Remi and Sensible J talk influences, Racism and Raw x Infinity Remi is a unique voice in Australian hip hop who has been making waves in Australia and around the world alongside producer and beatmaster Sensible J. Remi’s award winning album from 2014, Raw x Infinity, is a progressive and lyrically intelligent release which, on its serious side has insightful commentary on themes of drug abuse, racism and how we are told to live in Australia. The album is soon to be followed up by Divas and Demons later this year, from which the groovy new single, For Good, has been released. At the beginning of the year the Aware Project caught up with Remi and Sensible J and talked about their musical influences, their album Raw x Infinity and Australia’s approach to racism.
Aware: How long have you been making music and where did it all start?
Remi: I’ve been making music for 5 years now and I met J through his lady Jelena because we used to work together. She pretty much hired me. I wasn’t doing music at that point, then when I started rapping I told her, and she’s like “my man makes hip-hop beats,” she played me his stuff, and I was like “this is really dope” and then we started working together. Five years ago, halfway through 2010. That’s crazy man, that’s a long time.
Aware: Who have your outstanding influences in hip hop been?
Sensible J: When I was young I had friends older brothers passing down cassettes to me of NWA, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and all that. Growing up learning drums I’ve played with all of that sort of stuff and as I got older I heard The Roots and J Dilla. They’re my two biggest hip hop influences. Outside of that I’d go Portishead, Radiohead, Flying Lotus, that sort of stuff all smushed together is pretty much my influences.
Remi: I’m gonna have to say, I mean, influences constantly change as well because there’s always new artists coming along and doing new stuff as well.
Sensible J: Like Katy Perry?
Remi: Exactly like Katy Perry, you know. I heard that new album is gonna be fire – fireworks bro. But originally it would be Slum Village and Outkast probably the two earliest and then Common, Mos Def and early Kanye stuff because they all tread the line between some level of consciousness some which are just fun, which I think is how you should just do life you know what I mean? Like, yes there are serious parts of life but at the same time I don’t want to hear a whole album about serious shit. There needs to be moments of light somewhere in it whether it’s just a joke in a serious song. Especially in hip hop because it’s so wordy.
Aware: Before Raw x Infinity you released FYG act one, standing for Fuck Your Genre. While it was an awesome album there was a big jump in content, especially in Raw x Infinity in regards to awareness about Australia’s current political situation, and also society’s view on topics like racism and drugs, like in the songs Living and Ode to Ignorance. Was there something that triggered that change in content or did it just come naturally?
Remi: It was a bit of both, I mean we both kind of hit a point where it was like “alright cool we’ve done all that” and you just want to start talking about some real stuff, you know, what actually goes on in your life. I think you can see most rappers progression the older they get, the more they live. You can tell that from like Outkast’s first album. They’re talking about a lot more gangster life and stuff but they were seventeen when that happened and had only been rapping for a little bit. But as you start doing that you start seeing what’s going on in your community, see what’s important to you and just the stuff that you want to hear talked about and stuff that we were like ‘This is our life.’
Sensible J: The stuff that we sit on my back porch talking about, we’re like ‘this needs to be in a song.’ You can only do so many songs, no offence, about nothing. Heaps of hip hop songs I love are about nothing but then we reached the point where we put an album out and three EPs before Raw x Infinity. It’s a lot of songs, so it was a conscious decision like ‘let’s actually say some stuff.’
Remi: It’s also a fun thing to do, you write that kind of angle and stuff. And I think a lot of people are scared to be more conscious because, I don’t know, I think they just don’t want people to write them off as preachy or whatever, which is fair! I hate if people get too preachy because no one’s an angel, you know what I mean? You can’t turn around and be like ‘I know everything and I know all this’ but it’s just talking about the shit that you know about and you can back, that’s all we really want to do.
Aware: So it progressed as you guys made more and more music?
Remi: Yeah, definitely.
Sensible J: But it was from a conscious chat.
Remi: I can literally remember the chat. We were just in J’s kitchen and he’s like “Alright its time” and that was it.
Sensible J: All of the stuff that we talk about, because I see this guy every day my general complaints about whatever from getting picked on because I look like a terrorist apparently. It happens to everyone but this is stuff we should put in our songs because it is happening to us. It’s not bad, it’s not like ‘oh poor little me’ but it’s relevant.
Aware: On the topic of Raw x Infinity, the album covered a range of issues in society. One of the outstanding ones was racism and your experiences with it, again particularly in Ode to Ignorance. What were some of your specific experiences with racism which triggered that?
Remi: I think it’s just more a lifetime of inferiority. That’s what it is. You can see the bad, and to a lot of people, especially now because racism has become so subtle, it’s so ingrained in the way of thought in Australia I think the main thing to realise is that. I watched this interview of a comedian called Paul Mooney and he’s talking about racism and he’s basically saying that it’s like those little comments, they might be nothing to you but that’s like the reason my dad can’t get a job or that’s the reason that every time we go to the airport we’re going to get searched down, it’s the reason that you’ll never be able to get up a certain level rung in a certain business. Why are most people of colour are restricted to certain career choices to be truly successful? So it’s not necessarily a pinpoint moment, I was growing up and police would pull me over because I fit a description. People would say some wild shit to me at school or just in everyday life and they don’t know how much that affects you. I think it’s about just that awareness, try and bring that to people’s attention so that they know that people aren’t mad for no reason. If someone pulls you up on something it’s like, it might be funny to you or it might be like just a throw away comment, to a lot of people it’s just stuff people would say. They wouldn’t remember they said that shit five minutes after they said it but that shit will fuck up your whole day because you know what that’s rooted in, there’s history behind it.
Sensible J: It’s basically a culmination of many events. Little tiny ones on a scale of major things happening to you it’s not that bad, people aren’t coming around and trying to burn crosses in the lawn. But just stuff like that your whole life and hearing them from my friends, my brother, my family. My family is from South Africa so they came here to get away from apartheid. Just little things, all little conversations. My brother was telling me he remembers in grade two a girl telling him he’s ugly because he’s black, and that stays. My brother’s forty-one, and for him to still remember that. It’s little things like that so I’m like ‘Remi just write about it bro, get it off your chest’.
Remi: I think all of us have that stuff, and yeah kids say cruel things and all that kind of shit but it stems from somewhere. It comes from your family, it comes from your media, all that kind of stuff. And that’s the other thing as well it’s like, for us we can’t escape it, it’s like we turn on the fucking TV we’re going to see something racist, open Facebook and I’m going to see some racist shit. It’s like every single point of your day especially now that technology is around because back in the day, yes racism was worse but you stay within your community and you can be free of that shit until you go to a certain place at a certain time whereas now it’s just fucking everywhere. It’s fucked up that we just have to put up with it, I don’t think we should, I’m not saying you should go out there and snap and do some extremist shit but you should definitely make people aware.
Aware: Do you think that we, as Australia, are headed in the right direction in regards to racism?
Remi: It’s hard to say, I mean a tiny bit.
Sensible J: It’s never going to change because it’s too ingrained in culture. It’s a problem and when you tell someone ‘Hey you probably shouldn’t say that’ the majority will say ‘What do you mean?’ They have no idea. You can’t educate the masses.
Remi: So it always feels like it’s getting to a certain point but it’s because we’re just spending time with different people. Most people in the entertainment industry that I deal with at least, they are the most conscious people I could possibly hang out with. Which why a lot of people of oppression gravitate towards the arts because it’s much more open minded, the history behind most artistic backgrounds is a multicultural pattern. So as soon as you’re in that world it’s very rare, unless you’re copping it from fans or audience members, that you’re going to deal with that shit.
Aware: What do you think that Australia needs to realise or understand to start to change that?
Sensible J: Little things like, more variety in the people you see in mainstream media. That helps because the representation is not there, at all. It’s little things like Waheed Ali, that’s a huge move for him to get in on commercial TV.
Remi: Matt Okine
Sensible J: Little steps like that and it starts to trickle down, and people start to see different faces of different colours on TV.
Remi: People just need to stop being so fucking defensive. As soon as someone is mad about some shit that you don’t understand listen to them before you have an opinion.
Sensible J: You can’t tell me what to get offended over.
Remi: How often do you actually get mad for no fucking reason? To the point where you are yelling as loud as you possibly can in the face of a police officer. Unless you have a serious crack habit, it is so rare that you are going to act like that. Similarly if I see a girl pissed off yelling at a dude in the club, I’m going to go over and assume that that guy has said some disrespectful shit. But a lot of people won’t take that stand and they’ll think that it’s just some crazy girl in the club. Racism, sexism, homophobia, all that shit, it’s just like people are just not willing to accept that this person is angry for a reason, and you might not understand that reason but you should empathise and you should apologise and you should try and learn from that situation. I know I grew up thinking heaps of shit that I now know is one-hundred percent wrong. So it’s about adapting.