Hip-hop is my spear, my freedom ride, my tent embassy. Hip-hop is my act of defiance

Originally posted on The Guardian on Monday 6 June 2016 13.59 AEST.

Hip-hop is my spear, my freedom ride, my tent embassy. Hip-hop is my act of defiance

@IndigenousX host Corey Webster, the hip-hop artist known as Nooky, discusses how he uses hip-hop as an act of defiance and an agent of change

I’m an Indigenous rapper signed to Bad Apples Music and last week was a pretty huge week for me.

I took over the @IndigenousX Twitter feed for Reconciliation Week and received the Dreaming Award from the Australia Council at the ninth National Indigenous Arts Awards in front of some of the country’s finest Indigenous artists, my family and my partner at the Sydney Opera House.

I’ve been interviewed a lot this past week because of the award and have been asked all sorts of questions, including: What does it mean to me to be an Indigenous artist? What do I hope to achieve with the $20,000 I’ve been given to create a music project and be mentored by Indigenous artists that I admire? Where did the anger come from to fuel my music?

There are always thoughts percolating in my brain about where I come from, what my people and my community mean to me and the injustices against my people, so it wasn’t hard to answer those questions. But it made me see so clearly the change that I want to see, and be, in my world.

Nowra is the place of my family and people, it’s Yuin country and I’m proud that’s who I am. But Nowra and I had some tricky times together as well. In the end, that’s what got me into music – because of all the anger I felt. Every experience I’ve had in the community, good and bad, has made me the man and artist I am today.

Being part of Yuin Nation is everything that I am. We’re saltwater people. We grew up diving and fishing and surfing, we lived off the water. The ocean is calm and it’s collected and it’s a beautiful thing but when it turns, it gets turbulent, it can crush cities and topple mountains. I feel like that’s my personality. I’m calm most of the time, I know what I’m doing, I take it easy, I go with the flow but when there’s something I don’t like, something that frustrates me, I feel like that’s my music. I put that energy into the words and that’s like my tsunami, my defiance.

As a young fella, my parents would tell me about Pemulwuy, Windradyne and Yagan, and share stories about people like Charlie Perkins and Guboo Thomas. I was blown away. From when I was just a cheeky kid, I wanted to be a freedom fighter. As soon as I heard their stories I wanted to be those guys. I wanted to be remembered in history like them. As I got to my teens I realised that hip-hop is how I will do that. Hip-hop is my spear, it’s my freedom ride, it’s my tent embassy. Hip-hop is my act of defiance.

AIATSIS-2My music stems from my family and my community. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have this voice and I couldn’t tell the stories I tell. I carry my people everywhere with me. Every stage I step onto, the Yuin people step onto it with me. Every accolade and accomplishment I achieve, they achieve. Hip-hop isn’t a choice for me – it’s my responsibility to use the voice given to me to do right by my people.

As an Indigenous MC, I feel our voice is left out of hip-hop in this country a lot of the time. I see a lot of the major hip-hop festivals have every type of black artist on the bill but not us. Why? Are people scared of our voice and our views? Do they even care what we have to say? How is it that Australian hip-hop has grown and diversified but the Indigenous voice is still pushed to the back?

My people didn’t fight tooth and nail for the voice we have to ring in the shadows. When I signed to Bad Apples Music earlier this year I felt I had joined a new wave of resistance. Change must come for Indigenous hip-hop artists – through music, through us being diligent, through us being held accountable by our mobs for our actions. It’s about Indigenous excellence.

Art and music are so important for Aboriginal culture, it’s a way of keeping our traditions alive. Wire MC said: “Hip-hop is a modern-day corroboree.” And he’s so right – but it makes me rage to think that it’s a corroboree that Indigenous performers are not always invited to.

My older cousin, Ryan Selway, got me interested in rapping when I was a teenager and he gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me. I sent him my first rap and I really wanted his approval. He didn’t like what he heard and I told him I’d spent hours and hours on it. So he said: “That’s where you went wrong. Ya thought about it. When you write music, talk with ya heart.” I live my whole life by that now. If I can’t talk with my heart, I’m not gonna talk.

I’ve got a lot to say and the best way for me to say it is as a lyricist. Hip-hop kept me out of trouble and gave me an escape from the traps of small town life. It ledme to some of the most important mentors I’ve had in my life. I’m lucky to have had some of the best in the game help me out along the way – Wire MC, Jimblah, Trials, Weno, Briggs and my manager.

Now I do a lot of mentoring myself, all over New South Wales. I tell kids how my teachers told me I wouldn’t amount to anything but I got past that and I’ve done a lot of things.

I’m really pumped about my Dreaming Award. To be selected by a group of senior people from my community means the world to me as Indigenous self-determination is one of my core values. I see it as an amazing vote of confidence for me as a young artist and validation that I’m heading in the right direction.

I can do so much with this opportunity and it’s not just for me. I want to make the best album possible with my team of mentors; make something my community will be proud of; take my artistry to new levels and break new ground for Indigenous hip-hop.

The end goal for me is always to give back to community. I hope one day to start up a centre in Nowra where kids can come and be creative and have a studio to use. I’d like to start my own initiative to offer support for kids to get through school and reach their dreams – it doesn’t matter if they’re into music, football, acting or whatever.

I want my words and music to shine a light on the part of Australia’s history that’s so often kept in the shadows. I want to take all the negativity and injustice given to me and mine and use that to fuel my success and bring my people with me every step of the way.

It’s bigger than just hip-hop for me. I want to be a Pemulwuy, that’s what I’m shooting for.

(If you want to see some established and emerging Indigenous hip-hop artists, get to Carriageworks on 7 July for Klub Koori to celebrate Naidoc Week. Jimblah, Tasman Keith and I are among the artists performing on the night.)

“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.

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