Briggs is one of, if not the most, accomplished hip hop artists in Australia. He has toured with international acts like Ice Cube, Ghostface Killah, KRS One, as well as domestic hip hop godfathers The Hilltop Hoods. Moreover, his duo A.B. Original with Trials put out some of the most political and hard hitting Australian hip hop seen in the past decade. Oh, did I mention, in 2015 he started his own record label Bad Apples Music, which showcases Indigenous singers, songwriters and hip hop artists. Briggs is both talented and very busy. That might explain why Always Was is the first record since A.B. Original’s Reclaim Australia in 2016.
The record kicks off with Apollo, a hard hitting track where Briggs reminds you that the king from Reclaim Australia is back. In interviews Briggs talks about how success as an Indigenous artist and expressing himself as an Aboriginal man is a political act in itself. In a sense, the political is personal. This is carried over in the record’s title where Briggs has Always Was, part of the 2020 NAIDOC Week (a celebration of Indigenous culture in Australia) slogan “Always Was, Always Will Be,” tattooed on his hand. Quite literally, the political is personal.
The track kicks off with a lament on how in the rap game everyone “wants the new thang / I want the Wu – Tang.” The beats and production mirror this tension between the new and old as Briggs has some modern trap beats cut in and out of heavy 90s era bass. At times Briggs resembles Ice Cube from Death Certificate in his bass heavy forceful delivery. There are a number of prodcers on this record, but Jayteehazard and Trials, from A.B. Original, make notable contributions and give the record a modern sound, while also having illusions to 90s rap. Briggs has spoken about how he was inspired by the politically based and fearless rap of Ice Cube, Wu – Tang and others in American hip hop. Musically, the base and heavy delivery are perfect homages to this era in rap.
Also like his rap idol Ice Cube, Briggs constantly refers to a fearlessness in his songs. In Apollo he talks about “giving no fucks” and going for it with no fear of tomorrow. This fearlessness is political in and of itself. Even though Apollo is not an overtly political song, announcing how an Aboriginal man is going to strive for success and avoid “the set – up” is political. In interviews, Briggs talks about how speaking out as an Aboriginal man is a political act for some in society who are uncomfortable with Indigenous people speaking up and getting a platform. He underlines this political edge to Indigenous success when there is a pause in the refrain “that’s who we are” at the end of the song, which is filled by “my tomorrow is fucked.” It is this undercutting of the fearless celebration throughout the song that gives the track its edge.
Musically, I love how Briggs is harkening back to the hip hop of the 90s. However, his talent comes through in how the record has a double life, much like how he describes the daily life for Indigenous people in Australia. Briggs has talked about how Australia is comfortable with Indigenous people fitting the cultural stereotype, but uncomfortable with “Blackfullas in the street” speaking out and being heard. More recently, this is a refrain used by white commentators and politicians in America when prominent black athletes spoke out against police brutality. White America is comfortable if Lebron James plays basketball, but when he asserts his voice the response is “shut up and dribble.” White America is comfortable with black people providing entertainment, as long as they don’t speak out. Briggs brings this to an Australian context in how he sees white Australia being comfortable with Indigenous people fitting a particular box, while he turns this on its head by making Apollo about the “Blackfulla in the street.” This record illustrates the Always Was is not simply a slogan for celebrating Indigenous culture, but also encompasses speaking out in the street.
Listen to Apollo