Next Step
November 9, 2015

The Australian hip-hop scene has become ever more diverse – and individualised – with MCs like Briggs, L-FRESH The LION and Tkay Maidza. Allday lately followed Iggy Azalea by signing a US deal. Meanwhile, Sydney’s shrewd Kerser, who’s long revelled in his outsider status, has started an imprint, ABK Records, with the backing of – shock – Warner. All eyez – and earz – will be on this fifth album, Next Step.

Kerser, influenced by that conflicted gangsta 2Pac as much as the renegade Eminem, trades on his infamy, having come Straight Outta Campbelltown – via the Internet. Forming an exclusive alliance with versatile beatmaker Nebs, he unleashed his debut The Nebulizer – of edgy electro-hop, not boom-bap – in 2011.

The pair determined to cut “10 albums in 10 years” – a work rate No Limit’s Master P would admire. While Kerser was snubbed by both radio and the Oz hip-hop mainstream, his sophomore, No Rest For The Sickest, crossed over into the ARIA Charts. The indie underdog – tagged “Australia’s Eminem” – eventually rocked Big Day Out.

Kerser has challenged Australia’s conservative barbecue rap genre – hip-hop’s equivalent of pub-rock – and the suburban subculture of ‘skip-hop’ that the Resin Dogs pioneered. He raps about life on the troubled streets of Sydney’s west, flexing a hardcore attitude. Kerser has subverted negative stereotypes of a (disenfranchised) ‘bogan’. But PC he ain’t.

On Next Step, arriving a year after KING, this underground game-changer has – shock, again – liaised with a producer other than Nebs. He’s hired New York’s John Andrew, who normally “leases” instrumentals via his online company Sinima Beats. Andrews’ clients include everyone from The Game to Hopsin to the Keeping Up With The Kardashians franchise. Here, his sophisticated production veers from cinematic ’90s East Coast urban to Shady-esque grime – though the programmed finale Be Patient recalls Mezzanine-era Massive Attack.

If Next Step has a prevailing theme, it’s that Kerser isn’t compromising. The Godfather-y single Still Haven’t Changed is meant to reassure fans that he’s forfeited none of that “trademark grit and mischief”, as a label presser puts it. Nor has he muted the drug mentions.

Next Step charts Kerser’s career struggles – and reinforces his own mythology (the MC still withholds his real name). In Keep Chasing Them, featuring Skylar Grey substitute Nat M, he slyly refers to that apocryphal drive-by shooting early on in Melbourne’s outer-suburban Ferntree Gully. Yet, this being the emo-hop epoch, Kerser also ruminates on the dark side of fame, and anxiety, in Paranoid.

Next Step is a triumph, Kerser easily balancing the roles of battle rapper and plaintive MC. He can do pop: Always Been Here For You, with singer Emmy Mack, lifts its radio-friendly hook from Roxette’s ’80s ballad Listen To Your Heart. But, alas, the rapper makes missteps.

Takin’ Over The Scene finds Kerser and ol’ sidekick Jay Uf dismissing other rappers as “faggots” and “homos and gay”. Such regressive homophobic sublimation is indefensible, even by an MC who simply refuses to “filter”. Then there’s the track’s sensationally sexist missives… To top it off, Kerser – who’s previously sparred with 360, albeit in a contained beef – disses Allday, whose ironic grungy ‘loser’ persona renders it a bit like hating on a sad kitten. Or, at least, Grumpy Cat.

‘Next Step’ is out this Friday, 13th November. Pre-order a copy on iTunes here.

Watch: Kerser – Still Haven’t Changed