Chase That Feeling: Hilltop Hoods’ MC Pressure on ‘The Great Expanse’ Tour
By Phoebe Humphrey
After releasing their new album ‘The Great Expanse’, Australian hip hop group Hilltop Hoods are back with their first headline tour since 2016. Having sold out their first Melbourne and Brisbane shows in a matter of hours, the addition of extra dates has showcased the Hoods are in demand now more than ever.
Having been in the music industry for over 25 years, MC’s Suffa and Pressure along with DJ Debris have been solidifying their spot in the hip-hop scene since 1997. In the process, they’ve released eight studio albums, two ‘restrung’ albums and three DVDs.
Making their commercial breakthrough with their third album ‘The Calling’ (2003), they achieved successes with songs such as ‘The Nosebleed Section’ and ‘Testimonial Year’, with the album becoming the first Australian album to reach platinum status. Hilltop’s success became a significant turning point for the Australian hip-hop scene, giving a predominantly underground genre a place in the mainstream market.
Fresh from supporting Eminem’s ‘Rapture’ tour and the stages of Groovin’ The Moo, the boys from Adelaide are celebrating the success of their most recent studio release ‘The Great Expanse’. The album debuted at number one on the ARIA charts, setting an ARIA record for the most number one albums by an Australian group.
Daniel Howe Smith – more commonly known as MC Pressure – gave Catalyst an insight into the upcoming tour, Hilltop life and the creation of ‘The Great Expanse’.
Renowned for their energetic stage presence, The Hoods will take their much-loved live act to 14 countries around the world. Ahead of the Australian leg of the tour starting in August, Pressure said the Hoods “can’t wait to play new songs” to their audience after having worked on the album for three years.
“It’s mad exciting… it’s always good to get back in the studio, but by the end of it all, all you want to do is go out and actually play,” he explained.
Their eighth album showcases an eclectic group of flavours and artists that feature on the record, with new sounds making ‘The Great Expanse’ the least sample heavy and most collaborative album they’ve made. Having strayed slightly from DJ Debris’ usual scratching and turntablism, the album is an expansion of the recognisable Hilltop sound with diverse pace and emotion. Pressure admitted that during the songwriting process he and MC Suffa thought that the album should feature more producers and artists than having previously done.
“It was fairly new for us,” he said, “But it was something we wanted to do, not create a different sound but just to evolve it.”
Featuring collaborations with artists such as Melbourne rocker Ecca Vandal, Adrian Eagle and 16 year old Ruel, the Hoods are continuing to spotlight Australian artists with their platform. Appearing on the single ‘Exit Sign’, Ecca Vandal and Illy became a part of a six-songwriter track featuring Grammy nominated Melbourne songwriter Sarah Aarons.
Pressure admitted Ruel’s feature on the album ‘Fire and Grace’ is one of his favourite songs on the record and is “really proud of how it turned out”, due to dealing with “deep and personal” subject matter such as mental illness.
Managed by the Hoods’ longtime friend DJ Nate Flagrant, Ruel got a photo backstage with the Hoods when he was 10 years old, with that photo becoming the catalyst for DJ Flagrant asking the Hoods to collaborate with his young artist.
“We were like hell yeah, we know Ruel, he’s like the youngest, greatest fucking thing coming up,” Pressure said.
Apart from collaborations, Hilltop Hoods have been known for their experimentation with classical music, with their 2016 Restrung Tour showcasing their long relationship with symphony orchestras. When asked about whether he ever imagined incorporating classical into hip hop music, Pressure laughed and said “15 year old me would definitely not have thought that he would remix two albums with an orchestra”. Despite his younger reservations, Pressure detailed it was “an amazingly eye opening experience”.
“Classical is such a different world,” he said, “the sound and drama that they’re able to lend to a song is like nothing else, you can’t recreate that with synths.”
Being the two songwriters in the group, Pressure admits he and Suffa often find themselves clashing creatively in the production of their music, stating it’s due to their driven and passionate personalities. Rapping next to each other for 25 years, Pressure expressed they have pushed each other in a “competitive but positive nature” to help improve the standard of their verses.
“Sometimes we will hear what each other has written and it makes you go back and re-write your verse to sort of up the ante,” he said, joking this may be the reason their albums take a long time to create.
Having started a family of his own, Pressure said this has changed the way the Hoods tour domestically. Detailing that although not all shows may be suitable for the “young ones”, its “wild” for their children to see their dads perform in front of a large crowd. Pressure explores parenthood and life passages on his solo track ‘Counterweight’, displaying the stress of having to balance touring and music life with family back at home.
“It’s about how to cope with stress and being away from your loved ones,” he said, and “how far you can push yourself before you snap.”
Hilltop Hoods play with this notion in a more comical way on their track ‘Clark Griswold’, referencing Chevy Chase’s father character in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series. With some critics saying the song was “dad rap”, Pressure insists, “it was dad rap, and that was the joke”.
“Some people take themselves too seriously, we are not those guys,” he laughed, “We’re just a bit older and we’re dads now, let’s have fun with it.”
Despite being released halfway through 2018, ‘Clark Griswold’ still made Triple J’s Hottest 100 list and the Hoods featured again on another Triple J installment this year with their appearance on ‘Like A Version’. Performing their up-tempo hit ‘Leave Me Lonely’ as well as a rendition of The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Can’t Stop’, with “a bit of Phil Collins sprinkled in there”. Featuring vocalist Nyassa, Pressure said the experience was “definitely out of the Hoods’ comfort zone” due to singing instead of rapping.
“We are not natural singers… but it was good fun,” he said, “we’re just doing a throwback in our version that we grew up with and loved.”
Nyassa also features on ‘The Great Expanse’, which was released on CD and vinyl as well as digitally. Pressure, who’s been a vinyl collector since he was young, stated vinyl offers an experience that you miss out on with online music.
“I think it’s nice to have something tangible in your hands,” he said, “You can read the artwork, the cover, and pull out the sleeve and extra tidbits that you don’t get if you’re just streaming online.”
Fans planning on seeing the upcoming show can expect a much longer set than previous tours, with Pressure confirming the group will play the majority of the new record alongside some “older, more obscure tracks” that the Hoods have added. With the group’s fan base spanning multiple generations, Pressure explained the different reactions fans might have to the material.
“Some of our older fans will love the old songs, while the younger listeners might turn to each other like “what the fuck is this song?” he laughed.
Joined by support acts Mojo Juju, Perth based grime rapper Shadow and DJ Nino Brown, Hilltop Hoods will perform all of their hit songs that have become embedded into our national consciousness.
After more than 20 years in the game, the Hoods show no sign of leaving any time soon.
‘The Great Expanse’ album is out now on CD, vinyl and online.
For ‘The Great Expanse’ Tour ticketing information visit Ticketek or Ticketmaster (Brisbane dates).