Meet the Adelaide Producer Weaving Classical Music into Hip Hop

Jamie Messenger may be a name you haven’t heard before, but his orchestral arrangements have featured in many chart-topping hits by Adelaide hip-hop trio Hilltop Hoods.

The Adelaide-raised multi-instrumentalist and composer is responsible for the entire orchestral and choral score for latest Hilltop Hoods album, Drinking From The Sun, Walking Under The Stars Restrung featuring the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Chamber Singers, and will be playing piano with the group backed by the orchestra and choir at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre this weekend. While Messenger has composed for and played keyboard with Hilltop Hoods on various tracks from their last four albums, the latest venture marks a triumph in his career with Drinking From The Sun, Walking Under The Stars Restrung debuting at number one on charts around the country. But where did the idea to fuse the urban sounds of hip-hop with classical instruments come from? “With classical music and instruments, there’s so much emotional depth you can get from the instruments, which is certainly why they’re so commonly used in film music. With hip-hop music within the production of the tracks, there’s often a lot of openness and sparseness and therefore room to embellish those parts and actually add a bit more warmth to the tracks,” Messenger says. “Often in hip-hop there’s loops, four-bar loops repeated over and over again, whereas when you’ve got a live orchestra playing, each time that four-bar phrase occurs it’s played slightly differently. I think that adds a whole new element to the tracks.” Messenger is not wrong – the album boasts hit lead singles Higher and 1955, both featuring emotive string arrangements alongside existing tracks including I Love It and Cosby Sweaterwith new life breathed into them. Drinking From The Sun, Walking Under The Stars Restrung is Messenger’s second orchestral album composed and arranged for the Hilltop Hoods, following on from Hard Road: Restrung in 2007. He states that the experience of recording the first album was entirely new to those involved and required a degree of guesswork, which was then refined for the second release. “We recorded the orchestra with a click-track [the first time], whereas this time we actually recorded with the backing tracks which included drum tracks and things which added the groove of the music. With the click-tracks, it’s hard to get the right feel and match up the exact groove of the drum track – that’s one of the main things we did differently this time.” While the process of learning the music itself was a simple task for the orchestra, mastering the feel of hip-hop as opposed to playing in a rigorous classical style proved to be the biggest challenge in the recording process. However, Messenger states that working with the ASO and the Chamber Singers was a phenomenal experience, and particularly lauded the professionalism of the choir who recorded their parts in “one really long session”. On top of being responsible for the mammoth task that is arranging an orchestra-backed hip-hop album, Messenger recently completed his work on the score for Supa Phresh, a new children’s series created by Melbourne animator Darcy Prendergast that is soon to air on Nickelodeon.He also composed the score for short film The Orchestra directed by Mikey Hill, which is soon to be screen at Oscar-qualifying film festival Aspen Shortfest. For added context, each character in the whimsical animated film is followed by a group of musicians playing a soundtrack to their lives. “I had to write and record all the music [the characters] are playing together at the same time, so they’ve either got to be harmonious together or clash – so it was quite an undertaking!” This weekend’s performance at the Entertainment Centre will mark the first home crowd show on the Restrung tour. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Messenger’s name – this Adelaide talent already has a hugely impressive back catalogue and is sure to achieve bigger and better things each year. The Hilltop Hoods will be playing the Adelaide Entertainment Centre alongside the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Hamish McKeich) and Adelaide Chamber Singers this Saturday, April 16. Ticket allocation has been exhausted.