During its boom in the nineties, hip-hop was a loud, colourful genre of characters. It was simply a prerequisite for any rap star to have a sharp eye for fashion and a bundle of charisma. Rappers were faithfully communal, representing their city proudly and working to immerse themselves in their local scene, cultivating both friends and fans in the process.
The next wave didn’t exactly abandon that approach, but there was a distinct shift. The digital era allowed for more meticulous craftsmanship, but it also confined many rappers to the sphere of Soundcloud. Rap changed, for the better as it became widely accepted as a platform capable of high art as well, perhaps, the worse as some of the golden age charm lost its lustre.
Enter Kirklandd, the latest gem to be plucked from Canberra’s sparkling hip-hop scene. A name familiar to fans of The Ansah Brothers Citizen Kay and Genesis Owusu, Kirklandd is carving a reputation for bridging the energy of the nineties with an ambitious eye for contemporary creativity.
With an assist from superproducer Cam Bluff, Tigerilla and Mondecreen, Kirklandd has dropped RISE, a stirring anthem that announces his arrival as Canberra’s next up. To celebrate, Kirklandd is hitting the road with five shows across Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane. Dates and locations here.
We caught as Kirklandd prepared to hit the road about his genre-bending approach and how he got his start in hip-hop.
How would you describe Kirklandd? What sets you as an artist apart from the rest of the pack?
As far as hip-hop is concerned, I represent a very golden age style of hip-hop. I try to make what I feel is a very authentic representation of that golden era of the early 1990s, the mid-2000s, that sort of stuff. I think that really sets me apart from other Australian artists because I haven’t really heard a sound like that in the Australian scene just yet.
I think also my production with Cam Bluff is also really alternative, we’ve been working for the past year and a half with a guy named Kay Ansah in Canberra on every mix and production together. What we’re doing is bridging a lot of different genres into hip-hop and making a kind of sound that people haven’t really heard before.
Our last track before RISE was called Visions, and that blended live drums with 40s-style synths. It was a really unusual thing. So every time we’re trying to bridge in instruments with an alternative production to make something really unique. I feel like RISE is a really soulful, uplifting but kind of climactic sound. It blends strings, sax, live drum rolls, pianos…just blending a lot of different things in the production, combining that with the golden age style of hip-hop just makes for a really unique sound.
Who are your biggest influences in welding together that sound?
I take a lot of reference from Cam’s previous work, of course he’s done a lot on the scene. As far as artists go, I’d say probably like Raury has influenced me a lot early on and especially on RISE. Raury has that folky, live instrument sound and he has a lot of references as well to religion, God and the devil, so I took a lot of influence from that.
As far as other things go lately, there’s an artist called Jon Bellion. I only discovered him a few months ago, but that guy does a lot of the alternative sounds I’m trying to bring in. His production is so unpredictable and offbeat at times, it’s pretty sick. So production-wise, definitely that and more recently, obviously ones like Kaytranada and stuff like that is influencing the more upbeat stuff we’re doing.
In the Australian scene, artists like REMI and Sampa the Great are doing things on a much more lyrical level, to me anyway. I’d also say those artists for sure.
Drawing on that Raury influence, RISE has a lot of religious imagery on it. Likewise, REMI is another artist you mentioned who released pretty vulnerable and honest album recently. Do you find it difficult confronting heavy, personal topics on a record?
It kind of comes easy, as long as it’s really authentic to myself and who I am. RISE was mainly about when I was younger, I was mainly raised a Christian in a family of faith and at around 13 hip-hop was peaking as an influence for me. Before I heard Lupe [Fiasco]’s Food & Liquor, which changed my perspective on the genre, I was kind of used to the ‘fuck bitches, get money’ kind of rap, talking about cars and shit like that. That influence was kind of pulling me in two different ways at once.
So RISE is kind of like my outcry trying to make sense of everything and stay true to who I was raised to be faithfully. As long as it’s authentic, it seems to make pretty good sense to me.
But at the same time, you want things that people can universally relate to. I try to not get too innately personal with my lyrics because obviously it won’t make sense to a lot of people, so what I try to do is make it a bit more empathetic for a lot of people, as opposed to just my own experiences.
That track took ages to get done, it took literally a full year so we’re stoked that it’s finally done. The lyrics took a while to get done, so yeah, it’s good to have it out.
In my view, RISE is the best track you’ve done yet and the most complete so far. How has the reception been? Is everyone else loving it as much as I am?
Yeah, I think so, dude! It’s just really different, I think it shocks a lot of people at first. Especially as far as hip-hop’s concerned, it’s definitely not what you’d expect from a rap track. I feel like it’s as much soul as it is hip-hop, it’s got that very uplifting feel to it. I think live it has the most impact, because when we do it live we do it with live drums and sax and George from Mondecreen comes and sings it. You get the full impact of the track live, which is especially cool because I think what we’re doing with the production now is trying to see how it translates live first and foremost and account for that before we start work on a project. So yeah, it’s definitely working in that sense.
Another thing that jumps about your music, and particular on RISE, is how atmospheric it is and how effectively you set a strong mood on your songs. How do you go about achieving that?
Well, RISE is a bit darker to start with, the chorus is uplifting but if you just take the instrumental it’s quite dark. Early on with that, we had sounds like those panned drum rolls, you hear percussive sounds around in the mix, you’ve got those sirens which sound really anarchic and oppressed. There were just certain soundscapes I used with Cam to achieve those atmospheres. With RISE, a lot of them were darker but when you have the key sections come in, they tend to make it a bit lighter, a bit more emotive and they give way to a bit more of an emotional atmosphere. It’s just a matter of choosing those sounds dude, for Visions for example, those synths were similarly atmospheric, but a lot more uplifting, soulful and positive.
I think it’s a matter of choosing those sounds really carefully, with the energy we’re going for on the track. On every project, we try to do something different, so it’s really important to me that every time we choose those sounds early on, we’re going for something as alternative as the last project.
You decided to pursue rap about doing some backpacking around Europe. Let’s talk through that, what was your mindset before that trip? Was your life going in a different direction?
Not really, I just really finished school so I was looking for something different outside of that environment. I just wanted to do something extreme as well, so I bought a one-way ticket to Paris and didn’t really book anything else and just kind of winged it for four months with fuck all money. It was an invigorating experience, man. As far as just learning about people, it taught me a lot. It was a very meditational experience. You learn a lot from people if you’re willing, by osmosis really, it was a transitional process for me, I guess.
Coming back, I crunched down what my hobbies were and hip-hop was at the top of that so I wanted to pursue it a little more seriously. Then later on I got linked up with Cam, which was probably the first serious thing that happened, because obviously he’s just a phenomenally talented dude. From there, things started to take shape a bit more. It’s just been a progressive thing, but that was definitely the trigger for it.
Was there a specific moment where the penny dropped that you wanted to rap or did you realise gradually?
Definitely more of a gradual thing. Towards the end of the trip I was in Morocco in a Muslim country and a totally foreign environment to everything that I’d experienced previously. It just puts you in an incredible mindset where you’re willing to learn and get creative and I think the main outlet for me getting creative was writing rhymes. I think if you ask anyone who’s slightly creative and has travelled, that’s the time when everything takes shape.
I wanted to preserve that and bring that creative energy back with me, which is definitely tough to do after you come back – you’re obviously not as invigorated by a different environment, you’re back at a slower pace, the mindset was definitely there for me and I think that’s what triggered me to get on a lot more creative path.
When you got back, did you make any particular changes to your life to stay on that creative wavelength?
I don’t know man, not really, Just trying to surround myself with more creative people. Getting in touch with Citizen Kay early on in Canberra, that was probably a bigger thing for me because he does everything around the clock with touring, producing and engineering – just being around someone so focused on their craft and so many different facets of their craft, it was so dope. Just being in the live scene and going between Melbourne and Sydney and places like that, and just being surrounded by people in this field who love what they do. It’s just a very invigorating experience, every time I’m around someone like that for even a second I just really motivated and inspired and I just try to keep that energy around me.
I read about a show at the Transit Bar where you, Genesis Uwusu and Citizen Kay were all spotted after your sets in the front row for Coda Conduct going off. How tight knit is that local community in Canberra?
I really appreciate that, because we definitely try to make sure everyone feels welcome to come. That night everyone knew everyone, it was just a bunch of mates hanging out, which was sick. We definitely try to support everyone no matter where they come from, no matter what level they’re at. Everyone just has love for everyone. I think everyone’s so mutually supportive in Canberra in any sort of creative field, it’s not really just about music: everyone from event organisers to fashion to music, everyone is a very close knit supportive community. I think that mutual support is what keeps us going.
That vibe at shows is what we try to bring. I’ve seen in the past supports that have come, done their supporting set and left. That’s like the wackest shit I’ve seen, so whenever I do shows anywhere man, it’s so important to me that I vibe with them and work with them on the night. It’s all about fun, you’ve really got to enjoy what you do and it reflects in your set as much as how you behave around the set and everyone in Canberra just has a great time – especially Jojo and Kofi, those dudes are crazy!
You spent most of your life in Canberra. Is that inclusive mentality new or has it always been there?
I think it’s more recent. I don’t know, my mentality shifted as well – in high school I was pretty close-minded about Canberra, I thought it was too fucking dull but that definitely shifted when I came back from travelling. Since I started working towards music, I just started getting surrounded by more and more supportive people and more people who are doing things differently. It took a while for me to discover it, so I can’t really say if it was the same five years ago but at least for the time I’ve been doing it, for the past three years, Canberra’s really starting to find an identity in music and other creative fields as well. I think people are starting to pay us props from bigger cities, we’re kind of shifting the expectations that people have for what’s coming out of Canberra and that’s already happening. This coming year is going to be huge for Canberra because we’re all finding that identity and push things in a direction that people haven’t heard yet. It’s definitely a progressing thing, and a great time to be around it.
Who else from Canberra should we be keeping our eye on?
Dude, there’s a few. Obviously Genesis Owusu is doing really well, he’s headlining Split Milk with Flume and a shittonne of other people next week, which is going to be sick. There’s LTC coming up pretty hard, a guy named Donuts from Canberra you might not have heard of. He’s coming up, too. Truples is a producer I really fuck with, he’s more like an EDM DJ. There’s Slow Turismo, a live indie band. There’s a shittonne of people who are really dope.
Do you have any goals locked in for 2017?
Yeah there’s definitely a bunch of goals but I don’t want to disclose any of them! But like getting new music out and doing bigger shows. Our live set is ready to be put on a bigger stage, so I’m hoping with this tour we can get a bit of a response to it. We’re taking a full drum set live, doing five shows, I’m just curious to see what people think of it and gauge where it’s at to plan the next step from there. I think the EP release is the main thing and some bigger shows, that’s the main goal really.
You recently performed Fashfest in Canberra. Tell us about that experience, it looked like a huge show.
Yeah dude, that was crazy…you gotta understand, a lot of the time people will hype up events just to get you excited. Like everyone was telling me before the event, “Dude, there’s going to be over a thousand people there, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be so lit,” and I was like, “Yeah man, sounds great, I’ll be having a great time either way, we’ll see how we go.”
Then on the night five minutes before I went up, I peeked over the bleachers and there were literally 1255 seats nearly full. I was like, “Fuuck me sideways.”
So it was definitely big, but it was good. Performing in between models and catwalks, it was a really different experience. Having the crowd 360 degrees as well as right in front of you was a totally different aesthetic to shows where you have a five metre stage to work with. It was a totally different vibe, totally different audience. Engaging rap with all the fashion crowds was exciting, just to bring these people who hadn’t really heard live stuff or listened to much rap previously at all and try to turn them around. We also took RISE live there for the first time, premiered the track there first and foremost. That was like a full live drum and sax set with a sax solo set at the end. George was singing, it was crazy, a really good time. That was definitely the biggest show we’ve done.
Kirklandd - The RISE Tour
Fri. 2nd December – Valve Bar, Sydney
Sat. 3rd December – Transit Bar, Canberra
Fri. 9th December – Laundry Bar, Melbourne
Sat. 10th December – Revolver, Melbourne
Thur. 22nd December – Milk Factory, Brisbane: