Everything is in its right place. The latched front gate. The geometric paving. The neatly tended pot plants. From the outside, it’s hard to reconcile this ultra-modern triple-storey home in Melbourne’s affluent beach suburbs with a hip-hop beast who had, by his own reckoning, “already died twice” by his 30th birthday.
“Matt,” says the tall guy with the pale blue eyes and clean white baseball cap who opens the door. He flashes white teeth and extends an elaborately tattooed arm. If it weren’t for the copious ink blossoming from T-shirt to jawline, he could be anybody’s boy next door.
Inside, an upstairs corridor is lined with seven or eight gold and platinum sales plaques, peaking so far with 2011’s Falling & Flying LP and its blockbuster single with Gossling, “Boys Like You”. The basement “studio” is a computer desk modestly decorated with more awards: an ARIA here, one from Channel [V] and a couple from AIR.
Back on street level, 360 – aka Matt Colwell – draws coffee from a gleaming chrome appliance in an incredibly clean kitchen that looks, like everything from glass stairwell to manicured back courtyard, as good as new. Just like its owner.
“I’m a different person,” 360 assured his fans in a video rap earlier this year. “I’m not just saying that,” he added, with fair reason: “I’m Sorry” was the confession of an addict who’d cried clean before. By the time of his gold-selling third album, Utopia, the caged party animal was common knowledge but the prescription opiate fiend remained a dirty secret.
“I had such a high tolerance it was crazy,” he says, gazing now from the back terrace at a bamboo-lined fence. “I couldn’t get enough to last a tour and I wasn’t going to take heroin on a plane, so I was using Nurofen Plus. Three packets a day.”
The crunch came before a Byron Bay gig in January 2016, when his tour manager found him convulsing on the floor after upping his daily dose to 120 tablets. He woke up in hospital. Suicide watch. Tour cancelled.
“It was definitely the thing that I needed the most, but at the time it was fucked,” he says. “It was really, really hard because I was hiding this addiction from everyone. No one knew that I was doing it. No one.
“So when I had that overdose, it was like bang, I just had to come clean. It was so hard to do that to my family, to be in hospital and they just hand you the phone and say, ‘It’s your mum’.” He pulls his cap a little lower. “That was hard, having to explain that.”
“I’m not hard. In rap, people always have to be tough. I’m the opposite.”
An 18-month “rollercoaster” of rehab and psychoanalysis led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and chronic insomnia that requires medication and constant vigilance. “It’s a tough battle but it’s something you can manage,” he says. “I still have my moments but they’re not as extreme. I’m good now. I do have my times when I lose my shit but nowhere near that kind of scale.”
Vintage Modern is the album born of that darkness and redemption, but with a solid emphasis on the latter. Tracks such as “Way Out”, “Witness” and “Admission” call out his demons for the clear purpose of keeping his enemies close.
There’s room to goof-off in the OTT boasts of “White Lies” and “Coup de Grace” – a fever-pitched battle with Seth Sentry and PEZ – but the crux of the album is atonement: re-evaluating attitudes to drugs, money, women, and the kind of not-so-friendly rivalries that make hip-hop such a cauldron of bad blood and egotism.
“I’m not hard,” Colwell says. “In rap, people always have to be tough. I think people might assume that I am ’cause I’m tall and covered in tattoos and stuff but for me it’s not the case. I’m the opposite. But when it comes to rapping, I am. When it comes to rapping, I want to be seen as a beast.”
He’s certainly a machine. The new album was preceded by a drip-feed of six single tracks comprising VI, an ongoing project of extracurricular material crucial enough to warrant a new tattoo beside his left eye.
The only song duplicated on Vintage Modern is “Tiny Angel”, an utterly harrowing true story of a close friend’s experience of a stillborn son. “It’s a very tough one,” Colwell says softly. “To perform it you have to almost live what that character’s going through, otherwise it won’t be believable. I don’t think it’s a song I’ll be performing all that often.
“A lot of this album is looking outwards,” he says. “Not so much about me, more how I see society.” Raps preaching religious tolerance and the emptiness of hip-hop’s traditionally sacred goals of cash, status and “bitches” are designed, he says, to perpetuate positive attitudes in his vast, predominantly young audience. On that topic, there’s one last thing he wants to share as we pass through the lounge room. Carefully rolled out on a low table is something that clearly means more than all the other awards in the house.
“We started this Facebook group called the Close Circle, which is my private group online for, like, real fans,” he says. “There’s about 11,000 of them at the moment and for our last Sydney show, a whole bunch of them organised to do this poster.”
It’s a mosaic of Colwell, made up of thousands of tiny fan photos: a cool metaphor for what makes 360 who he is. “When I got it I was absolutely speechless,” he says. “I was blown away. I’m gonna get this framed, for sure.”
From issue #793 (December, 2017), available now.