Remi has a problem that most musicians would love to be burdened with. Though he sounds great on record, it pales in comparison to his electrifying presence onstage. Part of a fantastic new wave of rappers from Melbourne and beyond clearing the decks and restarting the clock, Remi, which technically consists of rapper Remi Kolawole and drummer/producer Sensible J, is actively reversing the cultural cringe that has found itself partnered with notions of Australian hip-hop since Hilltop Hoods and Bliss N Eso first started gaining airplay, if not before. From Briggs to B Wise, Remi to Sampa The Great (his co-star in a phenomenal double header I saw over the weekend), there’s a real swing towards live beatmaking, effortless flow and lyrics that mean something. Kolawole, who’s most recent album has put him on the map for a lot of music lovers, manages to combine all of these things, as well as being able to dance and sing. He really is the full package.
Of the many cool things about Remi’s approach to performance, which includes having Sensible J pumping out grooves in real time, his naked honesty is perhaps the most invigorating. It’s a rapper’s job to arrange words into something meaningful for an audience, but it’s just as easy to be disingenuous to help get an average song across the line. I remember the first time I heard ‘Substance Therapy’, Remi’s very upfront song about the dangers of self-medicating as a means of avoiding depression, on the radio. Not only was it hooky and the rhymes mellifluous, but it felt like one of those rare moments when an artist’s experience lines up with their output in a way that’s universally relatable. The beat, conducted by J, has an urgency about it, with minor synth stabs which fire off like alarms as accented hi-hats and a spiky bass line keep them on lockdown. You’ll inevitably nod your head, and while you’re doing it, catch the sincerity of Kolawole’s lyrics which pull precisely zero punches and don’t rely on any flowery metaphors to get the point across.
Remi’s young and young people have the balls to do and say things that a lot of us don’t. But anyone can talk about the heavy shit, that’s only half the battle. The real mark of someone who’s going to be around for a long time, who really gets it, is how they translate that conversation. ‘Substance Therapy’ is one song that says something slightly different every time you hear it, complex both in arrangement and intention. But beyond that, it’s just a damn good jam, brought to life by a team who managed to reignite my faith in the genre over the weekend.
Listen, learn and love.