J Emz, the frontman of OneFour, Australia’s most successful hip-hop group, insists that they are not a gang but a music group and a business. The group, which is finalizing their new single in a small recording studio in Sydney, has long been questioned about their alleged gang links. Fans see the group as pioneers who give voice to marginalized young people through their music, while police view them as a threat to community safety.
OneFour is composed of five Sāmoan-Australians from one of Sydney’s poorest areas. Their music, a subversive style of hip-hop known as drill music, tells unfiltered stories of crime, poverty, and social dislocation. Despite their success, with over 150 million streams, the group has faced police scrutiny and accusations of inciting violence through their lyrics.
The group maintains that their music is a form of social commentary and not a crime. However, several violent incidents involving group members have complicated matters and increased police attention. All members except one have criminal records for drug, robbery, or assault charges.
Despite these challenges, OneFour continues to make music and believes it is their path to a better life. Criminologists argue that the claim that the group’s music incites violence is unfounded and that the police’s approach to OneFour is counterproductive.
The group’s struggle has sparked a broader debate about who is allowed to tell stories in Australia and has become the subject of a Netflix documentary. OneFour continues to make music and is preparing to support rapper The Kid LAROI on his Australia tour next month.