There are only 17 posts on Lisi’s Instagram: a couple of photos of Goodna train station, a few snaps with mates and a bunch of videos. In the latter, Lisi freestyles in his bedroom, effortlessly weaving rhymes about ‘setting it straight like a GHD’ and how the only killing he’s made is ‘on pay day’. Many of the clips have hundreds of thousands of views, with commenters from around the globe dropping flame emojis and praise.
The 19-year-old become one of the best new names in Australian rap. As he tells it, Lisi would put his phone on his windowsill, hit record and do his thing. Eventually, with close to zero budget, he hired a studio and recorded his first song. That song -- ‘Say Less’ -- quickly went viral. Lisi’s talent is the sort that blows up all on its own, no marketing campaign required.
As with all of his music to date, Goodna features heavily in Lisi’s 64 bars. Lisi was born in New Zealand, moved to Sydney at age 3 and eventually onto Goodna, Queensland. It’s the place that made him the artist he is today and a hometown he reps with pride -- the 4300 you’ll see in his Instagram handle or scrawled on his t-shirt in video clips is the district’s postcode.
He’s determined to rep the area the right way, which in part means rejecting the drill label he found himself slapped with after ‘Say Less’. “The 43-district is not where we have drillers and stuff like that. But it is a place where there’s adversity,” he told Macario De Souza on Red Bull’s Behind the Bars podcast. “From now on I’m trying to give a positive image to the kids of Goodna.”
It seems like there’s a lot of storytelling in your raps and a bit of Biggie influence in there. Would you say that’s one of your influences?
That’s pretty much why I started rapping. When I heard Biggie it was just like -- click. Then you start to learn his lyrics, read his lyrics, listen to other rappers, read Tupac’s lyrics and then you think oh shit, well I relate to that, I want to be like that, but I want to have Biggie’s flow.
[Besides Biggie], who are some of your other influences? More of the new era rappers?
I think the rap game now, it’s real cocky. It’s like, ‘look at me, I’m doing good’ rather than rappers coming out saying ‘look at us and how we’re supposed to be, or how we are really’. What I mean is you get rappers that come on like, ‘oh yeah I get girls’ or ‘I have cars and pull up in a whatever’ and -- not everyone’s going to listen and be like ‘oh woh, I pull up in a bus’. Or I’m waiting for the train.
You’ve got to cover everyday stuff that people are going to listen to and be like ‘I can play this everyday’. If I’m going to go work, this is going to push me to want to go work. If I want to have a cry, then I’ll lock myself in my room and play some Lisi. [laughs] Nah, that’s not going to happen. But you know what I mean?
You dropped your track ‘Say Less’ what about, six months ago?
I think so yeah, around then.
The numbers you’re doing -- on Spotify, you’re looking at 3 million plays on that alone. You got a massive following on Instagram. So for those that don’t know the story of your rapid come-up, let’s talk about how you came about recording ‘Say Less’ and uploading it and how it all came about.
It started off on Instagram. Just videos. If you go on my Instagram, you’ll see that it’s just videos of me rapping in my bedroom. Put the phone against my window, press [record] and I rap. Everybody was like ‘get in the studio bro, you need to make a track’.
So this is from November 2018, and then July comes, and I’m like ‘ah well, I’ll go to a studio’. Hopped in, first time ever, I did one take and then we just left. The beat came for free. I had to pay for studio time, though. It was a muck around. To me, I was like ‘It’s not going to do well’. So I just held onto it and then October, I got hit up by someone who said ‘do you want to do a video for that song?’ And I was like oh yeah, sweet. It was for free. The budget for that song was just studio time, that was about it.
Then in October we dropped the song and I thought it would get maybe 1000 views, 2000 views, 5000 views. And I was like ‘yeah, sweet, they’re gonna know Goodna’. And then I saw it all over my Instagram, people just following me. I was getting UK and US and Canada -- all these countries following me. And someone was like bro, go check your Twitter account! I didn’t even have Twitter. But people were sending me screenshots that those [YouTubers] were sharing it and saying ‘this is Aussie rap, massive’. And I was like aw damn, shucks. I guess that just caught everyone’s attention and it’s been working ever since.
Then you followed up with ‘The Come Up’ and ‘Got This’.
Yeah, because [on ‘Say Less’] I came across as a driller -- “oh, he’s the best in Aussie drill” -- I was like, nah, that’s not even me. So I did ‘The Come Up’ which is a more R&B feel beat. And then ‘Got This’ was just a motivational song -- I guess it was more to say that this is what I wanna do. My raps are pushing a message.
My raps are pushing a message
You’ve come up real quick. Do you think that comes down to, you’re not putting on an act? You’re just telling it how it is, how you grew up, and people are relating to that?
Yeah, but you’ve gotta also remember that it causes a lot of controversy as well. So people can relate to it, but then some people disagree with it as well. My music’s real -- it’s what I’ve been through, and what a certain person can relate to. But not everyone’s going to like it.
So ‘Say Less’, I come out and I’m talking about “since when do we ever need shanks? Or need to run with a gun.” But if you’ve got some big time gangster hear that song he’s like, well you don’t know. You haven’t lived the life that we’ve lived, that’s why we need it.
My music’s real -- it’s what I’ve been through, and what a certain person can relate to. But not everyone’s going to like it.
What I connected the most with in your music is the subtle positivity you're pushing. And it’s not in your face, like ‘kumbaya, let’s all hold hands and get along’. It’s really drilled in there in a way that you’re trying to make the next generation come up and see the positivity and feel a sense of purpose. Would that be correct? Where does that come from?
I once heard ‘a smart man learns from his mistakes but a wise man learns from others’. I think that growing up in Goodna, I had my challenges, but I didn’t have it as rough as some of the other kids that I grew up with.
My mates back in high school, at 14-years-old, were talking about ‘oh what do you want to do after school?’ You have all your mates who want to play NRL; I had mates who wanted to be bikies, or whatever. And then most of my mates were like ‘oh Woollies pick and pack have a good pay’. And it was like oh, come on bro, you’re better than that. So I guess that made me feel purpose.
Do you think people are starting to look up to you as a mentor?
I hope so, I’m not a perfect one though. I don’t see myself as a mentor, I just see myself as a voice. From what I’ve been taught, just put it in my music and put it out there and hopefully it reaches someone else.