A chat with the hip hop head behind Melbourne’s Hip Hop Karaoke

Are you a hip-hop head? Have you got an IQ of 80 but a rapgenius 1Q of 88,210? Do you know all the words to the Eminem and Proof car freestyle? Have lyrics been so thoroughly embedded in your brain that even when the Alzheimer’s kicks in you won’t Forgot About Dre? Are you the kind of person who can’t remember their PIN number but can remember the LAPD code for homicide? Do you mutter the sample from Bring Da Ruckus in public under your breath? (En garde, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style). Have you ever been to a party, laughed, and said “oh there’s just no way I could still remember the second verse from 50 Cent and Olivia’s Best Friend after all these years” and then proceed to prove yourself wrong in front of a girl you just met? Have you ever found yourself in the smoker’s room of Revs trying to remember the first line of Kanye West’s New Day, and just like, being completely unable to – even though those words have been permanently burned into your cerebral cortex, because a fundamental synapse has been severed? Have you ever wanted to live out that fantasy that plays over and over in your head, where Earl Sweatshirt looks into the crowd and asks “alright, does anyone know this next verse?” and suddenly your eyes lock? Then ‘Hip Hop Karaoke’ at Melbourne’s Boney might be for you.

Hip Hop Karaoke is the ultimate opportunity for any would-be MC to spit straight borrowed flames over their favourite tracks in front of an ecstatic crowd. This is a very polished affair. The quality of the performers is so good that the crowd bounces to legitimate live music. So make sure you’re better prepared than this guy –

We chatted to Tom from Burn in Time about his absolutely cracking creation. If you love hip hop. If you love yourself. You’ll get down to Boney in Melbourne on the first Thursday of every month.

Where did the idea for Hip Hop Karaoke come from and how did you guys kick off?

I’m from Toronto, I moved to Melbourne two and a half years ago. After a couple of months I started fiending for hip hop. It exists in some places. Cafes are bumping hip hop. But when you go to a night-out, you can go to someplace and yeahhh it’s almost there. Not a lot of soul. It’s just the hits. And don’t get me wrong I love the hits, and I’ll play Christina Aguilera for sure. But those sorts of places aren’t socially inclusive. There’s dudes trying to grind up on girls. That really gritty shit. I like grimey. But that’s too grimey. I was fiending for hip hop. I was trying to find it and eventually I just gave up. I started speaking to people about music and so many people in Melbourne all wanted the same thing. Hip Hop Karaoke happens everywhere. It happens in Toronto. And for some reason it just doesn’t happen here. Even though so many Australians are into it.

The performers were all of serious quality. It felt like an actual concert. You guys don’t provide the lyrics for your performers – is this event not for beginners?

The thing about karaoke is that karaoke is terrible. It sucks. The only time it’s good is if a person is really good at singing. And if someone goes to karaoke they probably aren’t good at singing. If they were good, they’d be somewhere better. The only joy people get out of karaoke is the person actually doing it.

I was so surprised because I genuinely wanted to hear the next performer, because they were legitimately good and I wanted to hear live rap.

I’m a terrible singer. You can be tone deaf and rap. It’s a rhythmic art, as long as you can carry the flow, and that comes from listening to it a bunch of times. Then you just mimic people’s voices, rather than hit a note. It is a beginner thing, none of these people are rappers. They just liked a song so much they have memorised all these words and actually wanted to perform it. Some people are better than others for sure sure. But for the most part everyone nails it and the formula is very acceptable for everyone.

Right – everyone has that one rap song that we’ve spent hours painstakingly memorising. And then we think, ‘what a complete waste of time.’

Right. It’s like all those nights rapping Wu Tang have finally paid off.

We’ve all seen 8 mile. Hip hop is naturally competitive. It’s about being the best. How much do you just want to boo B-Rabbit out the Shelter if he’s a choke artist?

We want to preach a socially inclusive atmosphere that people will come to. That’s what hip-hop stands for when you look at back at how it started in the Bronx in the late 70s. This one performer forgot a line on a Tupac song. He was embarrassed, but we got him back up, helped him along, got the crowd behind him. This is definitely a place where people feel safe.

You have some rules of the event.

3 rules. All hip-hop karaoke nights have these rules:

No freestyling. It’s a way of not promoting oneself. Promoting the song, making sure everyone is having fun. A song that everyone loves is a good thing. This isn’t a stage to promote yourself or your mixtape.

No racial slurs. The n-word is featured a lot in hip-hop culture. Mot of the time when it’s said it’s not meant to be a slur. However, being conscience that we’re in Australia and primarily a white nation – saying that word as a white artist – can be interpreted in a very racially changed way.

No homophobic slurs. It happens more rarely in hip-hop. Some of those artists aren’t intending to be homophobic, but we’re trying to preach inclusion.

What makes a good song selection, what gets the crowd going?

When we started it was 90’s definitely. Big Poppa, anything off Illmatic. But now we’re seeing more new school tracks – these three chicks did Trophies by Drake, I did not expect that, they were absolutely amazing. It comes down to the energy of the performer and what they put into it. People actually have to practice. Learn the flow of the song and do it with the instrumental beat. There’s not really any kind of song I would not recommend doing. But interestingly, we’re in Australia and in a year and half of running this, there’s never been an Aussie rap done.

If someone asked to do some Aussie hip-hop, what would you think?

I mean…ahhhh. I mean. I’m not. It’s. Ahhh. No comment. 

Hip Hop Karaoke happens at Boney in Melbourne on the first Thursday of every month. September 3rd is the next jam. It’s amazing. Make this a reality.