Retreating Into Tasmanian Rapper Swaz Benjamin’s World

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Hailing from Tasmania, having carefully selected his own time to release his recordings, Swaz Benjamin’s musical journey is not in it’s infancy as he sports an impressive CV playing shows with Thundamentals, Hor- rorshow, Akil (Jurassic 5) to name a few.

Swaz effortlessly fuses genres and we decided to sit down with Swaz and chat about his musical journey, going through psychological repercussions and his recent vinyl release of his 10-track studio album ‘Souled Out Volume One: Daze Gone Bye’.

How is the hip hop scene in Tasmania?

Probably best to ask THC. What I can say though, is that it’s getting more diverse all the time.

Tassie can be tricky for emerging artists due to it’s size, yet at the same time it can also be a huge benefit to artists as well, as you generally know a range of people with various skills who can help you out, if you can get the community behind you, Tasmanians are the best!

How did you first get into rapping?

I grew up around guys a few years older than me - all day in their cars and at their houses it was Tupac, Biggie, NWA & Easy E, Kool Keith, Master P, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre (basically quite a lot of ‘gangsta rap’) at the same time my own tastes slowly began to focus on Cypress Hill, The Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul

It seemed it was inevitable that I started to write rhymes and rap them to my friends, perhaps in a way I was looking for their acceptance, but a deeper appreciation of lyricism and the desire to be heard pushed me to keep going with it. I was later drawn to the artistic, entrepreneurial and anti-oppression aspects of rappers and groups like Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Nas, Atmosphere, The Roots, Swollen Members and Dilated Peoples.

I’m also personally a mixture of shy and extrovert, so retreating into my own world to craft my rhymes and then busting them out in front of people fits my character.

Later I heard Australian rappers Brad Strut, Bias B, Hilltop Hoods, Downsyde and Pegz who showed me that I could really hone in and find my distinct voice (as a white Australian male) rhymer.

Tell us more about the Chasm remix of your single?

I met Chasm a few times when he came to Tasmania with Astronomy Class and as a solo act. I was later formally introduced to him in an artistic sense by Omar Musa.

I eventually visited him in the studio in Sydney and we started a little work on my album together. It was difficult to work interstate and we didn’t get to collaboration as much as we would have liked, so once my album was finished he was the first person I approached for a remix of the title track.

I recently travelled to the UK and while coming home from a night out at open mic nights in Bristol he sent me the remix. I am definitely influenced by UK music, and the new UK stylings of the song made perfect sense to me while I stood nodding my head to it in my hostel bathroom there in Bristol!

The UK feel of the track felt triumphant to me, after I was well received at a show I performed in London, and soon after did a full run through of my album on Terra Slim’s radio show. My life had changed, the ‘Daze had Gone Bye’ and there I was on the other side of the world performing, playing and getting love for my music. The remix is a perfect snapshot of that vibe, and the visuals were filmed virtually as soon as I touched down back in Tasmania.

What can people expect from the album (along with the remixes)?

Although my album is a personal journey of mine - 98% of the lyrics were written by me - it was also put together collaboratively with a few producers and other artists. HFNR is the primary producer who oversaw the finishing of all songs. Other collaborators on the album include IAMMXO (production & backing vocals), Michelle Monique Blessie (backing vocals), Lucas Miller (songwriting & vocals), Zack Dwyer (production and instrumentation), Jane McArthur (backing vocals) andMike Shelley (bass and backing vocals). ‘Coaster Lines’ in particular involved a number of people: from Zack’s guitar, piano and initial production, right down to Henry Warren’s beatbox and Emily Frances’ subtle voiceovers. 

Some of the collaborators on the album I have known as friends for many years, much of the music also tells stories of topics that we as friends, or our friends, and friends of friends have experienced or know about in their lives. In that way it could even be described as Urthboy described his brand of hiphop - ‘modern day folk music’.  

The album’s sounds include soul-sample based boom bap sounds with a progressive twist, roots music elements, funk-rock guitars, sing-along choral hooks, and much more, all splattered with some deftly placed colloquial lyricism!

As for the remixes, they are really diverse, mostly by Tasmanian producers that I admire, with whom I’ve always wanted to work with. The lead remix was produced by accomplished Sydney-based producer Chasm. With another remix coming from emerging talent Kolaps (from Bihac, Bosnia). The sounds range from boom bap (Kolaps & Dispraze) to future and broken beat sounds (Hot Cheddar, Davinci Chasm), to the almost heavy rock style of Skurge’s remix and the hypnotic dub-infused ambience of AO.

You're influenced by a few genres, how do you fuse them together?

I can’t specifically answer that, only to say that elements and moods of endless ‘genres’ of music stick with me and inform my choices of musical backdrops and the way I deliver my lyrics.

I can say that I know exactly what type of sounds I like, for example, I can dive into details and instantly recognise a certain chord progression, or the vocal delivery of certain tones or phonetics, that I love. In this way parts of my music are a patchwork of influences. I take influence from soul, classic rock, trap, spoken word, reggae, and endless other types of music, art and everyday life occurrences. 

I recall one of my most important influences, the GOAT Paul Kelly saying that “knitting together from a motley of elements” is what he does.

He also mentioned that he sees a commonality between folk music and hip hop in that in both these forms of music there are certain phrases and ideas and sounds that are recycled and retold in different ways for example sampling. 

Being founded on sampling, ‘Hip-hop’ in essence, is one of the only music genres that incorporates what it likes from anything and everything. It rehashes and recycles the old, and makes it fresh and revamped.

You talk about how the album went through some pretty dark times, how did you overcome it?

The psychological repercussions of compounded grief from a few severe life events still hurts, butaside from the support of my family and friends, and some amazing overseas travel, my music was a major anchor for me during difficult times in the last few years. The desire to see through the completion and promotion of my album helped me to find a path out of the dark.

What stimulates your soul?

Sharing love with family and friends, relationships, meeting new people, incredible art, women, travel, moody weather and environments - summer beach sunbeams to misty mountain landscapes. Languages, communication, well-told stories, innovative style and design, travel, sport, music, and handling my own business, exploration and global connections! Know what I mean!

Swaz Benjamin’s albums are available at swzmusic.bandcamp.com .