“Shock and Awe” is the debut album by Aussie MC the Tongue, who has made a name for himself in his hometown of Sydney as a fierce battle rapper. The Tongue is one of several Australian rappers I’ve heard recently, and I’m starting to think that continent can give the U.S. a run for its money as far as hip hop is concerned.

The album starts off with a Middle-Eastern violin and rattling tambourine on “I Know A DJ.” The tambourine had me thinking of J Dilla, and the Middle Eastern vibe had me thinking of Stone’s Throw artists Madlib and Oh No. The track also has an old school feel courtesy of scratching and cutting on the hook, which includes reworking a classic Ice Cube line to say “It’s a great day for genocide/that’s the day all the DJ’s die.” The Stone’s Throw connection is made explicit on “Animal Crackers” which features a Dudley Perkins and Georgia Ann Muldrow. The song tackles environmentalism and animal rights from the perspective of the animals over a bouncing reggae beat straight out of the Gorillaz. The environmentalist bent continues on “The Inheritance,” a down tempo track that is sort of like “An Inconvenient Truth” set to a beat.

The Tongue stays serious on the reggae-tinged anti-drug song “Forever.” The track serves as both a warning about the dangers of drug abuse and an admission of culpability, and is reminiscent of the Streets:

“When we were kids all we used to drink was Coke and ice
Nowadays kids are all about the Coke and ice
This war on drugs is a joke
Since the beginning of time there ain’t ever been a dealer that’s broke
I don’t condone getting high, but condone getting by
Can’t you leave me alone while I’m getting mine
I’m, trying to practice my lines
Off a mirror, backstage, no shame, my moment to shine
Saturday nights are live like this life is Hollywood
But just because you feel good doesn’t mean you’re OK
Keep your eye on the ball like it’s croquet
Cos even a president can fall prey to cocaine
We’re all chasing a rush, maybe you’re chasing a dream, chasing yourself
Or making a bust
Either way I prey you making a buck
I think they’d take less drugs if the rest of us gave more love”

The Tongue abandons the reggae for soul on “The Real Thing” which almost sounds like a B-side to “Roc Boys.” He keeps it light on the battle rap track “The Blues” and the flamboastin’ track “Good Looking.” “Good Looking” highlights the Tongue at his best, spitting rapid fire lines over a stripped-down, funky beat:

“Hey yo second-hand flows like second-hand clothes
Both ain’t worth shit like second-hand blow
I never rocked either at a show
And money is time so keep it moving like a second-hand bro
No, I never claimed to be pretty
Humble like the prostitutes working the johns of the city
Humble like a father of three, working three shifts
Back to back so the trio can eat
But in my life the hero is me
And before the credits roll the crowd needs something to see
You’re a working bee on the smallest tree
Thinking a working-class hero is something to be
See those destined for greatness, have no patience
We rise to the top like we were weightless
Fire off a heat-seeker, find ya playlist
Biters get burnt just trying to taste this
So spit your excuse out and make your mess
Your home ain’t where your heart is – change address
We side-step the bullshit you just put your foot in
This is how you get good looking!”

One of the biggest challenges for any foreign MC is finding his or her own authentic voice, making an imported art form their own without merely aping American performers. The Tongue does this by combining beats that reference both golden age hip hop and reggae with lyrics that are unmistakably Australian. He’s not trying to be street, ghetto or gangsta; he’s just trying to be good. The beats, handled by local producers like Braintax, Spit Syndicate, and Mr. Zux, are consistently good, with the exception of the cheesy love song”The Word,” complete with a Rick Astley soundalike on the hook. Lyrically, the Tongue combines the easygoing, good-naturedness that seems to be a national Australian trait with some very deep examinations of serious issues like environmentalism, pollution, and the influence of corporations and industry on the global economy and ecology. The result is an album that is not only great Australian hip hop, but great hip hop in general.

The Tongue :: Shock and Awe
8Overall Score