Meet Australian alternative hip hop artist, ZEKIEL, your new friendly neighbourhood antithesis to classic Aussie barbecue rap.
Raised in Mackay, North Queensland, a couple of hours from the Great Barrier Reef, Zekiel grew up in a quiet, small town, driven by little else than rugby league and the mines. “We were always getting our bikes stolen and stuff like that,” he says. “But as we got older, there was just a lot more trouble with drugs and people just losing their innocence. In high school, I fell into the wrong crowd — it was super easy to do.”
“It was a great place to grow up, and I had a lot of good friends, but it was also a very close-minded town, where music and performing wasn’t really respected or appreciated, so it was kind of hard to find your groove or a good clique of people”, he says. “Everybody was very judgmental … Everybody knew each other, so knew somebody that had dated your ex.”
ZEKIEL started writing music from a young age, one of six siblings, all with very different music tastes. “It’s quite a big family, but it’s super cool because we’re all tight. They’re my support,” he says. “They gave me my first introduction to music, and my older brother, he would either be blasting Hilltop Hoods and Bliss and Eso, or my sister would be listening to Outkast or Usher or Ludacris, something like old-school R&B, hip hop sort of vibe.”
As a young creative, ZEKIEL found himself a natural writer, keeping a journal, writing fan fiction for Lord of the Rings. But ZEKIEL’s talent for lyrics emerged as a youngster from one enviable superpower: memory. “I had an amazing memory. I could remember lyrics from the age of eight. I could hear a song twice or three times and just absolutely nail the lyrics.” Then, when Lord of the Rings inspo couldn’t quite cut it, ZEKIEL found another vessel of expression: Eminem. “I was getting into Eminem when I was like 14. And his song ‘Cinderella Man’ came on, and I was just like, “Wow, I love this.” I started rapping and writing over that beat, and it changed everything because that next day, I basically posted it on Facebook, and it was just like from then on, everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s Zeke, he’s the rapper at school.”
Channelling his energy into impromptu freestyle sessions with mates, around 18, ZEKIEL started taking writing music seriously. “When I’m rapping to my friends in the backyard after a night out, and we all would just have a freestyle session. I was always up for that stuff, but I didn’t actually invest anything into the music. I didn’t actually start creating it until grade 12, just before I turned 18.” “I started releasing a few little tracks over some Jay-Z instrumentals, some Chiddy Bang instrumentals. I’d just find them on YouTube and literally just record them on my phone. Then, I’d post it on Facebook, so it was like super shitty audio, and it just sounded terrible.”
One of the newer members of the Aussie hip hop community, ZEKIEL draws from established local artists but wants to pave his own way. From listening to the likes of Drapht, Hilltop Hoods and Bliss & Eso, to counting Remi, Sampa the Great, Midas Gold and Manu Crooks as his contemporaries, ZEKIEL is both a fan of and part of the changing Aussie hip hop scene. “The growth and expansion of Aussie hip hop has just gone crazy in the best way possible,” he says. “There are just so many artists now. I love my Aussie hip hop. And I feel like the new wave that’s coming out, they’ve got tongues blazing, but they’ve got this new refreshing universal sound, where it’s more encompassing rather than isolating to an Australian audience.”
“Some people are still making the same sort of music that they were making 10, 15 years ago. And that’s totally their prerogative. I’m happy for people to continue that scene. I’m just super glad to see people embrace a global perspective and just be able to make the music they want to make.” Inevitably, all roads of inspiration lead back to the U.S. for modern rappers. ZEKIEL also finds significant influence from U.S artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. “America just developed the most amazing hip hop scene, and it’s just so diverse now, even between all the rappers that are coming up these days. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it genuinely makes me happy that there’s such a variety of music now.”