Lyrical Commission: Murderous metaphors
If hip-hop from the USA is a monster of colossal proportions, many faces and a drawn out, protracted hypocrisy, then Aussie hip-hop has to be the exact opposite – with Lyrical Commission at the very epicenter. This Melbourne based crew consists of Trem [MC/Producer], Brad Strut [MC] and Bob Balans [MC]. Add to that the deftness of one J-Red – as well as a considerable local and international family – and you have the skills base for what they fondly term The Commission – a squad of troops eager to deliver what Trem calls “raw, pure, relentless, hard hitting hip-hop to the masses”. And while their sound is unmistakably home-grown, they work from a base of classic hip-hop set in New York circa 1988-94. Think DITC, Wu-Tang Clan and Big Daddy Kane.
Coming from a musical culture drenched in booze, girls, drugs and money [or lack thereof] their members are all about “stunts, blunts and hip-hop!” Furthermore, their just released album is a super tight collection of just 8 hooks that is unyielding from the word go. It follows the 2003 debut The Stage is Set. Trem adds “there’s a lot of dope shit in our back catalog so there may be debate amongst our hardcore fans, but our stuff is ever progressive and we think this is our best work to date”. Indeed, this here promo copy has straight up hip-hop written all over it! The production is gritty and minimal yet focused and commanding. The idea for the new album was born when the group was lucky enough to lure New York Arsonist legend, Q-Unique into the studio, where they laced up the title track Hell’s Basement. They held it with the intention of releasing it as a 12” but amongst various other issues, kept pushing it back until eventually they decided to release something resembling more of an album. “It eventually matured to an E.P with the addition of more songs. It was all murderous metaphors so we ran with that as the title – ill raps, powerful wordplay and visuals through phrase. All killer and no filler!” The retail release will feature all the tracks, including instrumentals and a 10 minute enhanced footage section for less than an orange note. There is also talk of a solo debut from Trem, a Brad Strut sophomore and a DVD towards the end of the year. All courtesy of their label Unkut [unkutrecordings.com].
This though is all lip service. I was more interested in exactly how their lyrics are cultivated – where they come from. Trem fills me in: “everyone has their own way of tackling their rhyme book and it often varies for each of us, sometimes verses are written beginning to end; other times it’s a bit at a time; sometimes in the car or on your daily travels; on other occasions the crew might work around individual beats and a member might start on an idea or something that suits the flavor – and once on the same level, a theme is chosen and they go their separate ways to fine-tune it”. So while this all sounds a bit 8-Mile, it’s a sad indictment upon us that we have been so slow in catching onto a local phenomenon that globally and cumulatively, accounts for a huge percentage of album sales. Trem highlights this, claiming “it was always destined to catch on; hip-hop is the biggest selling genre of music the world over and mainstream media and record companies are only just starting to give it a little light now”. Which creates another problem: appealing to a tentative Australian audience.
The implication is that countries outside America are sometimes hesitant to appreciate music created at home. This dilemma is compounded here, because there is only a small faction of rap crews that are at or nearing an international level of skill and production. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of us have been putting in the hard yards for a long time to get it to where it’s at today. We’ve been doing this for the best part of 15 years, so establishing ourselves has been a long journey”. Surely though, it will all be worth it. The crew feels that while the state of hip-hop in this country is mottled and mixed at best, it is bigger and better than ever before – which sees suckers jumping on the bandwagon – and making it that much easier to sift them out.
Certainly, it has been a long time coming, but the Commission’s second album sees them stepping up their game across the board and delivering a set of lyrics, beats and mixes that are worthy of far more attention than they receive. It is their version of the best of Aussie underground. To be fair, Trem adds “there’s always gonna be underground and there’s always gonna be commercial hip-hop. Depending on who you ask, each can be real. We think it’s very important to set your standard on a worldwide level. It’s cool to be up there with the last decent local release but we have to look at making our hip-hop world class; it’s the only way we can make the rest of the globe sit up and take notice”. That said, Murderous Metaphors encourages the Aussie hip-hop fans to maintain their faith, sift through the chaff and look for the gems. “We hope heads get into it, it’s basically a continuation of our legacy – if you liked the first then you’ll definitely love this! And to the haters: you better ask somebody!”
Murderous Metaphors is out now on Unkut recordings through Shogun Distribution.