Many Melbournites may not be familiar with hip-hop artist Morganics, but this guy has more history as a b-boy than many of you have been alive.
I almost missed seeing him first time, as Morgan Lewis is of average height and build, and wears fairly nondescript and unshowy clothing. Just a regular guy. We’ve met at my now-regular interview spot at Lentil As Anything, and he’s stoked at the choice of spot.
“I’ve only been in Melbourne since the end of January (2013), and have already been blown away by how much community love is shown down here. I guess that’s one of the reasons I came here.”
Of course, as all new locals do, he gets cold in the brisk early spring breeze and has to grab an extra layer of clothes from his car, and then we commence our chat over coffees.
Morganics is originally from Sydney and was residing there since the tender age of five. He hit the streets as a b-boy in 1984, embracing the art of breakdancing as his first element of hip-hop.
“I went out there busking and done routines to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It sort of went hand in hand with acting, which I also loved.”
Morganics rattles off an impressive list of club influences of original electro tracks such as Grandmaster Flash’s ‘Scorpio’ and ‘The Message’, Def Jam Sampler 84, Herbie Hancock, Liquid Liquid (originator of the ‘White Lines’ bass riff), Jamalski, Taaj Khan (“Hip-hop is global”), Macklemore (“It was a kick seeing that guy in the mainstream”) and Sugar Hills Records Sampler vol.2 ON WAX. This, of course, impresses me.
I asked Morgan what the main difference was between clubs of yesterday and now.
“Hip-hop elements like breaking, DJing, MCing, beatboxing and even tagging the toilets were more intertwined. You couldn’t have one without the other in the clubs, and that’s where you learned to b-boy, in the actual clubs.”
Metabass N Breath
During his busking forays, Morganics befriended MCs Elf Tranzporter and Baba Israel. They honed their routines and formed Metabass n Breath, of whom also included members DJ Nic Toth and various instrumentalists later on in their live act.
They released three albums, an EP and hit single ‘Perfection’, which received regular national airplay on Triple J and Channel V, which was quite an achievement to do in pre-2000 and before widespread internet usage, social media promotion and mass music downloading.
“It was more of a struggle to get music out there. There were less people doing music then, which was a good and bad thing. It’s easier to find people you like working with, but it’s gotten very competitive these days.”
Metabass n Breath went on to tour America twice and released on Bomb Hip-Hop records before parting ways in the early 2000s.
Hip-Hop is My Passport
Morganics went on from Metabass n Breath to work teaching indigenous communities in place like Arnhem Land (Northern Territory) and The Clare Valley (South Australia) the arts of b-boying, most famously assisting The Wilcannia Mob create track ‘Down River’, which was remixed as ‘Mango Pickle Down Under’ for MIA’s album Kala.
After releasing debut solo album Invisible Forces in 2002, Morganics juggled a plethora of tasks from community work teaching b-boying in detention centres, refugee camps and youth centres, to travelling and collaborating with people all over the globe from New York to Berlin Parliament House to working with street kids in Tanzania to breaking at festivals in Rio.
Some of this process can be seen on Morganics’ one-hour accompanying documentary for his album released in 2008 Hip-Hop is my Passport, which was declared a “landmark in Australian hip-hop” by Music Forum.
During this very busy decade, Morgan also found time to combine theatre and hip-hop from the Sydney Opera House to worldwide across the UK, US and Europe in his show Crouching B-Boy, Hidden Dreadlocks, which saw him become a critically acclaimed practitioner of Australian hip-hop across the globe.
Back to the Elements in Melbourne
Now Morganics has come to Melbourne, where he is working with his old Metabass n Breath buddies Elf Tranzporter and Baba Israel on a new album, The Enemy is Within. He tells me a bit of what to expect.
“It’s music for my friends and enemies. In this one track I rap from a trady’s point of view, a guy with the southern cross tatt that he wears like a swastika. He’s got the bikie dad and is pretty racist, and then he finds out that he has Vietnamese in his family tree. Oh shit! The second verse is from the point of view of the refugee and I’m hoping this album will stand out as important in Australian hip-hop.”
While he doesn’t identify with a lot of BBQ and beers culture of “Aussie Hip-Hop”, he cites Jimblah, Delta, One Sixth, Remi and Impossible Odds as inspirational, and is very excited to find out more about our own brand of Melbourne roots and electronic culture.
Morganics has started Wednesday fortnightly events Bringing It Back to the Elements. For a run-down on this event, have a look at the event here.
His approach has been more humble and down-to-earth in a new city, as seen in his selection of hip-hop arts-loving smallish venue Horse Bazaar.
Morgan laughs, “Oh I really love that place, I’ve found it really hard to get out and explore other places as I feel so at home here.”
In terms of his current place in hip-hop, Morganics exclaims “I’m a hip-hop purist to the point I don’t think it should ever be pure, cause then it’ll lose its strength and relevance.”
He recounts a recent experience playing in the CBD.
“There’s this dude Rabi. He was straight off from his suit-and-tie work, and just came to Horse Bazaar and rocked out, he just didn’t care. That’s what I love about hip-hop, you can’t help but be moved by the music.”
Written by Kristian Hatton.