The title of latest and greatest in Indigenous hip-hop looks to belong to Street Warriors, and if you’re in Brisbane next weekend you can catch the show that kicks off their East Coast tour.
The band certainly has a solid pedigree. Brothers Abie and Warrick Wright were half of Local Knowledge, named Best Band at the 2005 Deadlys. A year later Local Knowledge fissioned, as MC Weno and DJ Tee joined up with Weno’s sister Naomi to form the Last Kinection. The Wright brothers debuted their new act in 2007, and went on to garner Deadly nominations in 2008 and 2009.
In December 2009 Street Warriors released their first full-length album, Unstoppable Force (available on iTunes worldwide). Too often even the most innovative hip-hop acts get stuck in their own groove, and I find that listening to an entire album at one sitting gets to be tedious. (Yes, I know that no-one listens to albums these days, only songs, but nonetheless….) What I find most appealing and refreshing about Unstoppable Force is its unpredictability.
The album opens with “Firestorm,” which has echoes of NoKTuRNL’s ominous, apocalyptic vision of modern life. The sense of apocalypse continues into the opening of the next track, a re-invention of Goanna’s 80’s hit “Solid Rock.” Street Warriors’ version is deadly serious, defiant rather than plaintive. The brothers debuted it at the Dreaming Festival in June 2009 with Goanna guitarist Shane Howard on stage with them; Shane also plays on the recorded track. Australian Idol pinup Shannon Noll adds a lot of crossover appeal, especially to the excellent video for the song. Torres Strait Islander dancer Albert David is brilliant in all his moves, and adds a nod to a Goanna ancestor in his choreography; it’s quite a beautiful short film with a lot of buzz.
Up next is “Summertime.” This isn’t Gershwin. The opening notes made me think I was in for electronica, but after two bars a fuzzed-up guitar lays down an old-time blues beat for the brothers to rhyme over. And then, suddenly, the sweet R&B of “How Much You Mean to Me” turns everything on its head with a gentle, melodic homage to the boys’ parents.
And so it goes through a dozen tracks: Street Warriors are always knocking your expectations aside, even when they indulge in some classic hip-hop maneuvers, like “Get It Started,” where they lay down their credentials (“I get it started / I got the goods / I got the skills guaranteed to thrill”). The amazing “Crocodile Dance” opens with a pounding, trunk-shaking bass, but uses it to ground a traditional chant that comes out of the back roads of Arnhem Land rather than the streets of their native Newcastle. The slow beat makes for a perfect intro to the closing track, a reprise of Local Knowledge’s major hit, “Blackfellas,” which sounds every bit as good as the original.
Given their versatility and imagination, Street Warriors may well prove to be an unstoppable force. If you see them in Brisbane or elsewhere on the tour, let me know if I’m right about that.