To say that 2011 was a massive year for oz Hip Hop would be an understatement. The genre managed to grow to epic proportions, receiving radio play on both Triple J and commercial stations, integrated its way into more music festivals and saw larger crowds showing their support at gigs. Many attribute this to the likes of Drapht, 360 and Hilltop, but if you are a fan of the underground, you will know that one man is making waves of his own. This man is Mantra.
Mantra is an MC from Melbourne with a strong focus on lyrical content. His tracks have a unique style in which he weaves a lot of imagery and out-there references into his rhymes, while still keeping things slamming musically.
At the age of 16, Mantra started making music after his dad purchased music software. Initially, the software was supposed to kick start his father’s music career, but instead it kick started his. Mantra explains, “after a year or two of making beats I had this catalogue of music with no lyrics. A friend of mine suggested that he and I write some rhymes to spit over the beats and I just fell in love with rapping and writing songs. Pretty soon it was just about all I could think about so I decided I should get serious about it.”
On more than one occasion, Mantra has vocalised about not being a battle rapper, opting for building a reputation with writing instead. However, this isn’t due to adverse feelings about the format; he actually admires those who are good at it. While he wishes there was a deep and meaningful reason behind this, the truth is, he isn’t very good at it. “That said, the writing is what initially made me love making music, so it’s definitely the most important aspect for me.”
Lyrically, Mantra is known for crossing a wide array of subject matters; however he doesn’t have a favourite topic to write about. “I don’t like to restrict myself in terms of subject matter. What I choose to write about depends on how I’m feeling at the time, things that are happening in my life or around the world, the feel of the beat I’m writing to. There are so many things that influence what I talk about on a track that I could never really pick one as a favourite,”
Since singing with Obese, Mantra has dropped two studio albums. His debut Power of the Spoken and last years release Speaking Volumes, an album that has received accolades. “People really seem to be connecting with this album, which is great because I consider it to be my best work up to this point. I had a really strong vision for what I wanted the record to sound like and be like, and I think I achieved that, so having people connect to it is a great feeling,” he told.
If you copped a copy of Speaking Volumes, then chances are you have examined the awesome cover art done by Melbourne comic artist, Katie Houghton-Ward. “I met her a while back and loved her style so much I knew I had to get her to do a cover for me. So she did the cover illustration which was then coloured by Christian Krank, who did the Tank Girl comic series. The design and layout was done by April77. We wanted to keep the aesthetic quite similar to the first album, Power of the Spoken, so we incorporated many of the same design elements in the art for Speaking Volumes. I felt like the new record was an evolution, a step-up from the last one and I wanted the artwork to reflect that,” he explained.
When asked about Hip Hop’s role in society Mantra states, “music enriches society, makes society more vibrant, but that shouldn’t come with responsibilities. Artists should be free to create as they see fit. That said, Hip-Hop and all music has an undeniable ability to inspire, to comment, to uplift and to protest, so these opportunities should never be taken lightly.”
This view shines across into Mantra’s life when he is not making music, spending a lot of spare time working with young people. “I’m involved in a number of creative music projects with disadvantaged and at risk youth, doing mentoring and song-writing development with them” he stated.
After a few crazy years, Mantra is clearing his head and getting back in the studio. He is currently working on a few new projects at the moment, one being his next solo record, so keeps your eyes and ears open. He would also like to give thanks to everyone who’s been so incredibly supportive over the last few years, and big love to all Australian music makers and fans.
Check out Mantra’s album Speaking Volumes on iTunes now