The year is 2003, I’ve come home from a hard day of prep and my older brother is segregating himself in his room to listen to music, like usual. I go outside to play with the dog but can hear a pounding sound from the house that steals my attention, a cacophony of heavy drums and deep bass which instantly draws me closer. Slowly more details are revealed to me; a flute melody, DJ scratches, a woman’s voice. Eventually, I’m surrounded by one of the most iconic and influential songs in Australian Hip-Hop history.
The Nosebleed Section.
For as long as I can remember, Hilltop Hoods have been one of the most important aspects of my growth. Learning all the words to ‘Dumb Enough’ or ‘The Blue Blooded’. Bonding with friends over State of The Art and analysing all the lyrics in the liner notes. Listening to nothing but Drinking From the Sun for two months and screaming at the top of my lungs to ‘The Art of The Handshake’ live at Rod Laver Arena. The sound and style of The Hoods’ music developed with me and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be the musician I am today, so when I was asked if I wanted to interview Matt Lambert, AKA Suffa MC, I felt like there was only one possible response.
I left work early and sat in the quietest room I could find, anxiously anticipating the call. I had been listening to the group’s newest album, The Great Expanse, on repeat in preparation and thinking further about their place as a juggernaut of the culture only made me more nervous. Slowly all of the questions that I had prepared seemed inadequate, I was about to interview one of my idols, someone I’d looked up to for most of my life, and I had only just begun to second guess myself when I heard his voice break through the phone.
Instantly a hundred different songs ran through my head. In his voice, I heard ‘Shredding the Balloon’, ‘City of Light’, a whole host of songs that I had turned to for comfort over the years and in that moment I felt calm, like I already knew so much about him that it didn’t really matter what questions I asked.
Since 2003 the group has released six albums, five of which have reached platinum status, three of those have reached double platinum, and their newest album ‘The Great Expanse’ is still steadily rising in sales. These are numbers that are virtually unheard of in Australian Hip-Hop, but when asked about it Suffa stayed as down to earth as ever.
“We never discount how lucky we are,” he told me, “we were just in the right places at the right times, ya know?”
“We just made music we liked; it was never about selling well,” he said.
This mindset is what made some of the most popular bangers in Australian Hip-Hop history, and also the reason why the topics in their music really revolve around what they know and what’s important to them, such as discussing the small-town feel of Adelaide on the track “1955”.
“I guess we always had to hustle so we would be heard,” explained Suffa when I asked about the song. He explained how difficult the scene was to break into in Adelaide and how that instilled the idea that they’d always have to put in the time to get results.
We discussed the Hilltop Hoods initiative, their amazing prize to support young Australian artists in the scene; we discussed the move from Golden Era, the record label they founded in 2008; and we discussed their music. A lot.
Me: What’s your favourite song that you weren’t able to fit on an album?
Suffa: I had this track called 500 foot, it goes for like eight minutes –
Me: Oh yeah, I’ve heard it. You did it on Triple J with Hau.
Suffa: Yeah man, well there’s a follow up to that too!
Me: What about a favourite song from before ‘The Calling’?
Suffa: Hahaha, I don’t think I have one honestly.
Me: I still bump to ‘The Anthem’ sometimes.
Suffa: Far out, I was today years old when I remembered The Anthem, thanks for that.
Me: What about ‘Brainbox’, that started out as a random verse on one of the Golden Era Mixtapes, was that always intended to be a full song?
Suffa: I actually got that beat from Headlock, he had a verse on it called Brainbox, but I never did anything with it. He said we could do what we want with it.
Me: Would you ever make another movie like ‘Parade of the Dead’?
Suffa: Hahaha oh man, probably not, but the older I get the less embarrassed I am thinking about it.
Me: What about another posse cut? ‘The Blue Blooded’ and ‘The Certificate’ are two of my favourite Hoods songs.
Suffa: We’re not discounting it, we love a posse cut too, it’s just not something we’ve thought about.
I joked about the fact that The Hoods are almost universally loved by the media, it’s virtually impossible to find a hit piece on them and so I might try to write one myself, he told me: “keep me on the phone long enough and you’ll be able to find something”.
We talked about parenthood, the changing landscape of hip-hop in Australia and how their style has changed over the years, touring with a family and being away from home. By the end of the call, I had realised that I was so engulfed in the conversation and how easy it flowed that I had made almost no notes on the interview and had forgotten to check whether or not my call recorder was working.
When I was given my five-minute warning I still had so much left to ask, there were so many stories and anecdotes that I wanted to hear; but I decided to cut it down to just one question, a final closing word. We talked about legacy and memory through words, and I asked if there was one piece of wisdom that he would want to live on from him.
“This is something we’ve said for years, but you can be the first to put it in writing,” he said.
“But something is only embarrassing if you’re embarrassed. If you don’t take yourself too seriously you can’t be embarrassed.”
I thought back to their career, to the milestones they’ve reached and the things they’ve achieved for the industry. I thought about this mentality, the idea that the only thing holding you back is your opinion of yourself. I pictured where we’d be if The Hoods were too embarrassed to release these albums they’d recorded on Suffa’s mums’ computer. If they were too embarrassed to rock those house parties when they were getting started.
After some thank yous and a quick goodbye, I hung up and started to frantically take notes and write down quotes to try and cover all the topics we had talked about. But even as I sit here finishing this piece weeks later, I can still remember what we talked about and the calm, relatable way he carried himself.
The reason this group of guys from Adelaide have managed to make such a massive dent in the industry isn’t just because of their fantastic music or incredible live shows, it’s because of their personalities, their relatability, and the fact that they always stayed true to themselves. That the reason I’m a Hilltop Hoods fan and the reason I have continued to support them over the years.
The Hoods’ newest album, The Great Expanse, is available now and they are currently embarking on their album world tour, hitting Melbourne at Rod Laver Arena on the 9th and 10th of August.
As someone that’s seen them live many times, I can vouch that it’s a show worth seeing.
Photo: window 48/52 By runmonty available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.