REMI: 'Be As Real As You Possibly Can'

With his album Raw x Infinity making its North American debut today, Remi Kolawale, is setting the bar for the Australian rap game. Already a winner of six awards – one of them being Rolling Stone Australia’s annual [“Best Independent Release’]( award, as well as Cooper’s AMP Album of the Year, Raw x Infinity is something our generation can call hella real. If you happened to be at SXSW last month, you may have witnessed the young rhyme slayer rock his first U.S. performance. After killing it in Texas, Remi dropped by New York where we were able to catch up, talk about his rise, and develop some serious respect for his refreshingly genuine perception of hip-hop.

Australia hasn’t really been known for it’s hip-hop, but that culture definitely seems to be on the come up. How do you see it changing or expanding?

Hip-hop in the states is an art form, and Australia is actually a couple of years behind – therefore the hip-hop scene is much younger sonically and age-wise. It’s a pretty exciting time. I’ve got many good friends that have now really started to find their own sound and are creating stuff that’s a little more universal as opposed to local. Not to suggest that a lot of it’s stunted, but a lot of hip-hop that started here is very local to the borough and the neighborhood, and that still exists.

Many Australian hip-hop artists tend to shed their accent, but you don’t seem to do that.

I think it’s about being real, that’s one thing I’ve learnt. I grew up listening to American hip-hop and I won’t deny that when I first started rapping I sounded way more American than I do now. What I noticed about my favorite artists, even though they’re from America, is that each one of them had their own distinct voice. The first time I listened to [Kendrick](✓&search=kendrick+lamar) I thought he was African, I didn’t think he was from LA. But that’s exactly how he talks, and now he’s become the entire voice of Compton. Or like Andre 3000 or Common, they’re from Chicago and ATL, but they don’t necessarily sound like they are, it’s just the way they talk, so why would I do anything different? Especially coming to America, I would hate to seem like I’m stealing. I just want to contribute. I understand that I’m not from here, and my upbringing is nothing compared to what most people that do this go through, but the difference between hip-hop in Australia is that we do it for fun and out of the love, and because we don’t really know how to do anything else. But over here [America] it can get you out of a really big situation, it can bring your entire community up, it can bring your entire people up. So you’ve got to make sure you pay your respect, and the easiest way to do that is to be as real as you possibly can.

Who are some of your favorite rappers?

[Mos Def](✓&search=mos+def), Common, J Dilla, Andre 3000, Jay Electronica, early [Kanye](✓&search=kanye) definitely, there are so many. Oh and Black Thought from The Roots as well.

Your album is called Raw x Infinity, what do you believe rawness is?

The sound quality is raw. The whole album was recorded in a bedroom, super compressed, and all the drums are quite organic sounding. The topics I chose, especially for the Australian landscape were pretty raw, whether it’s talking about drugs, racial issues, or talking about peoples lives – I try to say it in the most in your face kind of vibe. Not on purpose, but when it comes to issues especially in Australia, we have a lot of dudes who are super intellectual and go over the top with what they’re trying to get across. Sometimes the easiest way to get something across, is to do it in a really simple way. Simple and effective. Kanye’s the perfect example of that, he’s definitely not the wordiest dude, but every single line that he says in a verse can be really raw and clear on the first listen.

I heard that when you first started writing music you thought you were really bad, how did you get to the spot you’re in now?

One, a whole lot of practice, and two because a whole lot of my music whether it’s produced or not by Sensible J, just having someone that you can share ideas with and trust them one hundred percent is totally essential to your growth as an artist.

Australia’s known for being a pretty racist country. What’s it like being a black rapper in Australia, when some of your most commonly associated hip-hop artists are white? Like Iggy Azalea and Hilltop Hoods from example.

It’s been an awesome run, and a lot of the dudes working in this industry are racist, but they understand where hip-hop came from and what it is. It was born of blues and black people and struggle and if you ignore that shit then you’re a fucking idiot.

I think it’s unfortunate, we’ve had a lot of bad leadership and we still do at the moment. A lot of that is due to the fact that we have a lot of racist skewed media thanks to Rupert Murdoch. It’s outlined on the record as well, the struggle I’ve been through and what my pops has been through trying to get a job in Australia. The good thing is that we’re definitely progressing as a nation and I’m a perfect example of that. Five years ago I wouldn’t have even been an option as a rapper. [Laughs]

Maybe not so much in Australia, but definitely in America your rap game is totally about your swag. What are you rocking right now?

I’m wearing a pair of Dr. Martens that are covered in red paint from my last film clip. I’m wearing some galaxy socks, so painted black jeans, a Ben Sherman rugby jersey that I got given for free a few days ago which is very nice of them, and because it’s cold as shit, I’ve got a black hoodie on top of that and a black suede jacket on top of that.

Being from the Australia, how are you dealing with the cold out here?

It’s been really good. Normally I need coffee to get me awake!

Check out Remi’s latest video, ‘Ode to Ignorance’ here.

Images shot exclusively for Milk Made by Andrew Boyle

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