Scott Burns - Fresh Beginnings
Local MC Scott Burns recently released his debut album, Day 1. Years in the making, the full-length represents a new era in the MC’s career. 3D’s Matt Unicomb finds out all about it.
In the latter months of 2008, New South Wales has seen its share of lyrically stimulating hip hop releases. Best described as the MC’s MC, Sydney native Scott Burns has neatly placed his own atop the steadily growing pile. Cutting his teeth in the once-fearsome local battle scene, and eventually cementing his place as one of our city’s most esteemed battle exports, the 26 year-old artist has since become a figurehead of the Sydney hip hop collective, as a member of record label/events co-op, LookUP, who have been accredited with being the driving force behind Sydney’s recent rebirth of live hip hop.
Earlier this month, the unveiling of Scott Burns’ debut, Day 1, was greeted with the kind of grass roots enthusiasm rarely seen in this country. Perhaps this year’s most anticipated local hip hop debut, the album surprised most with its multifaceted lyricism, well-rounded production, and gifted deliveries. Surprisingly, the battle mentality that has given Burns so much renown rarely shows, as jovial storytelling and good-natured party vibes takeover. “I think that the people close to me were surprised, as they thought it was going to be more battle orientated,” the MC slowly begins. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to make it more light-hearted - it just turned out that way. Now I’ve started writing for the second [album] I’m making a conscious decision to make it a lot darker – but it will probably end up in some completely different place.”
After spitting raps for close to a decade, and having not yet released an EP/LP, Scott Burns had a lot to get off his chest. Toying with ideas and concepts before even putting pen to paper seemed to occur on the regular, as did pre-beat brainstorming and song writing. “Some of the concepts [on the album] are old, and have been refined over time. I probably wrote about three albums worth of songs and ideas. Most of the songs have been written in the last six months.”
While unintentionally staying clear of the expected battle raps and punch lines, Burns consistently made an effort to exhibit his abilities as a songwriter. Above all, the “ability to communicate with people” stands; in order to effectively address a large non-hip hop audience, an MC must leave the token hip hop robustness behind. Profanities are kept to a minimal, the subject matter is left light hearted, and self-proclamation is non-existent. “The biggest motivation is the challenge to communicate with people,” he explains. “Writing battle verses and abstract material is great for hip hop heads to listen to and recognise skill, but if I’m serious about broadening my audience, and talking to more people, the only way to do that is by writing songs. I get excited when people say, ‘Hey, I don’t listen to much Aussie hip hop, but I like your CD.’ That’s what I’m about at the moment.”
Releasing a debut long-player after already being dubbed a ‘veteran’ comes with unpredictable territory. Mixed reactions are to be expected, as is a degree of scepticism and nonchalance, without the hype surrounding the release of an ‘early-20s newcomer.’ On the same token, an MC with Burns’ stature demands respect, and will be given it. “I would’ve liked to have something out two years ago, and would’ve liked to be working on my third album by now,” he says of the wait for his debut. “I’m still a debut artist, which is fine, but means I’ve had a lot of tracks and ideas never see the light of day, but it was good to take time and work on my style, and song writing skills.”
This ability to consistently hone lyrical and technical skills is something that keeps every MC motivated. Someone who has been in the game for 10 years would be close to their peak, and would be completely aware of the development of their poetic capacities. In the case of Scott Burns, an MC who has been ripping stages for 10 years, deliveries are, at the very least, more than capable. “My song writing is improving at a more rapid rate than the flows,” he states. “I’ve been working on new flows and techniques since day one, pardon the pun. The song writing is something that I’ve really only started learning in the past year. It’s more of an exciting frontier, because it’s all new, and there’s infinite shit you can do.”
These song-writing frontiers have given way to more than an album. Still in heat stage, The Leg Up, a LookUP initiative, aims to provide underexposed artists with a helping hand – exposure, prize money and recording facilities. After putting on three battle nights, the only in Sydney this year, the decision to take The Leg Up route, rather than continuing the battle focus, turned heads city-wide. Many saw, including Burns, the talent presented at Feeding Time as sub-par – a step-back from Sydney’s notorious battle days a few years previous.
“I don’t think it was up to standard,” Burns, who hosted two of the three battles, says of Feeding Time. “I think that there needs to some sort of new format, or new competition. Maybe people don’t care about battling anymore – maybe they care about song writing. It’s low standard because there’s a lack of new blood, there’s a lack of innovation. I think that there’s a lack of focus. I don’t think people view it as something they need to practise for - no one really aspires to be a good battle MC anymore. There’s no one out there that’s really good, who’s setting the benchmark.”
On a lighter note, the Sydney leg of Scott Burns’ national Day 1 album tour takes place this Saturday 29 November. All the guests from the album will be in support, and the LookUP Diner will be introduced. People expecting a straight-up barbeque – think again. “It’s more than a barbeque, let me tell you,” Burns notes. “It will be pretty hectic. I actually don’t know how crazy it’s gonna get. We’re setting our sights pretty high.”
WHO: Scott Burns
WHAT: Day 1 out through LookUP/album launch at Hermanns Bar/Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle/Spectrum
WHEN: Out now/Saturday 29 November/Sunday 14 December/Saturday 10 January