Remi Kolawole is standing in his favourite Melbourne hangout, Northside Records, calling across the shop: “Is this Wu-Tang instrumentals?” Northside owner and friend Chris Gill nods his head and Kolawole turns back to us. “This shit’s fire.”
The 22-year-old is at home in front of our camera and exudes the same youthful exuberance that colours his records. His latest single, Sangria, is an anthemic tribute to Melbourne’s hipster culture, with nods to Brunswick, longnecks and Hiatus Kaiyote.
Recently playing support slots to acts like Pharcyde and Danny Brown, Kolawole has come a long way in a short time. In 2011, he teamed up with Justin ‘Sensible J’ Smith and co-producer Dutch, releasing two EPs in the space of 12 months. He received a modest reception, but honed his skills further while working on a side project, the RunForYourLife collaboration, which collected the 2012 Hilltop Hoods Initiative grant for emerging Australian hip-hop talent.
While Kolawole made ground with the collaboration, it was his 2012 debut LP, Regular People Shit, which gained him a national audience. The album’s single, Ape, went on high rotation on Triple J. As a result, Kolawole was named as a Triple J Unearthed Feature Artist and scored the weekly feature album on The Hip-Hop Show.
Today, on the eve of his first national tour, he is nostalgic about the unusual genesis of his hip-hop journey. Following a gap year after high school, Kolawole discovered his newfound career path during a brief stint at university.
“I was studying nursing. One of my homeys in the same course was like, ‘I bet you can’t rap’ and I was like, ‘I bet I can rap’,” he recalls, while we sit at the adjoining coffee shop. “I did and it was a bad rap. He was like, ‘that’s sick’, ‘cause he’s got shit taste,” he laughs.
Kolawole’s self-deprecating humour is a stark contrast to his swaggering hip-hop alter ego. However, his classmate’s initial reaction would prove to be a prophetic insight. His latest record, FYG, was released in May and has already spawned one radio hit with Sangria. He knows that airplay is the key to building an audience for an independent artist.
“Triple J changes everything,” Kolawole explains. “You’ll be sitting there for like six months and you’ll get 100 people to like your page. Within three months of having a song on Triple J you’ll have another 800 people.”
With his fan base steadily growing and an imminent national tour and a music video in the works for the second single from FYG, Kolawole laughs as he remembers the experience of hearing himself played on the radio for the first time.
“I was driving round to the studio and there was this chick talking about building a bar in her backyard and I was totally intrigued by this story,” he recalls. “At the end of it she’s like, so what would you like to hear? And she’s like, ‘I want to hear Remi, Sangria’. And I was like ‘what the fuck?’ and almost crashed.”
Remi is playing at the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on July 19.