Matt Grant talks to Hilltop Hoods, who in most peoples opinion are the leading hip-hop act down under. Check out what they had to say about their country's scene, their sound and 'The Calling'.
Another fresh interview from Australia. On reading this it would seem Oz hiphop is undergoing a very positive development and may, in time, become the biggest music genre in the country – even Harold Bishop has recently taken the mic and spit some verse to big up his coffee shop! The Hilltop Hoods are one the most popular crews down under and have had recent success with their album "The Calling"... Matt Grant catches up with their emcee and producer… step up Suffa…
To begin, who are the Hilltop Hoods? Give us a quick rundown of who's in the group…
There's myself Suffa – an MC and producer, Pressure – an MC and Debris – a DJ and producer…
What's your connection to other Australian hiphoppers like the Cross Bred Mongrels and Certified Wise crew?
We're members of Certified Wise along with Cross Bred Mongrels, Terrafirma, Funkoars, After Hours, Trauma, Kollaps, EXP, Blockade and DJ Snair. Certified Wise is just a collective of MCs, Producers & DJs from Adelaide.
OK, so you are from Adelaide, Australia which is south of the country right? What's it like living there?
Adelaide's a really nice place to live. It's a beautiful part of our country. And for its size, just under 2 million people, it's got a really big hip hop culture. I guess one setback is that we have the largest amount of serial killers per capita in the world.
Haha… shit… so would you say there is a distinct Adelaide hiphop sound?
Ummm, hard to say. Because we're all digging from the same record pool, and have the same ethos in regards to accent I guess you could say we do have a distinct sound of sorts. Also, we collaborate a lot with each other so styles interlink and overlap.
In America they have the Eastcoast and Westcoast – the theory goes that the Westcoast style has developed from the outdoor lifestyle and as a result, is more party orientated /driving in your car music in contrast to the introspective style of the Eastcoast which reflects indoor living.
Australia is known for its outdoor living so has the same party orientated scene developed?
For some reason I don't think our music has been defined by our surroundings in that way. Over here you can have an MC from a regional area that's got the same gritty sound as say an MC from inner-city Melbourne. I'd say that Oz hip hop in general is more influenced by east coast US hip hop.
You've been in the game for over a decade; would we be right in seeing you as the veterans of Aussie hiphop?
In a sense. We've done a lot of work for the scene, and comparatively, we've been around a long time. But there's a pioneers such as Ransom, Def Wish Cast, Reason and Fats who've been doing it a lot longer, and we see them as the vets/pioneers.
So how has Australian hiphop developed during that time?
The most noticeable difference is the size. The scene here is huge. It's overtaking the rock and dance scenes. Another difference is the media interest. Mainstream radio now plays local hip hop artists.
And what about yourselves, how do you feel you have evolved as artists?
We've stuck to the same ethos we always have, and that's to make music cos we enjoy it, and to make the same music that we want to hear – but our sound has improved and our stage show has come on leaps and bounds.
Has it been a struggle to come through as a homegrown hiphop act in Australia?
Yeah it has – but we've always been about making music, so it wasn't that frustrating for us when weren't getting anywhere – we were doing what we love.
What gives you the hunger to keep putting out hiphop releases?
I love creating, for me being in the studio's my favourite part of being a performer. In particular producing, that's when I'm happiest, when I'm working on a beat.
How would you sum up your hiphop sound?
Straight up hip hop with an Aussie outlook.
Listening to tunes like "Testimonial Year" and "The Soul of the Beat", I hear a strong jazz influence, which jazz artists have helped you arrive at this sound?
My dad is a huge jazz and blues collector. I've always been around the sounds of jazz all my life. He's more into older style jazz like dixieland and big band, but over the years he's exposed me to a lot of modern jazz as well. I don't listen to a lot of jazz, but I do appreciate it. Especially artists like Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Art Blakey…
Do you sample jazz artists or create your own sound from scratch?
It varies from track to track.
Fair enough, what other genres outside of hiphop do you draw upon to create your own distinctive sound?
All the members of the group listen to a variety of music; I'm still partial to some metal. But I think we mainly draw our inspiration from hip hop, particularly late eighties to early nineties hip hop.
Your recent album is "The Calling" – tell us about that…
"The Calling" came out last September (2003). We worked on that album for the good part of two years, and it's probably the first album that we've recorded that we've all been satisfied with. It's met a really good response over here; it recently went gold in Australia. We wanted to make a battle/party style record like our faves from the early nineties.
How can heads in the UK get hold of this release?
They can get the album online at Checkoutwax.com...
Do you plan to reach out to the UK at any point and establish a following here?
We're talking to some distributors over there, but we're probably just going to concentrate on getting our next album to Europe.
What demand outside of Australia is there for Australian hiphop? What countries do artists there look to if they want to sell internationally?
To be honest there's not much demand – no matter what anyone tells you. That's something we're trying to change. I think the US is pretty much a closed door to most non North American artists. Countries we're looking at trying to get our music to Japan, UK and Canada.
Have you ever played abroad?
OK, so which artists are you feeling at the moment? Both in Australia and on a world wide level…
In Australia I'm really feeling Pegz and Funkoars. They're both on Obese – anyone that gets the chance I'd suggest you check these artists out. Abroad I'm feeling a lot of crews – Foreign Legion stand out to me, so do J5. As far as UK hip hop goes I'm feeling the whole Low Life crew.
I've noticed a lot of the hiphop artists from Australia are signed to Obese Records, is this the main label? Tell us a bit about it…
Obese Records is a Melbourne independent label. It started as a branch off from a record store, and has probably now outgrown the store. It's one of the main labels in Australia, and has a broad range of artists. It's run by Pegz, who's a really generous guy. They're really trying to push hip hop in our country to the next level.
What's the situation with Australian hiphop artists and getting signed? Is it all independent or are there some majors involved?
There's majors involved, we've been approached but remained loyal to Obese. There are only a handful of artists in Australia who've signed an R & D deal with a major. That's changing now, the majors are picking up on how big local hip hop's getting.
And to round up, do you have any final words of wisdom or shout outs for the readers?
Hmmm, shout's to Obese Crew! Cheers!