The Campbelltown, Sydney rebel rapper Kerser made a pact with his producer Nebs. They’d do “10 albums in 10 years”. But for only his fifth album, Next Step, Kerser has worked instead with New York’s little-known John Andrew. There are other changes. Major changes. The longtime indie stalwart has launched a label, ABK Records, with Warner’s backing. What gives?
A relaxed Kerser – who still declines to confirm his full name beyond “Scott”, citing privacy concerns, – suggests that any decision to pull in Andrew was pragmatic. Andrew presides over the online company Sinima Beats, which licenses instrumentals royalty-free – among its clients DMX, The Game and Hopsin. Kerser had “leased” Andrew’s beats for promo tracks. When Kerser was set to commence Next Step, Nebs was busy with his project, Thats Them.
“I thought, Well, we’ve done four albums – and we were both happy with where we were at. And the fans were demanding the sound that they were getting from the promo songs, so I kinda took that on board.” So Nebs wasn’t upset about being sidelined? “Nah, nah, nah – there wasn’t no fall-out,” Kerser responds. “Nebs is all sweet.” Kerser has heard speculation to the contrary – but “people have taken it the wrong way.”
Watch: Kerser – Still Haven’t Changed
The bigger news is that Kerser has gone major, aligning himself with Warner. Indeed, this inherently underground MC is ambitious. He’d always sought his own label platform. “I got full creative control – like, I still run my social media. Nothing on my behalf has to change at all. I don’t have to change my sound, my music…”
As a kid, Kerser was obsessed with 2Pac – though he later embraced Eminem, with whom he’s inevitably compared. Kerser broke out as a battle rapper, even feuding with 360. He circulated mixtapes – and became a YouTube phenom. Repudiating ‘barbecue rap’, Kerser developed a hardcore steez, informed by life in Sydney’s rough west. He connected with Nebs, an adaptable beatmaker. Nebs oversaw Kerser’s 2011 electro-spiked debut The Nebulizer.
Despite negligible radio support, and rampant thieving of his CDs from JB Hi-Fi, Kerser charted with the follow-up, No Rest For The Sickest. 2013’s SCOT cracked ARIA’s Top 10. Kerser joined 2014’s Big Day Out alongside crowd fave Snoop Dogg – whose visa, to his “surprise”, the feminist lobby group Collective Shout had urged be revoked. “I was like, Why is this just coming to attention now?”
Kerser has challenged negative stereotypes of the ‘bogan’ and a disenfranchised underclass. He’s not toned things down on Next Step. In Takin’ Over The Scene, Kerser and “best mate” Jay Uf mock other rappers, deploying homophobic (and sexist) language to do so. Kerser disses Allday – an MC who, ironically, specialises in self-dissing. For Kerser, flexing such machismo is ‘keeping it real’. Alas, it will distract some from recognising his talent.
Sonically, Next Step lies between epic ’90s East Coast and (Slim Shady’s) rust-belt hip-hop – with rocktronica flourishes. Lyrically, Kerser deals with career struggles – and fame. “I’ve really mastered my style for this album and the beats I’m rapping over just go with it so perfect – it was definitely the best piece of work I’ve done. I just think it really is the next step. It’s gonna make a lot of people realise that I can do more than just the regular style of music they think I can. There’s a lot of variety on the album – and from the start to the finish it’s like a rollercoaster. It starts off heavy and then it’s deep moments…”
Always Been Here For You, with Emmy Mack, is Kerser’s poppiest foray, sampling Roxette’s ’80s power ballad Listen To Your Heart. However, on the lead single Still Haven’t Changed Kerser reassures fans that he hasn’t sold-out. It also underscores his increasingly cherished outsider status in Australian hip-hop. Like no other Aussie MC, Kerser has mystique. But, he insists, that mythos isn’t formulated. The media has generated its own Kerser narrative.
“I don’t wanna sound cliché – [but] I just be myself all the time,” Kerser says. “The real Scott, the real Kerser, is in my songs and not what you read online. People can get to know me off my songs more than what someone has to write.” In Keep Chasing Them (featuring Nat M), a rapped Kerser bio-pic, he references 2012’s putative drive-by shooting in Ferntree Gully, Victoria – now legend. “That one incident there, that was true, but we can’t go into details about that.”
Watch: Kerser – Next Step
Kerser has established an Australian hip-hop “genre”. “I feel like I’ve started a sound in Australian hip-hop that no one’s done – and I started rapping about stuff that no one’s done. People were rapping about the street stuff, but no one was rapping about coming from the street and making it and then topping the charts. Who’s got a story like that to tell? No one’s got a story like that to tell… I think I’ve inspired a lot of people to take up this kind of genre that I’ve created.”
Kerser largely ignores homegrown hip-hoppers aside from his misfit crew – which includes brother Rates – but he digs Downsyde’s Dazastah. “I don’t listen to much Aussie hip-hop. I find a lot of it sounds very the same to me. Everyone does the same style – it has to be boom-bap or, if it’s not boom-bap, it’ll have to be especially made for the radio.” What might Kerser vibe to, apart from hip-hop? “I listen to Powderfinger a lot. I’m an Ed Sheeran fan… I listen to some old Nirvana – like that Nevermind CD. You could say soft rock – like coastal rock, music that makes you feel like you’re on a beach or something.”
Kerser will again hit the road over summer. “We tour after every record – like we have the last four – so it’s gonna be the same process. We’re gonna go to almost every state in Australia. We’re talking around February time. Then we’re gonna do a regional run after that. So we’re really gonna do a lot of shows off this album, ’cause it’s got a lot of songs on it that have live potential – and just to get the buzz going, as we do. We’ll just do a lot of touring – and then get ready for album six.”
‘Next Step’ is out now. Head here for Kerser’s upcoming tour dates.