Hunter (SBX) - The Words

Hunter (SBX) - The Words

reflections on Hunter’s first three albums
"Done DL" Hunter and Dazastah (2002)
"Going Back to Yokine" Hunter (solo album) (2006)
"Monster House" Hunter and DJ Vame (2010)

When Walter Benjamin said in 1936 that "the art of storytelling is coming to an end" - due to the rise of the printed novel and the lowering value of experience - it is clear to see he didn't anticipate the later rise of the hip hop emcee to partly revive this craft in our modern world. In all of his albums, Hunter shows his skills as a wonderful storyteller - in the traditional meaning of the term - sharing with the listener the stories from his life. Of course, not all the stories are happy, but all have an undercurrent of hope to them. There are tales of growing up, getting into trouble and later returning to his hometown of Yokine, Perth in the songs "Adolescence", "Going Back To Yokine" and "Yokine (Drugs + Crime)". These are stories of self-discovery, and of changing his life - giving up old ways that were not working for him and focusing on music, rapping and a hip hop infused life instead. "What I Do Best" has the feeling of "coming home" to a community of supporting people and finding your place in the world. There are stories of mateship and the value of community with his Syllabolix (SBX) family and crew. There are stories of having children and the specialness that can bring to one's life in "Ultrasound" and "Kids of the Future". Also, there are stories born from remembered advice from his father littering his rhymes - as it seems his Dad is always close to his thoughts and words - "Kids of the Future", "The Big Issue", "Me Old Man".

Hunter has great comedic sense too - with the songs about relationships bouncing along at a steady pace. The stories of lust, the virility of youth and some of his experiences with women are some of his more popular songs. In these songs, which he describes as “nothing nice”, he tells of the women’s role in the tales. Often these stories are the most explicit, in language and description, yet there’s an undercurrent of humour to them, often hinted by the light and playful melodies that waft over the beat, which leads me to think perhaps they shouldn’t be taken too seriously at their word. The stories of relationship breakdowns and coping mechanisms in “Never Trust a Woman” are as tense as the subjects, and show that we often end up hurting those we love the most. “Coming Home” is a song about making mistakes and some of the consequences, and suggests (to me) that it’s related to “Zed”.

“Zed” is the most powerful and emotive song on his albums so far. He describes the depths of despair—taking yet another fall, thoughts of suicide, and saying good-bye. Hunter’s rapping style changes during this song—to a softer tone, almost spoken word—the enthusiasm has left his voice, to match the sombre words he is sharing with us. Upon first listen I wasn’t sure if it was him rhyming—I had to check the album liner notes to confirm—he sounds very dislocated from his normal voice and self.


I’m not even sure if I was meant for this place
so after I’m gone, please let them know
that I didn’t want to feel pain
I didn’t want to cause it
so I had to go
couldn’t swim against the flow
kept getting sucked down to the depths below
where the sun don’t even show
not even a distant glow
and we all need some sunlight to grow
it’s like a chain hanging round my neck, dragging me down
after a week you probably won’t even notice I’m not around
I used to love the sound
of waves crashing down
I want to get so lost that I can never be found
under the ground
or maybe high in the sky
nobody knows where we go when we die
so I guess this is good-bye

Hunter ponders “The Big Issue”—a mixture of his own thoughts with some long-remembered advice from his father on how to live your life, and how to cope with what life brings. There are words on pain and what it means, and of course, his ideas on the meaning of “The Big Issue”. The lyrics in this song show a higher level of consciousness, connecting the soul and mind to the heart,

I want to hear the sound of people supporting
The soul is the emotional organ
your brain has got the thought in
your heart feels the distortion
where your mouth keeps talking
and your legs keep walking
pain is just a warning, a caution
and everybody gets served a portion

The powerful and moving “Say a Prayer” says thanks to the “best friends a man could have“. It also sounds like a message for his son and those close to him—it’s at once an apology, confession and explanation of his life. For me, this is one of his best songs—Hunter has summarised his life and beliefs in these few stanzas—he has distilled his life into this one song—and shows the spiritual side of his self in a subtle and beautiful way. Be prepared to shed a few tears over this song.

please, understand what I tried to do
is be strong enough to walk alongside with you
. . .
you know I made mistakes, too many to mention
now I need to be forgiven without condition or question
my confession, yes, I made a fucken mess
but I wanna get it back to become one of the best
and I’ve been blessed
with the best of friends a man could have
and I damn should have
thanked them before this time
so I’ve gotta take the time
in the middle of this rhyme
to say Thanks
. . .
I try to do the right thing
and time and again
I keep fucking it up
and I really don’t know when
I’m going to get it back
on the right track
and I’m sorry to you all
but I want you to know that
I forgive myself
‘cause I found the connection
that forgiveness and atonement leads to redemption
every second, every step and every breath
brings us one step closer to death
and what’s next
do you love the life you live
and do you live the life of love
and is that going to be enough
to get you going, through the times ahead
because it’s going to get rougher like the Good Book says
I had a revelation, that God will move Heaven and Earth
and we’ll all get exactly what we deserve
in the end,
will Kharma be a foe or friend
please Say A Prayer
as the dark descends

Hunter writes from the soul—he shares his soul with those who listen—especially with those who listen to more than just the upbeat, party songs. There have been ups and downs in his life-story, just as there have been in each of his listener’s lives. The difference is, that Hunter’s life is laid out for all to hear in his rhymes as he contemplates life, and the experiences of his life. This reminds me of the lines highlighted by David Toop, in Seamus Heaney’s poem “Personal Helicon” which are uttered as the subject looks at himself in the reflection of water at the bottom of a well: “I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing”. (2010: 134)

By capturing his memories into lyrics, Hunter has preserved them, and ensured that they remain intact and repeatable. No long will they shift and slide in his mind’s inner voice—they are shared with others via the recordings and live performances, where others may join in reciting the words. The stories can be transmitted to others more powerfully when they are spoken or rapped and audibly heard, than if they were read in a written piece by the lone reader—the listeners may interpret the words and adjust them to their own ears based on their own experience, and in this way, enable them to remember the stories longer. Rapping adds a level of time and rhythm to the words also—the emcee sets the pace that should be followed, and in this way, assists the listener to consider the words in their appropriate space.

Hunter often collaborates with other Australian hip hop emcees on his albums—particularly on his “hardcore hiphop” party songs. These songs and guests are very popular at live performances. He and the guest MCs deride other rappers who talk themselves up without proving themselves first, and show that hard work is what really matters. They rap on a range of topics—the dark and menacing animal instincts of “Oceanography” is a particular highlight. The list of guests is an impressive range of Australian hip hop MCs and rhyming styles: Dazastah, Mortar, Layla, Bias B, Ciecmate, Clandestine, Brand, Nick Sweepah, Dyverse, Intalekt, Reason, Mistery, Raph, Illergic, Porsah Laine, Tommohawk, Format, Graphic, Dynamics, Optamus, Figure 8, Sinner, Defyre. Kelly Hayden(H), and Chantal provide extra vocals, and turntablists DJ Armee, DJ Vame, Finatic, Karisma and Incogneto provide the cuts on many songs which adds an extra layer of percussion to the music and beats by Dazastah.

On “Done DL” album, Dazastah rhymes some songs also – the inclusion of Guru / Gangstarr “JFK 2 LAX” samples on “Busindustry” is very well done. Dazastah’s lyrics “money is a bonus not the motivation . . . all I really want from the industry is respect” align with the sample taken from the Gangstarr song, as well as a later lyric in the same song: “To elevate the mental is to be poor no more”. These seem to be the ideals of many of the Syllabolix crew.

Hunter’s emceeing style is raw and real. He raps in a strong Australian accent that matches the experiences he is describing—growing up in the Australian suburbs, relationships, the Australian hip hop community as well as personal insights into his ideas and feelings. His style could be classed as “Ocker hip hop”[1.] according to academics such as Tony Mitchell (2005)—though, I haven’t heard a rhyme about BBQs yet—there are songs about drinking at the pub—“Have a Drink with Us”, and the “soundtrack for a pub fight” song “Night Out”. Hunter’s first album has an ode to his favourite football team, the East Perth Royals, called “East Perth”. There is also an ode to the art of tattooing in “Ink”. In Hunter’s words, he makes “Hardcore Hiphop” as the song title suggests. Despite these labels, Hunter does consider some issues in depth. Listening to the albums made me, the listener, feel like we were having a “deep and meaningful” conversation, and I was listening to him tell the stories from his life.

Hunter rhymes in the language he speaks—there’s often swearing, though this tends to be in the more upbeat, hardcore hip hop songs. The slower, more reflective songs have words with enough power in themselves to not need emphasis from swearing—even “Unlikely Pairing” describes how Hunter’s language has changed, with the “c” word being used often when younger, but now “I put them back where they belong, at the bottom of the pile” [of words].

In some ways it seems like he is using the power of verbal magic to attract the changes in his life, like KRS One mentions in “The MC”.

Her infinite power helps, oppressed people sent me to tell you
if you truly study lyrical flows and stay on your toes you will be
Who am I? THE MC!
and as an MC you will study verbal magic
but watch what you say cuz you'll attract it
control your subconscious magnet from pullin’ in havoc

These ideas are also suggested by writer and emcee Saul Williams, who explains,

“a latin transcription of the word “person” is “being of sound”. as human beings we communicate with each other and with the greater universe through sound vibration. it is, thus, the essence of our collective being. all sounds reverberate with meaning. every sound vibration has an effect, and ever sound connected with every word we speak, in every syllable, is connected to its eternal meaning, its eternal reverberation”
(2008: 21)
. . .
“i have often thought of my poetry in terms of incantations: spells (note: magic is done through casting spells which is the same way words are made) or prayers to be recited in the darkest caves and highest mountain tops. in writing, i often feel as if i am deciphering age-old equations and am often as baffled an audience member as any other listener or reader. i have also found numerous occasions where I have felt that I wrote or recited a situation into existence” (2008: 22–3)
. . .
“language usage is a reflection of consciousness. thus, the future of language is connected to the ever-evolving state of human awareness. as we become more aware of our existing reality, it becomes clearer that we live with the power to dictate our given situations and thus the power to determine our future. our present reality is pre-sent, dictated by what we asked for previously. no, i am not saying that everything that happens to us is within our control, but through our perception we have the ability to determine much more of our reality than we realize (all puns intended). and what we say (which is clearly a reflection of what and how we think) is of the ut-most (utter-most) importance. what we say matters (becomes a solid: flesh). word life” (2008: 23)

or as Guru succinctly says (also mentioned in Williams’ article),

“these are the words that i manifest” (2008: 24)

“MysticAL Alliance” alludes to the special powers and bonds of Hunter’s crew, whilst his spirituality shines through in previously mentioned songs such as “Say a Prayer” and “The Big Issue”.

. . .
enable us to focus on the mystery of three turntablists - Armee, Karisma and Selekt
they’ll attack with cuts like ice to protect
the secret circle, the sacred flame
that burns emcees in the Syllabolic name

I think Hunter would like to be recognised, but fame, money and getting radio play are not his main focus. Songs such as “Destined”, “Bring it on Wax” and “Don’t Give a Fuck” talk about these themes and show just how “real” Hunter is. There’s no doubt he’s respected in the Australian hip hop community, especially from all the comments and support he’s been given recently.

I, for one, am really looking forward to his next chapter in his forthcoming album “Fear and Loathing” (Hunter and Mortar) due in May 2011. Hunter is a man with many words to share. Though he may not be a number one chart topping Australian music superstar, his thoughts and songs are important and real, and I feel blessed to have been able to listen to them so far, even if I am late catching up on his work. Please join me in sharing his journey.

http://www.huntersbx.com

-- by Kath O'Donnell / AliaK 27/04/2011

References

Benjamin, Walter. 1969. “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov”. (1936). In Hannah Arendt (ed.), Harry Zohn (trans.), Illuminations. New York: Shocken.

Heaney, Seamus. “Personal Helicon”

Hunter SBX

Mitchell, Tony (05/03/2005). "Lazy Grey". Local Noise. University of Technology, Sydney.

Toop, David. (2010). Sinister Resonance: the mediumship of the listener. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Williams, Saul (2008). “The Future of Language”. In Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid (ed.), Sound Unbound. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.


Notes

1. Tony Mitchell (2005) describes ‘Ocker’ hip hop as follows: "‘Ocker’ hip hop is mainly Anglo-Australian, insists on using a broad Australian accent, with frequent swearing and recourse to Australian slang, decries MCs who rap with an American accent as ‘wack’ (ridiculous) and often celebrates aspects of Anglo-Australian working class culture like barbecues, sport and pubs. Prominent exponents include the Hilltop Hoods, Brisbane’s Lazy Grey and Perth-based ‘femcee’ Layla."

:::

update 31/05/2011 : Hunter's new album with Mortar "Fear and Loathing" was released in May 2011 - Hunter answered a few questions/comments I'd made in this article for ozhiphop.com

:::

update 12/06/2011 - I'm playing with InDesign & Issuu - here's a pdf version of the article. the images are from my recent trip to Bangkok (not really related to the article topic)