Koolism - The 'Umu

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Koolism are Australian hip hop’s oft-overlooked champions. Having been in the game for more than 17 years, they’ve taken a slightly different route to success than their contemporaries like the Hilltop Hoods and Bliss ‘N’ Eso. Canberra boys MC Hau ( Langomi-e-Hau Latukefu ) and DJ/producer Danielsan ( Daniel Elleson ) formed Koolism in 1992, based on a mutual appreciation of each other’s work.

Constant touring gained them notoriety amongst the underground scene, and the release of their 1996 EP Bedroom Shit on tape cemented their position as the up-and-coming talents of Aussie hip hop. Two more albums, a number of EPs (including two that were stolen and never released), and the inaugural ARIA Award in 2004 for Best Urban Release followed. Now the dynamic duo is back with their fifth studio album, The ‘Umu.

Before starting out, I figured it was best to do some research into what exactly an ‘umu is. Turns out it’s a form of underground oven used in Polynesian cooking, and a nod to Hau’s Tongan heritage. After listening to the album as a whole, its meaning became more apparent. Koolism’s music can be compared to an ‘umu. It’s like an underground hot-bed of musical styles; from hip hop to RnB, with a bit of dancehall and reggae thrown in for good measure.

Opening proceedings with Welcome to the ‘Umu, a short intro that leads into Hanz High, a dark and hard-hitting bouncing number reminiscent of a futuristic urban battleground, it’s clear Koolism are ready to rock. On Ready Danielsan employs a simple repetitive beat as Hau demonstrates his verbal dexterity over the top. Cash Monet features a catchy hook amid a muted bassline and subtle space age synths, while Jam Hot ups the pace with a sped up drum beat and punctuated rhythms throughout. Danielsan’s production coupled with the frenetic pace of Hau’s rhymes makes this one a keeper.

Long-time Koolism collaborator and hype man Axe Aklins and Jonah Latukefu lend their talents to the smooth Have Have Not, with Aklins trading verses alongside Hau and Jonah providing his silky vocals to the chorus. Can’t Stand It sees Danielsan going into second gear with the synthesiser before a quick skit interlude featuring a caller requesting a Koolism track on the jjj Hip Hop Show (on which Hau has hosting duties).

Yeah is another bouncy, head-nodding number and Lovely features a drum beat that sounds like its come straight out of a marching band. Turning Back utilises a series of beeps and bleeps over the top of the standard drum accompaniment, making it an interesting departure from the usual Koolism sound. Get Free features Uli and Solomon Theta on a thought-provoking track about what freedom means, complete with vox-pops asking people just that. Rounding out with Alone, a personal story of how Hau’s uncle came to Australia, it shows a private insight into the usually happy-go-lucky Koolism world.

Hau and Danielsan have outdone themselves again, evolving their sound to incorporate a forward-thinking aesthetic, which is probably gained from years of experience. Boasting very accessible tunes, but with a staunch underground sensibility, Koolism are indeed the underground heroes of Australian hip hop – and deservedly so. But enough with this review, please grab a plate – it’s time for us to feast from The ‘Umu.

The ‘Umu is out 3 September on Invada Records through Remote Control.

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