Aussie hip-hop brings two things to my mind: bogans and Hilltop Hoods. The genre strikes fear in my indie-pop loving heart. Last night Illy ended his Swear Jar Tour in Adelaide and I was there amongst the sea of snapbacks.
Canberra’s Citizen Kay drew a large crowd for a support act and I soon understood why. He is a natural performer, moving effortlessly across the stage with one hand on his hip. His sophisticated lyrics flowed smoothly over jazzy beats and tracks such as Life Gives You Lemons and Freedoom were highlights. Citizen Kay is a name to watch out for.
Opening with Always Fresh Melbourne's Dylan Joel was unmemorable and his raps difficult to decipher. But unlike some hip-hop artists, he proved he could sing on acoustic driven track Blank. From Swing's slap bass to the messy mash-up of hip-hop favourites, it felt like Joel was trying to be too many things at once. Citizen Kay jumped back on stage clutching a burrito before Joel ended with a choreographed dance with his band. Now that takes skill.
Excess stage lighting and dirty beats created a club vibe. The crowd sung along to a Hilltop Hoods song while I watched bleakly on. I felt like an impostor. Finally Illy appeared, diving into popular tracks One For The City and On & On. A flimsy paper sign waved above the crowd until Illy noticed the fan’s request: “If you sign my leg I’ll get it tattooed.”
Playing material from his last album Cinematic, Illy appreciates a catchy pop hook making his music accessible to the masses. He has collaborated with various artists such as The Amity Affliction’s Ahren Stringer, to San Cisco’s Scarlett Stevens. Lyrically there is little depth, rapping about partying or drinking, but on stage Illy was engaging and genuine. “Triple J gave a fuck about me before any of you did,” he said, revisiting his Like A Version medley of Aussie hits.
Illy seemed intent to move on from older track Heard It All, which we won't hear live again, instead giving the enthusiastic crowd a taste of his upcoming album. Latest single Swear Jar roused some aggressive finger pointing, before he returned for a three-song encore. New song Catch 22 replied heavily on a backing track and he rapped over a remix of Peking Duk’s High, which I just did not need to hear. Finally the night ended with Tightrope and I was outta there.
While I won’t be rushing back to an Illy gig anytime soon, he has cultivated a strong fan base that will continue to support him and his mix of pop influenced hip-hop.
I think I need to listen to some jangly guitars now.
Header image via Illy's Facebook credit to Michelle Grace Hunder Photography.