Hip-hop out of the box

FROM the outside, DukeBox Bailey seems a tangle of contradictions – a hip-hop artist weened on country music, a carer and disability support worker who can deliver a seriously savage message in song.

But in person, the Inverell musician is a complex, considered artist, his public persona drawn from a mass of competing forces and interests.

His performance cred is certainly not in question; spotlights shared with heavyweights Jessica Mauboy, Warren H Williams, Dan Sultan, Christine Anu, and the legend Archie Roach.

He has also featured on SBS’s Living Black, and regularly finds his way to the turntable on tripleJ. 

His style is so unique, he has even found a place in the line-up of the famous Woodford Folk Festival.

Born Duke Wayne Bailey in Ayr, Queensland in 1989, the Birri-Gubba/Tanna Islander man was adopted by his grandparents when he was a month old and grew up in Inverell.

His relationship with music began when he was a child and he wrote his first song at age eight.

“I’ve loved music my whole life and I was brought up on country music. A lot of storytelling in country music really fascinated me, so that was my first influence of really loving storytelling through song,” he said.

“I didn’t get into hip- hop though until I was in high school.

“I was really inspired by Tupak Shakur. I heard one of his songs, Changes, and that changed everything for me, really.

“It was just so real. He was just telling it how it was on the street. 

“The music, the beat, I hadn’t heard anything like that before. It was all new to me, and it was just really moving.”

He’s just finished a new CD, Big Kitty Life, set for delivery soon. 

Two years in the making, it follows his well-heeled debut EP What’s In The Box.

Big Kitty Life is a self-professed collection of many musical styles including jazz, funk, electronic and straight-up hip-hop meshed with his vision told through rap.

He said choosing hip- hop as his direction was challenging. 

Putting a toe in the regional waters as a hip-hop artist meant growing a thick skin.

“Around here you kind of have to. If you get into rap, you’re an outcast here,” he said.

“I’ve been trying to nail it on the head for years, because I’ve been playing at shows here for a long time”

He said the New England had a country, covers and pub music tradition, and making a dent in history was tough.

In Inverell, Duke is a direct care worker with youth in Pathways out-of-home care and has been a teacher’s aide at Inverell High and a disability support worker.

“Sometimes I think I’m a voice for the unheard. I’m inspired by the people that I meet, stories that I hear,” he said.

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