Melbourne-via-Adelaide MC Allday is one of the leading lights in contemporary Aussie hip hop – and the genre certainly has come a long way since its origins in the ’90s. We sat down with Allday to talk about the past, present and future.
Hip hop has been on the rise in Australia since the ’90s. And while the breakthrough success of acts like Hilltop Hoods was vital in establishing hip hop as a force to be reckoned with in the country, the move away from an established Aussie hip hop framework that followed was a vital one, with artists like Pez, 360, Illy and Allday ushering in a diversity of sound that hadn’t been seen up to that point. If Pez kicked things off with his breakout hit ‘The Festival Song’ with 360 in 2004, the latter’s Please Be Seated mixtapes and the album that followed, Falling And Flying, moved the genre into new territory and smashed the mould of what counted as Aussie hip hop.
Meanwhile, enter the long-haired emcee Tom Gaynor. A rapper, singer and songwriter originally from Adelaide who moved to Melbourne to pursue music under the moniker of Allday, he was building a groundswell of support around a sound and image that, only years earlier, wouldn’t have had a chance of breaking into the cloistered sphere of Aussie hip hop – but has since been instrumental in redefining it.
Now located in Los Angeles and with his anticipated second LP Speeding just released, he has commented in the past about feeling somewhat of an outlier as far as Australian hip hop was concerned, but his 2014 debut album Startup Cult shot straight to #3 on the ARIA charts and he’s landed a handful of tracks in the triple j Hottest 100. For him, forging his own path separate from the established formula was the only thing that made sense.
“The weird thing is that I was at hip hop shows and battles in Adelaide when I was around 12 or 13,” he says. “I was at all the historic events of that era – I was definitely a little Aussie hip hop kid, catching CDs all the time. I feel like, by the time I was old enough to make my own music, I no longer related to that subculture as a whole.
“I didn’t want to be bound by living up to the expectations of a bunch of old dudes that were living in a bygone era. I didn’t see anyone whose life I wanted to replicate. I’m glad I did my own thing. There was no one I had to suck up to or bow down to. It’s never been a big deal – it’s just the way things unfolded.”
Allday is quick to point out, however, that he holds no ill will against the scene at large. “I love so much music that’s coming out of Australia,” he says. “I just did a song with Erik Sanders [‘In the Air’]. I love Gill Bates. I love Tkay [Maidza] – of course, she’s from Adelaide too. I may like to poke and prod when I talk about it in interviews, but Australian hip hop has a really good history. There’s been a lot of good music, and it took a lot of their music to exist in order for artists like me to exist. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook – if anyone wants a list of great Australian hip hop albums to dig into from its history, message me.”
Acts like 360, and his tracks featuring the likes of Lisa Mitchell and Gossling, paved the way for previously-unexplored sounds in Aussie hip hop that we’re seeing today, with both Illy and the legendary Hilltops finding monstrous success last year with tracks featuring Vera Blue and Montaigne respectively, and Tkay Maidza breaking through with a sound equal parts rap and electropop.
Allday, too, embraces unexpected collaborations wholeheartedly, and believes that the doors have well and truly been blown off the genre. His unusual path to success saw him support UK pop star Lily Allen, something that would have been unthinkable for an Australian rapper in the past, not to mention his collaboration on multi-ARIA-winning pop star Troye Sivan. Now, he’s working with the likes of electronic producer Japanese Wallpaper on his recent singles to push the boundaries of hip hop further.
“There’s no gatekeepers anymore,” he declares. “All the ones that were there before are at home with their kids. We’re the new gatekeepers. We decide what goes on, and there’s so many great rappers that are influencing the way things are going. Genres are just blurring more and more. More popular rappers now sing as well – definitely more than those who don’t.
Another big shift in Australian hip hop that can be directly credited to acts like Allday is a new focus on presenting a more open face to fans than the often macho image that came before, offering listeners honesty rather than sheer braggadocio. Breakthrough tracks like ‘So Good’ saw him open up about his struggles with ADD, mental health and self-image, and that openness carried through to his interactions with fans through social media.
Barring publicists from touching his social feeds to this day, Allday’s approach has seen him become the most followed Aussie hip hop artist online and amass a huge fan base without a reliance on traditional promo – including a stack of new fans of hip hop who never saw themselves reflected in the old guard. With a past as a stand-up comedian and a wit forged in the fires of the local battle rap scene, the gags flowed thick and fast, and his influence on social media quickly became huge – to the point that he almost single-handedly resurrected Shannon Noll’s career with a single tweet.
This is a version of an article that originally appeared on Tone Deaf, Australia’s home for music news and more. Grab your copy of Allday’s new album Speeding here.