Get Used to the Accents, Because These MCs About to Hit Quadruple Platinum
Hip-hop has been exploding down under in the last decade, but few have seen it through since the very beginning and have lived to tell the tale. Adelaide trio Hilltop Hoods have been at it since the 90s, but their old school sound is beyond enduring. They released three #1 albums in Australia including their recent Drinking From the Sun, garnered the prestigious Aussie music ARIA Award, and their track “I Love It” feat. Sia is about to hit Quadruple Platinum.
We spoke to them about their early graffiti days, about their accents-as-hindrance overseas, and on working with the likes of Chali 2na from J5 and Ozomatli.
Hello Hoods. So how does it feel to be the biggest rap group on an entire continent?
Haha, I don’t know about that. But it feels good to have everything going so well!
Was there a rap scene in Adelaide or did you have to create it yourselves? What was it like? Was it all about rapping, or was graffiti and breakdancing a big part as well?
When we started out there was Finger Lickin Good, Flak, Red Eyed Peas, HBK and a few others on the scene musically. When we started out the scene was definitely more about graff than it was about music. We weren’t that gifted with the can so we used to rhyme instead. It used to be tough. The crowds we performed to were 99% male, and they didn’t like to get involved. Looking back on those shows things have changed pretty dramatically.
Fast-forward a little bit – The Calling was the first hip-hop album to go platinum in Australia. Why do you think you blew up the way it did?
It had a lot to do with timing and luck. The Australian hip-hop scene was bubbling to the surface, and about to boil over when The Callling came out. So that had a lot to do with it. Apart from that, we had “The Nosebleed Section” on the album, and that was a pretty catchy song, radio jumped on it (JJJ in particular) and it kind of blew up from there.
What was your most successful single of all time, and why?
“I Love It” is our most successful single, it’s just gone triple platinum, on its way to quadruple, which is crazy. Having SIA on the song definitely had a lot to do with its success. Maybe doing three film clips for it helped as well? I don’t know, haha.
I hear mostly an old-school, sample-based hip-hop sound on the Hoods recordings. What you think of today’s mainstream hip-hop? Do you like Drake? Lil’ Wayne?
Good music is good music. I try not to make a distinction between commercial and underground/new or old/sample-based or not sample-based when it comes to being a fan of music. I don’t really listen to Lil Wayne or Drake, but I respect Wayne as a lyricist.
I hear you’ve recorded with the Adelaide Symphony orchestra? What was that like? I’d personally like to see more rappers put out orchestral albums, that would be cool.
Recording with an orchestra was amazing. Hearing something that you’ve basically made in your bedroom being brought to life by a 32 piece orchestra is something that’s hard to explain. We were there for all of the orchestra’s recording sessions, and we’d just sit there with our jaws on the floor in awe of their musicianship. Jamie Messenger did an amazing job writing the scores as well. We’ve worked with him a lot since, he really gets us.
Ok switching gears, you have your own shoe? Do you ever wear your shoe?
Nah, if you can believe it, my foot shrank when I lost a bunch of weight. They don’t fit me anymore.
The Hilltop Hoods seem to have played a really big part in pushing hip-hop in Australia – from releasing sample packs so people can make their own beats, to offering recordings grants to young rappers through the Hilltop Hoods Initiative. What drives you guys to do that? Where do you think hip-hop in Australia can and will go from here?
We try to give back to the culture when we can, for us it’s part of the culture – an ‘each one, teach one’ sort of thing. We got a grant when we were coming up so we know how helpful that cash injection can be when you’re a young, broke artist. As for the scene, it seems to be going from strength to strength. I’m done with thinking it’s reached its pinnacle/plateau. Who knows how far it can go? It feels like it’s the most popular genre in the country at the moment.
Are there barriers to Aussie MCs getting big in the U.S. or elsewhere overseas?
The accent is definitely a barrier, it takes a while for people to get their heads around it, we’re finding that at the moment. But once people get past the accent they really embrace the music. Because the culture’s a bit younger over here I think the music’s a bit more raw and true to the roots of the culture, and that appeals to a lot of music fans overseas.
There’s a lot of samurai imagery in your artwork. Is that a Wu Tang influence?
Haha, nah. We love Wu-Tang, but the idea to have an ongoing character that’s on the cover of every album actually came from Iron Maiden. I was an Iron Maiden fan when I was a kid and I loved they’re ‘mascot’ Eddie.
You have a zombie movie called Parade of the Dead. Is it a hip-hop zombie movie?
Yeah, it’s like a mockumentary. The idea is that there’s a zombie apocalypse, the world collapses, and we’re so self centered that we make a DVD anyway.
The new album has a track, “Speaking in Tongues,” featuring Chali 2na from Ozomatli and J5 – how’d you hook up with him? What was working with Chali like? Is his speaking voice that deep as well in person?
We met Chali years ago when J5 were touring Oz. They actually jacked the beat for “The Nosebleed Section” and used to use it live when they were over here. Years later I made the beat for “Speaking in Tongues,” wrote the hook, and I could just hear Chali on it. So our manager got in touch with him and it turned out that he was going to be tour in Australia around the same time we were in the studio — so it worked out perfectly.
He’s a really great guy, really humble and easy to work with. And yeah, his speaking voice really is that deep. I think it’s got something to do with how big he is. Go back and watch those J5 clips, he towers over everyone.
I’ve noticed, Suffa, that you’ve promoted animal rights causes quite a bit? Would you say that’s a passion of yours? How did that start?
We’re all animal lovers, I had some friends that were involved that asked if I could do something and it went from there.
You guys have clearly won Australia. Does the Hilltop Hoods ever plan to retire? Or will you cryogenically freeze yourselves for the benefit of future generations?
Haha, no plans to joining Walt Disney and no plans to retire. We’re gonna ride till the wheels fall off!