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A.B. Original Win 2016 Australian Music Prize

Hip-hop duo take home $30,000 cash prize for debut ‘Reclaim Australia’, beating out albums from the Avalanches, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Camp Cope and more.

Hip-hop trailblazers A.B. Original have won the 2016 Australian Music Prize, for their firey debut LP, Reclaim Australia.

The rap duo of Briggs and Trials beat out an eclectic shortlist, which included veterans The Avalanches, Big Scary and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, as well as several newcomers nominated for their first full-length release, including Camp Cope, D.D. Dumbo and Olympia.

The award — and associated cash prize of $30,000 — was presented to the duo at a ceremony on Thursday night at Melbourne’s Toff In Town. Hosted for the first time in the Victorian city, the event also featured performances from Rat & Co and Kingswood, who played several songs from their recently released second LP, After Hours, Close To Dawn.

In accepting the award, Briggs said their “success is a reflection of our communities and the strength they have”, as well as jokingly commenting on the fact his Dad was also at the award presentation (“I don’t think he’s been to one of our shows yet but he’s here when we get 30 grand.” Meanwhile, Trials dedicated the prize to his new son, Buddy, as well as thanking his wife “for listening to all the noise”.

Rolling Stone caught up with Briggs and Trials following the announcement to talk about their expectations when making Reclaim Australia, what the award means to them and whether or not we should expect a follow-up album anytime soon.

Congratulations on winning the AMP Award. How are you feeling?
Briggs: I don’t know. I want to say all the things that you want to hear, but to be honest I think it’s one of those things that is gonna make more sense down the track.

In what way?
B: In terms of looking at what it means to other people. I don’t think about awards when I’m making albums, I think about songs, and with this particular record we thought about making music for our community. I don’t think about awards. I think hopefully somewhere it means a whole lot more to someone else.

Trials: I heard before that we may be the first indigenous group to win one of these. And that in itself, even if we’re not the first, that in itself means more to me than anything associated with it. The acclaim and all that is cool but it’s for someone else to enjoy. The fact that we can put our communities and our songs and our message in the same stratosphere as real deal artists who get taken very seriously, it means a lot to me.

How has the album been received in the Indigenous community? Have you had much feedback?
B: Yeah. I hear about lads knocking out sets in the gym to the album, my nephews and little cousins sending me Snapchats of them playing it at parties and stuff like that. People using the album as a soundtrack to their protest and how they feel, to say something with such gusto which hasn’t been said before in this way.

T: That’s what makes us feel the same way that people might feel winning an award like this. That’s the accolade and that’s the acclaim we want. We want our community and our cousins to fucking bang the record from top to bottom, and to feel like it’s their voice. That’s what we get the feels from.

B: I feel the elation from when I’m back in Shep [Shepparton] and I see the boys drive past and I can hear our beats from their car. That’s where my elation comes from.

You’ve said you thought you were committing career suicide making this album. Did it really feel like that?
T: Briggs and I would do a song, we’d be halfway through it, and usually it was me, ‘cos I overanalyse everything, but if Briggs wasn’t making me cringe or cling to the fucking wall with anxiety dripping down me, then we had to do it again. Briggs stayed in the room until we both felt uncomfortable as fuck. And we left knowing that what we were about to say on a record hasn’t been said before. We took slurs, we took words that had been used against us and we put them in our favour, and we put them on a record now that is critically acclaimed, and it’s things like that that you can’t take away from us. Or our people. And that’s what really means a lot to us.

B: We did the opposite of career suicide. It’s ironic. We found ourselves a new career! (Laughs) Trials has a bunch of stuff on, he’s got things to do, I’ve got my own stuff, different writing jobs and a bit of acting, so this album was like, if we’re going to do an album, let’s do the album that we always wished we had growing up. Let’s say all the things that we need to say. Let’s be Westside Connection. Let’s be Tha Dogg Pound. Let’s be Wu-Tang. Say all the things that reflect our communities and all the stuff we talk about with our family, and let’s put that on a record, cos that’s what’s honest. Naturally I thought, once we do that, see ya!

T: We’re done! You listen to so many debut rap albums, and it’s because they don’t know the audience they’re about to get that they’re so honest. That’s why those debut records resonate so hard with people cos they’re talking about shit. Briggs and I are fortunate enough to have put out a million records between each other, and even though we knew that there was this audience [waiting] for it, it sort of drove us harder to shake them up. Whereas a lot of people would try and play it very safe, we figured, fuck it, we’ll make this record like it was literally the last one we could ever do.

B: Figuratively we thought it was going to be the last record we ever did, but literally it could well be the very last record we do.

It’s such a powerful and emotional record. How emotional was the act of making it?
T: That’s the thing, we’re talking about some really heavy subjects on there, but we made sure to put all the energy and all the jokes we share on the record, into the record. A lot of the times people make studio records and they will make it a little cleaner and they will tidy up the edges a little bit, whereas Briggs and I made sure that we wanted to leave those edges in there. Warts’n’all. Put every single bit of the emotion, the laughs, the highs, the lows into the record so that the listener could feel it. I think that’s really really worked, it feels like it’s resonated, that people are understanding we’re talking about dark subjects, but you could here it’s in a jovial fashion where people can get around it and be a little more open to those conversations.

B: I made a point of not really writing anything for the album. I just wanted to write it and that’s it, next song.

T: That’s how we did it so quickly. We literally did this record in our days off. We were together doing other stuff and other projects cos we’ve been working together outside of A.B. for yonks now; we find ourselves in the same state often even though we live in different ones. And we had days off where we started getting rooms and going in there and putting songs down. The first room we got we did pretty much the first incarnation of the record, which was the EP, and we did maybe four or five of the joints in the first sitting. Some of the hardest shit that’s on the record now, “Report to the Mist”, “2 Black 2 Strong”, all that shit was written and recorded in the first weekend we started doing this shit. So we went into this project with the idea of fuck this and fuck them, we’re gonna do this 100 per cent, and we’ve got nothing to lose.

B: And we showed them the EP and they were like, make an album.

T: So we went back in and spent a couple more weekends. Went to LA and did a few songs over there…

B: The home of fuck them and fuck this.

T: And we came back and wrapped it up. It’s funny, when we went to LA, we wrote a song with Caiti Baker and James Mangohig from Darwin, and had a producer from New Zealand, it was serendipitous that we could write a song with our friends, halfway across the planet which resonates with people all over the world.

In years to come when you think back to the making of the album, is there one memory that will always stick with you?
B: I reckon that first weekend that we were in there, front to back. Me and Trials had this room in Sydney, and all of our friends that were in Sydney, like Hau and JT, it was like they were on a rotation, they were just coming off the bench and coming into the game. And that’s when we created the nucleus of the project, which was the five original tracks. That’s where it all started. So I guess that was the most profound and important part.

T: I think the first highlight for me was, the first time I drove around listening to the record in my car, feeling scared of being pulled over, more than usual, because the shit that they hear might start a little sumthin’ sumthin’. I realised that we had done what we tried to achieve, which was put an honest record down that will make some people feel uncomfortable. And I sent it to our manager and said “be very fucking careful where you play this record”, and I feel like some of the reactions we’ve gotten, that’s a pretty warranted caution to give someone, I feel like we should have put that little caveat on a sticker on the front of the CD. And then when we had a couple of hours with Archie Roach in the studio and we did the introduction song, I remember Archie saying early on in the conversation that he was driving around, bangin’ it, as loud as he could, cos he wanted to feel it bangin’ his chest and making his blood pump. It was that moment I realised, holy fuck, it doesn’t matter what genre we’re doing, the identity and experience is such a fluid one that it’s resonating beyond the people we intended it for. For someone like Archie, who has no business listening to the type of shit that we make, to hear our message clear through it and to understand it and reciprocate it and want to be involved so hard, that was one of the biggest moments for me putting that record together.

Given your attitude on the album — ‘fuck this and fuck them’ — has resulted in a record that’s so acclaimed, can you see yourselves taking that approach in your respective work away from A.B. Original?
B: That’s sort of the cornerstone of how I operate. The idea for this record and for A.B. Original is for us to be as honest, even though this is odd, how honesty can be viewed as an extreme, to make sure we are those guys so the other artists don’t have to be. The Nookies and Birdz don’t have to be as extreme as us, ‘cos we can say these things, we are saying these things, and we make them look a bit more palatable.

T: Off record we have our moments of being pretty extreme people, but this record is extreme to be extreme. Exactly what Briggs just said – we made it to be that way, that it doesn’t exist and it’s what we want to hear. When we first started it was just a battle rap of who was nice on the mic, and we did all that shit, and now it’s this, it’s the thing that we are capable of attacking in a certain way. If we did this record 10 years ago we would have fucked it up, we wouldn’t have done it right, we wouldn’t have done it justice.

B: And the other thing as well, we had to make it entertaining. And we had to make it dope. Because if it’s neither of those things it’s not worth listening to.

Will there be a second album?
B: Probably. With A.B., this is the album that was inevitable. It was the album that had to happen. It’s like, I don’t want to put out another record for the sake of riding the success of this record. It defeats the purpose of the album and what it’s about. When we find the time, to say the things that we need to say, that’s when the next album will happen.

T: The first album was a fluid process, it was a thing that we sat down and didn’t realise we were making an album. So I think that’s exactly how we’ll do album number two.

B: A.B. Original isn’t a conventional rap situation.

T: It’s not a conventional anything. [Laughs]

B: This isn’t what pays my bills. This is what we do because we have to do it.

T: And that’s why we’re afforded the luxury of saying ‘fuck this and fuck them’, and not worrying about who we just told to get fucked.

B: Because they don’t pay our bills.

T: And at the end of the day, if we can’t go home to where we’re from, and stand up and say that we’re very proud and we did our best and we represented you and we talked our shit, then what’s the fucking point?

B: We thought we were committing career suicide. Standing up and being proud Indigenous Australians can often result in a backlash.

T: It’ not incredibly fashionable. For anyone who thinks we’re trying to jump on some sort of wave… [Laughs]

B: The thing is, when and how the next record happens, it’s going to happen when it needs to happen.

T: Same as the first one.

How are you planning on celebrating tonight?
B: I don’t really celebrate.

T: I dare say Briggs and I will play a lot of wrestling on PlayStation. That will probably be a big night out for us.

Interview by Rod Yates.