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How hip-hop is Melbourne?

Hip-hop might have first emerged on the other side of the planet, but what’s unique about the way it’s evolved in Melbourne? Our Incubator team spoke about this and more with La Trobe University student Emma Yager, who has been studying the subculture for her Honours thesis.

For the last year, Emma Yager’s life has been a juggling act. As well as a busy day job co-editing La Trobe’s Uni News, she’s also been writing an Honours thesis about hip-hop in Melbourne. It’s a quest that has taken her into an often misunderstood subculture that involves emceeing (also known as rapping), dj-ing with turntables and records, break dancing, and graffiti.

Yager says she first became interested in hip-hop when she was a high school student. “I noticed a lot of negative press about hip hop artists such as Eminem. I remember a family friend rang me up in tears because her 16 year old daughter had bought an Eminem CD, and she thought that this meant her daughter was going to run out and start killing people.”

After immersing herself in Melbourne’s hip-hop world, she’s convinced that it remains a positive way for young people to express themselves. “Even if they don’t know how to sing or they didn’t have the resources to learn the piano or guitar something like that, they can find an outlet in emceeing, writing rhymes, graffiti, break dancing or dj-ing.”

Oddly enough, Yager is neither a participant, nor a devoted fan, but became interested in hop hop “from an academic point of view if that makes sense”. Her research mission was the find out exactly how the now global hip-hop subculture has been adapted to Melbourne, and how those who are part of the scene perceive their identity. After interviewing a range of participants, she discovered that some of those involved make specific reference to concepts like egos, alter egos and the ‘hero’ – terms which derive from the theories of psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

Yager completed her research through contacts (including her hip-hop journalist flatmate) and by approaching people after gigs. 

So after studying hip hop so intensively, does she think that it still gets a bad rap (if you’ll forgive the pun) in the media? Yes and no.  I think that hip hop artists from the United States can occasionally get a bad rap in the media (I’m thinking along the lines of Snoop Dogg for drug use or Eminem being accused of misogyny against women, etc). However, Australian hip-hop artists seem to have a huge amount of positive media coverage which is great.  I think that just shows the difference in the subcultures a bit.  Hip-hop in the States has become more focused on materialism and shock tactics (rapping about violence, etc), where as hip-hop in Melbourne is on the whole a lot more positive.”

And has writing about hip-hop had an impact on her own career ambitions? “Initially I didn’t think it would, however I have completed a number of interviews as part of the research and I really enjoyed this aspect of the study. Since then I have found myself contemplating giving music journalism a go – whilst still keeping at my day job.  I was thinking it might be fun to try and write something for a street paper such as Beat magazine or Inpress once I have finished my thesis, but I’ll have to see how I go!”

Emma Yager is completing her Honours year in Media Studies at La Trobe University. She can be contacted on

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