I still remember hearing Kerser’s album The Nebulizer for the first time in 2011. He rapped with an animated delivery and braggadocious attitude over synth-heavy, house and techno-influenced beats. It was a jarring switch up from the Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chamillionaire that took up all the space on my 13-year-old self’s Nokia C3, but it marked the first time Australian hip-hop really grabbed my adolescent attention. And as I continued to develop throughout high school, ‘Don’t F**ck with Kerser’ and ‘Kerser is The Sickest’ from that album continued to remain prominent in the playlists of my peers. Parties would occur on Saturday evenings, Nebs’ dance-ready production would blast through subwoofers, and thus would erupt my dancing contemporaries, Somersby cans equipped, with give-no-fucks attitudes on display.
What made the Campbelltown rapper such an anomaly though, was that this was only a portion of his artistry. While The Nebulizer rocked dance floors of house parties throughout Australia, there was also the group of people who took tenancy in the shed, listening to the latest edition in Kerser’s now legendary, unfiltered honesty of his ‘Deadset’ single series, thriving in the inspiration it gave them to freestyle shortly after. This versatility has become a hallmark of his career throughout 9 annually released albums, 5 EPs, and too many Youtube loosies to count. His ability to be raw on one track, ravenous on the next, and rave-ready on another has resulted in 7 top 10 debuts in the ARIA charts, and a tour schedule that has never seen an empty venue. He even participated in what is still the biggest Australian rap battle of all time against 360, signifying a change in the barbecue rap of the radio, to the unabashed, openbook soliloquies we still hear in our blossoming scene today.
This decade of work leads us to his latest single ‘Winning’, which in many ways, feels like a well-deserved victory lap. Returning with producer Open Till L8, who helped shape the sound of Kers’ last 2 albums Lifestyle and Roll The Dice, the track finds the rapper reflecting on his struggles throughout his early life, and appreciating the success he’s achieved today. That braggadocious attitude is still there, but with a new sense of hunger, working as a veteran in a scene he helped skyrocket, and with the maturity of being a battle-tested, forward-thinking creative. In celebration of the track, I hopped on the phone with Kerser to speak about his new music, impact on the game, maintaining his hunger, and the climate of music streaming today.
Kerser! Congratulations on ‘Winning’. How are you feeling?
Thanks for asking, I feel good. It’s a classic Kers track. I haven’t released anything since August bro, so this has been the biggest break I’ve had in my career, and I think it’s just been the perfect way to come back.
The track feels like a victory lap that celebrates how far you’ve come in your career. From your perspective, how have you grown since this journey started?
I’ve matured so much, even within the past 5 years. I’ve got a daughter now, she’s 4 years old. I get to take my time with the music a little more now, where at the start it was very fast-paced, which definitely worked for me at the time. I’ve learned so much about the music game, and how it works. There’s so much to learn man, and I feel like I’ve mastered it.
The new single also contains the upfront honesty that’s become a staple in your career. How did you become comfortable with being so upfront in your music?
I’ve always dug deep in my music because it’s a way to vent for me. Going back 12 years, I’ve been doing it without really thinking. And my fans relate to it on such a fucking personal level. I spill my heart on the beat, and I don’t hide anything from my fans. I think that’s why they’re so dedicated to me.
‘Winner’ is another example of how well you and Open Till L8 work together. How did your relationship come about?
Around 2015, when I was halfway recording Next Step, Steve Guzman, who used to do a lot of my videos, was telling me about Open Till L8, and how he was keen to work. I released a few albums in between, and in 2017, I needed to release a new ‘Deadset’. He sent through a demo for ‘Deadset 8’, and man, it was fucking crazy. So we started working on other shit, and since then, we’ve kicked back and developed a good friendship. He’s taking over the producer scene down here in Australia. It’s mad.
In your music, you’ve never been afraid to tackle different styles and sounds. Where do you think that comes from?
I think it’s because I’m super open-minded, especially music-wise bro. I listen to Powderfinger, Pete Murray, old-school 90s hip-hop, early 2000s hardcore hip-hop, soft R&B, and so much more. Everything that I listen to I take in, and I’m not scared to jump on any style of beat. I’m versatile with that. I think that’s why I have fans that like so many different types of shit. Some love my deep shit, some love my cocky, smart ass shit, some love my serious gangster style shit, and some love the dance shit. I think it’s all an important part of my brand.
Speaking on the dance stuff, your debut album The Nebulizer is turning 10 this year. Reflecting a decade ago, what are your memories of creating that project?
They were good times. Before that, I had released 2 mixtapes. Nebs and I then started working together, which started with boom-bap style beats, but then he played a house-style beat he had because he was working on some remixes for DJs at the time, and I said “Damn, that’s fucking sick, I’ll jump on that.” At the time, it was such a big risk, because no one was doing that in Australian hip-hop at the time. They’re only really starting to do it now. I copped a lot of shit for it at the time, but it also had a huge wave of people who loved it. Looking back now, with it releasing in 2011, and most of it being recorded in 2010, it makes me realise how far ahead of the game Nebs and I were. Every time I bump it these days, it still feels modern, and that’s really cool to me.
The late boxer Marvin Hagler is famously quoted saying “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 AM when you’re sleeping in silk pyjamas,’’ yet you’ve never really lost the drive to create throughout your career. How do you maintain that hunger?
I’m just so passionate about music, man. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I love to kick goals and challenge myself, bro. It’s like the best job I could ever have, and I’m lucky enough to make a living from doing something that I love to do. The more successful I become, the hungrier I get.
At the time of The Nebulizer, you were creating as the underdog. Is a different hunger today creating as the veteran?
Yeah, it was a different hunger back then. I felt like I had something to prove, man. It was this thing where I wanted to say “Fuck you” to everyone that tried to block me out, and that inspired me to write the best shit. Now, I know that I’ve got shit, and I know what I’ve done in this game. That hunger ultimately is still there, but it is different now. It’s hard to explain.
You once said that “If you come into this game sensitive, it will break you.” In your career, you’ve faced a lot of external forces, whether it be radio not playing you, or TV hosts taking lyrics out of context to try and diminish you. How did you develop such hard skin, throughout so much adversity?
I just had to learn how to put up with it. To put it bluntly, fuck what people think. Not everybody is going to love you. At one stage, it felt like everyone hated me [Laughs]. But I just tried to have thick skin, and never take anything business-wise personally. People on the internet are going to say whatever they want to say, you just have to learn not to let it get to you. Maybe at the very start, when I was trying to make it, it got to me. But you gotta be staunch about it because if you get majorly offended by this shit, you won’t want to do it anymore. It’ll take the hunger away.
Even throughout these challenges, your career and longevity have helped set the blueprint for Australian rap music today. Looking at the game now, how do you feel about what’s going on in the scene?
It makes me proud bro. The shit that’s massive now, is the shit that they were trying to block out. The radio and everything are behind it now. Even though it’s not me on the radio, I never get played on the radio [Laughs], it’s the same style of street, underdog rap that they never paid attention to me. Honestly, it’s fucking mad bro. So even if the people who tried to block it don’t acknowledge me, it fucking worked. Now, it’s only going to get stronger and stronger.
Do you feel like you get your respect as the forefather of this?
I do. I feel the love bro, from other acts and the fans. Even the ones who hate me, now can’t deny that I changed the game. It’s kind of undeniable in the history of this shit. If people just look at me as a phase or something, I don’t think they know the impact I’ve had on this game.
One of the biggest events in Australian rap history was the infamous rap battle between you and 360, which in my opinion, saw the tide change from the barbecue rap of the past, into the authentic, unfiltered style you were spearheading into the future. Looking back at it, how do you think it impacted your career and Australian music in general?
I 100% agree bro, That battle made people who didn’t listen to Australian rap pay attention because it was kind of like the lads vs the metros [Laughs}. The metros didn’t like the lad shit, and the lads didn’t like the metro shit. Even the people on the sidelines who were neutral were fucking loving it. It’s the biggest battle in Australian rap history. I don’t think it’s possible for one to ever match it. That’s unless we did it again.
We gotta’ make part 2 happen.
Maybe after the next album. Who knows.
Not only are you a pioneer artistically, but you were also able to monetise Youtube, Facebook, and other platforms before it became a norm in Australia, with that manifesting in a consistent touring schedule and a consistent place at the top of the ARIA charts. Where does that business savviness come from?
It’s just the hustle of it. I’d drop an album, know that I have to tour in promotion of it, have another tour planned at the end of that, and drop a promo track once a month at least. I don’t know where it comes from, but I knew I had to go the independent route because the labels weren’t showing any interest until they saw the numbers and the cult-like fanbase I had at least. I think it just boils down to hunger and hard work.
Although music has transitioned from radio being the emphasis, it still feels the same in the sense that relationships and business moves can affect whether or not you’re playlisted, much like those things determine whether you’d get played on the airwaves. Have you noticed that?
I was very recently having this conversation, so it’s funny you say that. I think Spotify is kind of like the new radio. Labels run certain playlists and if you don’t do it their way, you won’t get put on those playlists. It reminds me of the early days of my career with the radio, because you can still drop a single, and not get in any playlists. ‘Winner’ is like the first thing I’ve dropped that has been on the big playlists. It’s all very radio-ish. It’s scary because if one of those people doesn’t want an artist to get out there, they can blackball them from a playlist, and those playlists seem so important these days.
You’re someone who made their way through music without really any help from radio in your time and instead grew from a grassroots, organic level. What advice would you give to an upcoming artist trying to make it today?
It’s hard for me to say, but it’s a different day and age. But I’ve said it my whole career, consistency, and quality of music are such a major part. If you’re going to be consistent, you’re going to want to switch things up and not sound repetitive, because that’s when the fans will start to get sick of it. You’ve got to keep releasing and communicating with your fans, making sure they know where to find you. And yeah, you’ve got to tour and get out there as much as possible to obtain that reach. I was burning CDs and handing them out at Macarthur Square when no one knew who the fuck I was. Once again, it all comes down to that hunger.
Lastly, what do you have planned for the rest of the year? Are we getting the annual Kerser album?
I’m really taking my time with this album man, making sure everything is perfect, paying the most attention to detail. It used to be like I would finish touring around the middle of the year, have a deadline for the album, and then have it wrapped up 8 weeks before that deadline for submission. It all felt kind of rushed. This one, however, I’m not rushing it at all, because it’s album 10, and something I’ve been building towards, so I want to do the best shit I’ve ever done. Most likely, I’m thinking the album will drop in 2022. But like I did with ‘Winner’, I think I’m going to drop another 3 or 4 singles throughout the year, and I’m aiming for the album to have around 19-20 songs.
Follow Kerser here for more and check out the video for Kerser’s latest single ‘Winner’ below.