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Rap is something you do, Hip hop is something you live


 – This resource was written by hip hop artist Mantra.

 Since the early 1970’s, hip hop has provided a platform for artists all over the world to express themselves, share their ideas and articulate their points of view. From block parties in The Bronx, New York City, to arenas and stadiums all over the world, it has become one of the most popular music genres of our time. It goes far beyond just music though, hip hop is a culture; a powerful social movement encompassing DJing, MCing, breakdancing (B-Boys and B-Girls), graffiti art, beatboxing, beat production, fashion, language and more. This culture has often acted as a ‘voice for the voiceless’, a way for people to amplify their opinions and make their voices heard, where other forums for discussion might be difficult or even impossible to access.

Hip hop is the permission to speak your mind, to be yourself. So when it arrived in Australia, first becoming popular in the 1980’s with the explosion of breakdancing, it was only natural that Australian hip hop artists would put their own spin on things, developing a uniquely Australian sound that would continue to evolve right up until today. Early acts like Def Wish Cast paved the way for the future success of artists such as Koolism, 1200 Techniques, Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso.

30 years later, Australian hip hop is still going strong, enjoying mainstream commercial success and earning a legitimate place in the Australian music conversation. The local scene is more diverse than ever, celebrating a broad range of artists, styles, cultures and nationalities; a testament to hip hop’s values of respect, inclusion and individuality.

Hilltop Hoods performing in Melbourne. Photograph by Michelle Grace Hunder

Contemplate and Discover

Australian hip hop artist Baker Boy.


Writing hip hop music can be an immensely powerful part of people’s lives. It can provide a way to process our thoughts, express our emotions, build our identity and speak out on issues that are important to us. Over the years, hip hop has been able to affect real change within communities around the world. Politically minded hip hop artists such as Public Enemy, NWA and 2Pac not only changed the world of music, their music and ideas helped to change the world itself. Hip hop in Australia is no exception. It provides a platform for artists to speak out on the issues that matter and represent their culture and identity. Indigenous Australian hip hop artists such as Munkimuk, Briggs, Lady Lash, Jimblah, BrothaBlack, MC Wire and Miss Hood have used their music to address some of the issues facing many First Nations Australians. Hip hop in Australia has grown to reflect the diverse and multi-cultural communities that call this country home. 

When it comes to writing hip hop songs, it’s important to balance the craft with the content. The craft refers to the technical skills involved – rhyming, flow, rhythm, timing, tone of voice etc. The content refers to the personal side of things, choosing subjects that resonate with people, developing original and unique song ideas, putting heartfelt emotion into the music and honing an individual style.


Writing songs is all about making people feel something. For that reason, it’s important when writing songs to think about what we want our music to feel like.

No Surrender (Instrumental)

Monkey Marc


Here is an instrumental version of Monkey Marc’s Australian/Jamaican crossover hit, No Surrender.

Play the song and as it plays, write down on a piece of paper everything the music makes you feel. Don’t think too hard about it, just write down whatever comes to mind, the more ideas the better. You never know, they just might inspire a topic for a song or some lyrics for a verse or chorus.

Here are some prompts and ideas to help get you started:


The last task was all about feeling the beat and the emotions contained in it. This task is focused more on hearing the beat and the different practical elements that make it sound the way it sounds.

No Surrender (Instrumental)

Monkey Marc


This time, listen to the song and think about all the different musical elements you can hear. For example you might hear drums, bass, synths, record samples, pianos, guitars, the list goes on. Make a note of the different sounds you can hear in this particular instrumental track.

It can be useful to know the speed or pace of the beat you’re using. We refer to the pace of a song as the tempo and it is measured in BPM, which stands for Beats Per Minute. Using a tap tempo app or website, see if you can work out the tempo of the beat provided. This will usually involve playing the instrumental track and tapping your screen or computer keyboard in time with the music.

Drums are a crucial part of many hip hop tracks. Drums are often the part of the song that hold everything together and provide the song’s pace and rhythm. In hip hop music, drums might be played live and recorded, or they might be programmed using drum machines or beat-making software. The feel and structure of the drum track can often lead the song in a certain direction, telling the rapper whether they’re rhymes should be slow or fast, contain lots of words or be more relaxed with lots of space between the lines. What different kinds of drums can you hear in this song? Can you hear a bass/kick drum? A snare drum? Hi-hats? A crash cymbal? How much space is there between the drum hits? If you were rapping on this beat, how would you go about it?

Listen to the different drum beats in the first section of the Learning Music with Ableton resource. Play around with the components of the track and see which you like best.


Download: Finish the Rhymes Worksheet

 Rhyming is important when writing lyrics in hip hop. There are quite a few types of rhymes, the main ones being:

  1. Perfect rhymes – ie. fly and cry
  2. Family rhymes – swapping consonant sounds for other sounds from the same family– ie. had and bag
  3. Additive/subtractive rhyme – ie. start with a word (eg. clears) and rhyme with the long or short form of that (eg. fear)
  4. Assonance rhyme - swapping the consonant sound for sounds from a different family – ie. light and shine
  5. Consonance rhyme – quite different sounds with one similar consonant sound – ie. this and pass

For more information and all the details of these rhyming schemes, check out this article on SPIRE.

It’s time to test out your rhyming vocab.

Download the Finish the Rhymes Worksheet and follow the instructions.

In the first section, you are given a number of rap lines with some of the rhyming words missing. Your job is to fill in the blanks with the appropriate rhyming word from the list provided.

In the second section, you are given some more rap lines but this time every second line is missing. Your job is to fill in the blanks with rap lines of your own, choosing your own rhyming words to use at the end of each line.


Hip hop artists tend to use an alias or stage names when they perform. The MC or DJ name is a time honoured tradition in hip hop culture.

Some famous examples of hip hop stage names include:

Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Cardi B, Busta Rhymes, MC Lyte, Urthboy, Illy, Seth Sentry, Maya Jupiter and L-Fresh The Lion.

Come up with your own hip hop alias. Once you’ve thought of your alias, see if you can think of an interesting way to write or draw your own artist logo. You can do this manually on paper, or Sketchpad is a great online drawing program. Below are some examples of hip hop artist logos in different styles.

Did you know?

MC stands for Master of Ceremonies? This is because in the early days of hip hop, the MC’s main role was to support the DJ and use a microphone to make important announcements and keep the party people happy. Over the years this role developed to include more musical, hype vocal styles and eventually rhyming entire lines and verses.

Do some research and find out what DJ stands for and why.


Here is a playlist spotlighting Australian hip hop music from the 80s, when the scene began in Australia, until today. Note there is some language that may be offensive in this playlist, please check the song lyrics before playing to students.



Def Wish Cast – Dun Proppa

Said to be the pioneers of Australian hip hop, Def Wish Cast hail from Western Sydney. They formed in 1989 and released their debut album, Knights of the Underground Table in 1993. It was the first full-length Australian hip hop album, and their anthemic single, A.U.S.T., was the first domestic hip hop clip to be aired on ABC TV's Rage. After a hiatus, Def Wish Cast returned in 2003 with the LP The Legacy Continues and again in 2012 with the single Dun Proppa, taken from their 20th anniversary album The Evolution Machine. Def Wish Cast represent all elements of the hip-hop culture including graffiti art and b-boying.

Koolism – Can’t Stand It

ARIA award winning duo Koolism formed in Canberra in 1992. Can’t Stand It is taken from the album The ‘Umu, released in 2010. The album title, inspired by MC Hau’s Tongan heritage, is named after an underground oven used in Polynesian cooking. Hau says the album is “dedicated to the essence of original and classic hip hop”. The track is a passionate decry of racism in Australia, turning a harsh eye on the injustices of the political system.

The Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist

The Avalanches formed in Melbourne in 1997, releasing their landmark album Since I Left You in 2000. Created from over 3500 vinyl samples, the album was met with critical acclaim. The single Frontier Psychiatrist uses samples from comedy duo Wayne and Shuster, film music, golf instructional videos, Christian records and ‘Reading for the Blind’ tapes. It was The Avalanches’ first single to enjoy commercial success.

1200 Techniques – Karma

1200 Techniques was formed in 1997 by brothers DJ Peril and Kemstar and is fronted by MC/vocalist N’fa Jones. Taken from their debut album Choose One, The track Karma was released in 2002. It received two ARIA awards for ‘Best Independent Release’ and ‘Best Video’ in the same year. 1200 Techniques have been key players in bringing commercial acceptance to hip hop within Australia, drawing influences from other genres including funk, soul, rock and breakbeat.

MC Trey – Light (feat. 26th Letter and Jae Tee)

MC Trey is a Fijian born Australian vocalist and hip hop activist creating music that speaks about social issues, everyday experiences and the possibilities that a new day brings. Her single Light, released in 2013, deals with the issue of domestic violence, responding to an incident where a Sydney woman was killed by her partner. Speaking about the track Trey has said “I’m hoping we can get people talking about domestic violence. I’m also hoping we can get young people thinking about how they are being treated in their relationships and how they treat their partners.”

Hilltop Hoods – I Love It (feat. Sia)

Hilltop Hoods formed in Adelaide in 1994 and have since released seven studio albums, two ‘re-strung’ albums with an orchestra and five DVDs. Their track I Love It was the first single from the album Drinking From the Sun (released in 2012) and quickly became one of their biggest selling songs. It is a song about being a rapper and celebrates the success Hilltop Hoods have encountered throughout their career. The single was accompanied by the release of three separate music videos.

Urthboy – The Signal

Tim Levinson, better known by his moniker Urthboy, is a founding member of hip hop outfit The Herd and a co-founder of pioneer label Elefant Traks. He has released five solo albums and collaborated with many prominent Australian artists. Whilst The Herd are known for the political slant within their work, Urthboy’s solo albums are a place for Levinson to approach making music from a more personal perspective. The Signal is the upbeat title track from the album of the same name released in 2007. 

Horrorshow – Own Backyard (feat. Jimblah)

A hip hop duo from inner-city Sydney, Horrorshow combines Adit Gauchan's smooth grooves with MC Solo's eloquent lyrics on themes such as politics, privilege, family, history and racism. The track Own Backyard is taken off Horrorshow’s third album King Amongst Many. It deals with dysfunctional race relationships within Australia and features indigenous artist Jimblah.

Maya Jupiter – Smile ft. Aloe Black

Born in Mexico to a Mexican father and Turkish mother, Maya grew up in Sydney. Hip hop became a vehicle for her to express her joy, pain and life experiences, and later she co-founded Artivist Entertainment, an entertainment company committed to creating and supporting art and music that inspires positive social change. Smile is taken from her second album Never Said Yes released in 2018 and features her husband, US soul singer Aloe Blacc.

Mantra – Learn Your Language

Mantra is an award-winning Melbourne based hip hop artist who has been releasing music since 2002. After releasing albums with iconic groups Equills and Illzilla, he embarked on a solo career in 2010, signing with legendary Australian hip hop label Obese Records. Learn your Language is taken from Mantra’s 2013 album, Telling Scenes. The LP received widespread critical acclaim, Rolling Stone naming it "one of the hip hop albums of the year", in a glowing 4-star review.

Vida Sunshyne – All Three Eyes

Melbourne based Ghanian-Australian hip hop artist Vida Sunshyne first came onto the hip hop scene as someone collaborating with a long list of artists including Astronomy Class, Illzilla and Thundamentals. On describing her solo release All Three Eyes Vida has written "It's been a long time coming and after all the obstacles and life lessons I've found my way back to my purpose and understanding who I am and what I'm about. This single is basically a declaration of my presence and intent." The song is taken from her soon to be released EP and has been remixed by a number of producers.

Drapht – Where Ya From

MC Paul Reid, better known by the stage name Drapht, is an Australian hip-hop artist from Perth. He became part of Perth’s hip hop crew Syllabolix when he was 17, learning from the crew’s producers and many freestyle sessions with the crew’s MCs. Where Ya From is taken from Drapht’s third album Brothers Grimm, released on Obese Records in 2008.  Drapht says about the record "With Brothers Grimm I focused on my song writing and concepts more than any previous album. I set out for it to be more of a personal and truthful account with what I stand for moralistically".

A.B. Original – Take Me Home (feat. Gurrumul)

A.B. Original is an Australian hip hop duo made up of Yorta Yorta MC Briggs and Ngarrindjeri MC Trials. A.B. Original stands for Always Black, Original. Their music is political and has been described as "angry, polemical, brutally frank and meant to inspire a response, good or bad".

The duo was created when both artists were invited to perform at Triple J’s 40 year celebration in 2015. Since then they have been writing songs that bring attention to social issues. The track Take Me Home was taken from the Australian Music Prize winning album Reclaim Australia, released in 2016.

Remi – My People (feat. Thando)

Remi is a Melbourne based duo made up of rapper Remi Kolawole and producer Sensible J. They have released two albums, including the Australian Music Prize winning Raw X Infinity in 2014. My People was released as a single in 2018. All about family, it has Kolawole’s brothers Hussein and Yusef Harare on backing vocals. They also feature in the film clip. "I just wanted to showcase my beautiful family whilst centering diversity and blackness in this film clip, which is rarely done in this country" he says in a statement. The song also features Zimbabwean born and Melbourne based singer-songwriter, Thando on vocals.

Sampa the Great – F E M A L E

Sampa the Great was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana before coming to Australia at age 22 to further her musical studies. Since then she has received the Australian Music Prize in 2018 for her album Birds and The BEE9, a lyrically rich meeting point of reggae, hip-hop and soul. F E M A L E is taken off her album The Great Mixtape, released in 2015, described by Sampa herself as “a search for creativity, laughter, purpose and rhythms.”

Tkay Maidza – White Rose

Adelaide based rapper Tkay Maidza was born in Zimbabwe before moving to Western Australia as a child. She released her debut single at age 16 and has released two albums since then. On describing the motivation behind the track White Rose Maidza says “A white rose is a symbol of a friendship, or this feeling of security you get when two people are on the same terms. I wanted to make a super conversational song to a person explaining exactly what was going on in my head word for word. It's about how a person is only there for you when everything is smooth but isn’t there when it’s gloomy or dark.”

Bliss n Eso – Bullet and a Target

Originally from Sydney, Bliss n Eso consists of MCs Bliss (Jonathan Notley) and Eso (Max MacKinnon), as well as DJ Izm (Tarik Ejjamai). They met at high school in the 1990s. Since their first release in 2000 they have put out six studio albums. Bullet and a Target, originally a song by US songwriter Citizen Cope, was released by Bliss n Eso in 2007 after a trip to South Africa where they were inspired to write about the living conditions they witnessed there. They collaborated with the Zulu Connection Choir of South Africa and recorded the song at the home studio of Jimmy Barnes in Sydney. Funds raised from sales of the single were given to the Oaktree Foundation charity, Australia's only youth-run international aid and development organisation.


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