Not your regular rap 

Australian hip hop trio, Hilltop Hoods, step their game up on latest full-length, State of the Art

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"When we first tried to do it, everything was out of tune and sounded awful, and it got to this point during the project where we just went, 'fuck, this just isn't going to work!'" he recalled. "We almost gave it in, but then we figured out a few ways around it after six months."

The Hard Road: Restrung was a tough act to follow. But they seem to have hit the mark with their fifth studio album, State of the Art . It features an impressive range of tracks - some dark, some funny - but above all, their message is honest and inspired by life. And that's what it boils down to: these guys are dead set on representing life honestly. The name of the game for these avid hip hop lovers is quite simply to make music that they would enjoy listening to.

But it hasn't been easy to stay independent in today's industry. Over the years, they've turned down tempting offers from major labels, opting instead to stay true to their roots with the indie Australian hip-hop label Obese Records.

" The Hard Road title was about our musical career - it wasn't really about our upbringing as kids or anything like that," Smith explained. "The title was more about us doing the right thing with our careers and taking the long route to do it properly rather than the short, easy option."

On State of the Art , the Hoods decided to take a different approach, again.

"We wanted to get back to our original format of sample-driven hip hop, but we kind of took a lot of elements from the remix project and the album before that," he said.

They chose to incorporate different elements into their music, creating a fuller, more robust sound and feel with string quartets and other instrumental elements featured on the pared down 12-track list. All told, Smith describes the end product as their "most consistent piece."

"I think lyrically, it's probably a bit more confronting and darker, as well," Smith said.

The album has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from fans, many of whom actually expressed skepticism before the album was released.

"A lot of them expected us to release some commercial rubbish, and they sort of said that to us in e-mails or in forums," he chuckled.

Aside from their ambitious studio projects, the Hoods have also been hitting the road, hard. This past fall, they toured with East Coast Canadian hip hop artist, Classified, performing in clubs in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto.

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