Album Review: Vintage Modern by 360

Melbourne rapper 360 (promotional image)

360’s fourth studio album, Vintage Modern, is a deeply personal project that despite touching on several taboo topics, is ultimately a story of triumph over the demons of his past.

In 2008, Melbourne rapper 360 burst onto the Aussie hip-hop scene with a frolicsome debut album What You See Is What You Get.

Three years later, the man affectionately known as “Sixty” went double platinum in Australia with his second project Falling and Flying.

After winning an ARIA award for “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” in 2012 and opening for international hip-hop superstar Eminem in 2014, Sixty appeared – from the outside at least – to be in a place of relative contentment.

However, amid a national tour in 2015, the rapper overdosed on what he later estimated to be around 120 pills before a show, and disappeared from the spotlight to battle addiction and other personal turmoil.

Since then he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, achieved sobriety, and discovered a level of maturity that allowed him to change his outlook on life – and it’s these themes that are up for exploration in Vintage Modern, in a courageous and brutally honest fashion.

The most observable shift in Sixty’s thinking is in the track “Letters” – a theory of what the rapper would write to a younger version of himself, with a strong emphasis on how to treat women.

Do you think you would do the same thing?
When it comes to girls would you play the same game?
When a baby girl’s gonna take on your name?

He expresses guilt over using derogatory terms when discussing women and then delivers two lines that suggest his 31 year old current self possesses enough maturity to understand past failings: “I believe you become who you were / When you’re old, but you get it quite late”, revealing that, at age 31, he has grown to a level of maturity that allows him to see past wrongs.

Sixty addresses his former addiction to painkillers on the track “Drugs.” He places himself in the mind of painkillers, and envisions what they would say if the inanimate objects were able to think for themselves:

How many lives will I kill today?
A storm is brewin’, bound to see people hurt
I pretend I’m gonna take your guilt away
But all I do is make it even worse.

The track goes on to call drugs the worst killer in history but also alludes to the difficulty of stopping addiction to over-the-counter painkillers as they are readily accessible.

He explains the daily struggle he went through when fighting his own 90-pill-a-day fight:

Mind control, you can fight it but I’ll make you poor
My spirit’s gonna end up breakin’ yours
There’s no money but you wanna save some more
Every week though I’m gonna take it all.

Gut-wrenching, shocking, and intensely confronting, Sixty details the incomprehensible story of a close friend having to experience stillbirth on the track “Tiny Angel” which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the best work of his career.

360 shows off his incredible knack for vivid storytelling as he describes the events in brutal detail from the father’s perspective, laying out the couple’s difficulty in conceiving and the father’s euphoria in discovering he was going to have a son.

The song picks up tempo as the couple arrive at the hospital and the mother goes into labour. 360 explains the fathers awe he has for his partner: “I love you so much, baby, you’re so strong / I could never do this but you so easily can.”

Sixty then raps the heartbreaking lines:

It’s so amazin’ to see my son in the flesh
I can’t help but notice he hasn’t taken a breath, now
They put a little plastic thing in his mouth
While the doctor’s two fingers are slightly pumpin’ his chest down.

As the song reaches a tragic crescendo, the rapper’s voice begins to break as he appears to hold back tears. One of the most emotionally charged Australian hip-hop songs of the past decade closes out with the sound of a person weeping over the beat, offering no comfort; an extremely challenging listen that fans would be forgiven for hearing through just once.

With this big exception, the overall feel of the album is one of positivity and triumph, with a multitude of feel-good moments on tracks like “Way Out”, “Yesterday”, and “Admission” while still producing the humorous, punchy lines that he has previously been known for on the song “White Lies”.

Sixty employs several artists to sing on hooks, including Teischa, Hein Cooper and Sydnee Carter and has a song featuring fellow Aussie rappers Seth Sentry and PEZ.

But he also sings numerous choruses himself – another first for him – and while many other rappers are currently experimenting with layered drums and trap-style beats, Sixty’s gone the opposite way with this project towards an acoustic sounds that gives the album a more vulnerable and honest feel.

Vintage Modern is a concise and artistically creative album that pulls zero punches in graphically depicting 360’s tribulations with drug addiction, mental health and other taboo topics, while still manages to be about embracing life and all it has to offer. – Kyle Standfield (@KyleStandfield)