His debut LP ‘The Storyteller’ picked up airplay across Triple J. He’d supported the likes of Bliss n Eso, Hilltop Hoods, Drapht and Exzibit. Momentum was building. Then, without a word, Townsville’s self-proclaimed king of hip-hop, Buttah the Verbal Wordsmith, disappeared.
Nine years later, he’s back with the 15-track first instalment of his two-part album City of Sirens: Dawn. The second instalment, City of Sirens: Dusk is expected to drop before Christmas.
Across the two LP’s Buttah explores the darker parts of Townsville and life in regional North Australia on Dawn before turning his gaze inward with more introspective subject matter on Dusk.
It’s clear that Buttah himself is a man of stark contrast. He describes his music as ‘savage and vicious’ and in a recent Facebook post boasts of being banned from the ABC; but in our interview I was surprised to warm to him almost instantly and I don’t recall a single F-Bomb being dropped as this mild-mannered and pensive speaker candidly recounted his story so far.
It’s a disparity the rapper himself is acutely aware of: “It probably seems funny because my music is so savage, but even my name – Buttah – is an acronym for my life quest: Be Useful, Truthful, Thoughtful and Happy,” he said.
“I know I’m a good person – I always want to see the people around me smiling and happy – but I guess I’ve had to battle the darker side too. It’s not like I ever have the urge to do anything that I say in my music, but it’s almost as though the music writes itself – like I hear the beat and something kicks into gear. The ghosts of the words are always there and I’m just trying to fill the syllables. I never look back at what I’ve written and think No, that’s too full on, people won’t like it. Once it’s out, that’s it.”
His no-holds-barred approach to writing is divisive, to say the least. But Buttah doesn’t concern himself with trying to please everyone.
“A lot of my music is just me wanting to talk about it – and really making myself laugh. I don’t care what other people think, but I like what I do.
“Growing up [in Cooktown], I felt like we grew up in a very special part of the world – I try to make music that reflects the life I live, but none of the music I listened to was like that. I’ve never tried to fit certain criteria with my music, just that it was authentic to me, and it’s really rewarding to see the response from across the region, and how people can relate to it,” Buttah said.
Buttah found a muse in Townsville, when writing the tracks; although not every word he has to say about the city is kind.
“Townsville is a very, very unique place. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad. I came from Cooktown to study theatre and got into hip-hop and through that I was exposed to the underbelly of the city and some of its shadier characters.
“The first song on Dawn talks about the changes in Townsville’s hip-hop scene. It’s always had a strong scene in terms of graff – but music-wise it’s very much a rock town. When I started out, there was a strong scene building, but it kind of fell apart because of fights and egos and whatever. There hasn’t been a lot of noise from the hip-hop scene and that’s why I was so shocked that a lot of people are digging the music.
“Over the last week I’ve had different people telling me which song they like the best and they’re all different. They like every song on the album between them – it’s not like when artists make a whole album and there are only one or two [tracks] people really get down to.”
Buttah said he’s been surprised to find that after nine years’ absence, he could return to find so many loyal fans still eager to hear his next offering.
“I don’t know why they put up with me. Since the EP in 2008 people were asking when there’d be new music and to find there’s still such a strong fanbase is quite humbling.”
Buttah’s personal duel with suspected mental illness and epilepsy, diagnosed in 2012, was his reason for stepping away.
“I’ve always had a lot of noise in my head. I had a rough upbringing – I had a very loving family, but I never felt like I belonged. It was like everyone knew the rules except for me, but I felt like I was in touch with something else, something bigger. As I got older I thought maybe I wasn’t special, but that maybe I’d just progressed through mental illness.
“I took a break to get my head back in order. All the songs were sitting on my computer the whole time. I’d play them and have a cry to them every now and then. But to drop the songs under the deep recommendation of my brother [Mitchell] and Manager [Marvin]… the response blows me away.”
While he has no plans to return to the stage and deliver his wordsmithery live just yet, Buttah says it’s something he’s feeling more inclined to do now that Dawn has dropped.
“Epilepsy really shifted me to the left. People think epilepsy is just seizures, but it’s incredibly damaging to your mental stability. I’ve had seizures in Stockland, in the car, I put my head through a wall when I had a seizure at home and no-one else was there. It really shook me up and affected my entire life. I think not having any live gigs lined up is a hang-over from that uncertainty. But with the release of the album, I feel like I’m coming back to myself. If we get a strong enough response, then getting back on stage is inevitable.”
Buttah’s City of Sirens: Dawn is now available on all major digital music platforms and in hard copy from Skin, Ski & Surf on Flinders Street.