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Interview with Optamus

Wordplay chats to local emcee Optamus ahead of his album preview at State of the Art Festival this Saturday.

So what’ve you been up to lately?

I’ve just been doing the mix down for the album. We’ve signed a record deal [for it] whereas the last album we did independently, so it’s good to put a bit more in to the industry this time.

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You’re your own producer for this one?

Yeah, our keyboardist Imposta [Chris Foster] and I worked together on it. We’ve been influenced by that Blackalicious style division of live instrumentation mixed with sampled beats. There’s a lot of soul and jazz influences that come through just our love of those and other genres.

The jazz element is interesting, what’s Chris’s background as a jazz pianist?

He originally came through the ranks at WAAPA and now plays with a lot of different jazz bands. I got up and freestyled with his three-piece act at the jazz festival that just came through in Perth. I’ve been involved in Aussie hip hop for a while now through Downsyde and stuff like that, and I always enjoy and welcome the challenge of pushing different genres together. I find Aussie hip hop can get a little stale these days and to evolve it needs to be trying to mix things up a little bit, not necessarily what we do but just in taking a different scope on how you put the formula together.

You mean like experimenting with different instruments and that kind of thing?

Yeah, for me there’s certain elements of it that have gotta be there, like you’ve gotta have a slamming beat, but there is a lot of elements that you can experiment with. But still keeping it true to the culture, you know.

Will you be bringing that kind of live show to State of the Art Festival this weekend?

Yeah, our beats are all really fat and mastered, they’re really massive drums and bass lines, and everything else is live instrumentation. You’ll get big piano lines and horns and obviously there are live soul vocals. So the live show’s pretty eclectic but the back-bone is still a heavy beat dropped by the DJ I suppose.  

I’ve heard about your youth hip hop workshops, how has that come about?

The facilitation and lecturing work that I do has come out of being a hip hop artist for a long time, and now it’s become its own beast entirely. I’m writing courses for Central TAFE and working in prisons and across the state in Aboriginal communities, in youth shelters, all sorts of places. And now that it’s got its own niche I feel really passionate about helping people out regardless of their walk of life. Music is a powerful thing and if you can communicate it in different ways it can help people on a whole host of different levels.

Music is the great healer.

Yeah I fully believe in that, and especially hip hop, it really communicates to youth culture and no matter how long we’re in it, it still manages to regenerate itself to younger crew and that’s the beautiful thing about it.

Do you see a lot of faces from the workshops coming to your gigs?

Yeah, absolutely, one thing about working regionally and in remote areas is a lot of the young fellas move to the city, and I’ve seen a lot of them become quite thriving emcees in the Perth scene. I’ve been doing the workshops for at least 15 years now, so these guys have grown in to absolute beasts on the mic. I gotta watch my back these days [laughs].

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Like ‘what have I created?’ [Laughs]. Do you have any new material already in the pipeline or has this album been a purge of built up creativity?

Yeah we’re already in writing for another one. I tend to go from project to project; I suppose I’d call myself a prolific writer. I write lyrics and beats every day, there’s a Downsyde album that’s ready to drop as well as a few other things in the burner. But yeah the next Optamus album’s already about 4 or 5 demos in.

Sounds like it doesn’t stop for you guys.

Yeah man you gotta sharpen your tools, once you do you gotta keep working, it’s like any trade, if you want to stay relevant and stay at the forefront you gotta be free styling, writing rhymes, making beats.

Living the life basically.

Don’t miss Optamus performing tracks off his new album Live For The Words at State of the Art Festival, in the Perth Cultural Centre this Saturday 31st of May. Tickets are only $35.00 plus booking fee and are still available here.

Interview by Lyndon Kidman

Photography by David McLoughlin

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