Interview // Dobby & The Rise of Aboriginal Hip-Hop

Dobby, real name Rhyan Clapham, is an up-and-coming MC hailing from rural NSW. He has an infectious presence and represents a new wave of homegrown hip-hop carving out a unique voice and perspective for First Nations People in an increasingly globalised music sphere.

His mission is to spread messages of positivity and empowerment not only through his music but also through intellectual engagement. He advocates for Indigenous issues such as land rights, and also participates in lectures and seminars, even publishing findings in respected academic journals. You can read his work with UNSW Indigenous Studies lecturer Ben Kelly on “The Rise of Aboriginal Hip-Hop” here.

Partnering with 4ESydney, Dobby performed as part of the festival’s digital livestream program earlier this month. He brought an undeniable energy and charisma to the stage despite only performing to a skeleton crew of cameramen and festival staff.

We caught up with the MC to pick his brain on what makes him tick , his major WARRANGU River project, and the personal histories he shares and advocates for in his music.

Introduce yourself! Who is Dobby and how long have you been making music for? (Also, why Dobby? 😀 )
I’m DOBBY, a Murrawarri and Filipino drummer and rapper! My nickname throughout primary school was DOBBY and it just kinda stuck!

Who are your main sources of inspiration?
I seek inspiration from a whole bunch of artists across music, activism, comedy, film… right now I’m inspired by Jim Carey, Dave Chapelle, Mac Miller, Beyoncé, Bill Withers, Denzel Curry, Thelma Plum to name a few.

Tell us more about your Warrangu heritage [sic]. You can hear some of those influences in your music. Is that something you do consciously or it just comes naturally for you?
I’m a descendant of the Murrawarri peoples of Weilmoringle NSW. My grandmother was born and raised in Brewarrina, Ngemba country 1 hour south, which is the meeting place of 8 different tribes including the Murrawarri peoples.

WARRANGU means the river, any river, water source. Lately our communities have been speaking out about the injustice of over-irrigation by cotton farms that have been the result of our dry riverbeds throughout the Murray Darling Basin. I’ve been using music to raise awareness of this ongoing criminal activity.

There are crucial narratives in communities
that engage in hip-hop that have for too long been overlooked.

You’re published in academia about Aboriginal issues and identity. Why is it important for you to present these ideas on an academic level?
I need hip-hop and Academia bridged closer together. There are crucial narratives in communities that engage in hip-hop that have for too long been overlooked and fallen on deaf ears.

Tell us about the Warrangu River project!
WARRANGU; River Story is an 8-song project in collaboration with Brad Steadman, a Ngemba man with extensive Cultural knowledge of the area and it’s surroundings. Throughout the project he shares important lessons with me as we walk the dry riverbed of the Bogari (Bogan) river in Gongolgon NSW.

When did you get involved with 4E Sydney?
I performed as part of 4ESydney in 2016 which is when I met the founder of the festival Vyvienne (you can read our interview with Vyvienne here)! Since then I’ve been working with and performing for 4ESydney. I’m really excited to see this festival driving ahead in response to these otherworldly events.

What do you hope people can take away from the conference/digital event?  What do you hope to bring to it?
I hope we are an example of resilience. Artists, keep creating, performers keep doing what you do! Music is spirit! Music is medicine!

How have you seen Australia’s attitude to hip-hop change in the past few years? Do you think this will have an impact on white Australia’s relations with Indigenous culture?
Immensely! I’m so excited to see so many artists emerging and breaking the conventional norms of this industry. And with that, the narrative is changing! I’m seeing our mob breaking these barriers too, and with that, the stereotypes, the supposed fear, people are starting to listen and learn!

What’s next in your career?
I have a bunch of projects I’m working on behind the scenes, and hopefully in 90 days we’ll put on a big release party!

4ESydney is a digital HipHop and Culture event from Western Sydney to the world. Their full program extends from April to September 2020 and includes performances, workshops, panel discussions and more. Check out their website for more details.

Published by Kevin Loo

Live, laugh, stare into the existential void, love

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