The Last Kinection
When Naomi Wenitong from The Last Kinection is asked how challenging it is to be a woman in the male-dominated music industry, she laughs.
"I don't mind being one of the only buns at this Oz hip-hop sausage sizzle," she jokes.
“Everyone has challenges in this industry regardless of their sex. You can either let it be your disadvantage or make it your advantage.
“The first words of advice from my parents were: 'You’re from a poor family, you’re black and you’re a girl ― you are going to have to work a million times harder than any other artist.’ Obviously I was up for the challenge. Besides, we have the womb, so we always have the power!”
Wenitong, better known as Nay, laughs as often as other people blink. Yet in making The Last Kinection’s uproariously upbeat second album, Next Of Kin, she faced challenges so death-defyingly dark they could even kill the cackle in a kookaburra.
While the band were touring their debut album, Nutches, in 2008, their car was forced off the road in a horrific crash. Nay was declared dead at the scene and covered with a blanket. It was only the band’s other rapper, Joel ― Nay’s brother ― who noticed the blanket move.
“I wrote the chorus and my verse in ‘Find A Way’ with the desperate need to remind myself that even though I had picked myself up from the lowest point in my life after being in a horrific car accident, that I had to find a way to keep going in so many areas of my life,” says Nay.
Ngai Wudhim Marigurim Ngai Yirinbu
(I am afraid but I’m still strong)
When the sun has gone,
What have I become?
We’ve gotta find a way, or make one
I’m so tired of being the victim
We gotta find a way, or make one
Now they wanna go and see the world break ya,
hate ya, take ya
Down to the bottom and try to earthquake ya
Put ya pen to paper, never be a faker
Now they wanna take a pic and frickin’ handshake ya
Make ya, re-write your rhymes, rethink your plan
Change the world with my writing hand
Cause I’m the chick, I’m a winner,
I'm a bitch, I’m a tripper
Call the industry a pole and I will be a stripper
Dancing with the frequencies every night
Standing for the truth might be every fight
I sacrifice every second with the lyrics that I write
When I write, I’ll be right when I’m wrong
then I might be
Bigger than you, quicker than you,
Man I be sicker than you
Now you wanna bicker
every time I’m sippin’ liquor with you...
...Make today, the day we say
It's hard to do it, but I’ll find a way
"A lot of the tracks I've written remind me of many things that I feel I shouldn’t ever forget. 'The Strong Remain’ is about all three of us [Nay, Joel and Rival MC, who guests on the track] conquering our personal battles and being strong enough to survive them. It’s easy to be a good person when everything is all roses, when everything is going well, but being a good person when everything has gone to shit - that’s when it really counts."
On the track, her brother raps:
From the city of the cursed, on satellite high
To the shadows of a hearse trippin’ out did I die?
On the Day of the Dead, a slight change of season
This can’t be happening, there is no reason
As high-def loops replay inside my eye lids
I search for clues, I’m looking up hearing tyre skids
I saw you man but you didn’t see me
Breaking down barriers then treated like an escapee
I close my eyes then I get somethin’ in it
I see your bones and I never get used to it
The rain sucked but the flood was worse
Set to self destruct the impact dispersed
It’s hard to take dead by a hand at the scene
Then brought back to life by a hand unseen
I know it wasn’t my time
I escaped the rapture
Now it is my time as I write my next chapter
And Nay raps:
I’m searching for the silver lining
on the cloud that’s on top of me
No sunshine, I can find,
sooner or later there’s gotta be
I don’t wanna press rewind, just pause for a second
I feel like I’ve been left behind
even though I know they reckon
They’ve got solutions
but I’m drowning in questions
Tell me what’s the lesson?
When I’m surrounded by blessings
In the new album's liner notes, Nay thanks God, but the religion-wary may find salvation in the fact she also raps "I believe in God, but not religion" on the record.
“If you have been through anything really rough, I think it would be pretty depressing to not believe in anything higher than this Earth,” says Nay.
“I believe we all have different names for this higher being ― ancestral spirits, Jah, the creator, etc. I call him God. I think God and religion are two different things. I don’t want to come across self-righteous because I’m so far from it, but I don’t need a middle man, like a priest or anything to talk to God, because I talk straight to him. If you feel uncomfortable reading this, then that feeling is the perfect example of what people and religion have done surrounding even the slightest little mention about God in an interview.”
It’s the kind of confronting honesty that The Last Kinection have made their mission.
“I still can’t believe how honest I’ve been on 'Millions Of People’,” says Nay.
“My verse is pretty much every single insecurity I have. I’m pretty sure that anyone who listens to it will relate to at least one. When I think of the music industry I look around and think, you know what, we’re all out here trying to make ends meet. Most of us have our hearts in the right place; some of us don’t, but we all face similar battles. I think it’s comforting knowing you’re not alone.”
I probably don't call enough
Do I call enough?
It feels like I’m not tall enough
Or win enough, or thin enough,
like I don’t go to the gym enough
Or walk enough, or talk enough,
eat with a knife and fork enough
Or eat enough, or sleep enough,
I don’t go down to the beach enough
Work enough, rehearse enough,
don’t get no money in my purse enough
Or hurt enough, or curse enough,
how do I balance all this stuff?
Or think enough, or think too much,
I’m smoking and drinking too much
Or pray enough, or say enough,
I don’t have productive days enough
Read the bible enough, suicidal enough,
I don’t even recycle enough
I’m not me enough, I don’t see enough,
I don’t get no time with me enough
I don’t write enough, I’m not white enough,
I don’t get everything right enough
Or kick back enough, I’m not black enough,
I don’t got nobody’s back enough
I’m not man enough, or plan enough,
I don’t do all that I can enough
I don’t bring enough, or sing enough,
go out on a limb enough
I don’t cry enough, or lie enough,
I don’t ask everyone why enough
I’m not bad enough, I don’t have enough,
like I wanna do more but I’ve had enough
So many days have come and gone
There’s so many things I’ve been doing wrong
But now I see
Millions of people are feeling just like me
There’s so many things I could’ve said
There’s so many things I should’ve did
But now I see
Millions of people are feeling the way I feel
The album navigates a minefield of similarly awkward subjects, including Aboriginal apathy, dying Indigenous languages, racism, crippling insecurities, refugee-baiting, slavery in Queensland, the cowardice of social media and a clamouring chorus of other issues most bands would not have a bar of.
"When The Last Kinection first formed we agreed that we would bring all of those uncomfortable things that people don't want to talk about to the surface ― that’s why we never expected airplay," laughs Nay.
It’s a sentiment shared by the band’s third member, Jacob Turier, a hook-slinging heavyweight of a DJ/producer who has landed them plenty of airplay.
“We really feel that a lot of people choose not to talk about some things because it makes them uncomfortable and if they talk about it, they will have to confront the problem,” says Turier, also known as Jaytee.
On “Talk About It”, Joel - better known as Weno - raps:
Don't talk about what, what you talking about?
With a mouth clammed shut, but your tongue is about
Bite it off if you’re not gonna let it off
It’s a propa shame job when it’s speech you’ve lost
Get to the point like oxytocin
The walls are caving in like a vasopressin
Mr Wenitong gonna teach a lesson
If food is talk then we’re in a depression
You can live by political correction
I hear words don’t know what you’re saying
Think you’re smart? Lucky I won’t punch your face in
We know your games you’re the only ones playing
Is there somethin’ on your chest? Then please let it off
Cause you can be my guest or you can piss me off
Don’t send me texts, you can find my house
I like it much better when you use your mouth
The band seem to relish confronting challenges. Most musicians would be content with the level of success the multi-award-winning Last Kinection have reached. Yet Weno was not able to take part in this interview because the rapper - who spits like he's dispensing prescriptions - was in the middle of exams for a medical degree.
The Last Kinection also stick to a gruelling schedule of community hip-hop workshops. And whereas other bands would be content to stick to the winning formula that brought them success on their first album, Weno and Jaytee have ramped up their repertoire on their follow-up.
Amazingly, they have managed to kick their sound into the future while keeping one foot firmly stomping in the past, blending corroboree calls and down-and-dirty didge with the speaker-shattering sub-bass and spacey snares of dubstep. The new album also sounds a lot more like a live band.
"We worked a lot more closely with our good friend Gareth Hudson, a multi-instrumentalist from Newcastle, on this album," says Jaytee.
“He added something to pretty much every track. I would usually take a beat that Joel or I had done and get him to either replay parts or just add live elements in.”
They also teamed up with prolific Aboriginal producer Trials, from the hugely popular party-till-you-puke rappers The Funkoars, on “Talk About It”.
“'Talk About It' was an idea that Joel came up with,” says Jaytee.
“I did a beat that was almost a dance beat at first, and Joel did the hook - “we don’t even talk about it” - and we had that simple idea just sitting there for ages. We were still not sure about what it exactly meant though.
“But we also wanted to touch on the way people don’t talk in person any more and how people can just get on the internet and spout ridiculously racist things behind the safety of anonymity. Ironically, the whole Trials collab happened via email.”
“I had met Trials quite a few times through [huge Aboriginal hip-hopper] Briggs and always wanted to get him on a track. Once the beat was sounding a bit closer to its finished state and Joel had done his verse I sent it to Trials and asked if he would be keen to do a verse on it. He said, for sure.”
The resulting sound of the whole album is so infectious that The Last Kinection have done the seemingly impossible in Australia, bridging the wide divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal hip-hop.
"Well, we'll all be getting along when the aliens come I bet," laughs Nay.
As former US president Ronald Reagan told his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev: “If suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe, we’d forget all the little local differences that we have.”
Says Nay: “Nah, I joke about this, but honestly it’s a little bit scary knowing that if we all can find something similar to hate, it becomes easier for us not to see the differences in each other. I think it’s up to you ― what circles you want your music to move in. There is a choice there. We chose to team up with Oz hip hop label Elefant Traks rather than a black label for this reason, among others.
“Personally, I believe music is one of the most beautiful things in the world that brings all of us together, no matter what age, sex or background. 'Together’ is spawned from my own thoughts and observations as a half-black, half-white female growing up in this country."
The higher you think you are,
the further you have to fall
And the more you stand over someone,
the longer you have to crawl
Everyone's longing to belong to something,
I belong to all of you,
but I don’t win anything
I kick back and I watch us all
fight one another
Talk behind each other’s backs,
then you call him your brother
You see black and white,
but I’m everywhere in between
Now you say sooner or later
I’m gon’ have to choose a team
But I did way back then,
on the day that I was born
Team human, I will stay
everyday I have sworn
To continue to be me
while showing no remorse
But anyone can see that
I’m too dark for the light horse
History’s been neglected
And most of us just wanna be accepted
It’s hard to see the differences
amongst us in the gutter
And the truth is, in the end,
all we really have is each other
If you could only spend one day in my shoes
Maybe then we could talk
Maybe then we could walk
Ngulum Ngin Yaadhulay
(We all will talk to each other)
"Take a look at the audiences at our gigs. They are so mixed. When I started noticing that happening, that's when I really felt like, hell yeah! We can change attitudes in this country! We just keep kicking that door until it opens."
It seems they are still unsure they have reached that goal. The album’s lead single "Are We There Yet?” throws up more questions than answers.
When are we gonna get there?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
When are we gonna get there?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Asked about its themes, Nay replies: "Are we there yet as a country?
"Are we there as Aboriginal race - treated equal?
"Are we there as the human race?
"Are we there yet as a hip hop group?
"Are we even changing anything?
"Are we there as women - treated equally to men?
"There are endless questions…"