Editors' Notes “I knew hip-hop was going to explode in our country, but earlier on in our career, it was all rock ’n’ roll,” Bliss n Eso’s Eso—Max MacKinnon—tells Apple Music. “If you looked at the festivals, the headliners were all rock. We were the ‘and more’ right at the bottom.” The Sydney hip-hop group were early forerunners, paving the earliest roads for artists who would, as MacKinnon had predicted, blow up. Along with MC Bliss and DJ Izm—Jonathan Notley and Tarik Ejjamai, respectively—Eso became obsessed with artists like Eminem and Outkast who were “going against the grain of what was mainstream at the time”, MacKinnon says. “We were like, ‘These guys, they're a duo like us, they're from down south—well, we're really down south.’ There was a song featuring Raekwon, ‘Skew It on the Bar-B’. When we first started, it wasn’t cool to just talk about the things that you would do. To hear Outkast going, ‘’Kast keep it jumping like kangaroos, skew it on the barbie, we ain’t trying to lose,’ it was like they were making our words sound cool. So that kind of guided us into being expressive, being abstract.” While the group’s first two albums—2004’s Flowers in the Pavement and 2006’s Day of the Dog—introduced them as lively, if inconsistent, hip-hop party-starters, 2008’s Flying Colours established them as a more serious group. They found inspiration in unusual places, sampling Angus & Julia Stone's “Paper Aeroplane” on “Eye of the Storm”, testing out funk-meets-Latin melodies on “Happy in My Hoody” and showcasing a newfound depth on “The Sea Is Rising”, an orchestral call to arms that laments the pollution of the earth and misguided politics. Below, MacKinnon talks more about a few highlights on Flying Colours.

Woodstock 2008
“We were at the end of this album. We had all the songs ready, had the deadline to give it to the label, and then I was on a flight down to Melbourne, and Bliss was sitting next to me, and he had a new beat that Noam [Dishon], the producer of the album, had made. I said, ‘No, I don't want to hear it. We can't make any more songs. We've just got to stop now.’ He went, ‘Yeah, I know, but I think you want to hear it.’ I remember just looking out the window of the plane, at the clouds, and just hearing this beat. I thought I was riding a Harley through hell with rainbows coming out my ass. I said, ‘Okay. There's another song on the album.’ The sound of hip-hop I like is very weird. It's abstract and really hard to explain. So when I get together with producers, I'm like, ‘Imagine the sound of when the villain comes into the cartoon. Okay? Now grab that sound, smear some dirty drums over the top, then we're off.’ This is one of those things; this is when the bad guys come into the scene.’”

Eye of the Storm
“So that was originally Angus and Julia Stone. Bliss and myself were both really enjoying [‘Paper Aeroplane’]. I was like, ‘Well, why don't we try and do something over the top of it and then get it to Angus and Julia and then see how they feel about it? If they don't like it, no worries, no song.’ It came together very quickly and they loved it. The song was finished, but it didn't have any piano over it. And this is where M-Phazes came into the studio and he went, ‘Let me just jump on the piano real quick.’ I went, ‘Oh no, no, mate. Please. You know the saying. If it's not broken, don't fix it.’ And he's like, ‘Yeah. But if it doesn't have magic on it, you want to put some on.’ He went in there and I think it was just the first thing he did, it was three little notes at the end of every four bars. I went, ‘Stop it, you magician. Get him out. Lock it. Load it. Record it. Loop it. Get out. Don't touch it again." And that was the final touch on that track. It was the magical cherry.”

Bullet and a Target
“We were doing something together with an organisation called the Oaktree Foundation, led by Hugh Evans. We were going over to South Africa to really make ourselves aware of what was going on. We went to orphanages, we went to meet kids on the street, we were going to different schools. It was quite an emotional experience. We were like, ‘Let's write a song about this.’ We were going to wait until we got back to Australia, but we thought to ourselves, ‘Why wait? I mean, we're here, in the midst of it right now.’ So while we're trying to do all this other stuff—doing a talk with some kids, doing a workshop—then we’d start writing the verses. We made the film clip there too—guerrilla-style, filmed on location, in some of the most amazing areas.”

Destiny Lane
“This is just a pure example of how imaginative we can go. We could possibly talk about, you know, ‘Get up, wake up, have a shave, have a shower,’ or whatever we do in our day. But we build these abstract worlds where we can show you wild things that you probably can't do in the real world but we're going to do it in our world, in the music. We definitely painted the picture of us being these mythological poets that sat at the end of the street in this tall, dark castle. You don't hear songs like this anymore. When I first started listening to Wu-Tang in high school, I thought they were ninja superheroes. I thought they all had their superhero names, that the 36 Chambers was some unknown temple in China. It was amazing. It’s definitely Wu-Tang-inspired, Gravediggaz-inspired. It's just so spooky.”

Zion Bash
“The name: ‘Zion Bash’. So, I think everyone is getting a little closer to believing that The Matrix was a documentary and not a movie. We're living in the future now. It's getting a little scary. When the first Matrix came out, I was just like, ‘Oh my god, these guys are onto it. This is totally possible.’ And the place that the humans lived, the last resistance, was called Zion. Morpheus comes out to them, he's talking to all the people of Zion. He's like, ‘We're about to fight the robots.’ And boom, the music starts, the slow-motion grooving. The tribal energy. I was like, ‘Dude, we need to make a song. The song doesn't even have to be about it. Just name the song that. It's a party bash. It's a bash in Zion. Zion Bash.’”

The Sea Is Rising
“Three little Aussie boys predicting the future. Three little Aussie boys that got together, watched the documentary Zeitgeist and realised that the Reserve Bank is all a lie. It's a huge sham. The sea is rising. The politicians are lying. The government's behind it and does not care. This is all said. It was all said in this song in 2008. It's crazy. Not to blow smoke up our bottoms, but I feel like we were maybe just a little ahead of our time, because we weren't sitting around watching Fast & Furious movies. We were peeling back the layers of reality. All the issues that the world is facing now seem to be in this song. During the bushfires [in Australia], people were using quotes from ‘Sea Is Rising’ on their signs to protest. It was a little sad because it’s the same problem we were talking about in 2008, but it’s inspiring to think that people have resonated with a song of ours and wanted to use that to fight what's going on today.”

Gorilla Militia
“I'm not too sure if MCs these days are really aware of the artistic syllable practice that can go into rhyme making. I have found that a lot of hip-hop in the mainstream at the moment doesn't have a lot of it. You can find it all through Eminem's stuff, or André 3000. With ‘Gorilla Militia’, myself and Bliss said, ‘All right, how many [rhyming syllables] can you do?’ We were listening to a lot of great rappers doing compound rhyming. It was like two syllables on two syllables and four on four. But I believe this one was like 13 to 12, 13s on 13s, the whole way through. When I heard Bliss’ one, I went, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I think he even said, ‘I don't think you'll be able to keep going with mine because I've found all the words that rhyme, but you can start a new one.’ I thought, ‘Ooh, you cheeky dog. Let's see.’ So I actually just kept going with these 13s. It was this challenge to see how many we could do.”

$5 Steak
“We're in our twenties, we're party animals. The studio used to be quite a disco, and we'd be up to 4 or 5 in the morning working on songs. For ‘$5 Steak’, there was not a lyric written. It was taped absolutely on the fly, freestyle. I don't know where we were channelling this stuff from. It was like Otis Redding, James Brown, Motown stuff. I don’t think we even really rap on this track, we just went back and forth singing our hearts out. We did go back and cut things up and place things, but you just don't hear of songs these days being made like that. There's always some kind of blueprint or something written down. A chorus, a hook. That's what I really found fun about making Flying Colours—it was so experimental. We didn't stick to any blueprints. You make something that feels good to you, and hopefully they'll like it.”

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