Hilltop Hoods

I was the first person to interview Hilltop Hoods when they arrived in the UK for the first stop of their world tour, a sold out show at Cargo. Although knackered from a long flight they were very friendly and informative, and gave a good insight into the Aussie scene, their position in the game and life down under. After the interview they absolutely tore down the live show, with me and the Bej the only non-Aussies in the venue.

Who’s big in the Aussie hip-hop scene?

Suffa: Australian hip-hop’s probably a good place to start, we’re with Obese which is a Melbourne label. They’ve got Downsyde, Muphin & Plutonic Lab, Reason, Bliss N Eso, Funkoars…

Pressure: Layla.

Suffa: They also distribute. There’s a lot of really really talented artists working on Obese. It came to the forefront as an actual record label about 2 years ago, maybe 3 years ago and is just basically owning the Australian hip-hop scene at the moment.

Similar to Low-Life over here…

Suffa: They’re heaps similar in loads of ways, just in the way they do things, you know, hard working dudes.

What was it like when you first started?

Suffa: It was the graf scene in Australia. The graf & skate scene.

Pressure: A bit of breaking as well.

Hilltop HoodsSuffa: We started in the early 90s in Adelaide, a city of about 1.5 million people. There was only really 2 crews doing stuff at the time when we started, we we’re real young, 14 or 15 when we first snuck into clubs and started rapping on open mics and shit like that. There was a few (people) around like Aka Brothers, Finger Lickin Good and Def Wish Cast. In Adelaide only Finger Lickin Good and another group called HBK and it was just all open mics and real small gigs, 100 people or 200 if it was a real big one. Yeah we just started off that way, freestyling on open mics and it’s grown fucking massively just in the last 2 to 3 years. Ever since Obese launched their record label, it all sort of united a lot of shit and got things happening.

To the DJ (who hasn’t been saying anything)…

What was the radio scene like for DJs back in the day?

DJ Debris: There’s wasn’t really radio spots in Adelaide.

Suffa: Only community radio.

Debris: Yeah only community radio, it’s still going pretty strong, exactly the same as it was back then actually. Not much has evolved on the radio. There’s a few more shows, the listener base has grown in chunks, pretty dynamic…

Suffa: Its not like UK and American scenes where it seems so reliant on radio and radio shows.

Pressure: We don’t have pirate radio at all, so a big difference there, so it probably is a bit harder to get our shit across to people.

What’s your opinion on world politics & the US administration?

Obviously it goes without saying that if you’re hip-hop, you were anti-Bush (laughter all round). I don’t think there’s much far right hip-hop out there and if there is I’m not interested. We have same problem as England where we’ve got a government supporting administrations that people in the country don’t support. It’s only our government supporting it. You saw that in London with the people marching here, it’s so obvious the people weren’t supporting Blair, the Blair administration supporting Bush and the same thing in Australia.

Pressure: Yeah, we had massive marches in every major city as well.

Suffa: We we’re marching.

Pressure: Even Debris’ dog marched.

And they still went to war….

Suffa: That’s the thing it’s not really a representation of a democratic society if you’re doing that shit is it?

Does Australia still have troops in Iraq?

Suffa: We got scattered troops.

Pressure: We got less, but they are still there.

Suffa: We sort of send them there under the guise of protecting an embassy or escorting someone or something, but it’s always to keep the US happy. Peacekeepers that are SAS, the most highly trained fighting squads keeping peace. We have friends that have been over there and are over there…

What about immigration in Australia?

Hilltop HoodsSuffa: The immigration policies in Australia under the liberal government have taken us years backwards, I mean we’ve just shut off all the doors and you know sadly enough we’ve got enough rednecks in our country where common ground on immigration was a policy that won the election for the liberal government in some states. Especially in regional areas. But yeah man, we’re treating our refugees like shit at the moment, there’s afghans and mainly middle eastern tribes who travel from the middle east, through Indonesia to us who can spend anything from between 2 and 4 years in a detention centre which is more or less a jail, and then find out at the end of that that they’re being deported still and have to go back and face persecution from the country they were trying to escape.

Pressure: And its not like Australia’s an overpopulated or poor country, you know there’s plenty of room and opportunity for those people, it’s just bullshit.

What’s you view on Grime music?

Pressure: I hear a lot about grime from people here but it hasn’t come to Australia yet.

Suffa: We just kind of discovered it this week, a lot of heads seem to talk about it a bit. We don’t really get it. I don’t really think we can comment on it.

What’s the secret to rocking a show?

Suffa: A lot of energy, crowd participation. We just get out there and have you know man, try and make sure everyone gets into it. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, make it a bit of a party but at the same time, we try to treat shows professionally. We don’t drink before shows. In a lot of underground culture, a lot of people figure they can get away with getting drunk and going on stage and whatever, but people don’t wanna pay money to see drunk people. You gotta have a tight show and we jack some classic instrumentals and we do call and response. We have worked for a lot of years now on a way to  make it more interesting with just 2 emcees and a DJ stage. You gotta push it harder, without the instruments of a band.

You never had a live band?

Suffa: Nope, that’s the problem in Australia because everyone thinks that to make it in Australia, because all the successful hip-hop groups over there have bands. Australia’s a very rock dominated music industry, hardcore. So it’s been hard for us as 2 emcees and a DJ, so we’ve had to get it right. In Australia, it’s sort of, not the easy way out, but it’s a lot easier for crews to use a live band. But we’ve tried to keep it traditional and straight up hip-hip and its been hard for us.

You’ve not bended to commercial pressures.

Suffa: We’ve kept the same formula from day one. 93 we officially made it onto the books.

Hilltop Hoods

That was your first release?

Suffa: Nah, we did a demo in 95, 97 we did an EP. That was our first official release.

My friend’s got that…

Pressure: We might have to intercept that and destroy it (everyone laughs).

Where do see hip-hop in 10 years from now?

DJ Debris: Probably just more commercial. The majority of commercial hip-hop’s getting worse and worse and I can just it keep going down that path and just eventually gonna cave in on itself and revolutionise back to the…I don’t know, I cant see commercial hip-hop getting any better but the underground scene’s growing constantly all around the world. Heaps of countries are getting dominant large scenes around the world that are starting to break through and have as big a following as US cities and stuff, so it’s good in that respect.

Pressure: Its not all gloom though you know what I mean. If people stick to their guns and make the type of hip-hop that people wanna hear, gradually you are gonna get bands that are massively large and commercial but still make dope music like your J-5s and crews like that. I don’t know about UK, but Australia heavily follows any sort of American trend and hip-hop in America now is the biggest form of music by a fair bit. It starting to follow on in Australia.

Do you have commercial rappers with videos on TV over there?

Hilltop HoodsSuffa: They’re starting to appear, yeah in the last couple of years.

Like who?

Jay West, Big Kid. We shouldn’t mention them because they are more R&B and just shit. The real cheesy blend of R&B. Not worth talking about. They’re cunts mate.

DJ Debris:
There shit isn’t lasting long, there coming on the charts for a week, their film clip plays 5 times then they disappear into nowhere again…

Pressure: Fortunately, one thing about the Australian music industry is they really don’t like the fucking American imitators, which I suppose is a good thing for the Aussie hip-hop heads.

What personal aspects are you trying to reflect in your music?

DJ Debris: Travel fatigue! That was a 28 hour long ass flight. It’s almost exactly the other side of the globe.

Pressure: Its about as opposite as its gonna get. Long ass fucking flight
Apart from that things are going well for us man there’s not much angst on the next album.

You last LP was gold right? How many do you have to sell for that in Australia?

Suffa: 35,000. Australia’s only got slightly over 20 million people in it.

(there’s a brief discussion about how many you need to sell to get gold in the UK. Nobody’s sure).

Pressure: Skinnyman should have gone gold man. He’s big in the underground in Australia, people are loving that album man.

He’s probably the first UK hip-hop head to get national airplay in Australia. Australia has 8 states. There’s only one actual broadcasting radio station called Triple J and that’s had him on medium to heavy rotation for a while.

Other types of music?

Pressure: I listen to a lot of Tom Waits, shit like that. I listen to a lot of weird shit man. A lot of what I sample gets me into music as well.

What’s the sample from ‘Nosebleed Section’?

Pressure: Haha… can we leave that one out?

(A lot of laughing at this point, they told me what it was but I agreed not to mention it).

What’s your process for writing rhymes?

Pressure: It usually happens that Suffa or Debris will make a beat and will come up either with an idea for a hook or a chorus and just sort of write from there. We usually meet three or four times a week at Crossbred Production Studios which is attached to Debris’ house, a separate building.

Hilltop HoodsSuffa: All sorts of ways. Sometimes he’ll write something on the back of a beer coaster or write at home at 3 in the morning or sit down and say we gotta write this track or do it back and forth.

Pressure: I used to write while I was working. Did a fair bit of my raps while it was quiet or on my lunch break. Just bored out my fucking mind and have nothing better to do…

Suffa: Sometimes I take a long time to write raps. Months sometimes.

We’ll have a chorus and a verse, and they’ll be like ‘hurry up and finish your fucking verse dude’. And other times I’ll write three verses and a chorus in a few hours.

DJ Debris: For scratching I get inspiration off these guys. I try to find cuts and stuff relevant to the subject of the track and try to keep the whole cohesiveness of their verses to the chorus.

You are a digger?

Debris: Yeah, not as much as Suffa, but we’ve been digging hard while we’ve been here. I had to buy a few new suitcases! We’ve been down to Beanos. I picked up a lot of records we don’t see in Australia. I got some breaks…

I don’t buy a lot of jazz and funk, because we at the stage with hip-hop now where everything has been sampled and you gotta start looking somewhere else. Suffa: You cant sample a Barry White or a James Brown break anymore, put a vocal sample from Warriors over the top.

You’d have to pay for it…

Debris: That’s the other thing, we try to make our shit as obscure as possible.

Who’s your favourite producer(s)?

Suffa: My top producer would be Easy Mo Bee. He’s a bit of a king. DITC, Prince Paul, Premier… RZA.

What else is happening?

Pressure: When Braintax, Mystro and Disorda were in Australia a few months back they stopped by Crossbred Production labs and recorded a track with us which we are probably dropping on our album which will come our either probably early next year.


Shout out to any of the UK heads who are game to check out some Aussie hip-hop. Shout out to the Lowlife boys. Keep an eye out for Funkoars, Pegz and Layla…

By: Esh | For international hip-hop: http://www.myspace.com/ibmcs

Hilltop Hoods

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