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Jails, Drugs And Fame With Sydney Hip Hop Artist Spanian
Interviews|Apr 7, 2022

Jails, Drugs And Fame With Sydney Hip Hop Artist Spanian

For 13 years Spanian’s Future Didn’t Exactly Look Promising. Here's How He Turned It Around.
Corrine Barraclough

For 13 years Spanian’s future didn’t exactly look promising. He’d consciously committed himself to a life of crime, been in the throes of heroin dependency, and wasted precious years of life behind bars. But, four years ago, he was released from a NSW prison with a determination never to be locked up again. And he turned his life around.  

Fast-forward to today, he’s attracted a worldwide audience through his hip-hop and social media magnetism.

His first book, The Unfiltered Hood Life, published by Hachette Australia in December of last year, tells the unflinching, raw, and honest story of his incredible life. The powerful pages reveal his truth about a life of crime, drugs and violence before being released from Bathurst Correctional Centre in 2017. 

Starting with songs and lyrics he’d written inside, he swiftly found viral fame as a counterculture icon. 

After realising his music was being well received, Spanian started answering people’s queries about taboo topics, featured in a documentary, and started talking directly to camera. His followers exploded. 

Expect amusingly honest insights in his book like, “We were no longer stealing cars the old way because by 2004, cars had evolved and you couldn’t just break in with a screwdriver”.

Spanian describes himself as being “still an institutionalised kid who knows nothing about the world”. 

He says in mid-2020, he’d get stopped in the street and would go home and tell his girlfriend about it. By the end of that year he was stopped 40 to 50 times. 

So, what’s he really like? Penthouse arranged a chat to find out…

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Hello, it’s Penthouse, how are you Spanian?

I’m good. Sorry I couldn’t work the video.  I couldn’t work Zoom. I can Facetime you if you want?

It’s ok, phone is fine. Let’s start at the beginning, talk to me about growing up  in Sydney…

Really, Sydney city is mainly expert thieves. All the housing commission, it was renowned for being thieves. And they were the trendsetters.

What do you mean trendsetters?

Well, they were the first people to do ram raids for example, they were the first to do a number of thieving tactics... That’s what Sydney was famous for. That’s the environment I grew up in. 

Your mum was only 15 when she had you?

Yeah. She was pregnant with me at 14, she was very young. And then I was a huge baby  [he was 55.5 centrimetres long!]. 

In the book you say that most of what you know about your dad was learned through stories, can you tell me one of them?

I only know one story - he was a good car thief. He was a good getaway driver. That’s it. That’s all I know. 

But you don’t describe your childhood  as “dysfunctional”?

Nope. I did what any child would do. I made toy sniper rifles. From the age of 13, all I wanted to be was a sniper. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted to be a good sniper. 

In the book, you write, “I don’t know why I’m obsessed with that feeling of power. Heaps of psychiatrists have asked me to think about that. I don’t know why. Even before I decided to be a criminal, the knives and fires were instances of complete power…” Then you say describe a female counsellor taking photos of you in your underwear…

All that stuff is changed by lawyers. I’m not allowed to talk about any of that stuff. I’ve learned that these things are not allowed to be talked about freely, unfortunately. 

Ok, so you had a pretty fierce reputation around Sydney. Did you have a nickname?

Just my name. Spanian. That was it. 

In 2005, you spent 11 months in Parklea awaiting trial and you say that was “relatively quick for 2005”?

Yeah, it’s normal. Maybe if you’re in for breaking and entering you might wait for 8-10 months, but if you’ve been through anything violent or worse on the scale, you can expect to be on remand for two years. 

That’s common?

Yeah. I’ve seen people do two and a half years on remand and then be found innocent. And then people just have to walk away. It’s common. When you go and say to the authorities, ‘Now what? What happens about all that time I lost? Where’s my compensation?’ The authorities just say, ‘We didn’t lock you up for a crime. We just made a decision that you were a danger to the community and so we locked you up for that time.’ There’s no compensation for time lost. It’s gone. 

I've seen people do two and a half years on remand and then be found innocent

2006 was your worst year of drug use. You overdosed a couple of times and say you were reckless about life. Did you even care if you died? 

I would care if I died. Even then, I would care if I died. Did I care to the extent that I’ll take precautions not to die? No. 

You say in the book that you quit drugs to become a better criminal. What do you mean by that?

A lot of people think drugs and crime are connected and they feed off each other, you know? But for me, crime came first, drugs came second. I think a lot of other people, they start using drugs and then they commit crime because they have to feed that dependency on some substance or another. It wasn’t like that for me. I always wanted to be a criminal. That was my priority, my goal. Then I became a street level shitter criminal, I don’t know how else to describe that. So, when I got off drugs, it was to do crime better. It was so I could become a more successful criminal. 

When’s the last time you used drugs?

I haven’t used drugs in 14 years. 

How about alcohol?

I completely despise it. Every now and then I puff a vape. My girlfriend vapes. So maybe once a week, I might drag on hers but then I just say to myself, why did I do that? Then, I’m really hard on myself for using any kind of substance at all. 

How hard did you find giving up all of that?

I found it very easy – because I changed my mindset. I came to realise that those things represent sickness. Maybe 10 years ago I would say drugs and alcohol are for the weak. Then, I would say that if you can’t handle the life God gave you, why don’t you just go kill yourself. I don’t like sounding so judgemental these days. To stay off those drugs was easy for me; it was using them that was the hardest thing. 

Why are you so passionately against alcohol?

I think it’s putrid, for sure. Rapes, child molestation, all the crimes we pretend to hate, as a country and as a society, all the really vile crimes, that type of stuff, it’s all fuelled by alcohol. It doesn’t make sense. We openly drink, as a society. We boast about drinking more than we talk about any other substance. Alcohol causes that putrid stuff. The fact we think it’s okay to talk about and brag about drinking and getting drunk, honestly, I think it’s despicable. I think alcohol is one of the worst substances. Ice and alcohol are right at the top together, they’re the worst substances, then heroin and other drugs.

So, you think alcohol is worse than heroin?

Yes I do. I’ve grown up around crime and scumbags, barely ever will you see a heroin addict go and rape a child, if anything it suppresses that urge in them. All this child molestation, they’re drunk, they drink and then they go and abuse a child. 

You were only 15 when you were first behind bars?

Yeah, I had no idea about jails then, I didn’t know how it all worked. I went there, I had no idea about boys’ homes. I’d visited my uncle in jail and that was it. That was all I knew. I was just a 15-year-old kid from Sydney, chucked in with people who are 17 or 18, you know, they were all grown men. So, you’re thrown in with fully-grown men. And for me, it opened up a whole world of possibility. I knew what my new mission was when I came out of there. My first sentence was just 28 days, I got out, and from that moment I identified as one boy from the boys’ homes. It gave me focus. 

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So, is that a flaw in the system?

Look, it would be easy to say yes. But what can the alternative be? What are they to do? If I get locked up for committing serious crimes, should they lock me in solitary? The interaction in incarceration is a necessary part. And to be honest, even if they sent you to a rehab rather than to jail, you’d be exposed to the same people. You can’t escape it. 

Talk to me about B Wing at Bathurst, where inmates were hanged until the 1950s?

At the time, out of the four wings of the jail, it was the non-participant wing. It was for those who weren’t willing to work for the prison system, you know, those inmates with the worst jail history. They were locked up for 18 hours a day, and then let out into a very small yard. Picture those old dungeons in movies, it was just like that. And then, after six hours, they were sent straight back to the cell. There was a toilet in one corner, chin-up bar in one corner, one phone between 128 inmates. That’s life inside  B Wing. That’s it. 

So you were either doing chin-ups  or reading?

Well, there was only a small period of reading. Honestly, I’ve probably read 12 books in my life. There was a very small little period there when I had nothing else to do. I was inspired to read some – but it didn’t last.

You were released from Bathurst Correctional Centre in 2017 with a newfound purpose. Tell me about that…

I wouldn’t say I had a newfound purpose, I’d say that I’d come to the decision that I didn’t want to go back to jail. Ever. That was the complete extent of it. I just didn’t want to go back to jail. That’s all I knew. I knew nothing about the world but I knew I didn’t want to be inside any more. 

And now, what do your days look like? Can you draw a comparison to before and now? 

My days are very boring now, seriously. I look at what’s in my business chat, I see what my managers have lined up for me to do, things like this interview. I’ve had a couple of busy weeks. So, maybe once a day I go and do something that’s Spanian brand related. The other 23 hours, I walk around being completely lost. The best way to explain it is to say I walk around as if I’m still in jail. I just wander around, do some chin-ups, look at people and think. 

What about the news, has all this COVID crap being doing your head in?

I stopped watching it about a year ago. They just kept talking about this damn virus. I got sick of it. You can only listen to them talking about a new flu for so long, and they’ve been dragging it out. Although I was never much of a TV watcher. I drift off in my own little world. My missis works full time so I spend the days on my own. We’ve been together for a year, it’s going well.  Legitimately, I don’t know what I do with my days, I just walk around by myself all day, I don’t really do anything.

You’ve been described as ‘volatile’ and ‘complex’. Is that accurate?

I’m not volatile any more. Complex, yes. I’m not volatile, not any more, I know a lot more volatile people than me. But I’m definitely complex. 

And do you think, after all you’ve been through, there’s some trauma?

Ohh, I have no idea. I don’t have that insight. I actually think I’m borderline autistic with feelings. 

How are you finding all this book promo?

It’s easy for me because I’m just doing a whole bunch of talking. 

And, what does 2022 look like for you?

I want to be rich and famous. That’s all. Whatever I have to do, whatever they tell me to do in order to achieve that, I’ll do it. And in the meantime, I’ll get a coffee, do some people watching. Again. 

‘Spanian: The Unfiltered Hood Life’ is out now, published by Hachette Australia.