Well before influencers posted black tiles on Instagram and global rallies protested racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd, Briggs was calling out racism.
But it’s not like he lists “activist” on his CV.
“I’ve never left the house thinking ‘time to go and make sure white Australia shows up,’” he told HuffPost Australia.
“You’re setting yourself up to fail if you’re waiting for white Australia to save the day.”
So while the Yorta Yorta rapper doesn’t have time to argue with Karens on Twitter, he’s still one of Australia’s most powerful voices when it comes to driving change for First Nations people.
In the past year, Briggs, who has writing credits on the ABC’s ‘Black Comedy’ and Netflix’s ‘Disenchanted’, has released anti-racism children’s book ’Our Home, Our Heartbeat’, dropped multiple new tracks and called out questionable behaviour one viral social post at a time.
“When these things come across my desk, well I don’t have a desk, no, actually I do — I just don’t use it,” he laughed.
“(Metaphorically) when these things come across my desk, my response is what I give. If me being upset about our disadvantage and being actively misrepresented in various parts of whatever ... if wanting better for your people is ‘activism’ then I’ll be an activist until I’m dead.”
Remember when he bought a billboard behind Pauline Hanson’s ‘I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking’ advertisement calling out her racist BS in his hometown of Shepparton, Victoria?
Or when he blasted Sky News host Peter Gleeson’s archaic Black Lives Matter column in June?
While Briggs says he doesn’t want to be known as the official spokesperson for fighting racism in Australia, sometimes his advocacy comes organically, and hey, he’s been doing it for a long time.
“My earliest memories were arguing with teachers,” he remembered.
“Not about my identity but maybe because I was in a school system that didn’t care about me or even want me there.”
Nowadays, Briggs puts his energy into “places where I have an impact, be it my publisher or my record label,” he said, adding that “the studio and writing” are his best outlets.
And while some listeners might link the inspiration for his most recent EP ‘Always Was’ to the wave of anti-racism protests that began in May, he said most of the record was written prior to 2020’s intensities.
“Every time I come out with a track that talks about the Indigenous experience, it’s always met with a ‘Wow, this is so timely,’’ he said of track four on the EP ‘Go To War’ featuring Thelma Plum.
“It’s a funny thing that, when you talk about Indigenous disadvantage, it’s always ‘very timely.’”
‘Go to War’ is about “misgivings and bullshit you deal with on a regular basis,” Briggs said. The music video features Muggera Dancers and crew from Briggs’ First Nations hip hop record label Bad Apples Music. It sees gritty urban basketball courts juxtaposed with beautiful bushland — imagery Briggs says illustrates how “Blackfullas have to walk in two worlds”.
“There’s so much rogue commentary around what Australia’s take on what a ‘true Aboriginal’ is — as gross as that title is,” he said. “The Black kid they might look down their nose at on the street could be the same kid they might applaud at a (traditional) dance where they’re practising their culture.”
“It’s a reminder you don’t get to assume someone’s connection to their identity or their culture or their history just because they’re not wearing the attire that you associate with it.”
Perhaps the reason Briggs resonates with many Australians is his acknowledgment that identity can be a very complex and sophisticated thing.
“That’s part of genocide and that’s part of assimilation,” he said.
“To be Indigenous, for some people, was a really hard road that they didn’t want to engage with because there was so much racism and so much hurt around it. People didn’t know how to reconcile that with themselves.”
“A lot of peoples’ paths are different ... it takes time. One thing I’ve learnt is this is not a sprint, this is a marathon.”
‘Always Was’ is out through Island Records on August 21 and you can catch Briggs and his band performing on Inside Sets on Thursday, August 20.