REMI: "We're just people, these are our problems"

Words by Connor McKenzie

For a long time, Aussie hip hop didn’t fit in with the Adelaide Festival, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Melbourne duo REMI pop up in this year’s program. But it actually makes a lot of sense.

Rapper Remi Kolawole’s witty, uncompromisingly honest lyrics confront everything from break-ups to mental health and everyday racism, all soundtracked by producer Sensible J’s soulfully stripped-back beats. It’s an approach that was excellently executed on last year’s Divas & Demons, proving REMI (all caps meaning the duo) are one of the most important voices in Aussie hip hop today, and the perfect ambassadors to finally bring the genre to the Adelaide Festival. Catching up with Kolawole, it turns out he's excited for other reasons...

Connor: So, the Adelaide Festival’s not exactly the usual festival you guys would find yourself playing…

Remi: Well, the fact that we’ve been put on a boat is as adventurous enough as we need it to be.

This’ll be the first time you perform on a boat then?

I’m just trying to think about that, bro, like I have belief that hopefully there will be a captain, there will be some lifeboats, a couple of lifejackets… I might even put that on our rider just to make sure. Like I love Adelaide, but I don’t wanna die for Adelaide. And it’s nothing personal, I don’t really wanna die for any festival. Some drunk idiot decides to press the wrong thing and we’re all gone look I’m just really hoping that they’ve thought this through, that’s it!

Divas & Demons delved into a lot of really personal issues for you, is it weird to play some of those songs live?

Not really. I mean the ones that make you feel uncomfortable we don’t really do and the other ones, you know…

Was it still cathartic to get them out to the world?

Most definitely man. I guess where do you get a chance to get all that stuff out and look at it yourself without paying a lot of money for therapy? So I was lucky enough that I could put it out through the music that J and I made together and we’re lucky enough that a lot of people felt the vibe, and unlucky that, you know, so many of our people are sad but that’s… that is what it is. I’m glad we got to do it.”

On that, tracks like ‘Substance Therapy deal with pretty serious stuff but are impossible not to dance to…

So many times you’ll listen to a song and won’t actually know what they’re saying or what it means, you just feel the energy, so I don’t think it’s some recreating the wheel shit, reinventing the wheel shit at all. It’s just like that’s the energy of the song and I think a lot of people could vibe with that.

It helps that it’s got a hard-ass beat ‘cause I feel like that’s kind of how you feel. It’s not a weird, sick, grotesque kind of self-damaging mind state to be in, at the time you kinda feel like it’s right or you feel instant gratification. It’s like getting 1000 likes on Instagram or some shit. *laughs* Instant gratification, you feel happy and then you realise that the world doesn’t revolve around that shit, you’re sad as fuck.

You guys have played a big part in bringing these issues to the forefront of the scene. What do you think is getting hip hop here more open and confrontational towards the issues Australia is facing?

I think for the first time in a long time we’re seeing diversity in a scene that doesn’t have a lot and hasn’t had a lot of that before. And these are people just telling their stories. This is a reality for cats like A.B. Original, cats like Sampa [The Great], Baro, myself. These are the realities that we face and it’s not about…  You know, a lot of people call us protesters or activists and shit like that, it’s like ‘nah man, we’re just people, these are our problems’ and the music you were hearing before, they don’t have those problems.

It’s that simple, you know?

REMI play the Adelaide Festival’s Riverbank Palais on Saturday, March 18 and are DJ duties for the closing party on Sunday, March 19. Tickets and info here.