Image: Cole Bennetts

Briggs: “You Don’t Repair Foundations By Ignoring Them. You Restump The House If It Needs Restumping”

Since releasing his 2014 solo album, Sheplife, Briggs has become a celebrity. The album introduced the Yorta Yorta rapper to a much wider audience courtesy of the singles ‘Bad Apples’ and ‘The Hunt’. Briggs took that momentum into A.B. Original’s Reclaim Australia LP, which made an even greater impression. He’s subsequently become a voice of political authority and appears as a regular correspondent on ABC comedy program, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

Briggs returned in early April with the single ‘Life Is Incredible’ featuring Scottish vocalist, Greg Holden. On the surface it sounds like the Shepparton local has embraced a life of full-blown hedonism, but a closer inspection reveals his ballooning public profile hasn’t diluted the thematic potency of his work.

A satirical video featuring some famous Indigenous friends – such as Adam Goodes, Michael Long, Nakkiah Lui, and Amrita Hepi – accompanies the single. It’s a darkly comedic look at the discrepancy in the life expectancy of white Australians versus First Nations people.

Music Feeds speaks to Briggs ahead of a national tour, which includes the Bad Apples House Party at the Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid LIVE 2019.

Music Feeds: ‘Life Is Incredible’ is an ironic portrayal of what life is like for the average white person in Australia, presented in first person by an Indigenous man. It’s not new territory for you, but you’ve never communicated your message this way. Why did you want to tell the story from this angle?

Briggs: In the song I amplify the cliché of whiteness. I understand not everyone has a wine cellar, and if you do have a wine cellar that’s totally fine too. It’s really not about that. It’s about understanding that white privilege is not to be recognised as the fault of a person but it is to be acknowledged that there are obstacles for black fellas in Australia that we have to navigate that they would never have to navigate. I’m drawing at the extremes for the satire and the comedy.

MF: Were you bracing yourself for a cascade of negative feedback from people feeling belittled at the mention of white privilege?

B: I think a lot of people get their back up as soon as they hear the term white privilege. Especially working class Australians – they feel like, “Hang on, I go to work every day. I work as hard as the next man. If Indigenous Australians wanted to be on our level, they have to work as hard as me.” When the reality is we have to work ten times as hard to access the same kind of benefits of the rest of Australia.

Even I am in a position of privilege because I get access to a platform to speak to the masses. And what I do with the platform is I choose to draw focus to the division. How are we supposed to close the gap if we don’t acknowledge where the gap is and what the gap is and that there is a divide? You don’t repair foundations by ignoring them. You restump the house if it needs restumping.

MF: The production is rosy and laidback. Your rapping is unhurried and Greg Holden’s chorus hook is over-the-top and sugary. It makes for a perverse contrast when the plot twist reveals you’re specifically saying that being white is incredible. Was that your intention?

B: The old bait and switch. Classic. The juxtaposition is hilarious to me. There’s not a whole lot of things that I do that I don’t do for delivery and message and potency, but I often deliver my message through comedy. Other people are very profound and they speak straight, but this is the way I deliver my message.

MF: The music video is set in the fictional Whitehaven retirement village and calls attention to the disparity in life expectancy of indigenous people compared to white Australians. Did you see the video as essential for driving the point home?

B: It was such a big part of the roll out for me. It’s really satisfying to see it resonating with people and seeing that people are connecting with what the video represents. The song itself is a bit of a talking point, but when it’s presented with the video it presents a real stark reality quite vividly. It’s shot really well from Dylan River and Tyson Perkins.

MF: With a song like this that illuminates the facts of a complicated situation – facts that a lot of people wilfully ignore – is it your intention to spark a discussion?

B: The importance to me is to raise it in a creative way artistically as well. These are stories that people have heard before, I’m sure, but it’s really easy for people to disassociate themselves from numbers and statistics. So I present it in deaths on screen – Adam Goodes having a heart attack, Shari Sebbens randomly floating face down in a pool. Again I’m reaching to the extreme to reiterate what I’m talking about and the fact that we are dying on average ten years before the rest of Australia.

MF: Sheplife combined elements of rock music and boom bap. ‘Bad Apples’ was angry and unapologetic; ‘The Hunt’ was an emotionally moving song. ‘Life Is Incredible’ is a definite stylistic shift. Are you trying to move away from Sheplife on your next album?

B: Everything I’ve done has always been a progression into the next thing. If you go all the way back to Homemade Bombs, that was five tracks of hardcore, in your face rap music. And then we moved into The Blacklist, which was me still figuring out how to write a song. It was like Homemade Bombs on steroids – beefed up, more tracks, better production, and towards the end of it I started to have a bit more insight about writing songs.

Take that over into Sheplife where it’s a really personal recollection of a record, and you move from that into ‘The Children Came Back’ as a single. You move from ‘The Children Came Back’ into A.B. Original. At the same time as A.B. Original I did the single ‘Here’, which is just a straight banger but it was still in the same vein as Sheplife, where it was a regional kind of anthem.

From A.B. Original to now it’s like, how do I deliver this message so it’s interesting for me as an artist and also a progression and also a reflection on what’s moving today and what I want to say and how I want to say it? I didn’t want to do ‘Bad Apples’ part two. It was like, all right we’ve yelled at them – let’s do a song.

Briggs will take to the Sydney Opera House stage this Thursday May 30 with a one-off show as part of Vivid Festival with his ‘Bad Apples Music House Party’. He will perform beside the likes of Electric Fields, David Dallas, The Kid Laroi, Birdz, Jesswar and many more.

Other Vivid one-off shows, include New York R&B star and choreographer Teyana Taylor & the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing the works of late, great composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Briggs’ ‘Life Is Incredible’ launch tour continues through June.

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