Australia's most popular rapper 360 strides into the Sneaker Freaker office, shakes a couple of hands, asks if he can steal a cigarette from one of our writers and slides back out the door. He gets straight on his phone and starts plotting with a colleague on how to handle his first PR "disaster". After a couple of years in the severe pop music spotlight, Matt Colwell (AKA 360, 60 or Uncle 60) is used to criticism and having his intentions misconstrued, so he's already got ideas on how he's going to flip the latest incident to his advantage. That's how he got this far, and he has come a long way – starting out rhyming with hardcore Aussie rappers, he gradually found his true musical self by embracing big hooks and smart storytelling. His first album, 2008's What You See Is What You Get cracked up a bunch of local listeners with clever punchline raps but didn't crack the charts, though it was the essential stepping stone to 2011's Falling & Flying. That second album spawned six hit songs, musically merged just about every genre that was hot at the time, got nominated for ten ARIA Awards, and refused to leave the top 100 for over a year. Today 360 is doing the interview rounds to hawk his new album, Utopia, which again gets super personal lyrically, tracing how he reached the top of the pops while feeling like he was languishing alone at the bottom, suffering from addiction. He's now nearly 28, sober, and confident he's made his best set of music yet.
We saw you were on Sunrise TV this week...
Yeah. We've got these packages for my tour coming up, they're a thousand bucks. You get to stand side of stage for the show, you get merch, signed vinyl, special 360 headphones and you get a selfie photo with me. So on the news this morning they had a story saying 360 is charging a thousand dollars for a selfie, which is quite funny. You can't pay for that publicity, so we're gonna take the piss out of it. We're gonna film and pretend a fan is coming up to me and asking me for a photo and me saying, 'Sure', then pulling out an EFTPOS machine.
Haha. Yeah, of course, the soft news media runs on headlines like, 'The thousand dollar selfie.' Plenty of people will only ever read that line and think it's the whole truth. You mentioned the headphone colab, what's the deal there?
Yeah we designed it ourselves. They're a model by Sol Republic. I've got a pair, they're fucking sick. I don't like Dre Beats, you can turn them really loud, way past the usual sound limit, but the sounds not as good as these ones.
True, Beats have got some brilliant branding going on. You had your biggest shows ever this year, playing the Rapture tour with Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. What did you learn from being on a tour with those guys
It was amazing, just awesome. I didn't meet Em. He's very reclusive. I got asked to send Eminem some songs when the tour was being planned. I sent him a bunch of my rap battles, because I knew he was from that background. So him knowing me and choosing me was enough, I don't need to meet him. Kendrick and J Cole were cool, they were hanging out, they're humble dudes. For me, I feel like Kendrick was the best performer I've ever seen. He made a 60,000 people show feel like there were only 200 there, he made it so intimate. It's so hard to do that in a stadium. He's calm and he controls everything so well.
Yeah, he definitely had the best full stadium mosh of the night. Are you going to apply anything you learned on the tour to your own shows coming up?
For sure. We're gonna try and step it up big time on the production level. It'll still be just me and a DJ, but we're gonna add all these other elements that'll make it really epic. I want to get some fire rain – it's this shit that drops from the ceiling and is really bright. It costs a fortune but it's so good.
Are you looking to film the tour for a DVD?
We haven't organised anything yet, but we want to do that – film backstage, all that kinda stuff.
I noticed on the cover of Utopia you're wearing an A$AP Worldwide jumper. You a fan?
Yeah, I just really like that jumper and I like A$AP Mob.
You've changed up your fashion over the years. You used to be a plain tee kind of guy, you've been popping a few tags lately. What brands are you feeling right now?
There's no certain brands that I love, but I love all the streetwear shit. I like wearing suits too. I've been getting into them lately. I'm nearly 28, I'm trying to class it up. I love jewellery. This is a vintage Chanel chain from back in the day that I managed to find in New York. This is a Diesel watch.
Yeah it is huge.
Do you read the time on it or still use your phone?
Nah I don't, it's not even on, man! It's just an accessory. The thing is I can't really see it anyway, I've got really bad vision.
Yeah, I've heard about this. What's the story there?
I'm half blind, I can't see anything out of my right eye, but my left eye is going down now too.
So your depth perception ain't too good?
Nah, man. It's tough to pour a glass of milk. And with steps, I can't see where the end of the step is. It's really annoying and it's getting worse. It's pretty scary, my left eye is really getting bad. I'm sure in the next ten years they'll have something to repair this shit. Technology is getting crazy now.
I hope so. A lot can change in a few years. You've changed a lot in a few years. How do you feel about the differences between your first songs and your latest?
If you listen to my first album, What You See Is What You Get, then you listen to Falling and Flying – there's a really dramatic change in the music style. Most of all though, you notice my rap voice is so different. There's not as a dramatic musical change from Falling and Flying to this one, but I think my raps and my songwriting has improved a lot. That's what I want people to really notice, that I've been working my ass off. I'm not trying to just stick to the same formula. I wanted to make something that was world class, like an international release, as least Aussie hip hop sounding as possible. There's nothing wrong with Aussie hip hop, but I just want to branch out.
As you've branched out, adapted your style and become more popular, the list of detractors has grown too. You cop a lot of trolls on your Facebook page, people trying to bring you down and saying a lot of mean stuff. Why do you think you're a target?
Man, I think, I don't know what it is about Australia. Once someone gets massively famous in Australia, people turn on them. I had people who were fans of Falling and Flying as it was going up, then there must be this one point it reaches where so many other people love it that they don't like it anymore. Because it's not their own thing anymore, they don't want everyone else to love what they love, but it's the same album. But they turn and start calling me a sellout. Fuck I hate that term. It's like the corniest word. I love the music I make, otherwise I wouldn't put it out. If I was making music that I didn't like I wouldn't be able to get on stage and perform it, I'd be cringing all the time. I came from a background of rapping with guys like Brad Strut and Lyrical Commission. They're hardcore rap, they're raw street rappers. So I was rapping like them, I was shaving my head and wanting to start fights with everyone – but that's just not me. I grew up with a really nice family and a good background. I was a happy kid, I wasn't an evil kid. So that's when I was a sellout, I wasn't being myself. The term 'sell out' means to compromise your integrity for money and do something you don't want to do just for the money – so does that mean every cunt working a nine to five is a sell out? The term is so loose.
It's jealousy isn't it.
It is. I've got what they want or I've got what they think I don't deserve.
When the hate first came did it hurt or surprise you?
It hurt at the start. I was partying a lot and going on benders, so my mind was pretty fragile. Certain things that were said got to me, but not at all anymore. I see it more as a reflection of their own issues. If you're happy and you love your life, you don't listen to some artist and hate what you hear and then go on their page and say, 'I hate you'. I don't do that. There's heaps of songs that I think are terrible but I don't go online and attack them for it. Let them do what they want. If you don't like it then just don't listen.
Yeah, if someone's really committed to the music they're making and believe in it, there's no bad music, it's just different.
Yes, it's just personal opinion. And if you think your personal opinion is what's right, then that's just arrogance. Because you feel a certain way about an artist and think someone else should too then you're arrogant as fuck, cos that's just your opinion and you should let them have theirs.
Definitely. Bliss N Eso recently splashed some cash on a Nas feature, it must have been a dream come true for them. What did you think of that?
I think it was cool. I think Nas killed it. Bliss N Eso are constantly getting their dreams working with artists they love. They've done heaps of internationals. Nas is a big deal. He's a king of hip hop.
If you could get a feature on a song with anyone, who would it be?
I'd love to work with Kanye, Drake, Jay-Z, ASAP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar. Definitely.
Who would make the beat?
Ooh. I like Lifted. He executive produced my album as well. He produced a couple of beats on my album and just oversaw the whole thing. The first song was initially just rap-chorus/rap-chorus. He took that and made a crazy outro and got a girl singer on it too. He adds things to the production, to songs. We flew him here for two weeks. It was amazing.
Lifted is into some heavier sounds, some trap kind of stuff, is there more of that sound on here along with the pop hits?
Yeah, I wanted to do some world class shit. There's a song on there called 'Eddie Jones'. It's like a hard southern song, I don't know if you'd call it trap but it's hard. It's kinda like an A$AP Ferg 'Shabba' thing, and I want to be the first dude to do that kind of sound here in Australia, because I know a lot of dudes will be doing it soon. There's some real personal shit on here, extremely personal, a massive variety of stuff. There's not much dance on this one compared to the last one, maybe like one song with a dance feel to it – the rest are hip hop. I know a lot of Australian rappers sound very Australian, I think mine sounds a bit neutral. I've been working hard, listening to a lot of those guys like the A$AP Mob, I switch up my flow a lot. I'm doing stuff that sounds similar to what they do. I'm not jacking them but I'm taking a lot of inspiration from them. I love how it sounds, but I wonder how the Americans will feel about it. Lifted loved it. The guy who runs G.O.O.D. Music, he loved it, he's Lifted's manager. 'Eddie Jones' is the most American current sounding hip hop song.
Do you think it could be successful in the States?
Maybe, man, I hope so. That's part of the plan. We want to get some American features on tracks, do an American version of the album. Like with 'Eddie Jones', instead of featuring Miracle, we'd feature someone else or a couple of rappers. I'm not gonna try and get Kendrick or anyone like that. Those dudes cost a lot of money. Like maybe a hundred grand to get a verse from. I want it to be organic. I don't want to just pop out of nowhere and have Kendrick. I want to get with someone like me, like Ab-Soul or Danny Brown.
A lot of fuss seems to be made in the industry as to how Australian rappers with Aussie accents, as in not Iggy Azalea, can be so popular here but never make an impact in America, but a British rapper has never truly crossed over to the US either. Meanwhile, Aussies are into both American and British rappers – do you think an Australian rapper could be successful in the UK? Is that on your radar?
Definitely. I just went overseas. We went to Europe first. Went to London, Berlin and Amsterdam. The person we met in London was keen to put the album out. Aussie artists who have done well in the UK often don't do well straight away. Often they start in Germany, get the traction there and then creep over to the UK. I reckon it could work there for sure, probably more so than America.
Yeah, I can see potential there. You worked with Daniel Johns on this album.
Yeah, we did a few songs. One of my favourites with him is a song called 'Purple Waterfall'.
It's about drank?
Yeah, it is. You can get it in Australia, kinda. It's not the same as in America but I still know a few people who use it – it'll get you fucked up. In Australia though all of the syrup with any codeine in it has massive amounts of paracetemol too and that's really bad for your liver. I know dudes who drank like five bottles a day of it, so it takes its toll. Anyway, I just could not write a chorus to it. The songs not just about drank, it's about opiates in general, it's about chasing the dragon, heroin, codeine, but mainly about drank. I hit him up and he emailed back saying, 'This is fucking awesome' and he wrote the chorus to it. He's got a solo record in the works. No one will expect it, it's amazing. Amazing. He's one of the best things ever to come out of Australia and this solo shit is just fucked. He has a tendency to go left of centre. It's weird then gets weirder. Fucking incredible. I feel like international people need to know, if they all heard him they'd know he's brilliant.
He could be so much bigger, it's like he didn't take his chances because he didn't want to.
He doesn't think of his music as a business, it's just him making music, which is cool. He could capitalise on certain things. My music that I make is all about the music but I also treat it like a business.
It's different with rap too, it's part of the culture.
Yeah for sure.
How influential is the business side on the music you create, though? If you could make an album and you were the only person to ever hear it, would it be this album?
I would probably go back and change the track listing now, because the way I have felt about certain songs has changed. My label might be like, 'Don't put this on, your fans won't like it, but I really want it. It's not about anyone else, the album is about if I like it and feel honest about it. I never thought about writing for radio with this album. It's see-through, you can't fake it, all this shit needs to be written from an honest place.