Interview: Freesouls Provide A South-West Sydney Perspective On Hip-Hop
The fast-rising crew wear their postcodes proudly.
Music 10m

Despite releasing their debut single ‘Face Off’ just 18 months ago, rap crew Freesouls have managed to draw some significant traction in their strikingly short lifespan.

Still, it’s clear why they’ve managed to turn heads and infiltrate ears across the country. They champion a more traditional approach to the art of rap, and ironically enough, it’s their old-school flavour which feels the most refreshing amongst the sea of trap-heavy artists now omnipresent in Australian hip-hop. Even their music videos seem to hark back to simpler times – walks to the local bakery, backyard gatherings, and longnecks wrapped loosely in brown paper bags. All of this, delivered with an unmistakable South-West Sydney twist that heralds their upbringing in the sometimes turbulent suburbs.

With Freesouls’ The Awakening mixtape dropping earlier this year, and another set for release before the year closes, we caught up with the crew to discuss their South-West upbringing, the local hip-hop scene and their journey so far:

Freesouls proudly represent your area, to the point that you have a song called ‘South-West.’ What are the main ways the area has influenced your approach to music? How do you think it would differ if you grew up in a different area of Sydney?

It would definitely be different. We would be making music like everyone else! Nah, for real though, growing up in the South-West is different to growing up anywhere else. Hip-hop is at the frontline down here, so growing up you were either bumping Tupac or Biggie Smalls – simple. Of course you also have the gangs and the violence, but all of that helped us embrace the South-West for what it really is, and we learned to accept that. At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of ethnics trying to stay out of trouble.

What is the better South-West Sydney eatery: Jasmin 1, Bankstown or El Jannah, Punchbowl?

Neither! Al Barakeh charcoal chicken in Liverpool!

You guys describe yourselves as ‘real’ and ‘conscious’ hip-hop. Those two adjectives have been perhaps two of the most debated in the genre – what does real, conscious hip-hop mean to you?

100% true. We feel as though ‘conscious,’ or ‘real hip-hop’ as some say, comes down to the understanding of the culture. Understanding how hip-hop works and how it is a lifestyle, not just a genre of music. Once that is understood, then I think you can begin to dissect the meaning of conscious or real hip-hop – basically music that speaks about real issues like the city we live in, police, government, the list goes on.

You guys picked up some considerable traction with your single ‘Face Off’ last year. Take us through the first few days after the track was released – what were some of the emotions and feelings in the Freesouls camp?

It was crazy! Growing up we always idolised hip-hop and rappers within the community, so to actually make a music video and release it was a big thing for us. The days that followed were filled with excitement happiness and anxiety for sure, but the South-West definitely showed us love, so it was nothing but good vibes everywhere. And Hennessy, a lot of Hennessy.

Freesouls seem to be greatly influenced by the Golden Era in your delivery and beats. Who were the main producers and emcees you listened to growing up, and how did you find out about these artists as kids?

Well most of our parents came to Australia from other countries, but they all loved hip-hop so naturally they passed on the knowledge to us. A few rappers we fucked with growing up include Wu tang Clan, Jeru the Damaja, Xzibit, DMX, Tha Alkaholiks, Lootpack, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Craig Mack, Ed O.G and Lord Finesse just to name a few. Producer-wise, we’d have to say Q-Tip, RZA, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, Madlib, Swizz Beats and Havoc.

A lot of hip-hop in recent years has been relying more on large-scale production and less on lyricism. What are your thoughts on that, and what direction do you think hip-hop is going to move from hereon in?

Damn, the question of the decade. Well don’t get us wrong, we fuck with a lot of the new wave shit in Australia and everywhere else in the world, our new mixtape is actually a nice blend of modern production and old school lyricism, so we definitely vibe with the way music is progressing and evolving. But we believe that the direction music is heading is greatly influenced and based on the fans… it’s also up to us to then either succumb to what people want, or give them what they need to hear.

We think that is the big issue at the moment is that too many artists are trying to do what the next man has done, instead of making music from the soul and expressing themselves freely without the BS industry standards on they’re mind.

There has been a lot of focus on the Australian hip-hop scene lately, and in particular, what acts are going to crossover into the American market. Who are some of your favourite local emcees, and is getting success internationally a priority for you guys?

Australian hip-hop is definitely getting taken a lot more seriously by the rest of the world, and it’s about time! We still have a long way to go, but we think there are definitely a few artist that can make waves overseas. DVSR are definitely on the verge of international stardom, we believe they have the attitude and good music to back it up! Remi from Melbourne is definitely killing it. Manu Crooks, Miracle, Travy P, Erik Sanders and Big Skeeze are all leading the new wave in Australia too, so they’re all definitely worthy.

For the Freesouls though, I definitely believe we have potential to reach an international platform, especially once all of our solo projects come out in the next few years, which includes Jamel’s solo EP Chapter VIII which will be out early next year. So once all of that is released, we think people will definitely start to recognise the real and realise we’ve got what it takes.

Freesouls are currently working on their second mixtape, how are you approaching this one differently to ‘The Awakening’ that dropped this year?

Our approach is different because the music is different. The essence and the soul is still there, but the vibe is a lot different entirely. In saying that our process of writing and recording is the same – we basically stay in the studio until it’s done. With regards to marketing and advertisement, we are trying to reach out to different cities within Sydney and also other states to make sure the music gets heard by everyone in Australia, rather than just the South-West. We think our music deserves to be heard by the whole country, not just a select few. At the end of the day, everyone should be able to enjoy good music right?

What’s on the cards for Freesouls for the rest of 2017?

The rest of 2017 – continue to inspire not just the South-West but the rest of the country and world, we always believed that to change the world you have to change yourself. So instead of being a victim of this run down society and government, be a part of it and help each other overcome social issues and drama by doing what you love. Once the spirit and soul begins to lead the way, the universe will align itself to your favour, and that’s for sure.

Words by Christopher Kevin Au September 6, 2017
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