Adam Briggs is one of the most powerful voices in music and Indigenous rights.
While the inspiring and uncompromising artist is best known as rapper Briggs and one half of hip-hop duo A.B. Original, the Yorta Yorta man is also founder of record label Bad Apples Music, author of children’s book Our Home, Our Heartbeat, and a comedy writer for ABC’S Black Comedy and Matt Groening’s Netflix series Disenchantment.
Recently, Briggs also hosted the pre-game entertainment at Essendon’s 150th anniversary celebration at the MCG. “Before the pre-game show, [Kevin] Sheedy took me into the room with everybody and got me to address all the past legends, the baby Bombers, the 2000 Premiership side, and the Danihers – all four of them,” says Briggs. “I reckon that was more nerve-wracking than trying to deliver this pre-game show for the Bombers’ loyal.”
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Born in Shepparton, Briggs’ numerous achievements stem from a firm base: being able to do what he wants. “Making music or whatever I do was always steeped in me doing whatever I wanted,” says Briggs. “That’s how I make sense of the world – with my expression through my art. I didn’t have enough money to be a filmmaker or enough resources to do much else. Music was something I could do in my bedroom, so it was always a matter of time before I was able to do something with it. My whole being, mantra and drive was not so much about music – music was the vehicle – doing what I wanted all the time was way more important.”
From an early age, Briggs witnessed the inequality and racism that existed and continues to exist within the country. The rapper has created some of Australia’s most compelling political hip hop and is adamant about expressing the country’s true history.
“I continue to feel and experience the racism of this country,” says Briggs. “I was always going to tell my story and that was a big part of my story. You don’t realise how racist it was or is until you’re outside of it. I was always able to identify the symptoms, but I didn’t have the diagnosis and what you’re dealing with here is old-fashioned racism.”
Briggs says that it is important to acknowledge how racism exists, how it manifests and that it does manifest in the physical. “People’s self-worth is affected by racism,” says Briggs. “The manifestation of racism affects not only their mental health, which is obviously a big part – and I think we’re going to have a big ah-ha moment in a few years or later down the track – but that in turn relates to physical health.”
Country music legend and Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man Troy Cassar-Daley asked Briggs to deliver the message of his song Shadows On The Hill to a new generation. The result is the powerful song Shadows, which addresses the Appin Massacre on 17 April 1816.
“Governor Lachlan Macquarie said in his journal that they should hang the troublesome natives from the trees as a warning for the others to deter uprising,” says Briggs of the song’s subject matter. “I’m about addressing our history as a whole because to deny someone’s truth is abuse,” says Briggs. “To deny the massacres is abuse. It’s swept under the rug because they try to frame it as a ghastly thing that happened in the olden days, but the reality is that’s part of the racism that we have to carry. That’s what this is built on. I was told certain areas of Melbourne and other places that I’ve been were massacre sites. The reality is that massacres happened and these massacres and the way that they “settled” allowed for them to prosper and be rich.”
Alongside a shared mission to write songs about important truths of the country’s history, Briggs’ connection with Cassar-Daly was affirmed early in his career. “I met Troy at the ARIA awards back when I was nobody and tagging along with the Hilltop Hoods and he gave me the time of day then,” says Briggs. “He was as genuine, earnest and nice then as he is to me now that I’m “somebody”. That says a lot about Troy and what he means to the music industry and what he means to the blackfellas and musicians in general. He’s the nicest bloke that you’ll meet and he’s one of the most talented and friendliest guys.”
It has been a remarkable journey since Briggs’ gripping debut album The Blacklist (2010). The compelling rapper has supported Ice Cube (N.W.A), KRS-One, Ice-T, 50 Cent, The Hilltop Hoods and Ghostface Killah (Wu-Tang Clan), while his second album Sheplife (2014) and the A.B. Original album Reclaim Australia (2016) were released to much acclaim and rapture.
“I’d done more in that first year of being a full-time artist than I ever thought I would ever,” says Briggs. “I toured the country multiple times – I met and toured the country with my hero and all-time favourite artist Ice Cube; the Hilltop Hoods took me to Europe and I did shows in Europe. I’m extremely grateful for all that. The Hilltop Hoods have always been a massive supporter of me and Trials (A.B. Original). They gave me every opportunity to be myself and be an artist.”
“Me and Trials are back in the studio,” says Briggs. “We were in the studio the other week and we’re touring again (with Hilltop Hoods). The wheels are turning and we’re on our way. We might get one or two tracks out. I play things super close to my chest until I know they’re done and ready, so there’s stuff there, but should it be ready for the world just yet? I’m not sure. We’ll find out.”
Meanwhile, Briggs is excited about performing at the Southside Live Festival and states that Emma Donovan’s performance cannot be missed. “Melbourne really thrives when it’s doing what Melbourne does, which is great music, food, culture and art,” says Briggs. “Emma Donovan is the best singer in the country, so everyone should be excited. Emma is hands down the best singer that we have.”
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Alongside his music, Briggs’ comedy work in ABC’s Black Comedy, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, and Netflix TV series Disenchantment by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has been impressive. “It’s the best job in the world,” Briggs says of writing for Groening’s show. “I went to the US and being in the room with them was a crazy experience. It’s hard to explain – it’s so fast and the talent in that room was so high that you just do your best to keep up with it and create.”
Spending time with Conan O’Brien was incredible for the Simpsons devotee. “Conan wrote my favourite Simpsons episode,” Briggs enthuses. “I was a big fan of late-night TV as well – all the greats: him, Letterman, Kimmel. It’s been a wild ride. I’ve done crazy things. I’m so grateful I got to do all these amazing things. It’s bonkers.”
The creativity pulsates through Briggs. Despite his remarkable achievements, Briggs says he remains a student and he continues to draw inspiration from as many bold truth-seekers and boundary-pushers as possible – from the early influences of Ice Cube and Chuck D of Public Enemy to the forward-thinking artists of the present.
“I always look to see what my favourite rappers are doing out in the States and those guys that constantly push the artistic realm,” says Briggs. “I’m a consumer of culture and whatever’s moving and whatever’s happening in fashion, art, music, TV, film and politics is what informs what I’m going to talk about, and just trying to come up with ideas that haven’t been spoken about yet or from my perspective as well.”
Briggs performs at South Beach Reserve, St Kilda, on July 1 at 8pm as part of Southside Live. For more information, visit the website here.
This article was made in partnership with Southside Live.