It’s hard to overstate the importance of Def Wish Cast to Australian rap music.
In the early ‘90s, long before the Hoods, Bliss N Eso and 360, this intrepid hip hop crew were clambering onto stages around Sydney, their ultra sharp battle rhymes matched only by the quality of the graf that they’d be busily spraying the next day.
For a time it seemed the western Sydney mob of Def Wish, Die C, Sereck and DJ Vame would be just a brief blip on Australia’s musical landscape: Vame had left for Melbourne in 1995 and Def Wish Cast were more or less on hiatus. Indeed, it wasn’t until after the millennium that the crew finally began to come to terms with the impact that they’d had on Australian alternative music culture.
“It was when we came back in the early 2000s that we realised the history we have,” Sereck explains over the phone from Sydney. “And we fought for it. In a way, you’re coming back, but you’re coming back to a whole new generation who don’t know us but they might know other things.”
Def Wish Cast virtually had to start again and get used to life with a new DJ – Murda One coming onboard to replace the departed Vame. There was little in the way of leaning on the glory days. “We like respect, of course,” Sereck says, laughing. “But at the same time it’s what you do now, not what you did some years ago … You’ve just gotta go back to training. That’s pretty much how we got here.”
Fastidiously living in the moment has kept Def Wish Cast relevant, even as the Australian rap landscape changed rapidly around them. Ten years on from their official reunion, the crew are prepping up for the release of a new album, ‘Evolution Machine’, and the way Sereck tells it, this is yet another beginning.
“Like any album, it’s a new sound, because we’re working with a variety of producers. So basically, you’re receiving everything from the producers.
“I think we work well receiving music, but we can be iffy on it as well – it has to be something epic. It’s not your normal 4-4 beat and depending on the MC and how athletic he is, he can rip anything over it and make the beat sound good. Sometimes we like the beat to set the mood for us and make us excited to write, as well. Sometimes you’re writing over one beat and you end up putting it over other stuff anyway, if you know what I mean. We like to create the whole thing – that whole journey.”
The timing certainly feels prescient. Australian hip hop has become a more self-reflective beast in recent years, and a cogent narrative is both being discussed by artists and taken up by the genre’s fans. Hilltop Hoods’ Suffa perhaps summed up Def Wish Cast’s role best when he claimed that the crew “are without a doubt the most important group to shape Australian hip hop into what it is today”.
“People are speaking about it naturally, [but] we were always underway, in a sense,” Sereck says. “We [talk about it] together: we couldn’t have done this a couple of years ago. It wouldn’t have been the right time a couple of years ago. It’s now, so it’s perfect. And at the same time, before we dropped it, doing the recent tour with KRS-One, we were just blown away. You look at each other and think, ‘What the fuck is goin’ on? There is something higher goin’ on here.’ It’s perfect. I suppose it’s what you work towards and how hard you work towards it: at some point it’s got to break.”
‘Evolution Machine’ is a more than welcome release crammed full of Def Wish Cast’s punchy, vital verbal gymnastics. But the crew’s natural environment is always going to be the stage, and that’s where you’ll find them over the next month as they set out on an east coast tour in support of the album. The dates with KRS-One went down brilliantly, but as Sereck says, there’s something special about playing your own show to your own fans.
“Yeah, man. We’re totally ready: it’s just putting together an epic kind of show where it’s not really about supports, it’s more about an experience. We’re just a little bit over the traditional ‘rock line-up’ style of shows. We want to bring back the overall experience and we’ve got enough music to kill it for a few hours. We do it in stages and show our life through the music – 20 years of music.”
Sounds more like a party than a show, perhaps? “Yeah!” Sereck laughs. “It’s more enjoyable and it’s a different experience. It should be great.”
DEF WISH CAST PLAY CONISTON LANE JUNE 7 AND THE RUNAWAY BAY TAVERN JUNE 8. ‘EVOLUTION MACHINE’ IS OUT NOW.