Australian hip hop trio Hilltop Hoods have wrapped up their first tour of the UK and Europe in four years and are now setting their sights firmly on Aotearoa as their next overseas tour destination.
Dan “MC Pressure” Smith, Barry “DJ Debris” Francis, and Matthew “Suffa” Lambert last visited the country in 2019. It was during one of the band’s busiest years to date, with a global tour taking in almost 100 shows across 14 countries off the back of their eighth studio album, The Great Expanse.
The band sold out headline shows across both Australia and New Zealand back then, played multiple festivals around the world, and toured as the support for international “Rap God” Eminem -which broke records for both the venue and the city when the Rapture Tour landed in Wellington.
“It was an honour to perform next to Eminem,” MC Pressure says of the experience. “Not just in Australia, but to be able to go to New Zealand with him as well was an amazing experience. It put us in front of so many hip hop heads in New Zealand who hadn’t heard our music before, which was amazing for us, and just to get the co-sign of one of the greatest rappers to ever do it was fantastic as well – a feather in the cap.”
DJ Debris interjects: “I think that was the city where we got to chat with him too, wasn’t it?” MC Pressure remembers it was. “We went backstage in Wellington and hung out with Eminem for a while as he made fart jokes and acted exactly as we do on a tour bus, which was nice to know,” he laughs.
For anyone familiar with Eminem’s back catalogue, MC Pressure points out, it’s a fact that really isn’t all that surprising.
“I think one of the reasons he probably connects with so many people is because he doesn’t have a filter,” he says. “And that sort of level of honesty that can offend you, but make you know that you’re listening to something real is very appealing.”
It’s authenticity, he concedes, that connects Hilltop Hoods to their own audiences – although, he adds, it’s different because he doesn’t consider the band to be in the same lane as Eminem.
“I think people recognise authenticity, and not everyone wants the run of the mill mainstream music; they want somebody a bit more niche, which is I guess what we do,” MC Pressure explains. “And I think authenticity is one of the things that connects us to our crowd.”
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MC Pressure says the band and their crew are looking forward to returning to New Zealand this September, which will be the first time they will bring their full stage show to the country. It’s something they’ve just had a practice with on their tour of Europe and the UK.
“For the first time ever, we’ve taken our entire show we do in Australia on the road with us, which means more crew and a horn section and a backup vocalist as well,” he reveals. “Much to our manager’s chagrin,” DJ Debris laughs.
“He wasn’t that happy about it when we were like, ‘we’re going to put an extra six people on the bus,’” MC Pressure agrees. “But it has absolutely worked, and I felt like we’ve been doing this too long to go backwards. We wanted to give punters overseas the same experience as the punters get back home – so the whole show, not the cut down version. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Both have many fond memories of their time in New Zealand – both on and off the stage.
“It’s the only place we’ve ever played where you’re on stage in front of a ski slope and people are skiing towards you,” DJ Debris laughs. “It’s quite freaky, to be honest with you.”
MC Pressure agrees that performing at Coronet Peak near Queenstown was a unique experience.
“And who would have thought I’d be able to perform in shorts in minus two-degree weather on a ski slope and still manage to sweat?” he jokes.
This time, he plans on snowboarding in the little free time the band has. “I’m going to get my board on up at the Remarkables and Coronet Peak – show New Zealand how terrible at snowboarding I am. I’ll be the guy rolling down the green runs.”
DJ Debris interjects, claiming MC Pressure is actually the best snowboarder in the group.
“I’ve done a black run, once, but I wouldn’t do it again,’ he says. “I fluked it; it was pure luck. Last time I went up and my binding broke…”
“Would you say that you were too inebriated and took a wrong turn?” MC Pressure interjects. “Yes, pretty much,” DJ Debris concedes. “I didn’t know what the colours were, to be honest.”
“”Laced Up” is – long story short – about when we were younger, taking a girl out on a date to a fancy restaurant that we figured out we couldn’t afford once we got the cheque,” MC Pressure laughs. “It’s a bit of a throwback to our younger days as young men working crap jobs and coming up in the hip hop game and dating, and we worked with one of New Zealand’s finest bands, Six60, in a writing session one day.
“They wrote some of the riff in that song and sort of workshopped that with us, which is kind of cool, and we fleshed it out at a later date and turned it into a hip hop track.”
The single is the third track to be released off their forthcoming album, with an expected release date sometime in 2024.
“We’ve made about one million songs and finished three of them,” MC Pressure says. “I think the problem is we kind of came off the road in 2019 when COVID hit and everyone put down tools, so to speak, and we had so much time to make songs, we made so many songs but didn’t finish them. We’re close. There’ll be an album. That’s the short version.”
Hilltop Hoods 2023 New Zealand Tour
With special guest Freddy Reynold
Presented by Blue Max Music & TEG Live
Tickets available via hilltophoods.com
Friday, September 1st
The Studio, Auckland
Saturday, September 2nd
The Hunter Lounge, Wellington
Sunday, September 3rd
The Ngaio Marsh Theatre, Christchurch