I’m always going to love Australian hip-hop. It’s a fact I’ve come to accept, and it all started with three dudes from Adelaide. Growing up, one of the major debates was always Hilltop Hoods vs Bliss and Eso. Without question, I – like a majority of people around me – loved Hoods and hated Bliss N Eso. Though I’ve mellowed my stance on Bliss N Eso, my love for Hilltop Hoods is strong as ever, and a lot of that is because of State of the Art.
I first heard State of the Art back in 2010, having just started high school. I’d heard of them before, of course (who could escape The Hard Road, still their most notable release), but I’d never really delved further. Until State of the Art, that is.
What really struck me was that it was also my first real experience with really loving an artist. Sure, I had my Rogue Traders phase back in primary school (I even remember lining up to buy their albums at Borders, which feels like a very long time ago), but this was a whole new experience. I actively sought out the Hoods’ music, making sure that I had access to all their albums (which was a pretty hard task back then).
State of The Art feels like a career-defining album, which is impressive considering the songs and albums that came before it. Not may acts release their best work on their fifth album. The Nosebleed Section, The Hard Road and Clown Prince were all massive songs when they came out, and it’s true that the former two are bigger than anything on State of The Art. But this album held more influence as a whole, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Chase That Feeling was omnipresent when it came out, from radio to Channel 10 and beyond; even today, the opening piano riff is immediately recognisable.
Secondly, Classic Example features Pharoahe Monch. This was huge at the time, one of the first Australian hip-hop songs to feature an American artist (to come would be Bliss N Eso with Nas, A.B. Original with Guilty Simpson, Killer Mike with Tkay Maidza and plenty more).
We’ve come a long way in terms of accepting Australian hip-hop, but this was the first time an American artist really appeared to acknowledge one of our own. While we’re still waiting for an Australian rapper to break overseas (Iggy Azalea doesn’t count), it’s bound to happen soon, and it all began right there.
For me, it was the confidence of each song that made the album so great. To this day, Super Official is still my favourite Hilltop Hoods song; Suffa and Pressure deliver some of the best verses of their career, spitting back and forth over a powerful horn-led beat.
From the scratches to the accents (yes, I love Australian accents in hip-hop, fight me), on top of easy-to-follow lyrics that were perfect for a younger me to understand, all in all, this was an incredible album. It still is.
Every time I go back and listen to State of the Art, I’m still blown away by its timeless originality. Still Standing, for example, brings together a West Indian influence and orchestral instrumentation (they had previously released the orchestral The Hard Road Restrung reworking of their previous album). For me, those lyrics remain as relevant as ever to the groundbreaking group; “We still sharp, still craft hip-hop that they played in the park/Still jamming, still paving the path/Still making our mark, still ain’t for the faint of the heart/Still standing, still state of the art”. In many ways, they created the sound that would dominate Australian hip-hop right up until a few years ago, when the whole scene started splintering off into countless new directions.
While many came before and even more have (and will) led the way since, for me, Hilltop Hoods are Australian hip-hop to a tee. No matter where their career continues to take them, they’ll forever be legends of the scene, and we might just look back one day at this album as their best.
Words by Ben Madden
Image: Seshanka Samarajiwa/Howl & Echoes (full gallery here)