12 NOV 2020

Yorta-yorta man Neil Morris aka DRMNGNOW is a rapper and producer bringing powerful, poetic and culturally centred hip hop beats with a soulful electronic influence. It was a pleasure that the Roundy got to chat with Neil as part of NAIDOC week 2020, discussing hip hop among indigenous Australians, cultural identity, his artistic inspirations and the meaning being Always Was Always Will Be. His earnest lyrics and strong messages are truly inspiring, we greatly look forward to what Neil brings us in the years to come.

Roundhouse: Hey Neil Morris aka. DRMNGNOW, thanks for taking time to chat to us! We’re super excited to feature you as one of the many amazing artists across Australia. We’d like to first acknowledge the Bedegal, Gadigal and Ngunnawal people as the Traditional Custodians of the lands where we operate. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and any First Nations readers with us today.

To start off with, could you let us know who the traditional custodians of the land you’re currently on are, and how you would greet someone in the Yorta Yorta language?

Neil: The custodians of the land where I am on is Yorta Yorta land. My peoples land. De Ngatha Neil, Yorta Yorta Yiyirr. Hello I am Neil, a Yorta Yorta Man

Roundhouse: With the current conversations around bla(c)k identities across not only Australia but globally, what does your identity as a Yorta Yorta man mean to you as an artist and activist?

NeilMy Identity as a Yorta Yorta man is central to me and how I function in this world. Everything else comes off of the back of this as the core central driver to whom I am. My responsibilities to my country are paramount, then to my mob, then to other First Nations mob and their lands. The effect is an interconnected one across the globe and no matter where I am or what I am doing I am always a Yorta Yorta person with a cultural lore process that is present and important in all of my actions.  

Roundhouse: Hip hop and rap have obviously resonated with a lot of bla(c)k Australian artists, yourself included. What is it about the hip hop genre that has helped you tell your story?

Neil: Hip Hop has drawn me since being exposed to it from a very young age. It drew me from what it emerged out of and how it presented as a way for the marginalized and oppressed to have not only voice but to shine and be empowered. This has always magnetized me to Hip Hop. This has made me comfortable within hip hop. There are unique kinks to hip hop that hit into the core of my being, such as the groove, the rhythmic patterns. They all affect me on a very deep spiritual level as a First Nations person. This is not spoken of a lot but I truly believe that hip hop has a sacred spiritual power that really does align with our mobs on a very sacred level. Also the fact of the spoken type format and how you can speak to so much within a hip hop track, that has always drawn me how you could use it particularly to provide a big download of information to people, Manifesto’s s to speak. Which in these times has been important to me in such a precious time for our peoples where there are certain depths of complex thought and concepts that truly do need to be put out to the world in some digestable formats. Hip Hop works for that in a compelling way. There is no mistake or chance as to why that is so for me. There is a divine order to things and ancestors inform that in how they connect is into certain things in the here and now.


Roundhouse: Earlier this year, you dropped ‘Survive’ which landed you #6 on the Metro chart. What does the track mean to you, and what do you hope others will take from it?

Neil: Survive was a piece that was very important to me in terms of where we have been at in terms of so many challenges, but yet in recent times particularly it has become more and more evident in regards to how truly resilient First Nations people are. We have a drive within us and our core that is truly insurmountable. Whilst genocidal and assimilationist tactics have very real ongoing consequences and we are not immune to them . Somehow or another the fire of our ancestors continues to stay afloat and it truly is a testament to the enormous power we do descend from. The light will never be extinguished. Sometimes it changes hands and is held by few. At the moment it is held by many and that is truly indicative of our staying power. We will always Survive


Roundhouse: What was the inspiration behind the creative direction for the ‘Survive’ music video?

Neil: The video for Survive was for me intended to display a sense of survival in a celebratory way. But yet also in a way which captured some of the enduring challenges and also the steps into the future. This was embodied by the amazing dance features we had in this clip from Brent Watkins, Sermsah Bin Saad, Amelia O’leary, Sandy Clarke, Jordan Edwards and the Djirri Djirri of the Woi Wurrung/ Wurundjeri whose land much of this clip was shot upon and whose land I have lived upon the past 5 years. It was important for me to allow these powerful identities to shine in their own ways of resilience and survival and the team with Dylan Corbett whom I worked with on this brought this to life in a special way . The film clip also included uncle Robbie Thorpe a warrior, an inspiration and Gunai Kurnai elder. He is one of the true important figures of the Indigenous push for Sovereign rights in the land of So called Victoria. For me it was important to include someone with such an enduring presence as someone whom has embodied the Survival of the ongoing Undefeatable spirit of our peoples. The shots of the film clip including sisters and musicians, Lauren Sheree, Yirghilya Lawrie and Yorta Yorta sister Corina Ritchie where intended to highlight that our women truly are central to our future as they always have been. Our survival is so indebted to them .


Roundhouse: The theme for NAIDOC Week this year is ‘Always Was Always Will Be’. What does this mean for you and your music?

Neil: Always was Always will be means a lot to me. I grew up on my mobs land, Yorta Yorta country. So when I say Always Was Always Will Be , I speak that from a place of being that I am also apart of country. So it is also the land speaking . And how blessed I am to be part of the land, truly and utterly. In terms of my music. Every single one of my songs is in some way an anthem of the land, the land expressing itself in song format. We have been in a most beautiful relationship with this land since we where born out of it. It is our mother, and that can never be changed. The best thing we can all do is listen to the land.

One of the biggest issues that we are all challenged with today is due to either lack of listening or never learning to truly listen to country. To listen enough to understand that ultimately we all have a role to play to honour the sacredness and sacred order that country has set out for humanity. It speaks profoundly. It speaks in all plants and its children. We are all ultimately children of the earth. And Indigeneity provides a key deep into her soul n whatever lands we are upon, and how sacred is that. We all benefit from understanding Always was Always Will be.


Roundhouse: Thanks for hanging with us Neil. Just before we wrap, we have a couple of quick rapid fire questions.

1.   One upcoming artist you love at the moment?

Neil: Barkaa. She in her own way feels to be singlehandedly changing the trajectory of something very profound within music on this land . What she presents in how an artist can speak from such a place of unfiltered matriarchal power and make impact, Is so incredible to witness. From one release to the next release .  

2.   Go to coffee order?

Neil: Hot choc, with Almond Milk

3.   TikTok, Yeah Nah or Nah Yeah?

Neil: Not up to speed with it yet!

4.   If you could only choose one meal to live on for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Neil: Native bushfoods from Yorta Yorta land