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Megalomaniac: An interview with Discourse, the greatest Hip Hop artist of all time

20 Jul 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill
Megalomaniac: An interview with Discourse, the greatest Hip Hop artist of all time

For over a decade Henry Johnson has been a major force behind the scenes of the Melbourne Hip Hop industry. The multi-talented artist better known as 'Discourse' is about to officially step into the limelight with his highly anticipated debut solo album 'Megalomaniac'.

I sat down with Discourse over a bottle of German beer at his studio in Fitzroy to talk Megalomaniac, Full Clip and Crate Cartel.

To me you were co-responsible for shaping the look of Australian Hip Hop, particularly with your work with Heata as Full Clip. I think what you two did there really raised the quality standard for Australian Hip Hop clips. What happened to Full Clip?

Discourse: Life happened, man. Heata and I are still in contact, we're still friends. People just have their jobs and everything. I was quite involved with running Crate Cartel and Heata has his family to look after. He is now shooting TV shows and stuff. Doing rap videos versus filming some amazing shows like Wentworth; I know what I would choose.

You've got a lot of capabilities that come in handy when doing what you do. You can basically handle a whole project from start to finish without much input form others - cover artwork, video clips, beats, and you manage the label. What do you prefer doing? And do you sometimes wish you didn't know how to do some of those things and therefore wouldn't have to do them?

Discourse: The business side sucks, man - the accounting side of things. I don't want to do that shit. But I am making music with my friends, I'm in a business relationship with my friends, and I have to take that very seriously. I'm playing with people's money and that stuff is very stressful. It takes away from what we're doing creatively. I wasn't always running all the admin side. Geko was doing it at first, but it does take a toll over your creative output, that's for sure.

I love doing art direction. I look at it as the same level of creativity as making the music. I'm very fortunate to have very talented friends and we all apply our areas of expertise to what we do.

Geko once 'blamed' you in an interview for introducing vinyl to Crate Cartel, when everyone else seemed a bit unsure whether you as a label would be able to move them.

Discourse: It was shortly after the transition of who handled all the administrative side of things. We always wanted to press records, it was just a financial thing. It's really expensive to press records and it's a huge risk. Geko had gone out and made this EP with Ramsey, we were like: it's pretty dope, let's just press it up and see what happens. And we did it. It was after the CD-version had already come out and people seemed to want it.

We were like school children waiting for those first records to show up, you know? I was so excited, man - to see the artwork printed big... but, you know, the first test pressing we got was wrong. We had so much to learn about the processes involved. The way of delivering digital music these days is much more forgiving. When we started pressing vinyl we had to take things a bit more seriously about the way we produced music.

Why Vinyl? Why did you want your music on vinyl? Was it simply a business decision or do you have a deeper attachment to that particular medium and what it means to the Hip Hop culture?

Discourse: For me... vinyl was a direct reflection of the Hip Hop culture. I've now been collecting records since I was 14 years old, and the different genres that I have been exposed to and my general enjoyment of music has gone far beyond the Hip Hop culture these days.

Discourse and his record collection
Photo credit: Averie Harvey

You had a beat on Raven's first album in 2005. It's now 2016 and you are about to release 'Megalomaniac', your first solo album. How come there has never been a beat tape, and EP or anything, until now?

Discourse: I wasn't ready. I like working creatively in multiple mediums, it's not always just been beat making. I was going hard at making other people's music videos for a long time, or doing the artwork for the Nuffsaid covers 10 years ago... I was still making beats, but I wasn't focused, I wasn't dedicated. Also, things like, making myself use old MPC's, or feeling like I had to try and replicate some golden sound - it wasn't the most constructive way to focus on making beats. I was more focused on the idea of making beats. I had to really sit down and say: "Alright, I'm gonna do this".

As a producer you always have the choice to go all instrumental, or fill your tracks with features, or go halves. Why did you decide to have features on all tracks on your album? Is that how you approach beat making, do you make beats that are meant to be rapped on?

Discourse: I made the decision a long time ago that I was going to make a production album. And I told everyone I was going to make a production album. It was pretty much just doing what I told everyone I was going to do.

So, no instrumentals at all on this album?

Discourse: No, it's pretty much bars from start to finish.

A Megalomaniac is someone with an obsessive desire for power and control. Is that you? Is that Discourse?

Discourse: In a world of artists the concept of ego is very prominent. Everybody’s thing that they’re working on is the most important fucking thing in the world. I have a bit of a reputation to be an opinionated person, so I am really just taking the piss out of myself and the fact that we're all just a bunch of rappers who are selling 300 fucking records, in an industry that is going down the tube and everybody thinks they're so fucking important... when really, I'm just working a day job to make money and then come and throw it into this deep bottomless pit that is rap music.

Megalomaniac album artwork


It's a different perspective when you're involved in the industry, isn’t it? You see people brag about their achievements, be it media coverage or chart positions etc. But when you understand the numbers behind those rakings it often takes away a lot of the glory they are trying to sell you.

Discourse: Ahh man, everybody is viewing your success through a little window on their computer. You can put up whatever image you want. You can make yourself look successful if you want and judge yourself on many thumbs-up you got or how many views you've got on Youtube. You know, if that's your measure of success, then fuckin' god save us all.

AG from DITC is the feature artist of the second single you released from the album, 'Testimony'. Anyone out of DITC would have been a desirable feature. Why AG?

Discourse: I grew up listening to AG. One of my favourite rappers - one of the best to ever do it. I met him when he was in Melbourne, got his email and we continued the discussion from there. He was very professional to work with, and very wise.

Judging what I see you share around Facebook you seem to be big East Coast fiend. I don't think I've ever seen you share any West Coast tunes or clips.

Discourse: Ahhh man, I'm into a lot of West Coast artists. They are definitely all East Coast-sounding. I'm a big fan of Alchemist and Evidence, Ras Kass, even Low Profile, Dub C's first group. All sorts of stuff. Cypress... Muggs is awesome.


Discourse: I don't dislike ‘em by any means, you know, I have a couple of their records. But I grew up on New York [music].

Is there anything brand new coming out of New York that still excites you about the US East Coast?

Discourse: There is all sorts of stuff. Starvin B, who I've got on my record, he's murdering records at the moment, man. He's releasing so much music. He drops so many projects.

When you went to New York earlier this year, were you able to catch any live shows from the artist featuring on your album?

Discourse: I spent a bit of time at Goblin Studios while I was there, which is a bit of Queens hub. Heaps of dudes go there and record and they had a little jam while I was there. Yeah, so I got to see Starvin, Tash from the Alkaholiks was there, Psycho Les from the Beatnuts and yeah... Goblin studios is an ill spot.

In the 'The Martyr' clip you shot with Lazy Grey, he's rapping to camera and there is footage playing in his silhouette. I'm interested to know, when you plan something like that, how detailed is your plan? For example, did you already know what would be playing in the silhouette at different times of the clip when you planned it or how do you work?

Discourse: Funnily enough, I'm a strong believer in 'concept over technology'. I think a solid concept that you follow through will ultimately make a better product. It's funny because I haven't had the luxury to do this with any of the clips for this album. With the ‘The Martyr’ clip, I got a job in Brisbane 3 days before we did it. We organised a studio and we had to find a way where we could just shoot something to make work later. So I went home with all this green screen footage and the black background behind and had to find something to do with it. It's like working backwards. It's the most difficult way to work and it's almost the same as what I did in New York for the other clips. It was like 'shoot now, work it out later'. Madness, considering that this is the project that I am most anxious about.

So, if you had had a chance to work how you usually work, let's say the for the ‘Testimony’ clip, what would you have done?

Discourse: Well, it was never going to be like that... I filmed AG where AG was. It was like, he chose the spot and we went there, and we filmed it. I was pushed for time the whole time I was there. I think I was very lucky that our schedules aligned.

Any plans on clips with any of your label friends who feature on the album?

Discourse: I've got a few things organised. I've filmed something with Flu, it's just a matter of finishing it.

I saw you're planning an exhibition to launch the album?

Discourse: Yeah, I'm planning to have an exhibition at Union Heights about two weeks after the release date.

What can I expect to see there?

Discourse: It's just gonna be a collection of artworks, film clips and photos that I've done over the last 10 years. Starting roughly with the Nuffsaid covers and ending with the current record 'Megalomaniac'. There will be some Tornts and Bigfoot in there, some Pang Productions, some Crate Cartel and everything in between.

Will there be a launch celebration in concert format?

Discourse: We've got some sort of idea floating around in our heads. Whether it's realistic, we will find out. It's early stages yet.

Where will you be going next in terms of production?

Discourse: Who knows, man. I might be broken, I might be done... move on with my life, you know? [laughs] But nah, I can't imagine that it would sound the same as what I did this time, that's for sure. I'm definitely gonna do more stuff with my brother George. He plays a lot of the instrumentation on my album and he's done an album of his own. He really needs to release it, it's sick. It's beautiful music. I want to do a whole project with one person, you know?

Lastly, if told you you'd go deaf in 5 minutes, which song would you choose to listen to right now?

Discourse: I think I'd want to talk to my friends.

'Megalomaniac' will be releases through Crate Cartel on July 28th. It is available on vinyl, CD and as a digital download. Pre-order the album here.