Let’s say a few parting words to the times when Aussie rappers bounced onstage and told you to “put your motherfucking hands in the motherfucking air”. Those days are pretty much over. In their place is the arrival of a genre-bending, modern breed of Aussie hip hop that smacks you with thoughtful lyrics and melts faces at gigs and festivals worldwide. Championing this change are Kai Tan and Raph Dixon, the Sydney lads from Jackie Onassis.
“I do think [hip hop] has changed in that maybe a couple of years ago there was definitely this obvious sound… it used to be referred to as ‘barbecue rap’”, recalls Jackie Onassis beatmaker Dixon. “A lot of people felt that the only way that anyone was going to listen to your music was to make a big, happy, silly song. There’s nothing wrong with that vibe … [But] maybe people were only really trying to do that, and we were only really getting the same song again and again. I feel like at the moment it’s about doing what you want.”
Perhaps it’s having done exactly what they wanted which led to the duo’s ripping year in 2013. Last year saw their track ‘Crystal Balling’ picked up by BBC Radio 1 tastemaker Zane Lowe. This set off a chain reaction – subsequently, the duo played a string of local and national tours and festivals and signed to Sony Music. Not bad for a couple of lads who’ve only been at it seriously for a year. “The whole Jackie Onassis thing really started I guess in November 2012, so it was a touch over a year ago,” says Dixon. “We were just … two guys who did it in a converted spare room of the house that I was living in at the time, and we put [the Holiday EP]on the net for free.”
Dixon casually describes himself and Tan before Jackie Onassis’ eruption as “basically just uni bums knocking about and scrounging things together.” Hailing from the musical hub that is Sydney’s inner west, Dixon and Tan got to know each other catching the same bus to school. They drifted apart, only to be reunited at university where they both took the same lecture in Modern American History. It was there that they bonded over a mutual love for former US First Lady Jackie Onassis, and decided to make music together.
“When we released the EP it kind of came at a perfect time when we had part-time uni jobs and instead of getting serious and looking for a real job we had to tell ourselves, ‘We’re going to be too busy with this music thing so we’d better keep the part-time jobs.’”
Having practically grown up together, the duo has bred an unfaltering group dynamic and a writing style that Dixon says is completely organic. “Kai likes to write. Most of his lyrics are definitely about stuff he’s seen or things he’s been through, and most of our music is really going for that vibe. We really try to talk about it a bunch, trying to capture something that people can get and apply to their own lives.”
‘Juliette’, the title track for their latest EP, is exactly that. A melancholic track with synths aplenty, it laments an ailing relationship and exemplifies the honesty that typifies Jackie Onassis the band. Although he seems reluctant, Dixon admits, “Kai does the rapping and everything, but [the song] comes from one of my stories and one of his”.
With the release of the duo’s new EP and a solid set of national tour dates lined up, Australian music fans can expect a fresh injection of beats with maybe only the occasional hands-in-the-motherfucking-air. It’s what Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would’ve wanted.