On a casual weekday afternoon, Adam Briggs and Daniel Rankine are doing one of the things they do best: joke around. In this instance, Rankine is riffing on a joke made by Briggs on Facebook a few weeks ago. It’s in relation to one of the key phrases used by the keyboard warriors that rush to the defence of every person Briggs has publicly shamed for donning blackface. Rankine takes on his best game-show host voice and trumpets a big announcement: “IT’S TIME FOR AUSTRALIA’S FAVOURITE GAME SHOW…. HOW’S! THAT! RACIST?” A beat, then Rankine saying to no-one in particular: “Man, people would go nuts for that shit.”
There’s plenty of laughter to go around when you get these two together – even though the thematic content of the duo’s debut LP under the A.B. Original moniker, Reclaim Australia, deals with some pretty heavy subject matter. Whether it’s systemic racism or the seemingly never-ending abuse and disrespect of Australia’s indigenous population, neither Briggs nor Rankine back down or mince words on what they’re truly thinking. By the same token, however, the duo also have genuine moments of comedy in the album’s lyrics and occasional ad-libs. This, according to Briggs, is an extension of the group’s personality – a fitting medium for their message.
“Even the most serious and tragic of dramas can have a line of comedy to them,” he says. “That’s what gives it a human element. Through all the confrontation and the conflict that comes with what we’re doing, there has to be an element of humour. It’s how we deal with things – being able to reflect on things and laugh at the absurdity of the situations we face.” Rankine uses the example of recent single ‘January 26’ which is currently part of a grassroots campaign to get a ranking in the Triple J Hottest 100. “With that song, we come from a perspective of the irony a day like that entails,” he says.
Watch: A.B. Original – ‘January 26’
“It’s supposed to be this all-inclusive day for all Australians, and yet it simultaneously ignores and excludes one of the single oldest cultures on planet earth. That’s not lost on us, y’know. That shit is a certain brand of ridiculousness – so much that needs to be treated with an equal amount of ridiculousness right back.” A specific example from the song that Rankine uses is his line comparing what the date January 26 means to him in comparison to what it means to most white people. “I remember all the blood and what carried us,” he raps. “They remember 20 recipes for lamingtons.” It’s accentuated by a loud, sarcastic “YUM!” at the end; driving home the sarcasm and the comedy of errors that Australia Day has become.
“To be fair, lamingtons are fucking delicious,” he says. “But that ‘YUM’ in there is just as much an appreciation of lamingtons as it is us wondering out loud how sarcastic we have to be to paint a picture of how little that day means to many white Australians. Somehow, people will still find a way to be personally offended by us saying that they’re racist – as if that’s somehow worse than the shit they’ve been doing to us.
I mean, we’re not literally going to piss on your nan’s grave, like it says in the lyrics…” Briggs, at this point, can’t help himself. “Look,” he interjects. “I might.”
More laughter, as Rankine sighs: “We’re at the stage now of this white hyper-reality that they’re so protective and blindly patriotic that we’re not even allowed to question their fucking barbeques. When we’re chanting about waving the flag at the end of the song… that shit is hilarious to us. It’s so depressingly ingrained into our society. For us, using humour allows our songs to become relatable, but it also really shows these situations for how fucking ridiculous and stupid they are.” Briggs agrees. “It’s a reflection on who we are as people, too,” he adds. “The way we laugh, what we find funny… it’s all a part of this record.”
Watch: A.B. Original – ICU feat. Thelma Plum
A.B. Original was formed after both Briggs and Rankine had some time away from their main projects – Briggs is a solo artist in his own right, having most recently put out the critically-acclaimed Sheplife LP in 2014; while Rankine, under the name Trials, has been a part of Adelaide hip-hop crew Funkoars for over 15 years. Originally, the project was intended to merely drop a few singles. With a little encouragement, however, A.B. Original quickly became Briggs and Rankine’s main focus.
“It started as an EP,” says Briggs. “It was just something that came together really quickly – we never thought it was going to be anything more than that. We just showed up at [Adelaide-based hip-hop label] Golden Era with what we put together – we felt like we were a pet dragging in a dead bird from the yard. ‘Look at this gift we brought you!’ To our surprise, they were really encouraging – they actually wanted us to do more. When they told us that, we went straight into doing more. That’s all it took, really.”
“This was a straight-up project from the start – we knew that we didn’t want to fuck around,” says Rankine. “Some of the earliest songs that we wrote together were tracks that ended up becoming ‘Report 2 the Mist’ and ‘2 Black 2 Strong’ which are some of the hardest songs on the record. Changing it into an album wasn’t about stepping up the songwriting to the next level or anything like that – it was about staying at that level. It was about making an album that was unapologetic – an album that’s no bullshit. That was there as soon as we started writing together.”
Reclaim Australia came to life not only through the collaborative efforts of Briggs and Rankine, but of an expertly-curated guestlist. Among those that got in on the action were acclaimed roots artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Darwin-based soul/blues singer Caiti Baker, Sydney singer-songwriter Thelma Plum and Melbourne rocker Dan Sultan; who makes his presence felt on the aforementioned ‘January 26’.
“I think every single element of the record has been really organic,” says Rankine of the album’s development. “It was a cool process because we genuinely didn’t have any bigger plan for it. It wasn’t like we were sitting around in the studio, going ‘Okay, here’s the song with the female vocalist, and here’s the Dan Sultan song’. It was nothing like that. It was going to our phonebook and hitting up the people that we’re talking to pretty frequently about these issues anyway. I see the album as being like a greatest hits of our favourite producers, favourite rappers, favourite singers… these are all artists that we wanted to work with purely because we genuinely love working with them. They share similar life experiences and can translate exactly what it is we’re talking about.”
Watch: A.B. Original – 2 Black 2 Strong
After a couple of test runs this year, including a warm-up spot on Hilltop Hoods’ arena tour back in April and a sold-out show at Melbourne’s Workers Club, A.B. Original are set to set the wheels in motion of their live show. Joined by long-serving DJ and friend Total Eclipse, as well as Caiti Baker providing hooks and backing vocals, the duo will perform as a part of 2017’s Laneway Festival as well as performing hosting duties.
Beyond that, plenty of national touring is on the cards. “We’ll probably even try and take this overseas, too,” adds Rankine. “These are stories that need to be heard – and there are a lot of places around the world where the indigenous people are being treated the exact same way.”
“We want to make it a real grassroots rap show,” says Briggs. “We didn’t want much more than a few microphones and one of the world’s greatest DJs behind us. We’re taking it back to what we love. It’s about finding the least complicated way to deliver our message, y’know what I mean? There’s nothing contrived about it. We’re gonna tell you exactly what the fuck is up, and then we’ll be gone in 45 minutes.”
Rankine laughs, before adding: “That might also be because we don’t have enough songs to do an encore.”
‘Reclaim Australia’ is out now. A.B. Original will play and host Laneway Festival 2017.