How does one begin to write about a man that has shaped and influenced our Australian urban music scene from the very beginning? The beginning spanning nearly 30 years ago when R&B, Hip Hop or anything under the urban umbrella was virtually unheard of in mainstream Australia. That man is Rodney O. He has continually developed various avenues for consistent growth, awareness and enhancement of our urban music scene and is one of the original pioneers in this game. Never one to be pigeon holed, Rodney wears many hats in this industry ranging from club owner, promoter, hip hop historian, youth mentor, voice over artist, radio presenter and more humbly, basketball player.
With all these titles however there is one common dominator that keeps this huge personality with his finger on the pulse of our urban community – Hip Hop! This interview is more than just a conversation with a pioneer, it is a history lesson shining light on our communities early days, paying homage to those that kicked in the door for the rest of us to follow and a discovery of the man behind some of Sydney and Australia’s most successful Hip Hop nightclubs, concerts and business ventures and what lies behind his endless hustle and belief in our growing industry.
I am elated to finally write about Rodney O, who has not only been an inspiration and a motivator behind my own Hip Hop career but has helped countless others break through and walk their own journey in Hip Hop. He knows so much, has seen so much, is friends with so many and continues to re-invent the urban wheel with his fearless approach to the education and promotion of our hip hop culture. Read on to discover the man behind the voice, his early days, his love of Australia and how all that matters in the end is doing what he came to do!
Rod you have been a part of Australia’s hip hop canvas from the very beginning, kicking the door open for so many to follow. Yet the younger generation of hip hop heads don’t really have a clue as to who the true pioneers are in the Aussie urban scene. Could you best describe your journey about how you came about helping shape our urban community?
I visited Australia in 1982 for the first time as a young visitor for a few weeks, met a few girls and really felt the place. I returned to the US and then wished I was back in Australia because I had such a wonderful time, the people were warm n very friendly. I flew my ass back to Oz n put in some work, cause I saw I could hoop and the change the game musically.
I was in Adelaide in 1983 playing basketball for a second division club called S.A Church & I was doing some security wise thangs for a big nite club called Jules & I was welding shit in the mornings as a proper job ( I had three jobs man!). On the weekends the music being played back then on radio & TV straight up bored the hell outta me! Shit was wack in the clubs & I was fresh from kickin it in Long Beach & Cerritos California with DJ Juan G & in my home town of Philadelphia rollin with Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Steady B, DJ Tat Money via Dana Goodman.
Some of my newly made friends were graffiti artists, DJ’s break dancers young business guys and peeps who drank and partied like me. The music we dug, we had nowhere to go and hear It, except in our cribs and cars. We all got together to vibe with the latest hip hop music that we ordered by mail, magazines, friends in the US, UK, record companies and anywhere & way we could get our hands on it. We called our little movement ‘Oz Rock Hip Hop’!! One English cat I met called Nigel, was a Goth dude who was obsessed with getting the latest n greatest urban beats n lyrics on wax. DJ Nigel Abella played at a popular up market corny ass club called New York, he was the best Hip Hop DJ in South Australia hands down and no body fuckn knew it! He made sure guys like John ‘Wicky’ Reynolds, John Armstrong and more who were part of our crew had the best beats in town. I was a ring leader / MC making everybody chip in their skill sets n we put on a few gigs for the streets. We did gigs in community centres, skate rinks, nite clubs, anywhere we wouldn’t get shut down. Dats how I started down under. The next step was to move to Sydney because Adelaide was too small for my big head and dreams!
(Rodney & Chris Brown )
How would you best describe our hip hop scene – its strengths and weaknesses compared to the rest of the world?
The Hip Hop scene is alive n doin what it do, there is an educated school here that really got into it thru the mid 80’s n 90’s that set the pace for today’s young peeps. I worked with some cool people back in the day in Oz, who felt the Hip Hop vibe from West to East in Sydney like the Westside Posse, Sharline, Def Wish Cast, DJ Rangi, K-Sera, Sound Unlimited, DJ AKM, DJ Manny F, Pee Wee Ferris, Andrew Muirhead, Pat Powell, Nick Ferris, Mike Scott, Mighty Big Crime, Joe 90, Tim Ritchie, Miles E Miles, John Alsop, David Brace, Lance Regan, Joel Miranda, Cool Hand Luke, Maya Jupiter, DJ Naiki, Sean Finlay, Scott Wolfe, Otis Winston, Eddie N Robert K, Freddy, DJ Lenno, DJ Jay, George B, Joe Tannous and a host of dance crews and a lot of muthafuckas names forgotten, they gonna be mad, but it is what it is.
The strength down under is in our history here. There has been a foundation laid by some guys n gals from all walks of life who invested in the game early, like Jack Vid, DMC, Sony Music, Joe Connelly, Lindsay MacDonald, Harry Della, Les Girls, Gary n Arthur, John Ibrahim, Renee Rivkin, Dave Kakadu. The weakness here is the distance to see n hear it live. Little or no radio airplay, lack of educated music programmers to get shit played. But times are a changing! It seems now that every fuckn body is a promoter nowadays.
Some are doing a great job and some are putting shit in the game. All in all we are getting more artists on Aussie soil and that fuels Oz n NZ’ed acts to get they shit together n stand tall which is healthy bringing new talent to the fore. They comin too …..DJ Moto, Nino Brown, Peter Gunz, Matuse, 360, Hoods, JD, Samir, Nate Wade, Miracle, Bliss N Esso, Israel Cruz, Trent Slingshot, Sire, Supafest, Sam Dutch, Sam Doaud, Joe Nemer, Ramdy G, Ian Reid, Don Juan, Konnected As One, Victor Lopez etc….
(Rod & Jam Master Jay )
You have been instrumental in introducing some of the monumental firsts for our hip hop scene to date – breakthrough nightclubs like Da Bomb back in the 90’s and touring artists like Naughty By Nature & helping to bring Cypress Hill out back at a time when hip hop was a huge hurdle ……what motivated you then to continue pushing forward and breaking down those walls?
Real talk, I started in Rockdale NSW at Le Funk Nite Club, which I co-owned, DJ’d & MC’d, did security and even served drinks. Why? Cause I love Hip Hop, RnB, money & ladies in that order. Doin shit to push the envelope so new peeps would n could feel our vibe like never before.
Everybody knows and loves you Rod, your presence in a room is known, your support for our urban community and youth programs respected and your Voice is always heard, leading you to becoming not only the Voice of the Sydney Kings Basketball Team but countless television and radio ads and announcements have been touched by O – when did you realize that your voice was as instrumental as your presence?
As a kid I met Muhammad Ali in Philly, I was in a crowd of adults and kids who clamored to see the champ out front of Slys Barbershop in North Philadelphia and through all of the peeps I got to the front and saw the Champ and looked him eye to eye for a few seconds, our eyes were on lock and we acknowledged one another. I was always a guy who wanted to do shit and be in the mix, I have no fear of failure cause I will always try and let no one stop me, I’m on a quest to give my best till my last breath. Period. Whether I’m liked or not I’m comin to bring it! I think when Barry White asked me to introduce him at his concert in Sydney , cause he loved my voice. I thought to myself ,damn, Barry White wants me! Dat shit felt great! When the Sydney Symphony Orchestra asked me to perform with them speaking the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr at the Opera House, dat gig blew me away because it showed me some different people feel me.
Being an American who has called Australia home for many years, what do you miss the most about your native Philadelphia here in Sydney and how often do you return?
I miss being able to hug n kiss my family that most cause they arent by my side. I miss going to the store at the corner of my block I lived on and getting a Philly cheesesteak n Tahitian treat soda. Big and small stuff. I try to get back to the US of A every year but it’s hard so I now stretch it to every few now. I’ve got a daughter here in Oz so dad’s got to be on deck to school n raise her right.
( Rod with Ice Cube, Naughty By Nature, WC & Lupe )
How would you best describe yourself and what is something you could share about yourself that would surprise a lot of people?
I’m 100% devoted to the youth because I’m committed to helping them grow to respect n educate them to the max, it’s a true key to life. I wanted to be an English teacher & I love crossword puzzles to death. I’m addicted to them!
You have helped break ground and start careers for a lot of Australia’s DJ’s, artists and promoters in the urban scene – what is the one piece of advice you could give to anyone wanting to break into the hip hop industry no matter where they come from or live?
If you feel what you do, do it and don’t stop, if it’s in your heart! Love Rules!
(Rodney O & Treach of Naughty By Nature )
What are you currently listening to now? Your favorite artists / songs and why?
I listen to the classic Hip Hop shit – P.E, Chubb Rock, Naughty, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane , EPMD, Pac, Big, LL, Paris, Redman, Ice Cube, Tuff Crew, Schooly D, Mantronic, NWA Whodini, Heavy D, Ghetto Boys, Ill N Al Scratch, Stetsasonic, Special Ed, Three Times Dope, Run DMC, Justice, KRS, Quik.
What is next for Rodney O?
Be the best father of all time to my daughter Tashia “O” that’s number one! Im still behind the scenes doin thangs for TV, radio cinema via advertising. I’ll always do that because I like to talk n get paid. I’m plotting n planning a TV n radio show on a big ass network so stay tuned! Working with the original man of this land and all of the new inhabitants of this great sunburnt country.
Your mission statement / motto in life and why?
It is what it is, just handle your biz! No dough, No ‘O”! Why? Cause Im built like that! Peace!!
(This video is exclusive to Graephotography and Loyalty IV Life ‘Low N Slow’ campaign showcasing the Lowrider car culture and community in Australia. Photographer Gordon Grae captures the essence of the history of these cars and the connection to hip hop alongside Rodney’s formidable presence. )
Always Hip Hop