This year brought the world to a standstill, but Briggs is still working in overdrive

This year brought the world to a standstill, but Briggs is still working in overdrive

Words by Kate Streader

“Anything worth having ain’t never coming easy.”

The line from Briggs’ 2014 collaborative single with Gurrumul, ‘The Hunt’, echoes through everything he does.

In the past few months alone, the Yorta Yorta rapper released his best selling children’s book, Our Home, Our Heartbeat, alongside a sprinkling of singles ahead of his new EP Always Was, proving not even a global pandemic can stall his drive.

Even in lockdown, he’s hosted this year’s virtual APRA Music Awards, teamed up with fellow Australian all-rounder Tim Minchin for a self-isolation anthem smothered in satire and is readying for his first digital concert as part of the newly launched Inside Sets series.

“It’s just made me more focused,” says Briggs of how the current state of the world has impacted his creative output. “Adapting to a new environment is something I’ve done since I was a kid, so I feel like we’re really on.”

“I try not to get bogged down in the depression of being in lockdown and a pandemic and not being able to do shows, et cetera. I kind of took it as like a personal challenge to try to figure out how to stay motivated and keep creating,” he adds.

His new six-track EP Always Was is what he calls a ‘taste tester’ for his next album which he’s been working on concurrently.

“[The album is] already on the way, because that’s how I operate. I don’t have too much time,” he says. “It was a bit of time between drinks, so I dropped the EP and then it’s like, alright, album time.”

“These tracks are definitely an indication of what the album is going to look and sound like. It’s going to be that on steroids, with like a good meal plan,” he laughs.

While it’s been three years since his last solo EP Homemade Bombs dropped, the time between releases has by no means been a break.

A steady flow of singles has kept fans satiated on the music front while Briggs has continued to add new titles to his ever-growing CV which stretches far beyond the realms of hip hop.

When he’s not in the studio, you’d be likely to find him in a writers’ room lending his quick wit to the likes of Black Comedy, Cleverman, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and Matt Groening’s Netflix series Disenchantment. 

He’s made some on-screen appearances over the past few years, too, including a cameo on Matt Okine’s The Other Guy and a recurring guest role on Cleverman. 

“One of my jobs is good enough for one person for a lifetime, but it just so happens that I’ve got four or so,” says Briggs.

“I just try not to do too many things at the same time in the sense of, this week is dedicated to music and next week is writers’ room. I try to separate it that way.”

While his seemingly endless creative pursuits and determination to do it all were the subject of his recent single ‘Extra Extra’, he admits his unexpected pivot from writing for TV comedies to penning his own children’s book came as a surprise to him, too.

“It wasn’t even that I wanted to do it until I was doing it,” he laughs.

Inspired by his single ‘The Children Came Back’, the illustrated book celebrates Indigenous achievements through spotlighting idols like Adam Goodes, Jessica Mauboy, Cathy Freeman and more.

“I just thought to myself, ‘How do I access my younger fans?’. I was growing up, my fanbase were growing up and were having kids and they were bringing their kids to the shows and I was like, ‘How do I have something for these younger fans that my music probably isn’t particularly appropriate for?'”

As the father of a young daughter and a vocal Indigenous advocate, his foray into writing for children isn’t entirely left field.

Briggs has been using his platform to give voice to First Nations people and spotlight the systemic racism they face from a young age in this country since making his debut a decade ago.

Before the pen licence, fist in the cuffs/They don’t use them to pack shelves, they use them to pack cells/Up in the system before they even crack 12” he spits in ‘Bad Apples’ from his 2014 album Sheplife, which demonstrates the destructive impact Australia’s minimum age of criminal responsibility has on Indigenous kids, an issue that Briggs is still campaigning against six years later.

“It’s all about reinvestment into community,” he says. “[We need] more of a focus on not just raising the age, but also prevention and keeping people and kids engaged to keep them out of the system before they even get to it. That’s what really counts and that’s what really works. That is the only way for a healthier future.”

The Black Lives Matter movement in Australia has gained significant momentum and mainstream media attention since The Guardian reported over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody since the royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody 1991.

But Briggs isn’t confident ‘Scotty from marketing’ is up to the task of putting an end to the vicious cycle that sees Indigenous people representing 29 per cent of Australia’s prison population, despite making up just three per cent of the nation’s overall population.

“I don’t think attention to detail is this current government’s forte. I don’t think that’s in their wheelhouse, so I’m not holding my breath,” he says.

The self-proclaimed Senator Briggs has long joked about delving into politics, so maybe the next title he’ll add to his resume will be Prime Minister.

Always Was is out on Friday August 21 via Island Records. He’ll perform as part of Inside Sets on Thursday August 20, grab your tickets here

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