"Every time you see in the media someone's been killed by police it always just happens to be an Aboriginal," says radical rapper Provocalz.
It's 9.30 on a Saturday morning and the south-west Sydney spitter is explaining why he made his hard-hitting horrorcore track, "Cop Shot".
"That was just like a stand-up, like, stop fucking killing our children, because they're killing our kids," says the Indigenous emcee. "It's not like it's soldier versus soldier. It's not warrior shit, it's like killing innocent kids for doing petty shit."
As he speaks, the sun climbs ever higher, pulling up the temperature and the intensity of the conversation with it. Our interview will end with the two of us - interviewer and interviewee, being questioned by the police. But more about that later.
"Look at them kids in Kings Cross," says Provocalz. "You've got a huge fucking police officer. Are you telling me you couldn't drag that kid out the window instead of shooting him in the neck and then punching him in the head while he was on the ground? They're big lads and they still can't hold down a small lad, you know what I mean? And then you've got how TJ Hickey got murdered by them coppers - they ended up getting awards and shit. The lad in Palm Island got bashed to death. It's just fucking filthy. I was just letting the coppers know, stop fucking with us, or we're going to start shooting back, you know what I mean? An eye for an eye."
The claustrophobic clip for the song features Provocalz pacing a dimly-lit underground car park and barking his lines through a balaclava.
Two shots finished her off
Then there's blood on my Maxes
Just remember motherfuckers
That your wage is our taxes
The clip ends with an eerie synth, a tolling bell and splatter of blood.
As we stand on the roof of a slightly less claustrophobic car park than that featured in his violent video, Provocalz peers from under his baseball cap and asks me: "What do you think of the clip for 'Cop Shot', brah?"
I search for the right words. "It was... in your face," I say.
He laughs a round, satisfied laugh.
From the top of the car park, three stories into the sun-bleached sky, we can see over the Airport & East Hills rail line to Holsworthy army barracks. Directly to the east lies bushland holding numerous Aboriginal artefacts. The relics have given Holsworthy the nickname of "Sydney's Kakadu", after the rock art-galleried Northern Territory national park of the same name. It was while Provocalz was working in Holsworthy's bushland among those artefacts - as part of the government's scrapped Community Development Employment Projects program for Indigenous job seekers - that he came up with one of his most lyrical lyrics.
This whole society's like a Banksia seed
Need ta let it all burn for life to be released
"I used to do CDEP there and we used to do ranger sort of stuff, learn about all the plants," says the rapper, who now works in a car supplies factory. "I found it interesting that Australia is the only country where the plants need fire to regrow. The bush needs to be on fire. It's why our people used to backburn and all that, you know."
Overwhelming evidence suggests Aboriginal people farmed the entire country through the selective use of fire. Some fireproof flora have even evolved to promote fire, dropping turpentine-laden bark that easily catches alight, razing the fire-prone competition.
"The Banksia seed, I saw it when they germinate seeds in the greenhouse," says Provocalz. "They'd blow it with a blowtorch to make it pop, so they pop out and just float around. I just thought, 'Fuck, that's what needs to happen to this world.' It's gotta take violence to get to the peace. Because at the moment, there are so many people being fucked over in every country. With all this credit and home loans, how they destroyed the unions and workers' rights movements, now everyone's locked in. You can't go on strike next week because you've gotta pay your mortgage.
"At the end of the day, if it wasn't for unions, we'd still be getting $5 a day. Everyone always talks shit about them, but if it wasn't for them, you wouldn't be getting annual leave, you wouldn't be getting sick pay, there would be no unfair dismissal or anything like that, you wouldn't be getting anything."
The Banksia lyric lights up "One Land", the track that rips open the rapper's ripper of a debut album, Verbal Reality Volume One. Rightly wary of the media, Provocalz has agreed to talk only because he is trying to promote the fact that for the next few weeks, he is donating all sales of the album to the daughter of another Aboriginal rapper.
"All the proceeds from Verbal Reality are going to be helping this girl compete in the national races at Perth," he says.
"It's Felon from DTA Mob's daughter. He posted up a thing on his site saying that he's a single parent and, especially as he's got other kids, it's hard for him to get the funding for his daughter - like it would be for all of us - to go over to Perth. So then I thought, what better? Pretty much until the last day I'm gonna contribute everything I get for it to them."
His compassion for his comrades was nurtured in Provocalz from a young age. "My real father, he used to go to protests when he was younger and he got me into that and my brother as well," says the rapper. "Then I just got interested in the struggle of the people worldwide."
He rolls up his sleeve.
"I've got Che Guevara tattooed on my arm right there, brah," he says. Then he picks at it. "It's peeling a bit, because I caught the sun the other day."
The sun is beating down on us and pushing the temperature up further. It's the kind of blinding white heat that washes all the colour from your vision. I peer through the rays at Provocalz and can't make out his form, never mind his colour. He is of Scottish, Irish, French and Aboriginal descent and raps that he has "white skin, black blood".
"I represent for my people. That's how I was brought up since I was a kid, by my mum, uncles and aunties and everyone. I acknowledge the rest of my history and that as well, but that's how I was raised, with a lot of the Aboriginal stuff, you know what I mean?"
The rapper says once a person has been raised that way, there's little chance they can see themselves as anything other than Aboriginal.
"Then you take it back to the Stolen Generation and the White Australia policy," he says. "That was their plan with us, to breed us out of the fucking country, you know? That's why we don't say quarter-caste, half-caste, this and that, because that's the terminology they used to use and then they'd consider you not Aboriginal, you know what I mean? That's why, in my eyes anyway, that we don't say anything like that. I'm Aboriginal, full stop.
"They get upset about it. 'You're not Aboriginal, you're rah, rah, rah.' Like, I get some cunts on my site all the time trying to say shit like that. They'd never say it to anyone's face. They'd never come out and stand up for it. So many of them, if they saw you on the street, they wouldn't even look you in the eye, let alone say anything to you, you know what I mean? It's just fucking sad, but that's the internet for ya. Look at the comments on half my videos, you know, it's, 'You fucking ugly cunt, rah, rah, rah.' I didn't realise I was trying to sign up for a model competition or something, this is hip-hop, I’m a rapper, I ain't no fucking model."
Provocalz laughs at the ignorance of most rap fans. He is only 29, but talks about young hip-hop heads like they are light years behind.
"Young people these days, they don't learn shit. When I was a kid I used to be reading Marxist books, Communism, guerrilla warfare shit, I used to real be into that. And these kids, they don't learn nothing. That taught me about things in life, but they've got no idea. They're just saturated with sex, violence and money."
On "One Land", he raps:
I'll rip a few emcees 'cause this whole Aussie rap scene is pitiful
Rockin' a union jack, who ya fuckin' kidding, fool?
Garbage rhymes only a redneck'll listen to
Bleeding heart yuppies, all ya fans voted Liberal
"That shit pisses me off," says Provocalz. "They should know the history of that flag and to Indigenous people it's not a good fucking symbol, you know what I mean? Waving it in our face: 'Here, you got invaded by these people.’ All right, it's the Australian flag, but if you're into hip-hop, you should know your history, you should know the history of your country and the history of Indigenous people."
Concern about the nationalism surrounding Australian hip-hop led pop culture publication The Vine to run a piece in 2012 titled, "Does Aussie hip-hop have a problem with racism?"
Provocalz blames amnesia.
"At the end of the day, it's a black music form from the Bronx and Queens," he says. "But these lads, they throw 'Aussie Hip-Hop' in front of it and they forget about that. You know, on stage, wearing a union jack and shit. Anyone that considers themselves Aussie Hip-Hop, you look at what else they listen to. They don't listen to no black artists. The other music they listen to is just radio music. For example, a guy at my work the other day, he was listening to that 360. Then the other day he was listening to Taylor Swift or something, you know what I mean?"
"They don't listen to hip-hop, brah, they just listen to whatever the radio tells them to."
When this writer tried to get an interview with the ARIA-award winning 360 for an environmental publication because he closed his latest album with a climate song, his publicist tentatively agreed, "as long as it's not going to be in any way politically swayed".
Provocalz laughs. "That's garbage," he says.
It is hard to believe such rappers share the same genre as Provocalz. His Facebook profile picture is a poster of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front that his father gave to him. On his album, he shouts out the Sandinistas and gives props to the Black Panthers.
"Well, you know, the Black Panther and Black Rights movement in the '60s and '70s, and probably a bit earlier in America, helped a long way to us getting rights here," he says. "Until '67, when they gave us citizenship, we were considered as fauna. Same as them over there, you know, like 'negro' and 'black object', you know what I mean? I've always respected them. I'd read books by Huey P Newton and stuff like that, you know? That's really empowering stuff, for a lad. Fifty brothers rocking up with shotguns, like, no-one's fucking with our neighbourhood, you know what I mean? You can imagine that shit going on in Redfern and western Sydney, the coppers would shit, brah.
"And then look what they done to them, they bring in crack, they bring in all this other bullshit and fucked the whole thing over, you know? Same with here with the drugs and everything, what they did with Redfern, because they knew that was our political centre back in the days, you know? They looked for any excuse to knock it down and take that land back, because that's prime real estate. You've got Redfern and then you've got all the surrounding little suburbs, brah, that's all million-dollar houses around there, eh."
Provocalz contributed some of the most radical bars on a mixtape released on Invasion Day to show solidarity with the Idle No More movement for Indigenous Canadians. On the track "Evil Monarchy", he raps:
They living off the spoils of war, they call 'em Royals
Brah, I call em my enemy, stand on blood-soaked soil
They're murdering our people, fuck tha regal bloodlines
Catch me in a balaclava you can only see my eyes and the fire inside
Blood boiling so it's time that I load up this rifle 'n' a Royal fucking dies
Time to pay for their crimes 'cause we do all the time
Filling up their prisons, so my mission is survive
Hook up with the IRA 'n' burn them fuckers alive
Two wrongs don't make a right, but come on bruz, pass the light
Let me torch this bitch and we can watch 'em all fry
In their mason-built palace from slavery to genocide
And it wasn’t just us, brah, they done it worldwide
So I'm looking for justice heavy metal jacket kind
Talking fully automatic with my sisters 'n' brothers
And I'd never hit a woman, but I'll slap the Queen Mother
So what did Provocalz make of Prince William being greeted by cheering crowds when he visited Redfern in 2010?
"Sydney all got caught up in the hype, brah," he laughs. "Like Flavor Flav said, 'Don't believe the hype.' They're just pieces of shit, brah, royal families worldwide, you know? They've been living off the people's backs for centuries and centuries, you know what I mean? They don't give a fuck. They might come and shake your hand and smile in your face, but they're going back to their palace and their billions of dollars while you're going back to your fucking struggle. As I said, brah, I just want to empty a fucking clip at them, you know what I mean?"
On that same visit, Prince William emptied a clip at the Holsworthy army barracks when he joined Australian paratroopers on a firing range there.
Holsworthy was named after the English marriage place of New South Wales governor Lachlan Macquarie. By 1815, he had declared a state of open warfare against Aboriginal people in the area and forbade them carrying weapons within a mile of any British settlement. Holsworthy's roads have names that seem to bark from the street signs like a drill sergeant: Anzac, Light Horse, Infantry, Cavalry, Tarakan, Bardia, Wewak, Lae, Brunei, Finschhafen, Madang, Gona, Sabre, Gunners Row and Trooper Row. This is the suburb where Provocalz lives. With a neighbourhood like that, it is little wonder that on "Ain't Feelin Your Shit", he raps:
P.R.O. devastate the east coast like a tsunami
Shut Australia down like the Japanese army
"Just showing a bit of the history to them again, brah," he says. "Because a lot of them don't even remember that shit, you know. Without Papua New Guinea and the Koori soldiers in the Top End, they would have got fucked over a lot worse. And then they called them 'the Fuzzy Wuzzys' for helping them, you know what I mean, another derogatory term - and they were dying for them."
In contrast, many of the white soldiers were rewarded with Aboriginal land when they returned.
"Exactly," says Provocalz. "And the Kooris did their service and all that and they couldn't even get a drink in the pub. They couldn't even get served in their own fucking country that they just went and fought for."
Provocalz calls himself "Provokes" for short, and a lot of his vocals, like the Japanese army line, seem designed to provoke. "Yeah, that's what my name means, provoking vocals," he says. "I just put them both together one day at home and thought, 'Provocalz, that's perfect,' because I try to provoke you to think a bit. I'm not just talking random shit with nothing to say."
Provocalz credits his hip-hop heroes, Wu-Tang Clan, for the intelligent inspiration.
"Wu-Tang was probably one of the main factors that made me crave knowledge about the world, 'cause they always had that in there with that 5 percenter sort of stuff, you know? You've got the 85% that are dumb, deaf and blind, you've got the 10% that are in control and then you've got the 5% that are trying to fucking wake everyone else up."
Provocalz got a rude awakening early on in life, when his parents divorced and he ended up with a junkie stepfather.
"He used to take me doing that shit, so that affected me as a kid," he says. "He wasn't giving it to me, but he was taking me with him. I'd have to wake him up in the car when he fell asleep at the lights and shit like that, you know. That was when I was about 12, 13, maybe even younger.
"I remember when I was a kid, my little sister was still in nappies and I'd be holding the cord around his arm while he was banging up in the toilet. That shit fucked me up in the head when I was a kid. It taught me a lesson never to touch that shit at the same time, you know what I mean? He ended up dying, passed away. That was when I was still young, so I had a lot of anger towards him, for shit he'd done."
Provocalz raps about his stepfather on the closing track on his album, "I Need You":
I got my first pair of Airs off my stepdad's corpse
Because he needed Harry more than he wanted his own daughter
"To me, brah, that's a deep song. It's pretty much, what do you want and what do you need? Like, did I really need those things? He only wanted his daughter, he didn't need her, when it should have been the other way around. He sacrificed his life and his daughter's future to fucking stick something up his arm, you know what I mean?
"I need a fresh pair of Airs, but I don't. It's just coming to terms with what we really need and what we want. I was breaking down and I just thought I'd analyse myself with that. Everyone's got their thing that they think they need, but they don't really need it, at the end of the day. Food, clothing and shelter, brah, that's what they say, eh?"
Because people's basic needs are so easily met, corporations spend nearly half a trillion dollars a year fostering false needs and wants, from Nike Airs to drugs.
"Exactly," says Provocalz. "That was my point exactly. There's a lot of things that you think you fucking need, but you don't really fucking need them."
But he feels there are genuine needs besides food, clothing and shelter - as he raps on the Idle No More mixtape song "Freedom":
Without the dark there ain't light, 'n' you've never known the fight
So there's a difference between your freedom 'n' mine
'Cause mine ain't really mine, it's ours, I'll draw a line in the sand
And watch 'em all jump the fence, like damn
It's time for revolution, not pollution of the lands
No more looking for solutions, brah, it's time to take a stand
I'll snatch all that food out ya greedy lil' hands
Slap the taste out ya mouth, hit the brakes on ya plans
The chants of freedom leave you bleeding in advance Australia was never fair
Used to lock us up in chains or murder us right there
And they still do it today
These pigs fucking shoot us, DOCS take our kids away
Over-representation in the prison population
When it comes to politics, never heard from, just hated
By most of this bloody racist country, come on face it
You call us all these names but never say it to our face, bitch
"That's a big part of everyone's lives, freedom, brah, and we don't really have our freedom at the end of the day, you know? Like, you can't really do what you want and it's always the thing that you need. That's what our cultures were back in the day, were free, you know what I mean? And we've lost that and people are always claiming our freedom, whether it's lads that are locked up for years, you know, they've got no control over their life and freedom is just being able to have control over your own life, being able to do what you want. "
Provocalz also seethes at the daily denial of freedom to refugees.
“Everyone always gets so upset about refugees and it comes back to low education and ignorance, because that's all they hear in the media, 'These fucking boat people.' These poor people are coming from a country where they had no reason but to leave otherwise they're gonna be fucking murdered, you know what I mean? And then we're over in their countries fucking them over in the first place anyway.
"You know, you spend two, three weeks in a boat just to come here and get locked up, you know, you've just spent, you've come that far, everything, you've just survived that shit and then, bang, straight to prison, there you go, cunt, there's some freedom for ya. Freedom's always been a very important word to me, brah."
I look at Provocalz, then look over to the army barracks. I suggest that we go over and take a few ironic photographs of the Aboriginal rapper in his neighbourhood, Sydney's Kakadu, next to the army signs saying: "AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT LAND. TRESPASSING ON THIS LAND IS PROHIBITED."
We drop into the low-slung bucket seats of his low-key 1992 Commodore and he hands me a CD copy of his album. The artwork, in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, reads: "Dedicated to the incarcerated." The centrefold features a picture of GBO, a member of his original rap crew, the South West Royals. It is emblazoned with the words, "FREE GBO".
"He got locked up," says Provocalz. "He's actually got out now, so it worked."
He laughs. There is a pause. Then I ask: "What did he get locked up for?"
"Ah, just dumb shit, brah," he says. "We don't wanna go too much into that."
We drive down a level and walk over to the barracks, then start snapping off shots with the camera. We don't intend to hang around, but when you are talking to the ever-engaging Provocalz, time stands still - along with everything else. We are soon motionless, deep in conversation about outspoken Aboriginal world boxing champion Anthony Mundine, who Provocalz met at the Indigenous music festival Yabun on Invasion Day.
"The media ask him dumb questions, you know," says the rapper. "What are you doing asking a boxer about 9/11 for? They love him because he sells papers for them, you know? They love him 'cause then they can say all Aboriginals are like that, you know what I mean? He believes in what he's saying, good on the lad. At the end of the day, he stands for what he believes in, he boycotted the national anthem at the last fight..."
Provocalz suddenly breaks off.
"Here comes your lad now..."
I look over my shoulder, half-expecting to see Mundine, but am greeted by his antithesis - a white, overweight, security guard in fluoro gear.
"You're going to have to delete those photos," says the security guard. "This is government land, owned by the army. Anything that's taken that side, facing that way, is all right, but we've got a lot of work going on inside and we've got the Australian Federal Police here."
He demands that we delete the photos.
We walk back to the car on the second floor of the car park. We are deep in conversation again when a red police patrol car approaches. The window glides down as the car glides to a halt. I begin to walk away.
"Were you just taking photos over at the barracks?"
"Yeah it's all sorted," I say over my shoulder.
"IDs, please," says the driver, as he and his partner get out of the car.
I turn back. We both take out our drivers' licences and hand them over.
"You do know why we're taking your details, don't you," he says.
Holsworthy barracks was alleged to be the target of a foiled terrorist attack in 2009, even though the police admitted the defendants had no access to weapons. Government ministers, police and the media have repeatedly used the foiled attack on the army base to say that terrorists threaten Australia. A popular image of Aboriginal resistance flashes through my mind: a group of spear-holding warriors under the slogan, "Homeland security: Fighting Terrorism since 1770."
I turn to the cop and say: "Terrorism."
"Yes," says the cop.
Provocalz bursts out laughing. "We ain't terrorists though," he says, mockingly.
"That's what they all say!" chorus the cops, in bizarre union. Then the driver adds: "You're not going to walk around with a sign on you, saying 'terrorist', are you?"
Provocalz shakes his head. "Nah, we ain't terrorists, though," he says. "I'm a rapper. This guy was just interviewing me, that's why he was taking photos of me."
The cop looks him up and down and says: "A rapper, eh?"
Provocalz beams. "Yep," he says.
The cop pauses. "Oh," he says. "Good stuff."
The cops hand back our IDs, get back in the car and drive off.
Provocalz turns to me and grins.