REVIEW: Hilltop Hoods hit the right note with restrung collaboration

Luke Michael | @luke_michael96

Considering the Hilltop Hoods’ lofty status in the Aussie Hip Hop community, built up over 20 years of releasing music, it would be easy for them to play it safe and continue releasing traditional hip hop albums to appease their loyal fan base.

But they have never been a group to sit still, or as MC Suffa tells Catalyst, ‘rinse and repeat.’ Rather, these Aussie Hip Hop pioneers are not afraid to try something new. Admittedly, the concept for Drinking from the Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung is not new. In fact, reworking tracks from their two previous albums to incorporate the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was done for their 2007 album The Hard Road Restrung.

Likewise, other Hip Hop artists such as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Buck 65 and DJ Premier have also incorporated orchestras into their live performances/albums.

What makes this Hilltop Hoods album so rewarding to listen to though, is the way the arrangements of the orchestra seamlessly blend with the group’s vocals. This ensures the album does not sound gimmicky or forced, instead offering a more intricate and layered musical soundscape for the Hoods to rap over.

A lot of credit must go to Composer Jamie Messenger, for handling the orchestral arrangements, and conductor Hamish McKeich, who led the musicians. The result is lively and layered, adding an ethereal and haunting feel to the original tracks. The more you listen to each song, the more you appreciate the subtle keys, strings and flutes which complement, rather than overwhelm the group’s lyrics.

The gospel-like vocals (courtesy of the Adelaide Chamber Singers Choir) that open Drinking From the Sun Restrung, add an eerie feel to the track, gliding in and out of the group’s verses effortlessly.

Lead single and new track Higher is not as bombastic, but includes a nice hook from James Chatburn and impressive verses from Suffa and Pressure.

One of the group’s most successful songs, I Love it, is given the restrung treatment and is one of the highlights of the album. The song is arranged gorgeously, with the strings, violins and choir coming together perfectly to create a more melodic and epic version of the original. Sia’s vocals in particular are bolstered by the atmospheric arrangement. Live & Let go Restrung is another gem, with Brother Ali’s poetic cadence benefitting from the rich musical palate on display.

Not every track suits the restrung treatment though. Cosby Sweater Restrung sounds a bit cluttered at times, detracting from the distinctive bass and Suffa’s double time flow. However moments like this are few and far between, easily overshadowed by positives such as the second single, 1955. Here Suffa offers an earnest tale of small town living, which features soaring vocals from Montaigne.

Thankfully, this album strikes the right balance between offering a new distinct sound and keeping the essence of the tracks intact. Hilltop Hoods’ music already contains varied musical elements, but subtle additions, such as the xylophone in Walking Under the Stars Restrung and the rapid strings in Through the Dark Restrung, resonate more deeply with the listener.

Overall, this album offers dedicated fans an inspired re-working of their favourite songs and even casual listeners and non-Hip-Hop enthusiasts will appreciate the album’s intricate instrumentation and raw lyrics.

Once again, the Hilltop Hoods continue to create music which satisfies Hip Hop heads, while maintaining mainstream crossover appeal.

 Rating: 4.5/5

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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