Album Review: A.B ORIGINAL – Reclaim Australia (2016 LP)

Back in September, I sat opposite Briggs and Trials in Brisbane as they told me about Reclaim Australia, the debut album by their collaborative project A.B Original, and how it stood to shake up not only the Australian music industry, but our social community as a whole. Generally, you learn to take such grandiose claims made by musicians with a grain of salt as you never truly know which way an album is going to go but with Reclaim Australia, its effect on anyone ready to listen is undeniable.

When Briggs calmly says, “If this is the last record I ever make, then so be it.”, you know he’s not fucking around.

The album itself is bookended by songs featuring two Australian icons in Archie Roach and Gurrumul – where the guts of the album is fiery, angry and unashamedly brutal in its approach, “Intro” and “Take Me Home” (also featured on ABC series Cleverman) serve as perfect songs to ~seemingly~ ease the listener in and also bring things back full circle.

“It’s real. It’s today.” Roach says, in interview with Briggs. “Listening to your album, it reminded me so much of the old days; it brings back that time where we did pump our fists in the air. We had to be in their face.”

You’re not even five minutes into the album before one of the central messages rings through loudly: our Indigenous communities remain just as disenfranchised now as they have been for years.

Musically, Reclaim Australia comes dripping with that classic West Coast rap style; groups like NWA and the West Side Connection have been clear influences, backing the powerful lyricism with beats that have that hard head-bop groove. The last few months have seen such results connect well with audiences, as “Dead in a Minute” (featuring Caiti Baker) and “January 26” (featuring Dan Sultan) have been demonstrative of the album’s range.

Detroit’s Guilty Simpson features on “Call ‘Em Out”, sliding a verse in alongside A.B Original bringing in his own experiences of mistreatment as an African-American. On “The Feast”, Compton’s own King T features on the album track with the most direct link to US West Coast rap; the rapper’s flow remains so slick and is added on the track as more than just a cameo. The puzzle pieces fit so well together, it’s a seamless link up.

Elsewhere, we see Thelma Plum and Hau guest on Reclaim Australia, while Baker’s soulful vocals come through again on “Sorry”. While the guest appearances each have their own time to shine and stand out on their own, it’s in “Report to the Mist” that Reclaim Australia really makes its mark. During that interview I conducted with Briggs and Trials back in September, Trials remarked that this was the song that was ‘the anthem for burning shit down’. And when tackling the very-present issues of police brutality and deaths in custody, it’s easy to see why both rappers remained fully aware of the antagonistic effect it could very well have on a community not ready to properly recognise.

“You’ll be paperwork, you’ll be in the dirt soon,” Briggs throws down, his rhymes spitting fire and edge. “And they’ll all get sent away on a paid holiday, funded leave, brother please – ‘Fuck the police’ is the least I’m gonna say.”

What’s great about A.B Original and Reclaim Australia is that their approach leaves no stone unturned; this isn’t rap music doled out for its pure shock factor. This is music that channels the anger and pain of people who have long been stood over and have been demeaned and dehumanised for generations. It might be hard to listen to, but that’s the point. Where the majority of listeners (myself included) have had the opportunity to turn a blind eye and turn the volume down, this album is an insight into the lives of those who have been stripped of that choice.

For hip hop fans, Reclaim Australia is a masterclass in how to do it by two of the country’s best and represents the urgency and melting pot of societal and racial issues from which the genre was birthed. Not only will this album stand out as an important mark within the Australian hip hop scene and the artistry of both Briggs and Trials, but Reclaim Australia is released at a perfect time where the genre’s fans are possibly more impressionable than ever and ready to open up and learn.

Review Score: 9.8 out of 10. AU-APPROVED

Reclaim Australia is out on Friday, November 25th.

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