Reason has just released his long-awaited third LP One Step Ahead, which sees the veteran hip hopper tackle social issues like the environment, indigenous affairs, politics and lighter topics like sport and of course Hip Hop. He's been asked to host 2004's DMC Australian finals around the country and will be touring in support of the album as well but before he gets around to doing that, Reason managed to put down his mic and/or marking pen and have a quick Q&A with RA.
- For those who haven't heard about Reason, tell us a little about your influences and how you got your start in hip hop.
I grew up in a middle class area. In the early 80's the notion of hip hop came to fore and there was a presence of breakdancing, tagging and graff in shelter shewds, and people spinning on their heads in the playgroud. That's when I got attracted to it. The whole influence comes not only from peers, but also from the culture we were emulating. It was something I embraced, and still continue to embrace but on a whole new perspective - a truly Australian perspective
- Why did you choose the title One Step Ahead?
I like to live my life where I like to keep on top of things - It's one of the things about life we find it hard to keep one step ahead. Now that I've gotten older, I have been able to deal with issues and different lifestyles more maturely. It's my motto for the way I like to live life.
- Do you find that a lot of Australian hip hop acts have to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to releasing their own music?
We're very fortunate. The Australian music community has become receptive to hip hop. We always need to stay one step ahead and not dwell on our own backyard. We need to look at the world in a wider perspective. If we continue to progress musically, our attitude stays positive and Australian hip hop artists will prosper.
- What is involved in making a track? Do you get sent beats from producers and find yourself freestyling over them or do you have a different approach?
There isn't a particular formula which I follow, one thing I do is try and keep a particular sound. Due to the fact that I'm doing shows and performances and performances around the country, I've been able to work with producers who make similar music to what I'm into. In Sydney I work with DJ Vame, Debris from the Hilltop Hoods in Adelaide and they've been producing tracks of highest quality. The finishing point of the track becomes the most difficult as that is where you need to determine if the vocals loud enough, is the sound OK? - just stuff that can't be done with MP3's.
- One Step Ahead is your third album, how much of a progression do you see in your music from the first two albums?
Lyrically I am still following a similar path - there's still social commentary and I try to be intelligent - there's always an Australian perspective. I try to make my music progressive with times and I deal with political, environmental and political issues. There's a few harder hip hop tunes in there to appeal to a partcular audience. I made an effort to try and appeal to a wider audience on this release so I'm talking about being an MC, a high school teacher and I dealt with indigenous issues as well.
- You're also a high school teacher, do you find it hard to make time for hip hop? How do you create a balance between the two?
I've been able to maintain a balance in the past 15 years both musically and profesionally. In the past few years I've put in a lot of hard work into my hip hop career. It was hard trying to find a balance between the two and there were times when I wanted to stop doing one or the other, but I found that a part of myself was lost as well - I always devote myself to making sure my students get the high marks as well as making sure I'm devoting myself to hip hop.
- Your album also has a few re-workings of other tracks. Why did you feel it was necessary to re-do these tracks for the new album?
I just felt a need to attract a wider audience - an audience who has never heard any of the previous albums. I wanted to make them available to the wider audience, at the same time enticing the old fans to continue to support me. It's just an added bonus to the complete package.
- The production styles on the album are quite varied. I hear jazzy hip hop in the vein of Premier, early 90's hardcore hip hop and a few b-boy beats thrown in. You obviously listen to a lot of hip hop. Do you listen to any other styles of music in your spare time?
Oh definitely. I'm a big supporter of 70's and 80's Australian music, an era where some of the best Australian bands have come from. I listen to a lot of Midnight Oil - I'm one of their biggest fans in the world! The Oils have shown me that someone can produce good music and still able to incorporate a strong message in their lyrics. I've seen them a lot of times in concert. I listen to a lot of reggae too - I'm pretty worldly in my knowledge of reggae.
- During the intro of your album, you mention ozhiphop.com. What impact has the website made on the local hip hop scene?
Basically, it's there to capitalise on the Australian hip hop market. It provides a constant 24 hour medium which we have access to and is run by true heads of the scene - Mass MC is the CEO of ozhiphop.com. The site conveys a message of commentary, news, reviews for Australian scene and beyond. It's the ultimate service for the net heads.
- Groups like Hilltop Hoods have now been put on high rotation on commercial stations like Nova and Triple J. Do you think the mainstream community is now finally starting to accept hip hop on a local level?
Definitely, it's amazing for us to see good friends making a success of it. Their music has always attracted larger crowds so to see their public reception doesn't surprise us. We are able to see who will be next.
- You've also been chosen to host the DMC battles around the country. What does being a DMC host involve?
Being a DMC host involves keeping the crowd hyped and ensuring they feel involved in the event. There's always a receptive crowd to the DJ and performers and I'm there to do giveaways and shoutouts for them. Basically don't let them feel too separated, make them feel like a part of the event and you've got to keep them on their toes.
- What similarities and differences do you find between DJ battles and MC battles?
There's a real competitive spirit - the true aussie grit that comes out is similar. The notion of hip hop attitude, ability and tenure in the scene, there a bit of heirarchy that can be seen between competitors. More often than not it's all very friendly, but when you're out there it's war!
- You're also going on the road to promote your album. What cities are you going to?
Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
- What can we expect to see on stage? DJs? freestyles?
Depending on which state, I'm doing it with Newsense and DJ Flagrant who are both doing the national tour. In Brisbane there'll be breakers, and in Melbourne there'll be live sax - with each state I'm going to introduce a different element but the crowd knows when Reason is in town it's a 100% full throttle full scale attack.