Tasman Keith is on a mission for Bowraville
© Guy Davies
The 24-year-old rapper won't be pigeonholed.
Tasman Keith was 14 when he and his family moved back to Bowraville, population 1122. After a six year stint in Sydney -- where Tasman’s dad, pioneering rapper Wire MC, had been putting the hours into his music career -- it was time to come home.
That small town looms large in Tasman’s story as an artist. It was there he’d cram into a tiny studio with his cousins for hours at a time, recording raps and uploading them to SoundCloud. “The impact [Bowraville] had on my creativity has been major,” he says. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t returned to my roots.”
At 17, Tasman decided to throw himself “100 percent” into music. It quickly started to pay off: now, aged 24, he’s one of Australia’s most hotly-tipped rappers, with two EPs to his name -- the first of which, Mission Famous, pays tribute to Bowraville and his family’s musical legacy. He’s also the latest artist to show off his talents as part of Red Bull TV's 64 Bars series.
Tasman uses his 64 Bars to tackle everything from the pain of losing family members too early to critiques of government. To bring it all to life Tasman called up his regular collaborator, Sydney producer PaperToy. The brief he gave for the beat was simple: “I just texted him and said ‘give me something I can flex on’,” Tasman told Macario De Souza, AKA Kid Mac, on Red Bull’s Behind the Bars podcast.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
Definitely André 3000, Outkast. Prince. Kendrick. Cole. But even lately I’ve been toning it down on hip-hop and checking some other music that I haven’t really been tapped into, old stuff, to get inspiration from that. But Mum used to play Macy Gray and Amy Winehouse in the house. So there’s heaps. And the uncles who could play guitar and sing up the mission would also inspire what I do now.
Let’s talk through [‘Billy Bad Again’] and the video itself. Did you have your hands involved in pretty much all of it?
Yeah, in a way I always kind of do. With the earlier film clips, it was a lot of me helping direct it because a lot of it was about home, so I knew how I wanted that image to come across.
With 'Billy Bad Again', to be honest, that idea of the computer and the microphone hanging down, I was a bit “errr”. But Entropico, who do my film clips, they pushed me and we rolled with it. So on 'Billy Bad Again' it was them that set up that stuff but it was my idea to do the cut away shots, like the golf swing, for certain lines. Because I’ve always seen film clips where they do one shot that doesn’t necessarily relate to the film clip, but it relates to that certain line, and I’ve always loved that.
And you’re obviously across your styling and everything else.
Yeah, I styled the whole thing… I literally just went to Glebe Markets, Paddy’s Markets, all the markets and picked out the clothing. I remember we had 12 of my cousins walk into Big W and buy all black clothes -- it looked so suss [laughs].
You’re just purely focussing on making good international music, would I be correct in saying that?
Yeah for sure, because I never grew up on any Australian hip-hop. I never related to it. Neither did my cousins. I remember one of the first rap songs I heard, or remember hearing, was … Eazy-E’s ‘Automobile’ and it’s like, the most rudest song. And I’m like, 8 or 9! So influences like that, it was always like -- make the music sound good first and what you're saying, people will catch it later. So if I’m speaking on something that a lot of white Australia doesn’t agree with, too late -- they already like the song by the time they figure out what I’m talking about.
If I’m speaking on something that a lot of white Australia doesn’t agree with, too late -- they already like the song by the time they figure out what I’m talking about.
But also, the term ‘Indigenous artist’, I don’t like that. Because we’re not a sub-genre. I can only speak for myself, so I don’t know how other artists take it. But if I’m good enough to be amongst everybody else, put me amongst everybody else. If I’m not, don’t give me a box because otherwise, I’m gonna settle for that. I wanna know if I’m not good enough so I can work at it and work harder. And so the international sound is something I’ve always looked forward to because if I’m not doing it for the biggest thing possible, then what am I doing it for?
There seems to be this dark, eerie, sonic sound that you like to go for as well -- with ‘Nightmares on 9th’ and what not. Is that a thing you go for -- that darker tone?
I think I write best to the darker stuff. I think as much as I was listening to Kendrick, or Cole, in high school, I was also listening to a lot of The Weeknd. And a lot of the stuff with Kanye, the intros and stuff, there’s darker tones. That’s what I’ve always loved sonically.
Let’s talk about your creative process. Are you the type of rapper that wants to hear a beat first, get in the zone, then write to that? Or do you sometimes just write bars and then look for the right beat to match it?
It switches up, but mostly, I like to hear the beat and then write to it. Sometimes I’ll just get punchlines in my head while I’m walking and jot that down, or put it on a voice memo and revisit it. Or not revisit it. I’ve probably got 110 voice memos that I don’t go back to. So it’s a bit of a mix of both.
You write a lot. You’ve got a shit load of demos.
Yeah, I’m trying to write more though. I’m that dude that’s like, ‘I’m not working hard enough yet’. Even though I’ll probably run myself into the ground, I’ve just gotta keep [going]. Just for keeping the staunch up -- like, I look up to artists and rappers that have flows you’ve never heard before or lines you have to break down and dissect. And when I make that flow or make that line, it’s the best feeling.
And do you try to get in the booth without writing?
Yeah. With one of the earlier Mission Famous songs, ‘Death Into Life’, which is the outro on the EP, we didn’t write, we just went in.
It’s mainly because sometimes when I write, I can feel myself judging it as I see it on paper … I feel like while it’s in my mind, I’m not judging it so heavily. It’s always something I tap in and tap out of -- it depends on the beat and what zone I’m in.