that I've made, and I'm speaking from personal experience, just seeing these kids over the years, going out there three times a year, into the communities and teaching these kids all the time, watching them grow up and seeing the impact that I'm having on them.

"I've gone out there and I've taught them how to write lyrics and taught them that it's a good thing to be able to get up out of bed every morning, don't sleep in, have a shower, go to school, eat healthily. It's all part of that thing - if you want to be a successful rapper or an artist or a dancer or anything, it starts at home.

"Every time I go back, the thing that changes is some get better - well, most of them get better - and some just kind of... you can see the changes in them. It might be something's happening at home and then some of them just completely disappear off the map. Man, being in remote communities you just never know, you just never know. You've just got to persevere, and the best thing for the government to do is keep the money there for these sorts of things, man, because this is what pushes the kids on, this will break the ice for them."

When the government does not keep the money there for these sorts of things, others - such as mining magnate Andrew Forrest - can step into the breach. Bryte has worked all over Western Australia with many organisations, including Role Models WA, Desert Feet Tour, VIBE Australia and the Clontarf Foundation. He is rightly proud of an award-winning project he did over seven days with kids in Yandeyarra, Port Hedland.

"I did the production," he says. "We got some beats from The Wizard Of Oz, a really good mate of ours. We brought up some film crew a little bit later. I did all the choreography with them, did all the lyrics. I pretty much directed the film work as well and we ended up winning the Hands Across Australia Award for that film clip, so it was really successful."

The funding and award came from Forrest's organisation Generation One, which aims to "to end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in one generation".

Yet Forrest, who has slipped from being Australia's richest person to merely its fourth richest, is known for not paying tax. In 2011, he admitted his iron ore company, Fortescue Metals, had not paid any corporate tax in its seven-year history. He has campaigned heavily against the mining tax. Two months ago, he confirmed that Fortescue would not be paying anything under the federal government's minerals resource rent tax this year. In 2011, Forrest was accused of rigging a Native Title meeting to get mining access to land in Roeburne. In an ironic twist this February, he took legal action to stop mining on his own land, prompting resources analyst Peter Strachan to tell the media: "Andrew has a long history of jackarooing and working with the Aboriginal people in that part of the country. He doesn't want to risk that some of it would be spoilt by mining gravel for the foundation of an LNG plant."

The title track to Bryte's album, "Bryte Side Of Life", urges listeners to think positive.

Don't ever let the dark side get the best of you
I take time to recognise and respect the lives
Of others with lesser than I
The lesson is why
At the most critical times
With all your possessions of size
And shit that you buy
Do you forget
So when we're chilling at the back of your crib
Sipping on the cold beer that we got from the fridge
Think about the land in which we're lucky to live
And all the kids that walk for miles just for something to drink

Yet Bryte must see Australian inequality all the time, from impoverished remote communities to the billionaires who mine their land. In Australia, the bright side is white and the dark side is black. Bryte, more than most Australians, must see the two sides of Australia.

"I think that's correct, man," he says. "I do work on the two sides. I think there's quite a few faces of Australia now, there's a few sides. But I get to work on those two big sides, which is the mainstream and the community-based stuff.

"Just going out to the communities and seeing the sort of conditions of the schooling and things like that, some of the schools are just... no-one attends, you know, because there's nothing to draw out of them, there's no community events, there's nothing like that, because it's just forgotten about, it's kind of hidden away.

"They love to push the tourism tip and use the culture for that, but the reality of it is they don't want to put money into improving these communities in the right way. They're just chucking money in and saying 'Oh, we chucked money here, we've given money here.' They never seem to do the right thing and put money in the right place. You've just got to look at the results. It's just straightforward really. You've really got to go out there to experience and get a feel for what is actually going on. People can't sit behind a desk, push paper and pens and be able to make calls on it, it's just not possible."

Yet he has seen many examples of schools that do get results by focusing on language and culture.

"I think it's of pivotal importance that in the schools they get their culture, their learning, their language, and they're not being told constantly to be using only the English language," he says. "Because for most of these kids, English is a fourth language to them. It's important, because when I was a kid I wasn't taught any of my own history. I was taught that Captain Cook came, I didn't know the First Australians when I was growing up - and I believed it until I was old enough to get the answers for myself."

Bryte is uniquely placed to close the knowledge gap between black and white Australia. In doing so, he could also bridge the social divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal hip-hop. Indigenous Hip-Hop Radio Show host Mark "Munk" Ross thinks Bryte's humour and his major record deal could be key factors in that.

"A lot of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hip-hop artists, they aren't in the shops, you know," Munk told SBS's Indigenous current affairs show, Living Black, this month. "So it's a good thing that he's got distribution with MGM because that gets him in record shops, which is a plus - it's a bonus - because it means that he's moving forward. The good thing about Bryte is he's a funny guy, you know what I mean? That's the thing, he's got a sense of humour and he's amusing and that's something that the mainstream hip-hop can get into."

Bryte seems a little cautious about how his warped humour will be taken, warning up front that he is "crude". In one skit on the album he "gives birth" to his music career, which goes down the tubes - literally.

"That's kind of like a bit of sarcasm about how, with this album, I'm going to flush my career down the toilet," he laughs. "Just something funny, that's what it's meant to be. Myself and the producer, Dazastah, had a lot of fun making those samples. We dropped rocks to make it sound like the poo was going down the toilet."

He also warns that his tribute to voluptuous women like his wife, the provocatively-titled song "Big Bitches", "may be initially seen as derogatory".

"That is sort of meant to be like, 'I like big butts and I cannot lie'," he says, referencing Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back". "There's a little bit of dark humour there. It's a bit cheeky and a bit quirky."

On other tracks he seems to be parodying the towering testosterone of commercial hip-hop. "Got Ya Goin' Like" asks: "What, are you a homophobe? Are you a homophobe? Are you scared that you might like it?"

"As long as testosterone's well-placed it can be awesome, man," he says. "High-testosterone, high-fuelled shows, really hyper sort of stuff - I love it, you know. I love being at those shows and I love performing those sort of shows as well."

"Chainsaw Dick" revs up the testosterone to absurd levels, turning Bryte's boner into a, erm, chainsaw.

"'Chainsaw Dick' is a lot more full-on and in-your-face kind of dark humour and very quirky as well," he says. "Very crude, I guess. I had to put everything I had of myself into the album that I was feeling at the time, and that's what came out. I love the track, I'm totally happy with it, and that's just it, it's not meant to be taken in a way that should be offensive, it's not intended to be that way at all, neither is 'Big Bitches', so just as long as people keep that in mind when they're listening to it."

But just as he makes no apologies for his radical politics, he makes no apologies for being what might be deemed politically incorrect. "You either like it or you don't at the end of the day - and I like to make music that makes me happy," he says, brightly.

Listen to and buy The Bryte Side Of Life here. Download a free book on Aboriginal hip-hop here.

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