Hilltop Hoods

Nine ARIAs. Multi-platinum sales. Half a billion global streams. Songs embedded in the
national consciousness.
 
The legacy of the Hilltop Hoods is already undeniable. They helped create hip hop as a local
genre in Australia.
 
‘1955’ and ‘Cosby Sweater’ reached the top five in the ARIA charts and have both reached
six-times platinum status. The smash ‘I Love It’ went five-times platinum. They opened the
door for countless acts from all over Australia through their mentoring, touring and their
annual Initiative for emerging acts.
 
Every studio album from 2006’s The Hard Road onwards has debuted at number one - they
even picked up a number one debut for their recent Remix album (Drinking From The Sun
Walking Under Stars Restrung). They’ve consistently racked up multi-platinum sales in an
era when the industry is seeing sales dwindle across the board. They’ve also been a
consistent and powerful live act throughout Australia, Canada and Europe, and even took
hip hop back to its birthplace in the US.
 
After finishing their very first sold out Arena Tour in 2016 and supporting Eminem across
Australia and New Zealand in February 2019, what do Hilltop Hoods do next?
 
The answer is The Great Expanse.
“We never stop writing,” nods Suffa, Matt Lambert. “We did have a conversation where we
were like ‘let’s just write as hard as we can and go over the top’.”
 
“We definitely push ourselves creatively more with every record,” explains Pressure, aka
Daniel Smith.
 
“We’ve always got beats on hold,” adds Barry Francis, better known as Debris.
 
And that time was well spent.
 
“We wrote most of it over a two year period, but some of the ideas were even older - like, a
hook or a verse here or there. We pulled back on the touring a lot, just the odd festival slot or
a month overseas.”
 

With album number eight the trio have created another statement of intent. And if anyone
was thinking that things would be slowing down at this point then you're in for a shock.
 
"I feel like the first two thirds of the record are more upbeat than anything we've ever done
before," Pressure declares. 
 
"That was deliberate," Suffa confirms, "When we were working on the tracklisting we were
like 'how do we make this make sense, because there was so much light and shade."
 
And he’s not wrong. After the curtain-up prelude of the title track it slams into the euphoric
opener ‘Into The Abyss’ and the riff heavy hit 'Leave Me Lonely' - released mere weeks
before Hottest 100 voting closed, it still reached #24 in Triple J's mighty music democracy
and became a platinum accredited commercial radio crossover hit (number one most added
to radio in Australia on release.)
 
‘The Great Expanse’ is an album filled with an eclectic group of guests including Ecca
Vandal (who lends her vocals to 'Exit Sign' and 'Be Yourself'), Adrian Eagle (who soulfully
delivers the hook on 'Clark Griswold'), Ruel (who shines on one of the albums more
contemplative tracks 'Fire & Grace'), Timberwolf (crashing through with a powerful and
emotive performance on 'Sell It All, Run Away') and Nyssa (a brand new talent who appears
on both ‘Be Yourself’ and 'Here Without You’) as well as an appearance from the Hoods
close friend and ally, Illy.
 
Even with these new flavours, the sound is unmistakably Hoods.
 
If anything, The Great Expanse is exactly what its title suggests: a life gone widescreen.
There's pride. There's joy. There's doubt. And there's deep-cut, at times obscure references:
what other crew would use the chorus of ‘Ooft’ to shout out little known Star Wars character,
Ponda Baba?
 
On the production side of things, the Hoods have enlisted old friends like One Above, Trials,
Cam Bluff and Plutonic Lab, as well as SIXFOUR who helmed last year's ARIA Award
winning single 'Clark Griswold'. That song, a tongue in cheek tribute to the pleasures and
pitfalls of fatherhood, was an early reminder that there's an entire generation who grew up
with the band - even though the people that voted it into the Hottest 100 probably aren't
contemplating a travel plan, much less a caravan.
 
"But I don't think in context you have to having the exact same experience as the person
you're listening to," Suffa points out. "I listen to Jay-Z records that are about how he could
have bought 20 million dollars worth of property in New York and turned it into 200 million in
five years and believe me, I can't relate to that, but I still enjoy the record.”
 
"Our model has always been the Beastie Boys: they always released Beastie Boys tracks.
Whether it was the early 90s, late 90s, mid-2000s, whatever, it sounded like them. But it
didn't ever sound like they repeated themselves."
 
And that’s the beauty of The Great Expanse. In this endless cosmos, the Hilltop Hoods have
created their own grand universe.

SIMS (Of Doomtree)

Restless and passionate but with an unflinching realism at his core, Sims has seen enough of life to know there are no easy answers. His second full-length release, Bad Time Zoo, out February 15th on Doomtree Records, reflects this rapper's ongoing quest for solid understanding in a society on the brink of dystopia. For Sims, it's been a long road.

Andrew Sims grew up in the working-class Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, Minnesota. His parents were both musicians with problems of their own, and Sims often had to look out for himself and his younger brother. "I was super short-fused," he remembers. "I got in fights almost every day until I was about 13."

He found solace in rap and R&B music, nurturing a love for mainstream hits as well as then-underground artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan. His parents didn't approve of his new love, however, so he built a secret stash of cassette mixtapes that he traded to kids at school. He soon found a gift for rhyme and begin channeling his aggression into feisty, kinetic wordplay.

His rap habit quickly grew from playground cyphers to recorded projects. In high school, he met a local producer and rapper named P.O.S. who would sell him beats for $30 a pop and let him record at his house for free. Eventually, their home-recording experiment blossomed into a full-on musical enterprise that would pull in other aspiring artists and help put Minneapolis hip-hop on the map.

Enter Doomtree. Hailing from the same untamed Minneapolis indie music scene that spawned both punk legends the Replacements and, 20 years later, hip-hop powerhouse Rhymesayers, Doomtree has become one of the most trusted and influential names in grassroots hip-hop.

Since its birth in 2002, Doomtree has grown from a CD-R-slinging, fast-food-fueled DIY collective into a tightly knit, business-savvy operation. In addition to Sims and P.O.S., Doomtree's roster includes some of the most daring artists working in hip-hop today: Lazerbeak, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, and Cecil Otter.

In a genre that all too often rewards imitation over innovation, Doomtree's artists strive for originality without sacrificing mass appeal. As a result, fans of Doomtree have come to expect uncommon hip-hop delivered in clever, club-rocking doses, and Bad Time Zoo will not disappoint.

Setting himself as spokesman for a generation fraught by vapid commercialism, political cynicism, and the paradoxical power of technology to both connect us and drive us apart, Sims seeks a path out of the disappointment that plagues modern life. The time of plenty, inbox full / So why do I feel so goddamn empty? he demands on opening track "Future Shock."

But while he casts himself as an alienated prophet, make no mistake: Sims' message is of empowerment, hope, and badass beats. The results are epically infectious.

Over the pulse and sway of Lazerbeak's urgent, expansive production, Sims raises 50-story verses and swings wrecking-ball choruses. With scenes straight from Darwin's nightmares – people as animals gorging in the streets ("The Veldt") – Bad Time Zoo is not so much a hip-hop album as a teeming, beat-driven urban wilderness.

On the horn-sample-driven first single, "Burn It Down," Sims raps like a red-eyed city planner who just downed his eighth Red Bull and Adderall cocktail and is on the street corner calling for destruction before renewal. Or take the thumping, wickedly funny "One Dimensional Man," an indictment of complacent liberals: You did your part, you gave your hundred bucks to NPR / You joined a co-op now, bought the hybrid car. (For the record, Sims votes Democrat and drives a hybrid.)

But lest you think you need an advanced degree and a machete to enter Bad Time Zoo, Sims keeps his narratives grounded and real, and Lazerbeak's musical compositions would sound just as good on a club PA as headphones. Just spin "Love My Girl," a pop confection that juxtaposes dark observations on the dating life with a surprisingly sweet candy center.

A pop-culture omnivore, Sims cites influences that range from the sci-fi of Ray Bradbury, to the films of David Lynch, to the 1940s graphic novels of Will Eisner. But most of all, Sims listens to the world around him.

"I draw a lot more from human interaction than I do from music," he says. "I listen and try to understand how people function."

Like all good writers, Sims has an ear for what makes us human.

"What are your soft spots? When are you at your most defensive, your most unabashedly happy or proud?" he elaborates. "Or when I see someone try to cobble a defense together when they're hurting. Those moments are noteworthy to me. I try to pay attention to them."

Pay attention to Sims, and you'll be better for it.

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