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Local artist Tasman Keith is entering a new era

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH TWNTY THREE MUSIC

WORDS BY WILL BREWSTER

“One realisation that I’ve had recently is to just do music for myself because I love to do it, and everything else will follow.”

At last, Australian hip-hop is basking in the afterglow of a long-overdue cultural overhaul. Gone are the days of the stale, blokey boom-bap that once dominated the airwaves, with emerging stars like Genesis Owusu and Tkay Maidza injecting a dose of stylistic flair into the genre.

Nowadays, Aussie hip-hop is a far more diverse playing field – both culturally and sonically – and the scene is all the better for it as a result. One artist to emerge as a frontrunner of Australia’s new rap vanguard is Gumbaynggir man, Tasman Keith.


Get better acquainted with our favourite artists at FJ’s Music section.


Hailing from Bowraville in regional NSW, Keith first made a splash with his debut EP Mission Famous, before the rambunctious ‘Billy Bad Again’ and his contributions to Midnight Oil’s The Makarrata Project propelled him to local stardom. 

Fast-forward to now, and Keith is preparing to release his first full-length record, A Colour Undone. Over the span of 14 tracks, soulful keys, buzzing synths and deft samples collide to present a canvas that eschews the confines of conventional hip-hop, making for one of the most surprising – yet satiating – rap releases of the year.

“It was definitely something I’ve always wanted to do,” Keith says, dissecting the record’s wide-ranging sound. “I’ve always wanted to make stuff outside of rap, but I feel like rap and hip-hop is what helped me find my voice.”

A Colour Undone first began to gestate at the start of 2021, when Keith embarked on a writing camp with a crack team of collaborators and contemporaries. 

“I didn’t have any plans to make an album then. I was just creating and seeing what I could do,” he explains. Over the course of the trip, Keith began forming a tight relationship with fellow Sydney MC Kwame, who would prove crucial over the course of the album’s production process.

“We made ‘One’ together on that trip, which progressed into this really close friendship between him and I. Then I started speaking about an album, and he was like ‘Let me let me help you with it’,” he says.

“There were a few moments where he really put a battery in my back and just said ‘Go for it’. Sonically, the people I keep around, including him and Phil Fresh, don’t necessarily stick to hip-hop, and I think that’s always pushing me.”

After a trip to record the album in the Blue Mountains was derailed by lockdowns, Keith instead decided to bunker down in Alex the Astronaut’s Marrickville studio, where the brunt of A Colour Undone was recorded in just six days.

“We were always aiming to have 15 tracks, but still keep things short and compact,” Keith explains. “I knew that I wanted to make joints that people could listen to on shuffle individually, or in the context of the whole project – songs that had a deeper layer whatever the topic may be, but at surface level were still just good tracks.”

Keith brings up an incredibly valid point: A Colour Undone isn’t just a sonically cohesive record. Lyrically, the record sees him delve into his own experiences with mental health and generational trauma, helping to deliver a debut project that’s as hard-hitting aurally as it is emotionally.

Although he’s always been conscious of how he’s been affected by the past, Keith reveals that it wasn’t until he toured with Midnight Oil that he felt ready to address his trauma.

“I was doing these shows performing for 15,000 people, and it would hit me, like ‘Damn, it’d be good if my cousin was here to see this’, or ‘It’d be great if my aunty was here to see this’,” says Keith. 

“A lot of it was just realising the amount of things I’ve seen growing up the way I’ve grown up, whether it be death, family issues or personal things, and just never really taking the time to address those things. Once I was able to do that, I started to get a bit more comfortable inside of myself.

“Experiencing those highs and lows all at once can make for a very dangerous place if you don’t navigate it correctly. But thankfully, I was able to, and I think that’s what gave me the clarity on what I wanted to do in the album.”

It’s clear that Tasman Keith has spent plenty of time mulling on the issues that help weave A Colour Undone into the tapestry it is. He’s incredibly conscious of his roots, and understands the mental and emotional struggles that come with being raised as a Blak man in regional Australia.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, that shit hits you, especially growing up in small towns where a lot of things aren’t said because there isn’t really a safe space to do so,” he muses, noting the underlying pressure he feels to uplift his community through his music.

“One realisation that I’ve had recently is to just do music for myself because I love to do it, and everything else will follow. There’s always this unsaid purpose that artists of colour feel like they need to do for their communities. I’ve always felt that, but I know to get to that, I need to make sure I’m okay first.”

It’s this exact attitude that saw him embark on a recent trip back to the country as part of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation’s Subtext: Art for Literacy project, which saw him run a series of music workshops for disadvantaged youths in the small town of Kempsey.

“It was for kids that are on their last chance, as they would say, and people that don’t necessarily excel or even survive in the classic schooling system. There’s kids in there that are Indigenous, non-Indigenous, people that came from different backgrounds – some that have a lot of different family issues,” he explains. 

“To go there and be able to sit with them and see their faces when they record a song and hear their voice back for the first time… It takes me right back to when I first started doing it. Just being able to forget about the music industry for a second and get back to the importance of music, and the feeling of music in its purest form was something I’m definitely appreciative of.”

A Colour Undone is released independently on Friday July 8. You can follow Tasman Keith here.

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