By Esther Werdiger
Not that I’m such a purist, but it’s sort of easy to be cynical about a Jewish girl from Sydney putting out a hip hop record. So when I heard Moments in Movement, Romy Hoffman’s first record as Macromantics, there was a little bit of novelty for me to get through. Not that I have any right to criticise this sort of thing –I mean, I only started listening to hip hop properly like, two years ago or something. And since then, it’s really only just been basics like Gang Starr and De La Soul, stuff that makes me expect a certain degree of authenticity from the music I listen to.
But hip-hop’s something that changes so much; it gets reborn time and time again. It’s a medium appropriated by all kinds of people from all kinds of places because inherently, its themes can appeal to anybody. So when you’ve got hip hop coming out of almost every country in the world, from just about every denomination and sassy girls like MIA coming out with this incredibly socially aware hip hop/reggaeton stuff, then the question remains: why not a Jewish girl from Sydney?
Raised in Sydney and attending a Jewish school, Hoffman wasn’t exactly born into hip-hop. Instead, she stumbled upon it during her stint as guitarist touring the U.S. with Ben Lee’s band, Noise Addict between 1995-96.
“It reminded me of punk rock, which I loved and still love. The way it was commenting on society and culture, the way it was making art of nothing and bringing people together,” she says. “It came from decay and destruction, it was immediate, self-conscious, contradictory, an imperfect art.”
Hoffman delivers her clambering lyrics like rapid spitfire, pausing only for a sharp intake of breath between rhymes. Even if she isn’t the most obvious candidate for hip-hop, Hoffman conforms to many hip-hop stereotypes. The inflated, tough persona, the liberal use of pop culture references and the blatant self-promotion and name-dropping feature strongly on just about every track.
As an MC, one of her strongest elements is her manner of delivery –as fast as the words might be coming out, everything is clearly enunciated in her thick Sydney accent, making it instantly recognizable. The first thing I thought when I heard her single Scorch, a snappy, motor-mouth rap delivered over twangy break beats and a looped vocal sample that almost sounds like an Israeli folk song, was how much she sounded like the Jewish kids from Sydney who I went to summer camp with.
Her collaboration with fellow-Australian rockers The Ground Components, show that Hoffman isn’t interesting in binding herself to any specific genre. Dark Side of Dallas is an ambitious track but unfortunately one of the record’s weaker moments. It’s patchy and complicated, and Hoffman’s rapping and singing over The Ground Components erratic music resolves itself rather murkily. The following track, Eerily Spookily is a complete contrast and return to form that shows that Hoffman is at her strongest when she’s on her own, letting her rhymes establish their own rhythm over beats that are happy to take the back seat. The loops on this track are one of my favourite on the record, they almost sound like they’ve been lifted from a horror film soundtrack –I can almost hear spiders scuttling inside a haunted house. They capture perfectly not only the sense of dark humour that pervades the entire record, but the sense of theatricality, of acting, of Hoffman adapting the Miss Macro persona to become whatever she feels like.
Sometimes it works but sometimes it doesn’t. If it took Hoffman some time to find hip hop, a medium she felt comfortable to express herself through, it might still take a little while longer until she figures out exactly what’s worth keeping and what’s best being left behind. In her own words, “immediate, self-conscious, contradictory and imperfect.”