"I wanted something that people could move to, but I still wanted it to be lyrically interesting. Because that can happen, it can be both."
The success of Shirley's 2013 LP Surrender To Victory, produced by Cam Bluff, took no mercy on the Australian music bean-counter. But for his fourth album Hard Feelings, released late last year, the Elefant Traks MC was found in the company of new beatsmith Papertoy (aka Bevis Masson-Leach). Shirley admits it doesn't worry him to change things up, especially when it comes to producers.
"It's like a new girlfriend, she's pretty," laughs Shirley. "You go through the hoops and the honeymoon period and just as the honeymoon period is wearing off is when you're finishing the album. So it's the perfect relationship."
"You go through the hoops and the honeymoon period and just as the honeymoon period is wearing off is when you're finishing the album."
Shirley also prefers to give a helping hand to those on their come-up, hinting at perhaps lending Bluff a lift into higher reaches of acclaim — through Illy's Coming Down (ft Hilltop Hood) and the Hoods' Won't Let You Down ft Maverick Sabre — now offering the same launch to relative newcomer Masson-Leach, whose previous work with Thundamentals placed him in the path of Shirley's Hard Feelings LP.
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"It's funny you mention both those guys because what I like doing is — when I'm making a new album — is finding that new Australian producer who has the skills and an exciting new sound and has the hunger but hasn't quite made it," says Shirley. "I don't know how much my album had to do with that but I'm sure it couldn't have hurt. I like the process of giving those guys a platform and they bloody deserved it. Cam is amazing and Papertoy on doing Hard Feelings is a whole new feeling — a whole unique sound for Australia. He doesn't produce for anyone else I've heard in Australia."
Where Cam's production on Surrender captured a more boom-bap drill, Papertoy invited a club-friendly, more electronica-based backdrop for Shirley's verbal dexterity this time 'round. "Surrender To Victory is still pretty boom-bap and I feel like I've done that now, so I needed something that was really going to inspire me and that's what he gave me. That's what Papertoy brought to the table. And it made the writing more interesting, I think," admits Shirley, citing You Got Me as the best example of the pair's musical chemistry.
"I think [it] nails it. I wanted something that people could move to, but I still wanted it to be lyrically interesting. Because that can happen, it can be both. And I feel like You Got Me is probably the one that nails the sound and the mix that we were going for." Masson-Leach's style was exactly what Shirley had envisaged for the album.
"That's always what I'm looking for; something that is inspiring to me and what we really wanted to do is make Australian hip hop that can be played in a nightclub. That was part of my aim."
With his Hard Feelings tour making tracks this February, Shirley insists on an old school hip hop program. "[I'll do] the best rap show I can do," he says. "I am a bit of a purist and I think it's about the rapper and the DJ and how creative you can be with that."