I’ve begun to wonder why Flash gives me so many Australian hip hop records to review. This is my third Aussie album I’ve reviewed during my short tenure here, and I know I pissed off a wealth of native listeners when I panned Terra Firma’s “Music to Live By.” It’s amusing what you might find when you Google your nom de plume: a lot of folks at OzHipHop.com claimed I was simply anti-Australian hip hop, one user claiming that I need not even mention that this is “Australian hip hop.”
After finally giving Scott Burns’ debut album a listen, I think Flash might’ve been onto something. I’ve liked each of these Aussie records better than the last, and “Day 1” is a hell of a lot better than the Terra Firma albumâ€”on all fronts. The question of whether I should make it clear that this is Australian hip hop is quite obvious to me, for a couple of reasons:
1) Just as national cinema and artwork exists, so does national music. Despite Australia’s obvious influence by late ’80s/early ’90s hip hop, there is certainly something in the music that makes them conspicuously Australian. Production is often scratch-heavy and referential of gritty boom bop, and subject matter often sways toward simplistic social commentary, like the Ice Cube and Ice-T of old. Oh yeahâ€”and when a rapper refers to his country as “the land of the dingos,” as Burns does, it’s kind of hard not to mention.
2) I’d imagine the average reader WANTS to know whether he’s reading about an American or foreign artist. There are a plethora of hip hop fans who simply don’t care for foreign music (whatever country they’re from). This does not make them any worse; it’s merely a difference of tastes.
With that out of the way, I owe Scott Burns at least as many words about his album, the supposed topic at hand. What truly surprised me about “Day 1” is its consistently strong production, and Burns’ wonderful ear for the beats, as it sounds remarkably cohesive, no song out of place. When I don’t hit the skip button on the first trip through an album, you’ve done something right. Impressive immediately on the introâ€””Safety”â€”Burns casually flows solid rhymes together: “Front and center with a kick to come // Comin’ over ya head like the mid-day sun // This ain’t pop music or your pop’s music // Guess this for those who never really got music.” S-Dub’s nuanced, catchy beat isn’t showy, and yet packs enough variation to stand as the chorus itself.
One thing I’ve found about a lot of foreign hip hop releases is an almost desperate attempt to appeal to the “real hip hop heads yo.” That is, they sample A Tribe Called Quest and Del the Funkee Homosapien frequently, for no real reason except to cosign their music. Burns risks this on “Frequency,” grounding his chorus on homage to Special Ed’s “Freaky Flow,” but raps with such confident smoothness that nothing feels forced, and the beat itself doesn’t even sound like an imitation. The production reaches its high on “The Sound,” a truly awesome throwback to powerful boom bap beats, while Burns raps a few solid verses about police corruption. “The Sound,” along with the Buckshot-sampling “Big City Music” mark a brief turn toward the dark on the album, but it fluidly returns to its often playful sound with “Neighbourhood” and “Something to Write Home About,” the latter an effectively uplifting collaboration with femcee A-Love.
The only guy involved with this album I’ve even heard of is M-Phazes, an extremely talented Aussie producer who has worked with Supastition and Royce Da 5’9″, among others. He doesn’t disappoint on “The End,” providing a powerfully reflective outro for the album. With “Day 1,” Scott Burns proves he’s a very talented musician, regardless of nationality.