With barely a half-dozen songs to his name, Kobie Dee‘s career thus far has been a living, breathing exercise in quality over quantity. The Gomeroi rapper has made quick work of his relatively-short career, already racking up millions of Spotify streams and a place on the roster of Bad Apples, the imprint headed by Dee’s teenage hero Briggs.
His debut EP, Gratitude Over Pity, has been one of the year’s most anticipated Australian hip-hop releases and its release this month has solidified every last skerrick of hype surrounding his poignant storytelling and striking honesty. If that wasn’t enough, Dee also launched the podcast Know Role Models this year with a compelling first season of interesting and vital conversations with fellow Indigenous folk – headed up by none other than AFL legend Adam Goodes.
With all of this going on, it felt the exact right time to speak with Dee about reliving difficult scenarios through music, connecting with Goodesy man-to-man and the importance of Bad Apples’ current ‘Mob Rule’ rollout.
Music Feeds: The Gratitude Over Pity EP has obviously been quite a while coming – can you speak a little on where these songs in particular started, and when it began to cohesively form into what the EP is now?
Kobie Dee: We were always aiming for an EP. There were just so many demos floating about, it was all about figuring out what would be the best songs to put forward for my first EP. That’s really what it boiled down to – being the best. I’ve accumulated a lot of tracks over the years, and they’re all from such different points of my life. I guess what really ties these five songs together is the way they take me back to these certain times. They take me back to where I was – literally and mentally – when I was writing them.
MF: That’s got to have both its good and its bad points, certainly – you can reflect on how far you’ve come since, but you’re also staring down some quite intense moments in your life on this EP.
KD: For sure. Tracks like ‘Drama’ and ‘About a Girl’ are from earlier points in my life, where you can really sense the kinds of environment that I was in. ‘In the Zone’, which opens the EP… I would say that’s a pretty apt reflection of where I’m personally at right now. Each song reflects a different part of my journey – and that has to be both for better and for worse. It’s a timeline throughout my life, and that includes the things that I’ve seen and the stuff that I was going through. I’m starting to get a greater sense of the impact that stories like this can have, just from being honest about them.
MF: That would especially be the case for a song like ‘About a Girl’, which doesn’t shy away from its depiction of a very serious subject in domestic violence, grooming and drug abuse. How have you found the reception to that song in particular?
KD: When I wrote ‘About a Girl’, I was starting to notice that more and more girls around me had found themselves in similar situations. They’d really gone through it. It made me so sad to come to that realisation.
I wanted the song to really reflect universally like that – this is not just someone else’s story. This is so many girls’ story. This is so many women’s story. I come from a single mother, and my aunties are predominantly single mothers as well. I was carrying a lot with me on that song – you can definitely hear it in my vocals, too.
I was at a low point in my life – but if telling this story helps to bring awareness, then you can still get a good feeling from having done it.
MF: Much of what you do is centred on the idea of storytelling. Did that naturally extend into the Know Role Models project when the podcast was pitched to you?
KD: Yeah, definitely. I’m very big on storytelling through my music, and the podcast was another chance to do exactly that. In my music, I always write from the heart. I write in a way that helps me with my own healing. That’s exactly what I see the podcast as doing, as well. I have these conversations with different people that I had seen as role models growing up – or, at the very least, were big inspirations to me. By having these conversations and sharing our stories, I feel like we’re creating a lot of healing and providing a lot of education. I also feel like we’re only just getting started.
MF: Did you have much experience on the other side of interviews before? What did it mean to take Goodesy off the pedestal and connect one-on-one?
KD: Nah, I had none. I’d met Goodesy once before, at Yabun Festival. I’d heard that he was a fan of me! I couldn’t believe that. We shook hands and had a bit of a chat, but going into that interview for the podcast is among the most nervous that I’ve ever been. I was absolutely shitting myself – which is good because I’m all about experiences that take me out of that comfort zone. There was a lot of stuff that I asked around the racism that he faced, but I also wanted to switch it up to stuff I wanted to know – his connection to culture, where he grew up and all those kinds of things. I wanted to create different kinds of conversations rather than just what people already know about his career.
MF: Did those nerves carry over to releasing the podcast?
KD: It wasn’t until I got feedback from everyone about the podcast that I felt like I’d done a good job. I still get very insecure about what I put out into the world. Music’s a bit different now because I do have a lot more confidence in that, but with the podcast, it was all new. I was like, “Are people gonna find it boring? Did I ask the right questions?” It was nerve-racking, but once I started getting the feedback and everyone was positive, I was alright. It got me to start thinking about who’s going to be on the next season.
MF: Gratitude Over Pity has been released as part of Bad Apples’ string of releases known as their ‘Mob Rule’ summer. This roll-out includes Briggs’ new single with Troy Cassar-Daley, Barkaa’s debut EP and Birdz’ new album. It feels as though there is a real boom period for Indigenous music in the country right now. What does it mean to you to be considered a part of that?
KD: There’s a great sense of pride. I was actually texting with Barkaa just the other day about it. When I was growing up, I’d see people like Briggs, Jessica Mauboy and Uncle Archie [Roach] on TV and at shows – these truly great Indigenous artists. It didn’t stop there, either – I’d be watching these incredible Indigenous athletes playing footy every weekend, too. This is what we were raised on. This was what we looked up to growing up. It’s hard to describe how big that feeling is knowing that, in a way, that’s what we’re becoming.
We’re becoming the idols that we aspired to be when we were younger. The same way I looked up to Briggs, Jess, all of them… it’s definitely massive.
MF: Meyne Wyatt, who’s another key Indigenous artist that’s part of said boom, made a lot of waves with his monologue on Q&A last year. “You get to be okay,” he said. “I have to be exceptional.” He also made a very salient point about how minorities are perceived and branded within cultural spaces. White artists aren’t seen as all the same, but Indigenous artists have to be wholly representative and emblematic of an entire culture – which completely over-simplifies how multifaceted Indigenous culture within this country is in the first place. How have you found navigating the pressure that comes from this discourse?
KD: It’s definitely something that’s weighed on my mind. Particularly, for me, it was something that came up when I was dealing with addiction issues, partying a lot, that sort of stuff. I thought a lot about this idea of the double standard. As I’m starting to be more and more in the limelight, I’m becoming particularly self-conscious about my behaviour. If I rock up and play shows blind drunk, I know the kind of labels that come with that.
Having said that, it means a lot to be able to express myself culturally – to be out here with our dancing, our didge playing, our colours. It’s about breaking down barriers, and truly not caring what people think of us. Music and performing truly helps me to overcome these things.
MF: Not just overcoming, but also it seems like you’re reclaiming a lot of aspects of your identity by presenting them on such a public platform.
KD: When we’re on stage, it’s about taking our voices back. It’s about making them heard. We’re taking back what they took from our grandparents when they tried to breed us out; when they tried to wipe out our people completely. To be able to stand here now, with our songs and our voice, taking what’s been inside of us for so long and making it loud enough for everyone to hear… it’s truly amazing to me.