The Herd is a political hip hop group from Sydney, Australia that performs with a live band rather than with prerecorded beats. The group formed in 2000 and currently consists of MCs Urthboy (Tim Levinson) and Ozi Batla (Shannon Kennedy), Sulo (Richard Tamplenizza) on beats and guitar, Traksewt (Kenny Sabir) on piano, accordion and clarinet, Toe-Fu (Byron Williams) on guitar, Rok Poshtya (Dale Harrison) on bass, Unkle Ho (Kaho Cheung) on beats, and Jane Tyrrell on vocals. Their first single to get airplay in Australia was a song called "Scallops" released in 2001, however, they are most known for their 2003 politically charged hit about racism in Australia entitled "77%." Since releasing their self-titled debut LP in 2001, The Herd has gone on to release five further LPs as well as nine singles. Their most recent LP Future Shade was released in late 2011 and charted 22 on the Australian pop charts.
Let's face it—Australia isn't exactly known for its thriving hip hop scene. Less than 75 notable artists are listed on the Australian hip hop Wikipedia page—roughly the same number just on the U.S. West Coast hip hop page alone. That's where Sydney's The Herd comes in. The eight piece hip hop collective has been going strong for over ten years, and their fifth release (2011's Future Shade) is perhaps their most prolific to date. In the past, The Herd were most well-known for their politically-charged (and distinctly Australian) hip hop songs, like “Burn Down the Parliament” and “77%” from 2003's An Elefant Never Forgets. The latter is their musical outcry against the 2001 Tampa Affair, in which the Australian government refused permission for a Norwegian freighter carrying 438 rescued Afghans: “Stranger in my own land, can't understand how the very word Australian has been damned,” they sing. Likewise, Future Shade doesn't shy away from political sentiments. “Shihaba” tells the story of band member Traksewt's sister being denied entry into Glasgow, based on her racial background. Still, not every single song on the album is a platform for protest. “Grandma's Song” is an utterly heart-wrenching and downtempo soul number. It was written about Urthboy (one of The Herd's rappers) racing to his grandmother's deathbed before she passed away. As heavy as the topic of the song is, it has a beautiful melody (sung primarily by Jane Tyrrell) that's hard to shake. Though there are other affecting moments on the album (like the orchestral-folk hybrid of “My Sister's Palace,” which touches on the topic of child abuse), The Herd haven't lost their hip hop edge. First single, “The Sum Of It All,” has an infectious beat that dances with strings and periodic shouts of “one, two, three!” And opening track “Spin Cycle” is surging with frosty synths, and alternates Tyrrell's female vocals with Urthboy and Ozi Batla's male flows. While their roots are in politically-charged hip hop, the fact that they're not constrained by the genre is what makes their music so exciting—down under, or anywhere else in the world.