I knew very little about Diafrix prior to actually interviewing them. That’s probably a recurring thing from this point on in my writing; a lot of “Hey, want to speak to [x]?” and me going “Yeah, why not.” I’m quite happy I did this one – I really like what Diafrix are about, and I think having more notable people of colour in Australian hip-hop is always an important part of the progression of it here. You’ll see in the interview, anyway. It’s not too bad, I don’t think.
– DJY, December 2014
It’s a long-serving and tirelessly true phrase of hip-hop that goes along the lines of “it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” Much has been made of where Diafrix are from – both members are of African descent, refugees that met at a workshop in Melbourne nearly ten years ago. Where they’re at, however, is now a different matter entirely: They’re one of Australia’s most ambitious and interesting hip-hop groups, currently readying their second studio album, Pocket Full of Dreams.
“It’s definitely very different from our first album,” says Momo. It’s still got Diafrix all over it, though. We wouldn’t really know how to achieve anything else.” He elaborates further on just how far the group have come since their last album: “I think we’ve changed sonically more than anything. It was pretty much a new chapter for us – Concrete Jungle had already said what we wanted to say at the time, and we’re still very much a part of that album. We really wanted to tackle this album in a really different way.”
Of course, they don’t call it the Difficult Second Album for nothing. If it hadn’t been for a change of heart regarding the songs on the album, we may have ended up with a completely different version of Pocket Full of Dreams altogether – one that Momo would not have even been close to as satisfied with in comparison to what was ultimately achieved. “It’s funny – this record was more or less done twice,” he begins to elaborate with a slight incredulous laugh. “What happened was that we were making all these songs – about twelve or thirteen of them – and although we were digging them, they just didn’t feel 100%. The concepts were all cool and everything, but it just didn’t feel like where we wanted to take the album. So we started over again: Brand new concepts, none of the songs were rewritten bar one. We more or less just made a whole new album. It expands over a good year or so, and it definitely feels like we’ve made two albums.”
The album brings in a myriad of guests, from go-to rnb hook man Dwele and Australian Idol winner Stan Walker to local MCs like 360 and N’Fa. It was a huge part of the album’s creation for Momo – “I grew UP listening to Dwele!” he enthuses at one point – but he also makes note of the fact it was just as important for the guests as it was for Diafrix. “All the collaborations that we’ve done on here, everyone that we got to be a part of the record – I’m really happy with it,” he says. “Bringing them all in meant that we were sharing the experiences with them, learning from them and vice versa. It really meant a lot to us as a group.”
He continues: ““I’m more about individuals as artists, and what they bring to the table. You could have someone that’s a rapper, but you get them to sing a hook and they could do it better than someone that’s an actual singer – all depending on what you want to get out of the song.”
Of course, having relatively “mainstream” guests on the album like 360, Walker and Daniel Merriweather will always get a cry of ‘sell-out’ from hip-hop’s highest ranks of snobbery. The album’s slick production is certain not to sit well with some more alternative fans. It’s something that’s brought up after Momo makes a bold statement about exactly what he likes to add into his music. “I need soul in my music. No matter what style of music it is that I’m listening to, I’m all about the soul – the music I listen to has to have it.” So, how do you achieve “soul” of any kind through shiny production and Idol guests? Simple, really – it’s all in the producer.
“What made that [having “soul” on the album] very easy was Stylez Fuego,” says Momo. “The dude is prolific – the thing I love about him is that he is one of a few producers that can take tracks from a certain level and make it appeal to a much bigger crowd, while still keeping that soul in there. I think that’s really rare these days. People get confused about it, but it’s all a matter of channelling it the right way. He knows what sounds good, and his musical knowledge can be heard through what he creates.”
Pocket Full of Dreams comes at an interesting time for hip-hop, both full of bold experimentation and risk-taking, as well as it arguably being a more viable and influential product than ever. Diafrix have seen a lot come and go in their nine years as a group, but they maintain that they wish to keep as positive an out look on the Australian community as possible – regardless of who rolls with what clique.
“From the get-go,” he begins, “when hip-hop was still relatively fresh and young on the scene – the only act that was really up at the top was Hilltop Hoods, and there was a massive drop-off after that. We always stood on our own feet and created our own music. We’re really not a cliquey group – we just want to be a part of hip-hop in Australia. If a group gives us love, we will always show love back.”
Recently on Facebook, Diafrix called for there to be more festivals dedicated entirely to Australian hip-hop. Momo feels that, while things like Come Together and Sprung are great, there’s even more waiting for us around the corner. “We’re watching hip-hop really growing right now – there needs to be more festivals and more tours coming through,” he says both definitively and excitedly. “Rather than having festivals where it’s just a novelty of having just a few hip-hop artists, it’d be great to see more dedicated festivals like Sprung, which is making a lot of noise for everyone. Why wouldn’t we celebrate our music? What’s being created in our own backyard?” It’s tough to argue with him – and even tougher to not have nothing but Diafrix love.