Weekly updates:


Tasman Keith: Hip Hop’s New Vanguard

Processing trauma as an Aboriginal man in so-called Australia while dancing across themes of love, healing, and piecing yourself back together, Tasman bears everything on his debut album A Colour Undone.

A Colour Undone was written in six days amidst empty, endless hours in a hotel room as Tasman excavated a lifetime of repressed emotions and ruminated on generations of past and present trauma. Tasman was possessed by a vision. A vision to unravel himself, examine his inner parts, disassemble his ego and piece himself back together.

Despite teaming up with some of the biggest acts in the country and with streams amassing well over half a million, as always, Tasman’s thoughts return home to Bowraville, as he continues leading by example hoping one day to give back to the community that raised him, with hopes to embed foundations inside his community that last longer than him.

We caught up with Tasman to talk through the release of his debut album, navigating through trauma, and the influence of his hometown of Bowraville. And whilst the timing was unintentional, A Colour Undone is a powerful ode to NAIDOC Week.

I want to start by talking about your upcoming release, your debut album A Colour Undone, which will be released during NAIDOC Week. How are you feeling about sharing this project with the world?
I’m very excited. Having a debut album is something I have been waiting for my entire life. And even though it was a quick process to write the project, this last year since I have written it has been a journey of growth and I’m excited to have this part of my life out and to share it with people. Of course, having it out during NAIDOC Week is wild! And it’s funny because we didn’t actually intend for that to happen, and three months after we set the date, we realised it coincided with NAIDOC Week and that’s just how it played out.

I know you probably don’t want to give too much away yet but can you talk me through the title?
There’s a lot of meanings behind the title and it’s funny because it’s something that is ever-changing in my life. I think right now the title means something entirely different to what it meant to me last year, but I guess it’s like breaking down what it is to be a person of colour because in this industry, first and foremost, there’s a lot of expectations of what I should do. And even expectations of myself that I have as an Indigenous man. It’s like stripping away all of that and getting to the fundamentals of being happy and being human and being okay with that. On another level, to be able to make this album and figure out the concept I really had to spend a night in a hotel room down and out, breaking down exactly who I am and undoing everything inside of me to get back to who I am.

So, there’s a few meanings behind it and it’s ever-changing but I am interested to hear what people get out of it. Because I am an Indigenous person, I know there will be some listeners who think the title of the album is political, and when you listen to it, you realise it’s not. So, I wanted people to then think ‘Okay, why did I think this was political just because Tasman used the word colour?’

You mentioned that you spent a night in a hotel room breaking down who you were and undoing everything inside of you. I also read that you were ruminating on generations of past and present trauma and thinking of your family. How did you convert these experiences to music?
I think because I had the space to do that and I didn’t go into the album sessions until four months after those nights, I was able to subconsciously get into the routine of knowing what I wanted to say. So, when I locked myself in the room everything just spilled out. It wasn’t something that was forced or something that I had to really be critical about, I was like ‘This is what I want to make and whatever I am saying right now is exactly how I’m going to say it’.

Were you able to release some of that trauma?
Yeah, I think so. There’s still definitely a lot that I am dealing with, and I don’t think I’ve been able to deal with the trauma, but I have been able to address it and see that it is healthy to deal with it. I think it is a lifelong process. But basically, the album provided me the room to be myself.

I read that for this new project you were adopting a new character which is a duality of personas, and you can see that through the many layers of yourself you reveal throughout the project. Can you tell me about this new character?
It’s basically like every version of me, and I call it a character because it is how I would fit into a film clip. The people that grew up with me and the people that know me closely, know that I’m cheeky, sometimes I’m a bit of a smartass, I’m sweet, I’m romantic, I’m staunch, I’m everything that I can possibly be at different times. And I think for the longest time—I wouldn’t say I was hiding but having rap and being this dude that is speaking on other people’s experiences and my own—I would always kind of hide behind the concept. But for one of the first times in my life, through this album I’m like ‘These are all my stories and this is exactly who I am, and I do not care’.

There are some really deadly acts that you have teamed up with on the album. Is there one person in particular that you really resonate with or who shares your vision?
Damn, I think everybody in a different way. Jess [Mauboy] of course because of our heritage and that understanding. Kwame because as a person we really get each other on that level. Genesis [Owusu], I feel like is on a level of humble. Phil [Fresh] is just a funny dude, so I guess I relate to him on that level with the cheekiness. And Thandi [Phoenix] is down to earth and a beautiful soul. So, I think everybody has a different level of understanding or relation.

Can you take me back to the start? When did hip-hop come into your life and what outlet did it provide for you?
It came into my life at a very young age, you know, Dad was a musician. He started off in a heavy metal band and then went to rap and I was always on festival stages with him doing Yabun at the ages of like 8 and 9 writing raps with my cousins, so it was always like a natural progression. I never really saw it as hip-hop music, I just saw it as music at that age. I listened to a lot of things because of Mum and Dad but age 14 I think was a very integral moment in my life when I was like ‘Okay I want to tell my story, I want to do this, I want to speak on my experiences’, and then it just eventuated from there.

That’s pretty powerful to have your Dad as that role model and I understand he would have such an influence on you. Do you feel like you need to fulfil his legacy in any way?
He hasn’t put the pressure on me like that. I already know I’ve done enough. I think me being a good person and a loving and caring person to my family and my close friends—that means the world to him. I’ve had conversations with him and it’s ended with him telling me I’m the best man he knows. I’m definitely fulfilling it for him though. I know he was in music in Australia at a certain point where they weren’t ready for what he was saying. Not that he was ever political to be honest but he was just speaking on his experience as an Indigenous man, and I know that seeing me do what I’m doing now is the most fulfilling thing for him.

It’s so nice that just by existing in this space you can pay homage to someone like your Dad, who was in the industry when there were so many ceilings.
Yeah, he came to my Sydney show and was blown away and had a teary moment. It’s special. As you grow with your parents you understand that they are just people as well and then to see them in that light and to make them proud I think is a whole other thing.

Tell me a bit about growing up on the mission and how that has influenced your writing and expression?
Just the slang! The different phrases and stuff like that, the way we talk [Laughs]. Just like me being exactly who I am because I grew up with a mother and father who were exactly who they were and cousins who didn’t really care about an outside opinion. I think just the freedom to do that but also like moving in between Sydney and Bowraville gave me I guess the view on two different worlds—country and city. It is completely two different worlds. That’s why I think a lot of Indigenous people who get into this industry or sports for example don’t make it because they feel not at home or detached from where they are from. But I was always able to from a young age have the view of both.

What does it feel like now when you go back home and there is mob playing your music and singing along?
It’s nice. It’s good because my cousins treat me the exact same which is the way I want it to be. My little sister doesn’t care about the songs I’m making [Laughs] and that’s the way it should be because my music is my music, and when I go home that’s home. They give me my praises and props and flowers, and I give it to them as well, and [my community] is definitely something that I make sure I stay in touch with

My last question is about the last song on your album ‘Tread Light’. It is so powerful both lyrically and sonically and actually took my breath away. Who is this song written to?
I lost a cousin in 2020 at just 27. He had heart conditions. That was the first time that I was really home around a death. Every other time I was shooting music videos and distracting myself with work. It wasn’t until I was in those hotel rooms that I realised I didn’t face it. I was just distracting myself. With the first verse, you can tell I was speaking from somebody else’s perspective, but you don’t necessarily know who it is yet. Second verse, it’s me speaking as people I’ve lost especially my cousin, speaking to me telling me to step right and ‘Although this all comes to an end—while you’re here, tread light and step correct’. And the last verse is me lashing out and being frustrated at death and having a conversation with it, saying that ‘At the end of the day I’ll always be within, and I’ma step right and turn our stolen into golden in the next life’, all these things. I wrote that song in 30 mins and it was just out, and it was done. The wild thing about that song is that when we went to record the saxophone and re-record the last verse, the day that we woke up to do it, I checked memories on socials and the cousin that passed away, it had been a year since he passed on the day that we went to record the song. That’s when I knew it was the right thing. It was a song that I always wanted to write but I don’t think I’d ever had the clarity to write it [until then].

Follow Tasman Keith here for more and stream his debut album A Colour Undone here.

Weekly updates