MELBOURNE rapper 360 has set himself a fairly lofty goal with third album Utopia.
“I want to be the most successful rapper in Australia,” 360 says.
As soon as he verbalises it, he can visualise the headline, and the inevitable and oh-so-Australian backlash.
He’s no stranger to haters. As soon as his second album, Falling and Flying, went double platinum the abuse started online. People would deliberately join his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter to tell them how much they hated him, how he’d sold out.
“I’ve never had it in person,” 360, born Matt Colwell, says. “Not one person has ever come up to my face and said a negative thing.
“Occasionally driving past in a car and they recognise me and shout something out, but no one would ever come up to me and say what they say on the internet.”
For a while, once the singles Killer, Boys Like You, Run Alone and Child started to gain more traction, human nature meant the rapper was curious about what people were saying about him online.
“I used to read every single comment,” he says. “I was obsessive about it. But it just damages your soul. Now every now and again I’ll look at the (video) view count (on You Tube) but that’s it.
“I see the abuse, but you don’t want to stoop to that level and be abusive back. I used to. People will say the most brutal s— to get your attention or to make you bite back. Horrible stuff. But I want to be a bigger man about it.”
His friend, Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba, gave him tips on spreading love to those who spread hate.
“Someone will post something horrible on my Facebook page or Instagram and I’ll just say ‘Sorry you’re having a bad day, I hope it gets better’.”
Colwell, 27, has written a new song about it. “I understand the hate comes from me having what they want,” he says.
“I have the dream life, they don’t. So of course there’s going to be jealousy.
“People call me a sellout. It’s such a clinched term and people use it against anyone who’s successful.
“I love what I do, I haven’t compromised my integrity for money. So if people working 9 to 5 don’t enjoy their job, they just work to make money, does that mean they’re sellouts?
“I’ve been offered some crazy money deals to sponsor certain energy drinks where I’d have to wear their T-shirts. No way would I do that. I’ve never felt in my career that feeling of ‘I don’t want to do this, I’m only doing this for the money’. Never.”
The 360 of 2014 is very different from the man who released Falling and Flying. For starters, he’s completely sober. His instant fame (his height and tattoos means he’s hard to miss in public) saw him self-medicate to deal with the way his life suddenly changed.
“There were a lot of demons in my head and they were heightened when I was partying a lot,” Colwell says. “Life is better now. I almost had to hit rock bottom. It was kind of a blessing in disguise.
“There’s always positives in negative situations. I’m always thinking about that. The bullet that doesn’t kill you, you learn from. But you still have to keep your guard up.
“When I got sober some people would still encourage you to get high. That’s the lowest thing you can do. You realise who’s around you for the right reasons.”
It’s a topic covered on his next single Price Of Fame. “Fame isn’t what people think it is,” he says. “People think fame makes everything better and it doesn’t.”
The success has seen Colwell tick off a wishlist that once seemed farcical. The latest goal to cross off (previous ones include winning an ARIA and playing the Big Day Out and Lollapalooza in Chicago) is buying his own home in Melbourne, partly a reaction to a string of fans making their way into his apartment block, often in the middle of the night.
Last year he went cold turkey from a string of addictions, swapping them for a new habit of daily gym workouts and tattoos. He recently spent 20 hours getting full artwork done on his chest, and has plans to ink his entire body.
Half of Utopia was written messed up, the other half on what he calls “natural highs” of adrenalin.
“Three years ago if I could hear myself talking about natural highs and positivity I’d have probably laughed,” Colwell says.
“Back in the day I used to not give a f—. It was all about myself. I just didn’t care. But as soon as I realised I was a role model everything changed for me. It sounds cheesy and corny, but I actually, genuinely want to help change the world.
“I want to see other rappers grow, instead of glorifying negative s—. I won’t mention names but there’s a few who need to sharpen up their act like I did.”
An anti-suicide song called Closer that Colwell posted online saw fans contact him saying his words stopped them taking their lives.
“There have been a lot of messages like that,” Colwell says. “Literally hundreds. That can’t help but effect you, you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. I get a lot of hate, but being online is worth it when you see the positive effects you can have on people.”
It’s a theme touched on in new song Man On the Moon.
Colwell also points out how he “ignorantly” used homophobic slurs in his rap battles. He’s now banished them and has spoken out to his fans about how hurtful their words can be.
“I’ve noticed people on my Facebook page policing each other,” Colwell says. “It’s really positive. Someone will say ‘You’re still using homophobic words? Come on, grow up’. I’ve had people message me and say that me talking about homophobia has helped them come out as gay. It’s been really positive.”
He’s also called out racist behaviour in Australia and has said he doesn’t want racist or homophobic fans at his shows.
As well as receiving regular messages from depressed or suicidal fans, Colwell gets a first hand look at how much of an impact drug use is having on Australia’s youth through contact with them, in person and online.
“I wanted to talk about this on the album, because depression and suicide is still pretty taboo. It’s crazy that young kids are thinking about killing themselves. I get messages from 13 year old kids who are on ice. 13. Their brains are still developing. Society is heading downwards. I don’t think people who don’t do drugs understand how many people do drugs.”
Utopia sees the rapper work with some unlikely musicians — The Living End’s Chris Cheney and Silverchair’s Daniel Johns. The latter bonded so well with Colwell they wound up writing three songs together.
“It’s more of a risk for them than me,” he says. “They’re two icons of Australian music. And it’s not like I paid Daniel 20 grand to be on a song, it was totally organic. We got together and made the songs from scratch.”
He’s also taking risks. One song, Spiral Down (about ice addiction, mental illness and depression) sees Colwell sing two verses and rap one.
“A lot of people are gonna hate that s—,” he predicts. “I know that but the artists that I respect, like Drake, he wouldn’t care. So if I like it, it doesn’t matter. Stop thinking about the haters.”
Similarly, he’s worked on his rap technique on tracks like Purple Waterfalls.
“The negativity I got from people saying ‘He’s a pop star, not a rapper now’ drove me to show people that I can rap. I want to show that I understand how to rap, the technique of rap, the history of rap, even though I make pop songs as well.”
The rapper recently copped another beating when, after requests from fans on Facebook, he put together a $ 1000 VIP package for his upcoming tour. Only six packages are available for each show, offering soundcheck access, a seat side of stage, headphones, merchandise, vinyl and the chance to get a selfie with the rapper. The package was melted down to the sound bite of $ 1000 for a selfie.
“Obviously it was more than that, and obviously I don’t charge people to get a photo,” Colwell says.
“I take photos with fans every day, I love it. But I knew there’d be a backlash. That’s fine.
“The tall poppy syndrome is so prominent in Australia. In America they encourage success, they congratulate you for making money after working hard for it. In Australia people don’t like that.
“I realise I’m one of the most criticised acts in Australia, but that’s what you get for doing things for the first time. Falling and Flying was the first time a rapper in Australia had put some dance and pop stuff on their record. That opened the door for a lot of people, they didn’t have to go the typical Aussie hip hop route.”
Does he think he gets respect for opening doors?
“I don’t get any respect for that. I think I will in the future, but I don’t now. But this is the beginning. I’m going to have to get used to polarising people.”
■ Utopia (EMI) is out Friday
■ Utopia tour dates: Sept 3, UC Refectory, Canberra (18+); Sept 5, Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (Licensed All Ages); Sept 6 (afternoon), The Arena, Brisbane (U18s); Sept 6 (evening), The Arena, Brisbane (18+); Sept 10, Uni Bar, Hobart (18+); Sept 12, Festival Hall, Melbourne (Licensed All Ages); Sept 13, Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (Licensed All Ages); Sept 19, Metro City, Perth (18+); Sept 20, Astor Theatre, Perth (Licensed All Ages). More information and tickets at 360music.com.au