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July 20, 2023

MC Suffa on reaching the end of the hard road

Matt Lambert, better known as MC Suffa, says after decades of work the Hilltop Hoods are in the enviable position of making music purely for their own tastes.

  • Words: Johnny von Einem

It’s been almost 30 years since the Hilltop Hoods formed in the foggy foothills township of Blackwood, and they’ve long been a singular presence in the Australian hip-hop scene.

On ‘Laced Up’, the group’s latest single from last month, the Hoods are back in familiar festival-ready form.


Spin Off
Friday, 21 July
Adelaide Showground
A few tickets still available.

With eight studio albums behind them, and a ninth on the way, Matt Lambert, the man behind the Suffa moniker, says he and his bandmates are now able to make the best music of their careers – even if they’re often not in the same room when they do it.

We spoke with Suffa about the creative opportunities that open up when you reach the end of the hard road, sharing success with a new generation, and what to expect from the upcoming album.

This interview took place just before the Hoods left Australia for their European tour, which has since concluded. It has been edited for clarity and concision.

CityMag: What do festival shows like Spin Off give to you?
Matt Lambert: Well, apart from, you know, being a hometown gig, when you play festivals, you’re often playing to people who have never come across your live show before. We take pride in our, our live show, and it’s one of the things that we like to see – when you’re able to pull it off anyway – when you’re able to bring people in. That’s a really nice aspect of it.

And yeah, just festivals, they just have a different feel, you know what I mean? Like, when it’s your own crowd, it’s sort of a layup. It’s nice to have a bit of unknown and that element to a live set.

CM: Has Australian hip hop’s international reputation changed over the last 10-20 years?
ML: I think so. I mean, like, you know, it’s interesting, like, it depends. Everyone has different definitions of what it means overseas. You know what I mean? A lot of people would say like, Iggy Azalea. Was she nominated for a Grammy or whatever? But she certainly doesn’t claim Australia (laughs). And whether Australians claim her or not, obviously, there’s a lot of people doing well, overseas at the moment. Kid LAROI’s huge. He’s beyond huge. He’s, I think he’s turning with Lil Baby at the moment, and that’s like a universe beyond what we’re doing. You know what I mean?

But yeah, I mean, it used to be more colloquial. It used to be more internalised. Sort of like the French hip-hop scene is. I’ve seen the French hip-hop scene is very internalised. It sort of exists within the borders of France, to a degree. But I think, you know, that border’s come down a little. There’s a lot more diversity, in not just the musicians and artists now, but a lot of diversity in the sound. There’s not just one, sort of across-the-board sound. It’s lots of different sub-genres. And, you know, here now we’ve got everything from sort of Neo-soul influences to drill influences to boom-bap to poppy sort of hip hop. It’s, really matured.

CM: How responsible do you feel for some of that, given that you were a breakthrough artist in that genre?
ML: Um, I don’t think- yeah, I mean, obviously, without people participating in the culture, the culture doesn’t grow. So, to that extent, that we participated in the culture, and we’re a part of the culture. But I think, like, it’s one of those things, as sort of culture across the planet moves in that direction. it’s kind of been inevitable, whether Hilltop Hoods was there or not.

CM: In the press kit for ‘Laced Up’, it says the song was inspired by a dinner from your broke days. How important is it for you to stay in touch with that younger artist within yourself?
ML: I mean, yeah, well, after a certain age, and especially after having a family, your life experiences sort of flatten out (laughs). And in a very sort of, you know – what’s the best way to describe it? It’s very, it’s very samey. And when you’re coming up, when you’re younger, the bulk of your life experience and influences and, you know, the area of your brain that later on becomes nostalgia sort of happens between, you know, 15 to 25, or 30. Around there. And so, I think a lot of artists – not just us – people tend to draw on that version of themselves. Like reflective in that way. Like, the people in that age bracket right now are talking about the present tense (laughs). Do you you know what I mean? I think that’s, that’s got a lot to do with it. No one wants to hear about me doing school drop off, I guess (laughs).

CM: Well, with that maturity, does what you want to achieve with your art change?
ML: We just want to make good music, we want to try and make the best music we can, and the thing we’re lucky to have now, apart from the experience and the tools, is that we have access to, like, One Above who’s a world-class producer. And if we want to bring in session musicians and, you know, we want a sample, we can afford those samples. We’ve hit this stage of our career where all of this is accessible to us, and we’re definitely taking advantage of that in order to, as we see it, sort of, hopefully anyway, improve our sound. And not just the quality, but the possibilities.

CM: You’ve got the Hilltop Hoods Initiative, and you also took Elsy Wameyo on tour. Do you feel a responsibility to help the next generation as well, to give opportunities?
ML: I don’t know whether it’s a responsibility but it’s definitely something we’d like to do. Like, Elsy’s doing this UK and Europe tour with us as well. She’s doing the support over there. It is important to us because, given that we’re lucky enough to have this platform and this audience, we like to get people that we’re fans of in front of that audience. I mean, the short of it is, not really ‘responsibility’, but we love to use our platform and our audience to try promote people who we’re fans of, and you know, try help them along the way in their ambitions.

CM: How did you come across Elsy?
ML: Elsy we met ages ago, you know, Playback 808, with Dysp0ra, who’s a big personality. A very big personality. And, you know, he came across our paths a lot of times. He’s a very confident guy that finds his way backstage a lot. We got to know him, and she was working with a lot of people within that crew, more as like a feature artist than individual act at the time. And then, you know, whatever, COVID happened and people were working on their own stuff, and then she popped back up as this, like, you know, like, the growth she underwent (laughs), in a matter of years was just insane. And you know, we thought she’d be great for the tour, which she was. Everywhere she went, people just adored her show.

CM: Why does she make sense as a Hilltop support?
ML: You need confidence, for one, when you’re playing with any other headliner. When you’re playing a support slot, it’s tough. We’ve done it a lot of times. When we were playing support for Eminem, like, you can have the crowd, but it’s still Eminem’s crowd, so you’re there to win the crowd over. So you need someone who can win a crowd over. And wherever she went, she won a crowd over. And you know, she can rap, she can sing, she produces her own records, she’s very confident and very talented. So yeah, she was just a perfect fit.

CM: Back on your position in the local industry, do you still feel a responsibility – I’ll use that word again – to try and shift perspectives on what hip hop can do in Australia?
ML: Not really (laughs). We just want to make the records that we want to make now. I mean, it may have been an element to that in our past, but now, you know, we’re just so focused on our own stuff. As the community grew and changed, we sort of became, not alienated from it, but we’re more sort of hermits (laughs). And you know, having families has a lot to do with that as well. But yeah, we’re just on our own path now, our own journey. Only boundaries we’re trying to push are our own, I guess.

CM: Has your creative relationship changed, the way that you work together?
ML: Yeah, definitely. We’ve all got a home studio, and so we all work out of our home studios. We don’t spend a lot of time together, unless we’re hanging out or rehearsing, creatively. I write, produce and record here. And there’s some songs on the album that none of us were in the same room for. So yeah, that’s definitely changed.

And it’s good. Like, if you’re like me, I sort of need that space. Because I’m not a perfectionist, but, like, we did a song called ‘Leave Me Lonely’, and I think Logic, the program we use, there’s a take count on the thing, and I was up to 1400 takes by the time I was happy with it. And I prefer not to put an engineer through that (laughs). And I probably wouldn’t have if I was sitting in a room with an engineer. I probably would have settled for something to keep the session moving or whatever. So it’s actually, it’s really nice working from home and working at your own pace in your own space.

CM: What’s the status of the the upcoming album?
ML: New album next year, which will make it five years since our last record. Great Expanse came out in 2019, and Walking Under Stars was five years before that. So, two records every decade, that’s our – I’m glad no one from the label’s on (laughs) – yeah, so that’s, that’s our aim. That’s what we’re going to do. New record next year.

CM: Does it feel different in this era to release music?
ML: I don’t know, like, when you’re first starting out, you’re super driven, super ambitious. And now we’re at a stage, we are more relaxed, and you still have drive and ambition, but that looks a lot different. Like, your understanding of things has shifted. So those sort of things are tempered by patience, and, you know, trying to be a bit more thoughtful about what you’re doing. And yeah, I think that’s the big difference. Like, when we were doing a record, like The Calling or The Hard Road, I just wanted to be at the studio every day. And now if I had to do that, I’d kill myself (laughs).

CM: How does revisiting music through Restrung affect how you think about creating new music?
ML: Doing those two Restrungs, and we’re working on a third at the moment, definitely made me understand – I think, anyway – made me understand music a lot, a lot better. You know, when you’re working with orchestral arrangements. And, you know, the first record, we kind of mixed on our own, you sort of have no choice but to sort of learn, not music theory, but you’ve got no choice but to get a better understanding of music in general. And yeah, Restrung was one of the things that also opened up our minds to what’s possible, as far as guests and session musicians and in sampling everything.

CM:  Are there any surprises on the upcoming album, that you’re excited for people to hear?
ML: Yeah (laughs, then silence).

CM: No teaser?
ML: I mean, like, I’m trying to think of a way I could tease it without giving it away, and I don’t think there is. I mean, you know, Illy did a record where he drew a quote from Obama, where it’s like, you can’t change everything all at once, it’s two degrees, shift two degrees. And I feel like that’s true. But if we were going by that logic, this is more three or four degrees for us, I feel.

CM: Are you ever scared by the process of creation?
ML: Nah. I mean, it kind of it is what it is now, you know? It’s just not as caught up in those sorts of feelings anymore. More accepting. You know, sort of taking the – I’m not an alcoholic – but taking that Alcoholic Anonymous proverb, sort of using it to describe music – accept the things we can’t and (laughs), you know, having the wisdom to know the difference, that sort of thing.

It’s exciting making a record. And, you know, I’ve never been much to read reviews, and now I’m one that doesn’t read comments either. So people can think what they want. I probably won’t ever know (laughs). Unless you come up and tell me on the street, which no one ever does. And please don’t (laughs).

CM: Great. I’m gonna leave it there. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
ML: Thanks Johnny.

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