Hear the words ‘Aussie Hip Hop,’ and there is one group that inevitably springs to mind. The Hilltop Hoods have given a face – or three – to the party-loving, proudly Australian variety of rap that has seen itself grow up over the past twenty years.
The genre has matured just as they have, going from the enthusiastic finding-their-feet of (appropriately named) Left Foot, Right Foot, to the polished professionalism of this year’s Drinking From The Sun – with a multitude of successful, and varied, albums in between.
MCs Suffa, Pressure and DJ Debris have clearly come a long way since they started experimenting with rhymes in high school – these days their lives are more sell-out tours and platinum albums than house parties and homework.
Yet for someone so obviously instrumental in bringing an entire music scene from the underground into the mainstream, Suffa is remarkably modest.
“It’s a lot to do with timing and luck and all the stars being aligned,” he says, refusing to take credit for the genre’s success. “We were one of the groups that were there at the beginning, with a lot of other groups.”
“I think it was inevitable that a group was going to break through because hip hop was just becoming such a popular subculture… the bubble had to burst.”
The “bubble burst” he is referring to would of course be when The Calling, and its biggest single ‘The Nosebleed Section,’ swept the country in 2003, as people started to pay attention to this weird new style of Australian hip hop which was perfectly happy to be just that, Australian.
“Hip hop in Australia is one of the only genres that isn’t embarrassed of itself, and doesn’t try to put on an English or an American accent,” he says, “and I think that’s why a lot of people point the finger and call Australian hip hop bogan… because we’re not trying to be something else.”
So popular is it these days that 2012 is the second year in a row that Sprung festival, consisting entirely of Aussie hip hop acts, will be staged – in Brisbane this November.
The Hoods will be headlining, something Suffa is clearly looking forward to. “I wasn’t at the last one, I wish I was, evidently it was pretty wild,” he says. “The fact that they can get that many heads down to a jam that is a purely Australian hip hop line-up – it’s awesome.”
They will share the bill at Sprung with such artists as Illy, Pez, Seth Sentry and Thundamentals – a roll call, which is in itself, a testament to how widely loved the genre now is.I think it was inevitable that a group was going to break through because hip hop was just becoming such a popular subculture… the bubble had to burst
The Adelaide locals are touring pros by now, most recently having wrapped up a run that included not only their home country, but also festivals and shows in the UK and Western Europe.
So how were the flag-bearers of a distinctly ‘Aussie’ tag received in the lands of Bratwurst and fine cheeses?
“Sometimes there’s a tiny bit of a language barrier, with our accents… (but) I think it translates. Hip hop fans like hip hop,” he says.
“I listen to hip hop from Sweden, I listen to hip hop from Canada, Germany, France, Japan… all over.”
One of the most eventful shows of the tour was their Melbourne show, in which 50 local artists crammed into the back rooms of the Festival Hall to film segments of the massive project that is the ‘Rattling The Keys To The Kingdom’ film clip – all while the Hilltop Hoods performed onstage.
The footage showcases a staggering number of artists who join the threesome in a simple but highly effective, black-and-white montage of the best Australian hip hop has to offer.
“It was a nightmare!” Suffa says of the clip’s execution. “It came together in a really, really weird way.”
But the headache of the organisational process was apparently worth it. “I was glad that we were able to bring together that many artists under one banner. We tried to get as many people as we could, obviously it’s not everyone but we were glad we were able to bring together that many people and show a bit of unity.”
The threesome have also been recently awarded (along with several ARIA nominations) the dubious honour of being the most illegally downloaded artist by Australians, something Suffa describes as “a backhanded compliment.”
While it does show how much their music connects to audiences, and how wide their fan base actually is, the loss of all that potential money still stings.
“It just makes you think, man, if it was the eighties I’d be rich! All those people would have bought an album!”Hip hop in Australia is one of the only genres that isn’t embarrassed of itself
“Obviously we’d prefer if people would buy the albums,’ he continues, “because the albums cost money to make! But I do like the fact that people who can’t afford the album can get the album as well, so I have a bunch of mixed feelings about it. But it is what it is.”
With a massive summer festival season coming up, the release of the striking new film clip and work already begun on the new album – along with one of the members, Pressure, having a child – it seems like the Hilltop Hoods are never without a project.
Suffa is able to confirm this assumption simply, “we sort of never stop,” he says comfortably.
Drinking From The Sun is out now through Universal Music Australia. Hilltop Hoods play Sprung Hip Hop Festival on Saturday November 10th – full dates and details here – they also appear as part of the lineup for Homebake in December, and Falls Festival for New Year’s.