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Decoded: 'Labyrinth' Part 1 - 1/6 breaks down his thoughts behind his poem

27 Jul 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill
Decoded:  'Labyrinth' Part 1 - 1/6 breaks down his thoughts behind his poem

Last week 1/6's clip "Labyrinth", which deals with his thoughts on the 'Black Lives Matter' movement sparked emotional reactions from fans and fellow artists alike.

I wanted to dig into some of what is said in the clip with One Sixth himself.


It's strange, I feel like I am part of this clip in a weird, passive kind of way. When you meet with Dane on the day you shot the "Labyrinth" clip, you actually met to get some shots for something else - a side-project that you had I had been working on for a while. It was obviously something you had in your system that needed to come out. Had you been dealing with the Black Live Matter topic for a while or was this poem an instant outburst after the most recent events in the became public?

One Sixth: [Laughs] You actually were kind of integral in this happening in a way…we'll still get those shots to you.

Before I answer your question, I have to state explicitly that everything I say from here on out is how I feel. I am in no way, shape or form speaking for all (black) people in the world. If you can relate, cool. If not, I’m just offering my perspective, so if anyone reading this is offended by what I have said, my sincere apologies. God bless your little heart.

Now. I am the child of two black people who were the age I am now when they met in exile trying to get away from the apartheid regime that was HEAVILY (caps lock doesn’t even emphasise the word enough) oppressing people of colour in South Africa and South West Africa, which later became Namibia when the country got independence. They were lucky enough to come to Australia to start their little family of two boys here in Melbourne in a safer part of the world (not that it was all good but more on that later), and although they did go through their share of discrimination and dealing with some ignorance, it was still better than what they faced at home. Once the situation calmed down in Namibia we were able to move back there and I spent my formative years in the capital city of Windhoek.

I say all of this because it brings me to my answer of how long I have been dealing with the Black Lives Matter topic. To me, that statement means my parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, old neighbours, family friends back home and here, grand parents from both sides I never got to meet because my folks couldn’t go home and show them their grandchildren. Actors and actresses, musicians, sportswomen and men, and politicians who sacrificed their lives for change they would never get to see.

And not all those people are black.

The sentiment of that movement didn’t start with a twitter hashtag and the issues that start riots won't end because I wrote a poem about them, but I had to make use of my platform to kickstart some realistic discussion. I'm well aware that me just doing a poem isn’t going to change the world, but at least if we can start addressing these issues amongst ourselves, we can go from thought to conversation, conversation to action and action to remove all of the archaic establishments that have been built on the back of human suffering.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement came out of this seemingly never-ending wave of police killing young unarmed black men in the US. How relevant is the issue to you personally? One could argue that, you personally, living in Australia today, are not very likely to be shot in the street. Why do you think people here connect with the issue so much?

One Sixth: We all look up to The United States of America. Fashion, music, art, style, movies, slang, just about anything you can think of and associate with cool is probably because someone from the States said it was. Along with the good things that we take from that, there is a prejudiced person somewhere here in Australia, in Melbourne, hell, probably living down the street from me who sees the news and hears about the unlawful deaths and thinks, "fucking kill the lot of them, good riddance." I am not naive. There are many of my white friends who can tell you about nights that we've been out and some racist shit has gone down and they're like "Man, you handled that well!" and it kind of kills me inside, cause I would love to tell a motherfucker to get out of my face and yell all sorts of abuse back at them. But if I do that at a venue, all the bouncers see is a nigger starting some shit and they’ll start a new dance craze on my ass in the street. You don’t only die if you get shot. How many times have you heard about dudes getting killed by a sucker punch? I really have to be super alert or on my p’s and q’s in some situations, cause I roll solo a lot, or might be with my wife and I really have to be careful, cause if I engage some fuckwit with a racial agenda and piss him off, and he’s already got it in his head "fuck niggers and chinks and muslims and faggots and yada yada yada yada…" and here’s skinny old me with my half-Chinese wife... you do the mathematics. As far as people connecting with the issue here, it’s because we're human beings and we all know that no-one deserves to go out like that, regardless of your race.

"Complained how it is, wish it as what it was. If that’s fact, give the original owners their land back." Can you break down that line for me?

One Sixth: That line was inspired by that meme that was going around, with the Indigenous man in tribal garb asking "you tired of the immigrants?" and that is something that has always been on my mind, but I’ve never actually put into my music. I feel really blessed that I had the opportunity to grow up in the country that I am from and actually know my heritage on both sides of the family. However, I cannot help feeling quite guilty that I can jump between nationalities when I see fit. Not that I do that, but when I think about the situation happening for Indigenous people of Australia, that their culture is only presented to the world as dot paintings on postcards, but if they show any pride in the obstacles they endure and overcome in public, they get bashed in the media. I don't wanna name drop but I’ve always wanted to show my respect to the original people of the land through my music and this piece was a great avenue to acknowledge them.

You say "wars start with words…". Is that also where we have to start if we want to resolve these tensions? With words? Is that maybe even the greater purpose of this poem.

One Sixth: A few weeks ago before I wrote this piece, I was with a friend and we were conversing about life and shit, you know, as the homies do when they link at the spot. I hadn’t seen him in a while and it was after a close friend of his passed away, and he said the most beautiful thing. "Life isn’t forever. The only thing we can do before we go is tell the truth and love each other." It struck me because I think that we live our lives hoping or striving to make our own decisions and benefit from them. It fucking sucks when you see that those decisions have already been made by people who don’t care what the outcome is and you end up thinking about life like: "What the fuck is the point? That reminded me how powerful words are, there’s energy behind them and the right energy behind the right words said to the right people at the right time could rectify a lot of wrongs. The problem is that everyone is talking at the same time, saying the same thing and there’s no resolution, it’s just a dick measuring contest of who can say something more impactfully (I made up a word, sue me). I didn't do this piece to get props, I did it for the young kid freshly arrived who doesn’t get the opportunity to just be himself and deal with his life how he sees it without having to wear the burden of being a certain race.

Basically what I'm saying is: Don't treat people based on what you think they are capable of. I've lost count of the cab drivers I've spoken to with P.H.Ds and master degrees who talk about how they get treated like shit by some drunk 20 year old uni student who’s only enrolled because her best friend is at the same campus. I’m surprised at how well received the video has been, but all the people who know me, know that this is something that I'll talk about anyway. And the way it all came together felt right so hopefully it can do right.

You are talking about black people having "…targets on our backs since birth". Do you feel that you, as a black man living in Australia, are targeted?

One Sixth: Although I did try to only speak from my own perspective, I was very inclusive of the black history where I am, which is Australia. It wasn’t that long ago that the Indigenous people were classified as flora and fauna. Bringing it back to my own story the first genocide in the 20th century happened in Namibia by the Germans, and they are only considering apologising for it now. 100 years later!!! Kevin Rudd said sorry a few years back, which was a big move, but that’s one person and nothing has really changed in terms of the Indigenous people having a bigger role in the way the country is governed. What I meant by "targets on our backs" is that black history is practically eradicated and the little bit that is left is only about how they are getting wiped out. So basically, being born with black skin, you’re kind of moving through life with the world looking at you like, "good luck homey!!!!" I’m not saying that life is easier for everyone else but colour does makes a big difference.

I know when I’m angry about something I initially have a very militant no-compromise approach. And then, when you let your mind cool down a bit you get a clearer view and a more subtle approach. Did you go through that when writing Labyrinth? Did you start writing by picking up that rock your talking about, but then by the end of it decide to keep it in your palm? Or were you never gonna throw it?

One Sixth: I'm still pretty upset about the fact that it's still going on, I know it won't change for a long time. but for me, I had to say this piece to keep myself from becoming desensitised. I remember the day I heard about Amadou Diallo getting shot and, granted, I was only 13 or 14 at the time, that shocked the shit out of me. I was pretty shook up as well when Thomas Hickey died, cause that is a horrible way to go out. But then by the time I had heard about Sean Bell getting shot before his wedding day, I kinda just shrugged my shoulders and was like: "Word?" This time around I guess it’s cause I’m at a different point in my life. I wanna start a family, and it scares me that a bigoted point of view could make my child grow up without a father. But at the same time, I feel like I'm encouraging open dialogue about these things. That's a start at least. And I know I'm not the only one. It might not be in my lifetime, but if my kids and their kids can live in a world without racism and they never have to think about picking up that rock, I’m more than happy to contribute to that.

Is there a chance that if things don’t change for the better - or even get worse - you might reconsider your decision to hold on to that rock?

One Sixth: That's a good question. I pray I never have to but I've got it stashed in a safe place. [laughs]