Ozi Battla – Straight Forward, Straight Up

Fronting local hip hop collective The Herd along with Urthboy as well as lending his skills to the dubbed out Astronomy Class amongst countless other collaborations, Ozi Battla would have to be one of the most veteran MCs working in Aussie hip hop. His time with the aforementioned bands resulting in some of the most incise, incendiary and sophisticated moments of lyricism the genre has ever heard, the release of his highly anticipated debut solo LP, Wild Colonial is definitely and event that will go down in the annals of Aussie hip hop.

Somewhat guarded and laconic, Ozi is speaking to me over the phone as he prepares to embark on tour in support of Wild Colonial, a prospect he’s looking forward to. “It’s sort of the reward,” he explains reflectively. “Doing shows is my favourite part of being a musician.” It shows.

Heading out on tour in stripped back MC/DJ format, a bit of a change for Ozi from playing with The Herd, his recent run of shows have seen him embrace a no nonsense balls to wall approach. No gimmicks, just tasty beats and good lyrics.

“Sandro and I just like the same things from a hip hop show. Pretty straight up and not too much bullshit. I kind of feel that with some of the gimmicky stuff you’re not really doing your job if you have to resort to that,” he explains, his voice gathering a bit of steam, “the music should be able to hold the crowd there. Our live thing is just really straight up, it’s mixed like a proper DJ set, very few stops and starts.”

Whether in the studio or one the road, Ozi like to keep busy. Just looking over his career across the last four or five years reveals a steady stream of different projects and intense tour schedules. Ozi wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I personally find it hard to go on a holiday for a month,” he tells me with a soft laugh. “I’d much rather be doing something. Something different or not necessarily work related, but just a project, something to keep my mind occupied. I find myself getting a bit bored and lost when not making music, it sort of defines me and I need it. I’m always happy to be working on more music and putting out product.” Thankfully for us he finally found the time to work on his own stuff.

An album which as Ozi says “asks more questions than in answers,” Wild Colonial offers stylish and slick production from former Good Buddha beatmaster Sandro, channelling the spirit of Golden Era New York hip hop, with Ozi wrapping it all up in a thoroughly Aussie bow. The album also see’s the MC stepping back a little in terms of how voracious and didactic his rapping can be, leaving space for the listener to draw their own conclusions on a wide range of topics.

“I guess I have been accused of getting a bit preachy and getting on my soapbox from time to time and I didn’t want to do that on this record,” he confesses calmly in his gravelly voice. “I wanted to leave it open for interpretation and let people make up their own judgements about some of the questions that we’re raising.”

Speaking of questions raised, Wild Colonial is based very much in issues of identity and one’s place in the world. “The title track is sort of asking a question about what it means to be here in Australia as a descendant of the colonisers, and in the same way what it means to be making hip hop,” he explains cautiously, seemingly reluctant to spoil anyone else’s interpretation by offering his own.

Nevertheless, at my gentle probing he was willing to discuss a few things. “On a more personal level tracks like Doesn’t Matter and Joyride reflect on my having been a part of the music industry for over a decade, where I’m at and where I think I’m going.”

This focus on drawing from personal experience is central to most of Ozi’s work. Rather than just listing off his life story though as a lot of rappers are wont to do, Ozi goes a little bit deeper in exploring himself and his life on a conceptual and philosophical level. “I think a lot of my music is about identity and my place in the world and trying to make sense of that. That’s’ what my writing is really, a sort of verbal expression of my search for meaning and understanding and this album is definitely an extension of that.”

With widespread critical acclaim and plenty of support from his fans, the question is, what’s next for Ozi? “I’d like to continue with this solo project,” he tells me, an air of indecision in his voice, “but I think The Herd is probably requiring some attention. Unkle Ho’s coming back from Indonesia in a few weeks so we’re going to do some sessions once he’s here.”

With as many quality projects on the run as Ozi has it might be a while until we see the follow up to Wild Colonial, but here’s hoping it’s not too long.

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