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Premiere: 'The Verse Fleet' by Hugo The Poet

10 Nov 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill


Hugo Farrant - or Hugo the Poet by his stage name - has been busy lately and he kindly let us in on some of his new work and allowed us to premiere three of his latest projects. Over the next three weeks Hugo will be sharing three of his latest pieces with us, starting with this one: "The Verse Fleet".

As with all of his work, there is a great depth to this, so we thought we'd let the man himself elaborate on what inspired this clip, as well as quickly re-cap on his journey as an artist to date.

The first clip you're releasing with us is a new project titled "The Verse Fleet". Can you explain what's behind that title?

Hugo: Absolutely. "The Verse Fleet" is a play on words of "The First Fleet". So this is the first fleet of boats that came with British and Irish convicts to invade [what is now] Sydney and fundamentally start a bio-warfare on the civilisation of Australia, by bringing infectious disease and beginning to possess land. With that in mind, I was driving around Australia and was thinking "Imagine! Imagine if back in the day my ancestors, the British authorities, they realised what's here and they had decided that instead of sending convicts, or soldiers or resource prospectors, they just sent poets."

That's the narrative - that poets arrived instead. So, what I did was find out, at the time of the first fleet, who were the great poets of the age in Britain? Then I read some of their most famous poems and tried to imagine that, instead of being in Britain or North America, they just came here and wrote their famous pieces about this place. That's the concept. It's pretty heavy going, I know there is a lot to get through the door with that one. Sonically it's beautiful music blended by my DJ Treats. Visually, I took footage that I recorded on my journey and mashed it all together. So even if people might find the lyrics a little bit challenging, the music and the visual will take them on a journey.

Your trip went from Darwin straight down to Adelaide and then back up the East Coast to Queensland. What were your key learnings on this trip?

Hugo: Just what a beautiful power this land has, you know. It's a noble power. It's such a unique continent. There is no seismic activity here - there is no fault line. There's no new mountains forming, no new land being created. So it's this most ancient of lands, and on it, is the most ancient human culture - still. It's a wonderfully powerful thing. And, much like the land, the incredible power of the rightful owners is laying dormant. We think that it's all about grabbing resources from the ground, when really the value of the landscape and those resources - as they are, not interfered with - is so many times more valuable than what you can extract and process. This was my learning - the beauty, the fragility, but also the power of the land – and also the possibility of what a powerful alliance this country could have if it really engaged with and respected the original culture.

For your new projects, you have been working with video a lot. Is it just because that's where everything is going, or is it a medium that intrigues you and you are keen to explore more?

Hugo: My whole career in rap has been video-based. Me and my friends in England posted up some of the earliest rap parody videos on YouTube, when it first came out in 2006. And I grew up with music videos - I'm from the MTV generation. People reading this might not know, but the "M" in MTV actually stands for music. You can check the Wikipedia page, I'm not lying. [laughs]. So I've always associated music with video.

Like many others, I first heard about you as a freestyle rapper. Not too long ago, I briefly caught you just before one of the rounds at the freestyle games competition at Horse Bazaar a few months back - I believe you were up against Morganics. I got the impression that you were a bit tense, and I was quite surprised to be honest. Because when you freestyle on stage you are very confident and in control. How do you mentally prepare for a freestyle competition when you don't know what topic will be thrown at you?

Hugo: I do a lot of dialogue with my synapses. I just to tell them to be ready for anything. I really respect the art form, you know - I want to do my best. I'm not worried about the other people in the competition, I'm only worried about whether I will perform well. So when you see me before and I'm a little bit tense, it's more like nervous energy - like I'm trying to get ready.

Just stepping back through your past a bit... You played Robert Foster and co-wrote Juice Rap News for 6 years. Was it hard leaving that behind after 35 episodes?

Hugo: In the end, it was very much a relief, I have to say. You know, it was a very enjoyable project to be a part of. But in the end it became an overwhelming use of time - it didn't leave much room for anything else. Eventually, my muse got very frustrated and wanted to express itself in different ways. And also, through the work environment and schedule and everything, I noticed the beginning of some mental health issues. So I really needed to respect that and just duck out, even if I sacrificed a lot to leave.

The show had a decent following. Do you think the profile of the show helped raise your profile as a artist, just through being part of it?

Hugo: Sort of. I mean, it would be difficult to quantify. I'm definitely not doing the numbers that Rap News did. When I was in Rap News, it was very much a case of getting the show big, as opposed to myself. And, even though people might know my name, they didn't know me as an artist. So, a few people have come across and checked out my stuff. I can see feedback online that a lot of them are not interested in what I'm pursuing individually. And that's okay - it's very different. But, you know, some do enjoy what I'm putting out now. So, yeah, I'm definitely benefitting from it, where if I was just starting out now, I would have a much lesser audience.

I guess, even after having moved on from it, that body of work will always be there. It is there for those who are getting to know you through your new projects to find, when they do dig deeper.

Hugo: Precisely. It's something that I was a part of, I'm very proud of it, but I'm also excited to, kind of, almost be starting again. Not at square one, because as we established there is a trickle through and I've got a base [audience] level, but I've also got some new ideas coming for 2017. I've been digesting and percolating and I'm almost ready to drop something really new and fresh. I think people are going to be really happy. I've got big exciting plans.

A while ago I noticed a Facebook conversation you had with someone who commented on one of your more recent projects. His feedback to you was along the lines of "your rap news stuff was way better than this". There will always be that guy, I suppose, but I was surprised that you responded to it. Does it hurt you when people say things like that and try to de-value what you are doing now?

Hugo: My mood varies. Over the last year I've been kinda steadily improving my psychological state in that regard. So, when you remind me of that now, I think "I must have been in a bad mood that day". You know, some days, when people - no fault of their own - completely ignorant of the situation, said things like "the stuff that you're doing right now has no heart". That was one of the comments that really got to me. I thought "Wow, no heart...".

Yes, I think that was actually the one I was referring to. I remember that particular comment.

Hugo: Normally I do let it slide, but that one really got to me, because I'm like 'Wow, this is my heart. You're finally seeing my heart". So for you to tell me that this has no heart is ironic. People keep saying I "abandoned" them. And I just think, wow. You know, you don't know how much longer I stayed, doing this thing, than was - strictly speaking - healthy for me. I stayed a lot longer than I should have, because of you. I stayed to the point where I almost damaged myself permanently. When I responded to those comments it was mainly to let people know that I was dealing with some shit and I'd appreciate a bit of support. And people came through. Sometimes the internet is lovely like that. It was therapy. [laughs]

So, Donald Trump just got elected. Does something like that tempt you to want to do more political content?

Hugo: Interesting times, huh? Hillary was a truly awful candidate. The Democrats should have run with Bernie for sure. All the palatable ideas from Trump’s platform are Bernie’s – so if he follows through on some of them, it could be quite good! And a lot of the rest was great shock tactics to get the Alt-Right excited and the headlines flowing – which worked like a charm… and if he follows through on those, we’re in trouble [Laughs]. But yeah, as for me, I’ll definitely be doing some political based comedy material in 2017. A lot of it will revolve around improving the quality of debate we’re having online, removing filter bubbles, and generally advancing the evolution of humanity. So, real Laugh-A-Minute stuff [Laughs]

What can we expect from the next two clips you will be premiering with us?

Hugo: I hope everyone enjoyed this week’s clip! Next week we’ll be travelling into the medieval Catholic Afterlife as I continue my rap translation of Dante’s Inferno. And the week after will be a song dedicated to everyone who finds themselves mentally dwelling in dark places… a message of encouragement for them. Thanks so much for featuring my work on your awesome blog. Anyone who wants to support my work, I’m on Patreon and Facebook