Interview: Sarah Connor on hip hop and cyber abuse
August 7th 2015
Home-grown hip hop artist Sarah Connor has been getting a lot of attention lately.
It all started in October last year when she dominated the Briggs ‘Sheplife/King of the Town’ competition. As the only female entrant, she secured the win and made her male counterparts sit up and take notice.
After dropping two singles — ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Coma State’ — which have both seen their fair share of airplay, Sarah went on to win the highest possible prize for an emerging Hip Hop artist in this country: the $10,000 Hilltop Hoods Initiative. But even as she joyfully accepted Thundamentals‘ offer to open for them on their latest tour and perform for her biggest crowd ever at the Come Together festival at Luna Park in June, she saw that her success comes with a dark side.
Jen Love and Dave Carter sat down with Sarah Connor to discuss plans for her new EP — which she hopes to finish this year — and how this dark side of her sudden fame may be affecting her artistically.
What can we look forward to hearing from you soon?
The plan is to get my first release out. I’m working on a seven track EP, I’m about five tracks into it at the moment so I’ve got two more to round off. Then hopefully I’ll get that out between now and the end of the year and see what tours we can round up. That’s what I’m really looking forward to: dropping my first solid release and getting some product out there on the market.
The sound that we are hearing from you at the moment is fierce and intense, very ferocious. Is that the main focus of this release or are we going to see a few other different styles of the Sarah Connor vibe come out?
I think that my style has melded a little bit. In fact the name of the EP that I had last year when I started working on it — and was putting out tracks like ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Coma State’ — has been thrown out the window. I guess I’m in a little bit of a different head space then I was several months ago. A lot of positive things have happened, but also a lot of negative things have happened since the Hilltop Hoods Initiative was announced. So there’s a much more reflective state in my music at the moment. Looking at everything from my personal difficulties, my family difficulties and also that balance between trying to work 9-5 jobs and put out releases as well. So all of that has kind of seeped into my music to the point where I’ve even changed the direction of where I’m taking the EP.
Speaking of some of the negative attention that you’ve been getting… Do you think that it has potentially hindered your progress? And that the negative aspects of the attention from winning these competitions has set you back in working on your music – and distracted you from it?
Yeah – to some extent I guess I hit a bit of a wall… You push really hard to build yourself up and then you get that burn-out effect as an artist, to the point where you don’t want to write, you can’t produce the words. So for me, the challenge has been to drive through that and get up each day and say ok what can I write today and what can I achieve today? It certainly can have a really distracting effect on your life and your music but it has been good to think about how I can then redirect my energy even if it’s changing the tact that I’m taking with my music to make sure that I am still creating and writing, which is one of the most essential things in my life to get up and write each day.
From your music and your online persona you have shown to have a very strong social justice mentality, and you also work as a lawyer in Campbelltown. You’ve brought in a track by Rapsody to play today. Why did you choose this track and how does it reflect how you feel about certain issues?
I think this is a really beautiful track that she has put out called ‘Hard To Choose’ and I feel with Rapsody when she spits these lyrics there is no question in her integrity. Her simple message is that it’s actually not hard to choose which way you should direct your energy in life. There are some amazing lyrics in there: the choice between going ham and staying humble.
You’ve been quite outspoken about the abuse that you’ve received online and you’ve also recently taken part in a Cyber Hate Study at the UNSW looking at gendered hatred and violence against women.
How do you deal with the tension between what you want to do — which is call out these people and confront them publicly — but also the awareness that doing that can feed into their desire for attention?
A lot of people use the slug line ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’, but I’ve tried different approaches. I have confronted people online but also there was a post about me with more than a hundred comments around the Hilltop Hoods Initiative that included statements – such as that I would get raped if I didn’t leave the music industry – which I didn’t comment in at all. So it’s difficult to look at what approach to take when you’ve got complete strangers from different states and multiple states, so how could you target something legally when it’s cross jurisdiction?
Then I also think when it’s not me copping the brunt of this then it’s often my friends, or even event pages which I am on, they get the negative comments. I’ve had friends who are people with disabilities being targeted when they stand up for me. So the most important thing for me, which someone who I’ve been working with musically said, is “let the product speak for itself”. When you come back with solid product in the music industry, they can’t knock product. So that’s the aim that I’m trying to take at the moment. It’s really the only thing that I can do on a day to day basis.
That’s very commendable, what you’re doing, and very difficult what you are dealing with. It’s also quite ridiculous for someone to attack you for not being good at what you do. Part of the double standard in hip hop, being that it is a male-based industry, is that these kinds of threats would be absolutely absurd if they were posed to any of your male counterparts.
And my experience certainly does not represent the hip hop community as a whole — and these issues aren’t limited to hip hop, there’s also a big problem in the gaming community as well.
How do you feel about some of these double standards in hip hop? Particularly the way that men can dress and use their body to sell their image and music, and if a female does the same she is attacked for it?
I saw Jean Grae put out something recently which was if she raps naked but she’s a good rapper, she’s still a good rapper. Just because she isn’t wearing anything doesn’t negate the fact that she has a high skill level.
The other thing that I look at on the local scene is the double standard in terms of attractiveness. You can be an ordinary bloke, not attractive at all, you can be overweight… but if you have great skill everyone says, “Yeah, that’s a dope emcee!” But the amount of criticism you get as a girl in terms of how you look, what you wear and your physique includes comments such as, “You’ll never make it unless you’re good looking.” So it’s interesting to look at why this exists in a hip hop environment. And the approach that I want to take is I want to break those boundaries.
You can catch Sarah live this weekend at ONE:Sydney, a fundraiser supporting the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown which includes an art exhibition, auction and performances by Madame Wu and Elise Graham, DA Carter, and Stackhat.
WHAT: Sarah Connor live at ONE:Sydney
WHEN: Sunday 9 August, 4-10pm
WHERE: Create Or Die, 10 Mitchell St, Marrickville
HOW MUCH: Entry is free – more info here
Jen Loves Hip Hop | DA Carter | Sarah Connor