Modern societies foster an indeterminable amount of subcultures, all with their own histories, traditions and leaders. As we can only know a small fraction, any person that you walk past on the street could be a subcultural superhero. Trem One is a superhero of Melbourne hip-hop culture.
Trem's work is a testament to his complete dedication to a specific interpretation of hip-hop and to what these choices mean for his legacy. The finest active proponent of hip-hop in Australia, only his mentor Prowla stands as a more influential figure. His long-awaited solo album, For The Term of His Natural Life, was released in 2011. Somehow it surpassed the dangerously high expectations of a rabid fan base.
After being blessed with the record they craved, the community was not immediately granted the opportunity of seeing the material presented in a live environment. Whispers about possible launch shows surfaced occasionally, but it took the organisers of the "Stand Up" event in Queensland to finally make it a reality. Some two and a half years after the album's release, Trem took to the stage... in Brisbane. As glad as I was that it was happening at all, the Melbourne show simply had to happen. Thankfully, some months later it was announced that "Stand Up" would be bringing Trem and friends to the Corner Hotel stage.
There was no denying the sense of occasion: landmark events such as these occur so infrequently in any culture, it made sense that people felt anxious and expectant. Standing with DJ Heata on turntables and young MC P-Link on hype duties, Trem did not appear daunted by pressure or expectations. Opening with ideological anthem "King's Court", he planted his stake firmly into the ground: "I inspired an entire state of rhyme kids...this is more of a religion than a pastime." For a genre founded on braggadocio and exaggeration, hearing these phrases delivered with genuine credibility was a privilege.
In one particular crowd interaction, I noticed something remarkable: quiet. When Trem spoke, people listened. He reinforced his commitment to traditional hip-hop values and poured scorn upon those who had abandoned them. This was more of a sermon than a concert. A bar filled with rowdy concert-goers listening quietly seems improbable, but this man made it so.
Across the set he chose to share the spotlight with artists that share his commitment to these traditional hip-hop values: Queensland king Lazy Grey returned to the stage to perform "Vet Clinic" and Dontez of Kings Konekted emerged for the chorus of "Animal Kingdom." P-Link, who must have been pinching himself to be so heavily involved in proceedings, got the opportunity to deliver a verse. Most surprisingly, Prowla emerged from backstage to join a group scratch jam and slink back off into the darkness as quickly as he came. This was no one man show: this was a showcase of this interpretation of the genre and what can be achieved within those constraints.
And just as he joined with his cultural crusaders, he made a point of singling out the elements of hip-hop that were the foundation of everything that has since been built. "Hard Yards" valourised the risk and reward of getting your artwork hung on the steel canvas of a city's railway network. "For The Record" emphasised the importance of sampling and turntablism to the creation of hip-hop music. These are the things that matter to Trem and to his community.
At a point in a creative career, a decision needs to be made. An artist can choose the pragmatic path in an attempt reach a broader audience, sanding off the rough edges of your creations and moving away from the conventions of your chosen genre. The alternative approach is to remain true to traditional values and accept that what you are doing is unlikely to expand beyond the niche audience that already exists. There is no right or wrong decision, it is simply down to an individual's goals. I don't think Trem's choice was a particularly conscious one, though. His cultural upbringing taught him these values and ever since them he has felt compelled to carry them on. Trem's impact and influence will last for generations, which cannot often be said for many of those who move away from the communities that brought them up. It is an instructive insight for any creative person: sometimes a deep legacy built within a small community can be more significant than a shallow one built amongst a broader audience.