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MUSIC: Hilltop Hoods

Featured in Freestyle Volume 02 2007. Interview by Jason Jaram. Photography by Karl Dietrich.

Hip hop throughout the ages has dished up many classic combinations in its short but illustrious history. Eric B and Rakim, Chuck D and Flava Flav, Turbo and Ozone, shell toes and fat laces, internet forums and shit talkers etc etc. The list is endless. Another classic hip hop combination is the Hilltop Hoods and this sweet ’63 Impala. Freestyle had time to catch up with the emcee Pressure in between hitting switches and dippin’ in the ’63.

There are very few (if any) hip hop acts in this country that do hip hop as a fulltime job. Have you reached that level yet?

Yeah we have been making music for a living since 2004, this is by far the best part about having a little success.

Your most recent release was a remix album of sorts, how did the collab with the ASO come about?

It came about from the idea of having a string quartet play with us live at the Arias, we liked the way it worked and took them on tour with us over new years 06/07 and ended up making a remix album out of it with a 31 piece orchestra.

Was there any difficulty in translating your own hip hop beats into an orchestral arrangement?

The actual arrangements were scored by a guy called Jamie Messenger, the hardest part was letting go and having someone work on our material and waiting for the end result. I guess this is the nature of collaboration though.

Were there many hip hop heads amongst the orchestra? Did you make any conversions?

I don’t think any of them were hip hop heads and whilst I doubt we converted any to full time b-boys I think we most certainly opened their minds and understanding of our genre of music, as they opened ours to their world.

You’ve recently collaborated with Okwerdz, Braintax and the orchestra. Who else would you like to work with?

We got another collab coming up with Okwerdz and Mystro which was recorded when they were in Adelaide for the launch of The Hard Road Restrung. We also have some others in the pipelines for our new album though it’s a little to early to make the call if they will happen yet.

Well you’ve now made an album backed by an orchestra, so what’s next up for you guys?

Working on a DVD for late 07 and a new album for late 08.

Whats it been like being on an independent label like Obese?

Being on an indy label is great, particularly Obese as it’s a hip hop specialist label they really understand the music and what needs to be done with it. We have the freedom to do what we want on our own terms (like remixing it with an orchestra), I guess the only draw back is the major label selling power.

I remember reading a while back that you got into trouble over the “Nosebleed Section” sample. With it getting harder to clear samples these days is it getting harder to make your style of hip hop?

Although we never actually got into trouble for that sample, clearing samples is a major issue for anyone who is moving serious units. It just means you have to steer away from big artists and when you do sample get more creative in what you do with it so it’s less recognisable.

The Australian music industry has a bit of a reputation of being a rock dinosaur and having a total lack of understanding for our local hip hop scene. Have you witnessed much of this yourselves? Any funny incidents?

I guess this is evident throughout the industry and media in general, for the most they leave it alone ‘cos they don’t really get it. It’s starting to change though, everyone is being forced to take more notice of hip hop in this country because it’s so popular with the youth and that’s where the future lies. But we still do get a lot of stereotypical cringe like people waving their hands at us and doing the ‘homie’ thing etc.

OK you have that track “City of Light”, were you actively involved in the graf scene? Who were some of the heroes you looked up to?

We used to do a little graf when we were younger, we grew up on the Belair line in Adelaide where there was a crew of older heads called Nasty Artists that where killing it around the same time we had started rapping and they had a lot of influence on the younger heads in our area. The original DJ from the Hilltop Hoods was actually from that crew, Next later known as DJ Next.

What was the hip hop scene in itself like in Adelaide back when you were coming up?

It was really small but there were a few crews doing there thing, one of the main ones a group called Finger Licken Good. It used to be more DJ nights and open mic’s that usually turned into battle. There wasn’t many people putting on shows as we have them now so you pretty much had to put one on yourself if you wanted to perform to a crowd bigger than 50 people at a pool hall.

Your live shows almost always sell out, what do you think it is that keeps the crowds coming back?

I guess if anything we try to keep the sets fresh by always working in new material and try not to play the same spots too many times, otherwise it becomes a bit ‘been there, done that’.

Considering the amount of live shows you do, you must have witnessed a few funny incidents over the years. Care to share some stories?

We had our stage bum rushed by the crowd once in Perth, they got a little over excited and ripped the stage power cable out and the whole club went dark and silent. The show went a little down hill from there…

Can you tell us a bit about the “Hilltop Hoods Initiative”?

It’s a grant we donate money to annually for up and coming hip hop artists in South Australia to manufacture and promote either a demo or their first release. The winner is chosen by submitting at least a couple of songs to a board of people we have selected to choose the best crew, this way we don’t actually have a say in who wins so there is no bias.

You have become the yardstick of what can be achieved commercially here in Australia. What advice can you pass on to those hoping to follow a similar path?

Pretty simple, be yourself and take your time, it aint gonna happen over night.

“Fine line between a smile and a frown, it’s an eyebrow” What does that mean?

The track is a piss take, it’s taking the piss out of every MC that’s trying to come with deep metaphorical lyrics, it’s exactly the opposite, it is what it is. The only line between your smile (your mouth) and your frown (your forehead) is your eyebrow, deep.

Do jagerbombs really rock the house?

Who knows, I never remember anything after drinking them!

Ok now finally, as we like to talk about cars, apart from this ‘63 Impala behind you what would be the groups ultimate ride?

Black Hummer with huge chrome wheels.

To find out more about Hilltop Hoods, visit

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