Underdog, Rebel, Role Model, Sellout, Dad, Corruptor, King: The Elusive Kerser Speaks Uncensored About His Past, Present & Future

Many legendary MCs have talked about retiring at their peak – with JAY-Z threatening to quit even on dropping 1996’s Reasonable Doubt. But Kerser, Australia’s original street rapper, was almost forced to retire when in early 2018 he lost his voice.

“I had a paralysed vocal cord, so it was pretty crazy,” Kerser recaps. “I woke up one morning – I thought I had laryngitis. My voice was slowly going. So I went to the doctor’s and they told me it was laryngitis; to come back in a few days – this is nine days before the last tour. So I went, ‘Hey, Doc, I need my voice back to tour’. Then a week later, it still hadn’t come back and it had gotten worse – I had no voice at all.” Kerser flew to Melbourne to visit a specialist, who identified the problem. “I had to go into the hospital to get an injection into my vocal cord and glue to fill it back up. Since then, my voice has come back and, touch wood, it’s stayed that way. But it was just a wait and see process because they didn’t know if I was gonna be able to use my voice again. It was pretty scary, to tell you the truth.”

At the start of his career, the ambitious Kerser set himself a mission to deliver “10 albums in 10 years”. His larynx woes disrupted that – and he didn’t have an album in 2018. However, Kerser is now returning triumphantly with album eight, Lifestyle, which he declares, is “one of the best pieces of work I’ve put out to date.”

Kerser had a rough and tumble upbringing in Campbelltown in Sydney’s south-west. While in primary school, he latched onto hardcore hip-hop (!) – idolising Tupac Shakur. Kerser eventually began battle-rapping, culminating in an infamous showdown with 360. He pioneered ‘gutter rap’ – an Australian variant of the gangsta genre born out of public housing estates, socio-economic marginalisation, austerity and a DGAF attitude.

Charismatic, Kerser built his rep in the late 2000’s by circulating mixtapes and, crucially, uploading clips onto YouTube, attracting a huge following. But Kerser’s (cautionary) raps about drugs and partying as well as his liberal splattering of the word ‘cunt’ unsettled an industry accustomed to Aussie barbecue hip-hop. Underground fervour aside, he was blacklisted by radio programmers – with no airplay coming even from triple j, leading to a longstanding feud. Kerser came to epitomise the DIY hip-hop artist in the social media era.

In 2011, Kerser united with his beatmaker pal Nebs for a clubby debut album, The Nebulizer, released independently. The next year, his follow-up, No Rest For The Sickest, cracked the ARIA Albums Charts – with 2013’s ensuing SCOT reaching an astonishing #5. Kerser actually issued successful live tour DVDs. In a coup, the rapper was booked for 2014’s Big Day Out, joining Snoop Dogg and an emerging Mac Miller. Still, he remained an industry outsider. “They kept ignoring me and ignoring me,” he sighs. In the meantime, Kerser shrewdly branded himself as an underdog. (No flamboyant capitalist, his press releases revealed that No Rest… was the “Most Stolen Album From JB Hi-Fi”.) Kerser’s partnership with Nebs endured for four albums. “I’ve lost contact with him over the past four years, five years,” he says. “I’m not sure what he’s up to.”

In 2015, the gamechanging rapper announced that he was launching his own label, ABK Records, with Warner’s backing. Kerser unleashed Next Step, with production from New York’s John Andrew, aka Sinima Beats. Next Step would be both his most commercial and controversial foray. ‘Always Been Here For You’ sampled Roxette’s retro FM radio power ballad ‘Listen To Your Heart’. But ‘Takin’ Over The Scene’ copped all the heat, with Kerser deploying homophobic epithets to diss other rappers (including Allday) and offering a random, misogynistic punchline about A Current Affair presenter Tracy Grimshaw.

Kerser’s wildest flex occurred in 2017. He appeared on the loosie ‘Total Concentration’ alongside US super-rapper Future and onetime G-Unit affiliate, Young Buck. The track was conceived by the Canberran producer Ghosts In The Room, Kerser says. “He had a Young Buck verse in 2013, I think; maybe a bit earlier. At the time, I was working on an album and I was touring so I couldn’t do [the track]. So I said, ‘Come back in a few years and we’ll definitely do some work,’ ’cause I liked his beats as well. Then that producer, Ghosts In The Room, he came back and he had a Young Buck verse and he had a Future verse and he wanted a Kerser verse on the one track.”

Kerser’s fans “spun out”. The MC admits that some of his ‘Day Ones’ grumbled that he’d “sold out”, adding, “not all of them, but there was a bit of that.” But he also discerned pride. “Mainly the reaction was, ‘This is mad – you’re getting the recognition you deserve.'” Though initially ‘wowed’, Kerser being Kerser took this Future connection in his stride. “To me, it was a big moment, but it was just another verse on a song, really.” ‘Total Concentration’ materialised on ABK Records – and Kerser performs it live. “Yeah, yeah – like we fully own it all,” he says. “It’s pretty cool, aye.”

Kerser’s life has altered. Early on, he moved away from Sydney to the south coast, ostensibly to evade Stans. And, in 2017, he became a father to a daughter, Diamond, with his high school sweetheart, April. Kerser shared the news on his last album, Engraved In The Game, in ‘One Wish’.

Kerser has slowly achieved a new level of visibility. This time last year, he was guest programmer of rage, together with his MC brother Rates and hypeman Jay UF, selecting tracks like Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’. Of course, Kerser has been dubbed ‘Australia’s Eminem’. Did he catch Shady on his latest Rapture Tour? “No!,” Kerser laments. “I’m spewing. I missed it. I’ve always wanted to see him live, but I missed it this year. It’s something I’m really spewing about. I’ve never seen him live.”

In late 2018, Kerser was nominated for an ARIA (Best Urban Release) with Engraved…, losing to Hilltop Hoods. And, recently, B WISE solicited him to rap on a remix of ‘The Code’ with Manu Crooks, Jesswar, Anfa Rose, Pistol & Enzo, Ay Huncho and Nooky for Elefant Traks. Kerser has an international fandom, too. His lyrics are on Genius. “I don’t verify and I don’t check them. I’ve seen people post lyrics on the YouTube videos – but I don’t know if they copy and paste from there. But heaps of them are wrong; they don’t get ’em right. I’m like, ‘Ah, it must be the slang I’m using or something!,” he laughs.

After cutting Engraved… remotely with the German beat merchant Allrounda, Kerser determined to switch up any formula for Lifestyle. He met Open Till L8, a mysterious Sydney electronic producer, through “mutual friends”. “We just vibed it in the studio and kept having studio sessions together and then we created a friendship and then started bouncing ideas for the album.” Kerser welcomed the interaction with Open Till L8. “Finding a new producer and working on getting things sounding exactly how we wanted ’em to sound – I haven’t worked on an album with a producer like that since Nebs in 2014, when King was released.” He touts Open Till L8 as “one of the craziest producers in the country.” As such, Lifestyle has a “new sound”: it’s Kerser’s stamp on trap. Curiously, the lead single ‘Da Kers Effect’ has an EDM festival tinge.

Lifestyle captures Kerser at his most assured. “I appreciate my voice a lot more,” he jokes. “I’ve been on tour, I’ve experienced a lot more, fatherhood – my daughter just turned two… And I’ve grown with music as well.” Regardless, to an extent, he still perceives himself as an underdog in the Australian hip-hop scene.

“I was the underdog, but I think I took over and I don’t need any of their help. So it does make me feel like an underdog. It makes me feel like I actually beat ’em.” Unusually for an Australian hip-hopper, Kerser has also generated his own mythology. People know, but don’t know, him. He’s long declined to confirm his real name (it may or may not be Scott Barrow). Yet Kerser hasn’t purposely cultivated mystique, he maintains. “I always wanted to keep it to the music. I’ve just always kept it that way and it’s just kinda panned out. I figure that’s why there have been so many different misconceptions about me, because of mystique. People don’t know… Obviously, they know I’m authentic, they know where I’m from, they know what I rap about still. But, as far as hanging out at parties and chilling with celebrities or being in the press and that, I’ve kept a low profile – which is cool.”

Today Kerser is as ever unfiltered, exploiting his notoriety – cue Lifestyle‘s uh-uh ‘What Ya Day Brings Part 2 (featuring Jay UF). Contemporary hip-hop artists are scrutinised heavily, with toxic masculinity called out and problematic rappers (like 6ix9ine) ‘muted’ or cancelled. Kerser pays little heed to these cultural debates – or what he refers to as “this political correctness movement that’s going on”. He’s wary of “censorship”.

“I haven’t changed and I’ll never change and I’ll still say what I wanna say in my message in my songs,” he says. But the C-Town rebel is content to speak to a particular sector of disenfranchised youth – a vilified working-class – and their struggle. And, here, he could be a role model. Indeed, Kers has realised an impossible dream of creativity, enterprise and autonomy.

Next month Kerser will hit the road, gigging behind Lifestyle. The MC is edging closer to fulfilling his 10-year plan. Kerser is unsure what he will do after. “I think I’ll plug into the fashion world a bit.” Mind, retirement isn’t on the cards. “I don’t think I can ever stop making music, so I might be dropping the odd promo song here or there – yeah, it’s too hard to say now. I can’t see myself ever completely just stopping rapping, but who knows?”

Kerser 2019 Life Style Tour Dates

Friday, 12th April (18+)

Prince Bandroom, Melbourne

Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 13th April (U18)

Prince Bandroom, Melbourne

Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 27th April (AA)

The Metro, Sydney

Tickets: Official Website

Friday, 3rd May (AA)

HQ Complex, Adelaide

Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 11th May (18+)

Capitol, Perth

Tickets: Official Website

Saturday, 18th May (18+)

Mode Bar & Niteclub, Launceston (TAS)

Tickets: Official Website

Friday, 24th May (AA)

Eatons Hill Hotel, Eatons Hill (QLD)

Tickets: Official Website

Friday, 31st May (18+)

The Jack, Cairns

Tickets: Official Website


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