Charmaine Jasmine Armstrong, also known as Dizzy Doolan, an Indigenous hip-hop artist, embarked on her rap career 22 years ago when she was one of the few women rappers and in Australia’s rap scene. At that time, there were limited resources for female rappers to learn songwriting, self-promotion, grant applications, or music uploading. In the early 2000s, the Australian rap scene was predominantly dominated by white male groups like the Hilltop Hoods.
Despite the challenges, Dizzy Doolan, a Takalak, Agwamin, Gureng Gureng, and Wokka Wokka woman from far north Queensland, started expressing herself through rap at the age of 16. Growing up with a background in jazz and blues, she used rap as a medium to convey messages of resilience, as seen in her debut song “No Shame.” Facing personal struggles, she found solace in turning her pain into power through songwriting.
Dizzy’s early days involved distributing CDs by hand in Brisbane since digital platforms were limited. Over the years, as mainstream Australia’s interest in rap grew, so did Dizzy’s career. Despite facing challenges and being undervalued in the male-dominated industry, she persevered, supporting international artists and recently releasing her first full album at the age of 38.
Indigenous female artists like Dizzy Doolan are part of a growing movement in Australia, merging the world’s oldest living cultures with the relatively new genre of rap and rappers. They use their music to tackle racial politics, address Australia’s historical challenges, and confront social injustices. The emergence of Indigenous women in hip-hop signifies a shift in the music landscape, with artists like Dizzy serving as trailblazers for a new generation.
Grant Saunders, a filmmaker from Biripi country, notes that Indigenous Australians have embraced and created and hip-hop since the 1980s, resonating with the genre’s themes that parallel their own experiences of police violence, harassment, over-incarceration, and poverty. Indigenous artists have played a significant role in shaping the Australian hip-hop scene, overcoming initial challenges to pave the way for future generations.
Other Indigenous female artists, such as DENNI/Madam pakana and Lady Lash, use hip-hop as a means of truth-telling, healing, and addressing historical traumas. Their music serves as a vehicle for expressing the harsh realities of colonial history and advocating for change. Despite success, these artists often face racism in their journey, with Miss Kaninna, crowned the 2023 Unearthed artist of the year, experiencing both positive recognition and increased racism.
Miss Kaninna emphasizes the power of Indigenous voices in hip-hop, using music as a form of resistance and reaching a broader audience. The resilience of these female artists reflects their commitment to making impactful music that addresses societal issues and challenges preconceived notions within the Australian hip-hop scene.