INTERVIEW: Hip-hop Artist Narli Is Making Music On His Own Terms

“We're rapping about ceremony and cultural unification, unifying us all together to get to a better place, as Australia as a whole."

In 2019, Spotify's founder Daniel Ek reportedly told investors that "close to 40,000" new tracks were being added to the platform every day; a number that's probably ballooned since.

That's a lot of 'Discover Weekly' playlists, and a serious amount of competition for musicians with few promotional tools at their disposal. So how do talented emerging artists, without the aid of major record labels, actually cut through the noise, both now and for years to come?

It's this expansive ambition that drives hip-hop artist and rapper, Narli. "I want my music to last the ages," he says, simply. "You can drop a heater, a banger, people love it for a couple months and then it's out the window. I'm trying to create music that's timeless."

It's a tall order for any artist, but Narli seems more than primed for the task. A 24-year-old Bundjalung Yaegl man, he instinctively draws on his culture – rich in storytelling, connection and collaboration – for creative thrust.

"Our people have been storytellers since the beginning. My mob's always had that story and I like to connect [in a similar way] with the listeners. That comes naturally within me."

Narli's latest single, "Land" – produced by Hazy and co-created with fellow hip-hop force and close friend, JK-47 – is a homage to Narli's ancestors; a powerful confluence of enthralling beats and fierce pride.

"They don't know where I've been, about to show them where we came from," Narli says, citing the track's opening lyrics by way of explanation. "So it was just sort of representing that: we have a voice now and we're just letting you know where we've been, what our mob had paid for [us] to be where we are today."

"Land" is a triumph. The track, and its striking video directed by Robert Sherwood, showcases Narli and JK-47 at their raw, unadulterated best. The single marks a milestone for Narli, striking a balance between honouring his heritage ("better not get the name wrong") and spinning off fresh new beats.

"About 10 years ago, a lot of mob were trying to enter that scene as an Indigenous artist and they didn't quite have a place, there wasn't as much openness [to First Nations' artists]. A lot of them were putting on an accent or trying to create stuff that wasn't really them; it was more gangster rap than anything… but you don't have to change your essence. There's a big scene for [our music] now."

Rapping about 'chains and cars' was never going to be on the cards for Narli; that stuff bears little semblance to his day-to-day. (When we spoke, Narli had just downed an espresso at home after an afternoon swim in a nearby river. Outside of making music, Narli spends a lot of his time out in the bush connecting with country.) Narli praises artists who embrace their identity in their work – Kobie Dee and JK-47 both got shout-outs – and hopes he can be a similar role model in his community.

"We're rapping about ceremony and cultural unification, unifying us all together to get to a better place, as Australia as a whole. The next music I'm dropping is really primarily focused on that. [There's] a lot of didge samples, a lot of clap sticks… I'm building the music around my culture … I want to be a role model at the same time as being a gangster."

With promising new music arriving in mid-February, a number of strong collaborations under his belt, and the arrival of "Land", Narli's star is on the rise. He sits on the vanguard of a new generation of First Nations hip-hop artists to be seen and heard on their own terms. "Music has run through our blood forever. And it was only a matter of time before we had a place and a space to share that."

Check out Narli, JK-47's and Hazy's new song, "Land", below.

Each month, MTV zeroes in on a First Nations artist, sharing their music and stories across MTV's music channels as part of our Indigenous Artist Of The Moment series.

Words and interview by Alice Griffin, editor of this very site. Catch her on Twitter at @_alicegriffin.

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