Batla's Back, Alright

18 April 2012 | 11:33 am | Aleksia Barron

MC Ozi Batla of Sydney’s The Herd spent Christmas in hospital undergoing emergency surgery. He speaks to Aleksia Barron about fighting back, fighting fit and fighting for his favourite album tracks.

All of a sudden, it seemed like music icons everywhere were falling off stuff. Just nine days after Molly Meldrum fell from a ladder while putting up Christmas decorations, Shannon Kennedy, also known as MC Ozi Batla of The Herd, was admitted to hospital after a horrific cycling accident. His injuries included a punctured bladder and a dislocated jaw.

The accident spawned a Twitter hashtag – #batladown – and raised a number of questions. Would Kennedy pull through okay? Would The Herd be able to keep touring? Could they even play their upcoming New Year's Eve festival slots at Woodford and Pyramid?

Remarkably, the answer to all three of the above questions was, 'Yes'. Kennedy, now 100% recovered, can even joke about the accident. “Molly stole my thunder a bit,” he laments. “I thought I'd have national news coverage, then Molly fell off a ladder, so I guess that takes precedence. I did berate him when we met for our weekly tea and scones.”

Still, he concedes that it was strange for The Herd – one of the largest and most enduring groups in Australian hip hop – to take the stage without him. “It was probably weirder for them, actually,” says Kennedy. “I was completely out of it at that point. I was high on all the best drugs the hospital could offer. That week passed me by in a blur.” It was a shame to miss the festivals, though. “Woodford's probably my favourite festival to play, so I was pretty disappointed but… they pulled it off. It's good to know that if anything does happen in the future, we've got each other's backs, and we're able to do the show still.”

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It is something of a relief to know that The Herd can stand strong even with a key member missing. The Sydney band have been one of the most beloved acts in Australian hip hop since emerging as pioneers of the scene in 2001. Since then, they've regularly graced the Triple J Hottest 100 with hits like I Was Only 19 and The King Is Dead, toured relentlessly, and founded the Elefant Traks label.

In 2011, they released their fifth studio album Future Shade, which recently found its way back into the iTunes charts after being featured by Apple for the second time. “Bizarre, isn't it?” says Kennedy. “It's kind of funny as well, because we'd launched an EP for the tour, so we kind of cannibalised ourselves a bit, but it's all good.”

The EP in question is the Better Alive, and for Kennedy, it's a particularly welcome release. “One of my favourite tracks that didn't make the cut for the album is on the EP,” he explains. The song is Darkened Paradise: “It's kind of got the real Cuban flavor, which I like, and it's got the nice guitar from Toe-Fu, and a cool story as well.”

Part of working with such a large group of people is that decisions have to be made as a group – such as cutting Darkened Paradise from the Future Shade track list. “I would have liked it there, but it comes down to a democratic process at that point of the album. More people wanted it off there than did – that's just how it works. You get these conundrums when you've got such a big group of people.” Still, he's willing to concede that it may have all been for the best: “It didn't really seem to hang with any of the other tracks.”

“These days with digital, it's not like anything is ever gone or forever disappears,” he says, reflecting on tracks that don't make the final cut. “If you want to, you can put everything out, or just give it away. I'm just glad that people will get to hear them now.”