Jimblah – Phoenix


by Andrew

The latest addition to the Elefant Traks roster of Australia Hip Hop creators is one of their finest. Not the usual straight hip-hop producer/performer, Jimblah is somewhat of an anomaly. After winning the inaugural Hilltop Hoods Initiative in 2007, the Adelaide based rapper is not a fresh new kid on the scene. In fact, after producing and financing his first album, ‘Face The Fire’, his sophomore follow-up is mind blowing. Ranging sometimes from soul and blues to spoken word bush poetry and beyond; ‘Phoenix’ is a revelation in Australian Hip-hop.

Admittedly, I was not the biggest fan of ‘Face The Fire’, and although containing all the elements I really like in my Oz Hip-hop (politics, social thought and brilliant writing), it doesn’t grab me like the first time I heard The Last Kinection ‘Nutches’. Not to compare the two in any way, but the mainstream adoration of Indigenous hip-hop is fairly new when a lot of the artists are polished underground sensations. It’s not too far-fetched that I compare the two however, as Jimblah cites TLC and Urthboy as two of his biggest influences after his family – so it’s fitting his new home at Elefant Traks is alongside these two stellar hip-hop labelmates. And relatively speaking, TLC and Jimblah alongside Trigger Trials from Funkoars are sadly three of the only easily named Indigenous artists in Australian Hip-hop. The reality is; its populated by more than 100 or so well equipped and varied degrees of hip-hop complexity. This release sits firmly near the top and one of my favourite hip-hop albums of the year.


‘Phoenix’ touches on so many political and social themes such as dispossession, volatile substance misuse, crime, disenfranchised youth, political activism, racism in the media and in the wider community and what it means to be a proud Aboriginal man in this modern Australia. I think what makes the album universally appealing is the commonality Jimblah presents in the writing. Non-Indigenous Australians may not be able to understand the full complexity of systematic genocide and reduction to powerlessness currently being felt by Aboriginal Australia, but he comes damn close to effortlessly expressing the pain, feeling and heartbreakingly strong sense of pride and strength Aboriginal men are still in possession of after everything that’s still being perpetuated today.

Musically this album is a conflicting one, but none-the-less still smoothly moves from track to track. The constant theme and connection to fire through the album is the loose string weaving a narrative across the 13 tracks of Phoenix. Starting out with the intro “cuz, your fire’s going out” through to the strength of “March”, the frustration of “TV” to the sweet reinterpretation of “Cannot Buy My Soul” by the legend Kev Carmody; Fire is a metaphor for Aboriginality in ‘Phoenix’ and it’s a very powerful image that Jimblah wields like a third arm. It sends shivers down my spine listening to this album again and again, and not to take away any sort of original thought from the artist, I encourage everyone to listen to it for themselves and take your own interpretation of the lyrics and music. I think that’s where the real joy in the album comes through – making up your own mind.

Jimblah, James Albert to his friends, is not one to shy away from speaking his mind and I get constant enjoyment from reading his thoughts on social media. As an avid follower (well before I heard Phoenix), his views on Australia, racism and society are divisive. But that’s what makes him original and thoughtful. There’s very little input in this album other than that of Jimblah himself. He writes, raps, produces and creates. Hard to come by these days in any genre. This independence is evident, and other than some exquisite mastering by William Bowden (E Traks mainstay) and mixing by Tom Barnes, its pure Jimblah.

Its going to be hard to choose my stand out favourite album this year as there’s been so many to choose from and so many contenders for greatness; especially coming out of Elefant Traks. I’m happy to say, this is up there with the best and has a good chance to come out on top. Congratulations Mr Albert, you have a solid fan in me.

***Power and Passion***

9.5/10 Kings Amongst Many {Abrasive Andy}