"It’s our time now. If people aren’t going to put us on the top spots, f**k it, we’ll make our own spots, make our own radio stations, our own shows. Done.”
To describe the sense of unity among new Blak collective 3%, proud Yuin man Nooky says, “We’re together; these are my brothers.”
A prodigious rapper in his own right and host of Triple J’s Blak Out, Nooky’s forthright words refer to Noongar MC and rapper Dallas Woods and Gumbaynggirr singer-songwriter Angus Field, who complete the outfit’s core members. The trio first stepped into a studio in 2022, where the music they made came so naturally and so distinctively from anything they’d previously come up with as soloists, that they decided to run with it, honing a sound that is distinctly representative of Blak Country.
“I think in those sessions we had together, the energy was there, it felt right. All of us made some of the best music we ever made,” says Nooky.
“Those moments we were all together, we lifted each other up. For me, maybe for Dallas as well, it brought back a bit of the fun in music, brought back some of the love. And we made good music, music that was enriching for the soul.”
“Really some family shit now. A lot of people throw that word around in this music game, but this really is it and I think it’s important. In a lot of the songs we’ve made a lot of statements, but we’ve also made music for the sake of making music. It just feels like the old people are around us and helping say what we need to say, and that’s when you know it’s right.”
With no one else interjecting, it’s good by his bandmates that Nooky is basically speaking for everyone because he knows they share these same sentiments.
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“Like Nook said, it’s brought back the fun, and that’s half the reason why we started this, was to get that back, the fun,” adds Dallas. “I’m at this point in my life where I’m a lot more seasoned, I’ve lived a bit more and to be able to write about that from a different perspective and to be enjoying it, I think it really helps put the message across and know you’re being authentic because you’re not trying to push for something it’s not.
“We’re pushing towards uplifting our people, but also uplifting ourselves.”
Angus adds, “It’s not just about making incredible music, it’s writing music for our people, it’s writing songs for each other, it’s bringing out a side of each other that we haven’t tapped into for a while, and I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t met the boys and started writing with them.”
It’s these same sentiments and ambitions that 3% have ensured are transparent in their music. As with their debut single Our People (which features a sample borrowed from The Presets’ iconic song My People) when its anthemic chorus blows out, you can really hear this song has been made to make people understand the story and the history of First Nations people.
Our People carries “too much history”. The song addresses ongoing concerns affecting the Indigenous communities – issues in Alice Springs, youth incarceration, deaths in custody, and more. You never hear stories of oppression and perseverance in music the same way First Nations artists deliver.
“Our People is the beginning,” Nooky says. “We’ve got a song called Land Back that features Say True God? It’s banger! There’s another called Higher which again, is us being Blak men and being vulnerable, saying our truth as Blak men and finding the glimpse of life in the darkness; that as fucked as times get, things are going to be alright, and we know [that] because we’ve got each other – family, community. When we lose the hope, that’s when we lose the fight.
“This project, we touch on a lot of things; I think sometimes you can write songs like Our People and feel deflated – me and the boys wrote that and felt power.”
On cultivating the 3% message and style, Dallas says, “Our people are storytellers, and we’ve [been] passing knowledge through ceremony and dance. That’s been happening for so long, and we’re just the next generation of people to pass it on – that’s why there can’t be no lies being told, it has to be truth-telling so that we’re leading our young mob in the right direction of not being blind, the same way our old people did for us.
“Part of hip hop being [an] authentic storytelling-based genre, our culture is what makes us storytellers as well. We’ve been taught that our people got taught by people that come from bloodline strong-strong, and we keep that bloodline going. It’s about making sure we know our strength and that we can’t be misleading the youth.”
Taking his lead from Dallas, Nooky explores the prospects for young First Nations artists that he says he sees finally emerging in the industry. “It’s our time. I’ve said it, the Blak era is now,” he begins. “There’s been moments in terms of the history of hip hop in this country, there’s been waves, pockets, now it’s about all of us joining together. We can’t be silenced no more. We’re all here.
“It’s ridiculous we’re not on the festivals,” Nooky highlights a widely ignored fact. “[But] things are changing. More Blak artists on the line-ups, more Blak artists getting the radio spins, more Blak artists getting the top positioning on playlists. The time is now, and it’s not one artist anymore, it’s all of us, as a collective, and that’s something we’ve set out to do with 3%.”
Following the release of Our People, listeners can expect the 3% project to showcase Blak artists from every state and territory, which is something 3% say is a big part of what they’re trying to do. “Showcase the Blak talent, the Blak era, the Blak future, the Blak music. It’s all here, and we’re trying to roll as one,” says Nooky. “A lot of the artists featured on the project are new talent, fresh guys, with undeniable talent. I’m telling ya, the music we’ve made, it’s something!
“It’s hard to describe, but when you put Blak people in a room together, it’s fucking magical It’s like our ancestors come back and they’re there. It’s powerful music, it’s beautiful.”
At the heart of 3% are their people. Nooky, an admirably passionate and illuminating man, says 3% isn’t just a name, but an acknowledgement of the 3% of Aboriginal people that have survived, the 3% “you can’t deny”. “We’re here, it’s our turn,” he says passionately. “I’m sick of being at the bottom of the line-ups. It’s our time now. If people aren’t going to put us on the top spots, fuck it, we’ll make our own spots, make our own radio stations, our own shows. Done.”
“The time for the Blak takeover is right now. You look at artists like Miss Kaninna, Say True God?, JK-47; it’s game over now!
“That’s what we’re about, empowering our people, putting on our shows, creating our music, being together, and leading with strength, love, and fucking pride.”
Nooky points out the success of the group’s recent debut headline show. Presented by SXSW Sydney, the all-Blak showcase featured performances by Barkaa, Moss, Dobby, Yung Brother, Bars of Steel - Inkabee and FLEWNT, and was named for the 3% debut single.
The room, Nooky highlights was full of “our people”, an instance Nooky calls “a mad feeling”. “In the front was mob,” he says. “I seen ‘em. [Rapper] Barkaa’s crew were there, her sister and her brother in the front row, and that was mad. I noticed that, and it was a proud feeling for me to see our people on stage, to see our people on the front row, you know? That’s all we’re about; using Blak artists for artwork, video guys, producers. Not saying it’s all exclusively Blak, but we try to. If the team isn’t all Indigenous, then best believe our input will lead that. It’s Blak to the front, always.”
The power that Nooky and his brothers, with silent nods of affirmation, repeatedly attest to experiencing through every step of building 3%, they felt was “amplified” by their audience, their mob, at last weekend’s show. “Our thing finished, and the crowd erupted,” Nooky says, “I’ve never been on a stage and the crowd reacted like that.” Nooky, who up to this point has been leading the conversation, struggles to find the words to describe the experience. “The set finished and the crowd was so loud, and the applause went for that long that for us to say thank you to them, we had to wait.”
“We’re all super appreciative of that. It helped us. We walked away from there and was like, ‘I think we’re doing the right thing’, [it] gave us the strength to push forward.”
Being at different ends of their careers, Angus, relatively new to the scene but going from strength to strength and under the wing of more seasoned artists Nooky and Dallas, also felt that same air of power. Angus says, “We’re all Blakfellas, you know. For all of us, we’re going out there with a purpose, to say a message, because we wrote these songs to put a message across, what we believe in as Blakfellas and our stories from the old people.
“We go out there and we perform hard because we want to put something across [to] the audience. I feel like that show, they got it. to be performing as a Blakfella and the pride I felt giving it to other people, it was astronomical.
“This is why I appreciate the boys and what they’ve done; they’re guiding me through this, just like big brothers. They’re helping me through this process and I’m grateful to have someone who’s been there before, who knows it, because after all this stuff, my head was spinning. It’s good to have some big brothers to fall back on and just know they’ve got me.”
Though a 3% show, with a line, the outfit say, forming down the road owing to the hype around them, it was a surprising display of support when Chance The Rapper arrived. On the 3% sound and their MO, Chance The Rapper, in the “couple of yarns” he had with the group, stands with them.
“He hears us, he sees us,” Nooky says, “and for him to get up there and introduce to know who he is, that was amazing. With us on the stage… it’s like we could hear the people, what they were saying in the moment and that’s what guided our performance.
“Blak people, we travel, [and] our ancestors are there. They’ve got us. Those moments in between songs where we would speak, it’s like the crowd told us what to say. Everyone was connected. That was some proper ceremony vibes.
“I grew up in my community, taught songs, dances, go out bush, I’ve been there, I’ve done that; that [show] felt like that.”
Acknowledging the lengths each member of 3% has gone to throughout their careers to obtain their respective success, they are privileged in having this platform, to use music, to deliver their message, to deliver encouragement, strength, and hope, to First Nations people across Australia. If 3% could talk directly to the young people, they say would want to lead by example and empower them. Dallas, speaking with a flooring and powerful truth, says, “If we can be staunch and strong but also gentle and kind, and show them that you have to lead with your soul and your heart and your people behind you. You have to wake your warrior up, and once you do that, you then go and connect with other warriors and continue to fight.
“For every young one, they need to know that there is that warrior inside of them, and that’s the gift that they have that. Let them nurture it and let it awaken when it’s time, and not when they feel forced.
“We don’t want to force them to grow up too early, we want them to enjoy being young; but the minute they know that they know they have to be the warrior they were always meant to be, they need to fight in their own way.
“We fight with music, other people fight in different ways, but all the young brothers and sisters that are there that want to fight with music, when you’re ready, be powerful to know that you’re led and followed by warriors.”