By: Matt Innes
After some fifteen years apart, two legends of Aussie hip hop reunite for a decade-shattering collaboration.
In 2001, John Blake aka DJ Soup joined forces with Sleek The Elite to produce the rapper’s genre-defining debut record, ‘Sleekism’. Now, the pair has teamed up once more to produce Sleek’s sophomore album, signalling the return of one of Australia’s most iconic and elusive hip hop artists.
“It’s a rocky road,” Soup laughs, “but I’ve given Sleek a bunch of beats, he’s got a bunch of lyrics and it’s coming together nicely. The beats I’ve given him are a mix of dark and heavy psychedelic funk, fuzzy guitars and Arabic-influenced things as well, with Arabic percussion and different sounds. I’m looking forward to it all coming together and fingers crossed we turn it into something that’s interesting and people will dig.”
Sleek The Elite…album cover for ‘Sleekism’.
For ‘Sleekism’, Soup’s finely crafted sample-based beats underpinned Sleek’s hard-edged lyrics delivered in the fire-and-brimstone style that came to characterise his music. After fifteen years apart, John was both impressed and relieved to discover Sleek had lost none of his deep-seated rage.
“It’s curious,” he says, “we hadn’t seen each other for years, then we had a meeting and I was astonished to see even after all these years he still had this unbelievable fire in his belly. Most people, once they’ve done it [music] for a while, they get jaded and a bit blasé about it but he was angry and had a massive chip on his shoulder, in a good way.
“He wanted to come back and tear it up; he had all these lyrics and fire bursting from inside him and that was really inspiring for me. It was great to see someone who still had that passion and really wants to make a stamp on it all, even after a break.”
As DJ and producer for Fonke Knomaads, Soup helped define the golden-era sound and style of Australian hip hop in the early ‘90s alongside MC and lyricist, John TeOp Riley. The pair came together as school friends, sharing not only a passion for funk- and soul-infused hip hop but also a dream to indelibly carve their own names on the emerging scene.
“It started off when I was about 13 and I got a big ghetto blaster that had a double tape deck on it,” Soup recalls. “John TeOp Riley was in a local crew called The Energy Wizards who were a break group; I was very tall, incredibly gangly and quite uncoordinated, particularly at that age, and I had no chance of being able to break.
“So what I decided to do was make the music for them, make the tapes. With my double tape deck on my ghetto blaster I started doing cut-and-paste, chop-up mixes; cutting short sequences of music I was listening to at the time.”
From these unassuming roots stemmed a blossoming art form that sought not to emulate its international counterparts, but to be its own unique expression of Australian culture.
“My idea of making music is that you’ve got to be true to yourself,” Soup says.
“Soul music realistically is any music that comes from the heart or soul; that comes from within you, so it’s really dangerous to start thinking about the music from the listener’s perspective. If you start making it and start wondering ‘how are people going to like this?’ and you cater for them, you’re losing straight away, I reckon.”
Under this ethos, Soup has created an extensive and diverse catalogue of songs, and travelled the world spreading the universal language of hip hop, finding fans in some unlikely places.
“We were fortunate in that we got a grant through the Australian embassy in Vietnam to do dome university gigs,” Soup explains. “We did three gigs where it was the English class of a Vietnamese university, so all the kids learning English came to this gig and we did a simplified version of call-and-response hip hop.
“They were very cautious to start with but then it just clicked with them. I’ve never done a gig where the energy in the room was quite as intense as that was. They were just euphoric about the whole thing; it turned a switch on in them and it was great.”