Macromantics: Down Bottom

In today’s “Everyone listens to everything” age, finding Mobb Deep and Australian punk-pop group Noise Addict on someone's iPod isn't so unusual. In the mid-90s, though, bridging the gap between New York street rap and pop-friendly Aussie tunes took a bit more explaining. For 26-year old Noise Addict guitarist-turned-rapper Macromantics (born Romy Hoffman), growing up in Australia pre-Internet meant having to work extra hard to find out what was going on stateside.

The years spent studying her favorite rappers have led to Moments in Movement, her debut album featuring Sage Francis. On Movement, the rapper shows off a tongue-twisting rhyming ability that wouldn't be out of place on a Rhymesayers or MF Doom track. (On the title track, she rhymes, "My whole list is holistic/Kiss the mirror's sore forehead with gold lipstick/You're told this kid rolls bliss thick/Mic hold grip cold rips it with soul chicks dig.")

The rapper talked to from Melbourne about Australian Hip-Hop, her favorite female MCs and why she’s more Jean Grae than Lady Sov. So how does an Australian girl in an indie rock band discover underground Hip-Hop in the mid-90s?

Macromantics: In 1995, the world was a lot different then. Being in Australia, I stumbled across underground Hip-Hop, and it was a blessing. You didn’t have the Internet, so it was just a lot harder and Hip-Hop wasn’t yet raped to the extent that it would be years later. I was on tour, both in New York and all across America, and just seeing how in every city, Hip-Hop was lived and breathed and had an attitude and was social commentary. I just fell in love with that. I was very lucky as a 15-year old girl to see that up close and be really struck by it. Our manager at the time handed me [Enter the] 36 Chambers, Illmatic, The Infamous, and all those types of records. It was like he knew it would have a profound impact on me and it did. I came back home and wrote raps in my room for the next four or five years, recording lo-fi Hip-Hop songs in my bedroom. Before that trip, were you listening to Hip-Hop at all?

Macromantics: My sister is five years older than me and was into De La [Soul], Tribe Called Quest, [and others]. I really love and listen to that stuff, but it was the grimy, street stuff that really got to me. The telling tales, that narrator of self, and that contradiction of self mixed with trying to find a place in the world and thinking about all this bad stuff and corruption and just telling it like it was. It was this documentary aspect of Hip-Hop that really got to me and made me want to delve into it more. How popular is Hip-Hop in Australia?

Macromantics: Back then, it wasn’t popular at all and was really hard to come across. Even in Australia, what was happening locally, there wasn’t much. It was a battle for Hip-Hop groups to get shows and audiences at that time. But I remember when I first started performing in ‘98, ‘99, there was a really strong underground scene in Sydney. How has the local scene grown?

Macromantics: It’s big here, but it’s only over the last couple of years that Australians have recognized Australian Hip-Hop. It’s kinda a double-edged sword. There’s a lot of MCs here that rap in American accents because that was just automatic. And then if you’re not doing that, then you have to be really Australian in what you talk about, like BBQ and sports. So it’s still very young and immature a bit, but beautiful at the same time. They’re keeping it real and talking about what life is like for those people. But I just think my stuff goes beyond that. I don’t really fit in here. Australian Hip-Hop is quite purist. If you’re coming a bit different, it kinda throws them off. I’ve gotten a lot of love as well from the indie and punk rock kids. I’m kinda lucky that I fit in with both and but still f**k with both of their heads. Are you concerned with how you’ll be perceived in America?

Macromantics: I’m just curious to see how it goes in America. The U.S. is really important to me because it’s the mecca of Hip-Hop, and I take that seriously. It’s where Hip-Hop comes from and I do want to be regarded in its history and narrative. So for me, to be taken seriously in America is something I have to do. Last year saw a big decline in Hip-Hop sales in America. Does that worry you?

Macromantics: Not really. I’m coming from an indie perspective. I think people in the independent scene will buy the record. People download because there’s three good songs on a record and the rest is just filler. I feel like I made a good, solid album. I take the package seriously. I download a bit, but I still buy records. It’s an experiment with this record. I’ve got nothing to lose. Most American listeners aren’t used to hearing Australian accents in Hip-Hop. Do you think there’s a stigma attached to your voice that may make it difficult to cross over?

Macromantics: I don’t know if it’s a stigma, but I think the timing is quite impeccable. Lady [Sovereign] is #1 on TRL which was a shock, so I’m really lucky to be riding the wave of that. At the same time, I’m really scared of that because I don’t want people to be thinking I’m trying to be Lady Sov. I’m lucky that Americans are open to non-American Hip-Hop music at the moment. I don’t really see it as a hampering thing. I don’t know if my accent is hard to understand or be a barrier but I’m willing to find out and see.

Macromantics breaks down some of her personal female-fronted Hip-Hop classics:

Queen Latifah – “Princess of the Posse” (1989, Tommy Boy)

I love the minimal beat and her flow is so good. She’s got this abrupt flow without being too abrupt. It’s really strong and powerful but not in-your-face or rude or brash. It’s just really positive.

Apani B Fly featuring Lyric aka Sara Kana, WhatWhat a.k.a. Jean Grae, Yejide the Night Queen, Helixx & Pri of Anomalies, Heroine of Juggaknots, and Essence of Natural Elements - “Estragen” (1998, Q-Boro Sounds)

This had like every single girl MC on it. Jean Grae, the Anomalies girls etc. It represented a time in underground Hip-Hop when there was all these amazing girls in New York rapping. All of them gave top-notch verses and you just knew there was this healthy competition between them but it was all about positivity and being female. That track is awesome.

Jean Grae – “A-Alikes” (2004, Babygrande)

This Week was an amazing album. That self-loathing style with telling tales and talking about life fascinates me. She’s dark but has a light-hearted edge, so I see a bit of myself in Jean Grae. If there was someone I get compared to, it would probably be more her than Lady Sov. Her three verses are just “Wow. Wow. Wow.”

Lil’ Kim – “Lighters Up” (2005, Atlantic)

I really like Lil’ Kim, even though there’s some duds on her records. If she had cut off half of Naked Truth, it would’ve been a great album. But with “Lighters Up,” I thought she killed the verses on that. It really pumps me up.