Many artists are becoming the voices of society, opposing the current discourse of ugly nationalism, racism and sexism that Australia can be a beacon for. They signify the start of an awakening for what a new Australian narrative could be like; a re-imagining of a fairer and more equal society.
Rapper, author and poet Omar Musa has a reputation as an artist of uncompromising values. He makes hip hop that challenges the status quo, as well as pouring out his emotions and speaking on personal plights and successes. Omar’s latest LP Since Ali Died is part homage to the late Muhammed Ali (who is a personal hero of his) and part reflection of the state of Australia and the world since the great boxer’s death last year – a world where far-right extremism and distrust for people in power is an epidemic.
The thought-provoking lyrics of Omar are not the only highlights on Since Ali Died, the production quality also steps this album up a notch with producers Papertoy, Meare, Adit (Horrorshow) and Pon Cho all adding their melodies and multilayered beats to this album.
Omar has frequently collaborated with some of Australia’s finest hip hop MCs but on this occasion, he has recruited his close friends from the Australian hip hop and R’n’B scene such as Jeswon from Thundamentals, vocalists Sarah Corry, Amali Golden and Indigenous rapper Tasman Keith.
The personal tribulations come swinging straight from the opening song Everything where Omar raps: “I nearly hung myself / Nearly strung myself from the Queanbeyan bridge.” His lyrics are often poignant and set a precedence of both chaos and beauty. Assimilate has an infectious beat and confronts the history of colonialism in Australia and the current racist rhetoric that demands the need for immigrants to integrate into Australian society. Rapper Tasman Keith features a verse on the song and raps about his experience of assimilation from an indigenous point of view.
Cosmic Vectra has probably the most striking lyric on the album when Omar raps on the chorus: “Take out your eyes and see with your soul.” It’s spiritual as much as it is just a feel good track. Rose Gold Lover is a chilled-out love song and demonstrates Omar’s sensitive side with his poetic lyrics and Sarah Corry’s soulful voice.
UnAustralia is almost a satirical advertisement of the worst in Australia and its uncultured and uncompassionate ways, especially in the mainstream media. Omar addresses on this track that we have freedom of speech unless you are “Black, brown, Muslim, woman, queer, smart, proud and if you dare question a cross-eyed sacred cow” and cynically adds: “they will lynch you from a Daily Telegraph pole.”
As much as this album is about Omar’s reflection on Australian politics and his personal life, he also knows how to craft songs that are about simply having a good time with a sense of humour; this is notable on songs such as Move Like A Cat and the grime-influenced banger Ghost Pepper Chilli featuring Jeswon. The most personal monologue comes towards the end of the album with the self-titled track Since Ali Died where Omar reveals the inspiration Mohammed Ali was to him from a young age when school bullies picked on him, and the deep sadness he had when his hero passed away in June of 2016 – again, cynically adds that what came after was a tangerine fascist in The White House.
Since Ali Died takes the listener on a journey of hardships, trials and triumphs. It might seem like a fairly sombre and bleak album but each song really is an attempt to uplift your spirit even through dark and troubling times. The last two songs really do sum up Omar’s optimism. Summer Dress is a track with a message of how a life unloved is a life not lived, and in the final song, Anything, Omar claims: “Feeling like I can do anything”; a song that is about living every day like it could be your last.
Omar really does spread his poetic wings on Since Ali Died alongside some very impressive production; it makes for a stellar listen and demonstrates the talent and cultural critique Omar Musa can deliver through some very artistic and meaningful lyrics.
Released: 1 December, 2017 via Moneykat Music