> Skip to content
  • Published: 1 November 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761046308
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $34.99


Life, Death and Hip Hop



There’re a few times in life when you know you’re witnessing history. As if life is about to take a divergent course and you’re right there in the moment that a new path is being trodden. When it came to Australian hip hop, I’d had a front-row seat to a few of these milestones, like winning the first urban ARIA in 2004 or watching Remi enter the game in 2012. Witnessing ONEFOUR in the studio for the first time was another.

Manu, AKA HollaBack Beats, was the first to arrive – and for some reason he turned up lugging a massive suitcase.

‘What are you doing, bro?’ I laughed. ‘Moving in?’

‘Nah, this is my computer,’ he replied. ‘It’s got all our beats.’

It reminded me of meeting Daniel at the youth centre in Woden Valley all those years ago. Technology had improved a lot since then, so Manu wasn’t dragging around a small car like Daniel, but the sight was still humbling. It was a reminder that these boys were doing whatever they could to make it work. They didn’t have laptops with Logic preloaded, ready to make beats; what they had was one desktop computer between them. Plus, it showed their dedication. They had been given an opportunity to record in a proper studio, and they weren’t about to miss their shot.

Each member of the group has a hugely different rap style to the next, so whenever they appear on a track together, you get a lyrical assault on all fronts. Lekks is the rapper’s rapper; like Celly, his verses are full of complex rhyme schemes that reflect the types of artists he listens to, like East Coast legend Big L. Spenny is cut from the grime cloth, so his flow is more up-tempo, and he always comes with funny, offbeat cultural references to things like wrestling, Captain Cook and even Wreck-It Ralph. Then there’s J Emz and his younger brother YP. Less technical than the other two, they’re all about presence and confidence on the mic. You hear J Emz on a song and it’s as if you can feel him in the room next to you, while YP, as the youngest of the lot, has a habit for coming up with the most memorable – and shocking – one-liners.

When they arrived in the studio, it was unfiltered potential straight from the faucet. As they were getting used to the surroundings, Manu played a few of their songs that they’d roughly recorded themselves. There was one track that resembled Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, with them singing rather than rapping. The contrast to their drill stuff was crazy, but it still had the same captivating energy. I encouraged them to re-record it, but they said that one was just for them. Instead, they had a song called ‘Shanks and Shivs’ that they wanted help with.

YP was the first to enter the booth. He hadn’t been a part of their previous releases, so this was literally his first time recording anything. And it showed. He had the conviction in his voice but the skill level wasn’t there. After a few failed attempts, he and the others went outside to listen to music in their headphones and get in the zone. When they returned, they were ready. The diamonds in the rough, ready to be polished.


When I read the reports about Sony Australia Chief Executive Denis Handlin, I was hardly surprised. Everyone in the building walked on eggshells around him, and I’d heard rumours of how much of a hardarse he could be. Whenever I’d met him, he seemed nice enough. Looking back, I think I was far enough removed from the Sony structure that I wasn’t really a part of his world and therefore not a target. Forever Ever was close enough to Sony that they could take credit for its success, and far enough apart that they could wash their hands of it if it was a failure. And so to Denis I wasn’t a threat. He always offered me a smile around the office whenever we bumped into each other and reminded me he was available for anything I needed.

A few weeks after we recorded ‘Shanks and Shivs’ I met him in a boardroom at the top of the Sony building. It was one of those special boardrooms, where you needed a different access key to the other plebs in the building. This is where Denis spent his days, separated from his staff and cocooned in his plush executive office with his view of the city. If ‘Ivory Tower’ had a steel and glass version, it would look a lot like this.

Petrina and Tim thought it was best coming from me. With Denis’ reputation for being difficult to please, they thought having me speak directly to him about why I was so passionate about ONEFOUR would help our case and get approval to make a formal offer. Fine by me. These boys were the real deal and the exact reason I started Forever Ever in the first place. Ideally, I wanted to open the label with a female artist, but I knew a group like this doesn’t come around often.

In the room was Denis; his son Pat, who headed up artist relations; Tim; Petrina and some execs from the legal team. I gave them all a run-through on ONEFOUR and why they were the perfect act to open the label. Hip hop in this country is changing, I told them, and these boys were the face of the new generation. If we’re going to sign anyone, it should be them.

Denis sounded keen. ‘If you’re into it, I’m into it,’ he said. ‘Let’s do it.’

Wow. That was easy! Hearing that, I was ready to escape the Ivory Tower while the chips were still in my favour. But Denis had other ideas.

‘Do you have anything to show me?’ he asked.

Damn! I’m about to undo all my good work, I thought.

‘Yeah,’ I told him. ‘They just dropped a song called . . . erm . . . “Shanks and Shivs”.’

‘Well, let’s hear it,’ he said.

They pulled the video up on a big screen while Denis instructed someone to dim the lights. The darkness was convenient for me because it was precisely at this moment that I started sweating bullets. With the room silent, I took a deep breath and pressed play.

Shanks and Shivs, (shanks and what?)

I swear that’s all we need when we go there to take that trip . . .

YP’s voice filled the room while the video opened with a disclaimer that ‘all the characters in this music video are entirely fictional’. Having listened to all types of hip hop over the past thirty-odd years, I’m so desensitised to certain lyrics that they barely even register as controversial. But, trust me, in a boardroom surrounded by a bunch of suits, I was aware. Very aware. And it wasn’t just the lyrics. Because of their impending cases, YP and Lekks kept their identities hidden with balaclavas and scarves wrapped around their faces. Here I was trying to get Denis Handlin to front up some cash to sign a group of faceless artists.

It was like a comedy sketch. Is it me or did this room just get hotter? I was worried that if I pulled open my collar steam would rise out of my shirt like I was boiling a kettle. It was the longest three minutes and thirty-seven seconds of my life. When the lights finally came back on, I’d lost several kilos in perspiration but, to my surprise, Denis was a fan.

‘Great, I love it,’ he said. ‘Let’s do it!’

This is why I can’t talk down on the guy. After the way he is said to have behaved for the best part of three decades, I’d love to pile on and rip him a new one. After all, that is what he deserves. But I can’t – to me, he was always a gentleman and a supportive ally. I mean, how many execs would have given the green light to work with ONEFOUR at that time, when one member was already in jail, two others were also facing time and the Sydney papers were labelling them a gang of heartless thugs? Yeah, not many.

‘Is there anything else I can help you with, Hau?’ Denis asked, signalling an end to the meeting.

‘Yeah,’ I said, standing up. ‘You don’t mind lending me the keys to your Benz this weekend, do you?’

KING Hau Latukefu, Christopher Riley

Rap pioneer, ARIA-winner, radio presenter, taste-maker, producer, label-owner, mentor – Hau Latukefu recounts his journey from Queanbeyan, aka ‘Struggle Town’, to the top of Australian hip hop in this inspiring memoir about the meaning of family, the art of the grind and what it takes to spark a music revolution.

Buy now
Buy now

More extracts

See all
Hip Hop & Hymns

I didn’t keep a journal during the most traumatic parts of my life because, let’s face it, I didn’t want to remember that shit.

Jack Charles

It’s the middle of the night and I’m huddled over, dragging my dilly bag, which is chock-full with all sorts of goods – jewellery, frozen food, wallets and the like.

How to Make Gravy

In the middle of the journey of my life I found myself inside a tent of mirrors.


“Anything strange or startling?” That’s how my da, Bob, opens our conversations.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

MY NOVEL TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN was published in October of 2017, and after spending that month on tour for the book, I came home to Indianapolis and blazed a trail between my children’s tree house and the little room where my wife and I often work

Hitler's Horses

Adolf Hitler hasn’t seen daylight for a month now.

More Than a Woman

I am in the spare room, which doubles as my office, and I have just finished my day’s work.

How I Clawed My Way to the Middle

It is strange to me that so many people like to listen to so many other people talk about the theatre.

Tour de Force

I WAS LYING ON the road next to my car, which was parked in Sydney’s inner south.

Party Animals

Bill Shorten had grand ambitions to become Australia’s next Bob Hawke.

Against All Odds

The world was riveted by the news coming out of Thailand.


When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple. I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in it— two floors for one family.