Rene Dubos’ famous ‘Think globally, act locally’ maxim can be adopted to hip-hop as much as to any other just cause. In fact, hip-hop lends itself particularly well to both universal contemplation and hands-on experience, especially since for a majority of fans worldwide the United States are still the focal point of their musical orientation. A recent project that connects hip-hop on a global as well as on a local level is “Street Selection Volume One” by Swiss collective MXX. Residing in Renens near the Olympic Capital Lausanne, the members of MXX represent the region that gave the hip-hop world DJ Sebb, along with many other artists whose domestic output has been part of this reviewer’s hip-hop experience since the early ’90s.
Considering these circumstances, the opinions given in this review might be tainted by personal preferences. Then again, it is part of the RapReviews mission to make people discover the wonders of hip-hop, past and present, up close and far away, and some records are just bound to hit a bit closer to home, whether musically, historically, ideologically or geographically. Reflecting the global spread of hip-hop culture, “Street Selection Volume One” unites activists from Switzerland, France, the USA, Germany and Norway, most of which showed up in person and got involved beyond just dropping their 16’s.
Putting into effect the intro’s pledge to “unite the nations under the banner of hip-hop” (“unir les nations sous la baniÃ¨re du hip-hop”), “Live For Hip Hop” brings together Brooklyn’s Masta Ace and Boulogne’s Zoxea (of veteran French crew Sages PoÃ¨tes de la Rue). They share the bilingual hook, and individually rock producer MaÃ©n’s prolific beat whose mythical dimension fits the theme perfectly. Continuing his prolonged farewell tour, Ace spits:
“I do it for my cats in Brooklyn, my cats up in the Bronx, and
I do it for my cats in Compton
I do it for my cats in the Midwest, my niggas down in the Dirty
I do it for my cats over 30
I do it straight from the heart, I did it that way from the start
This is art and I’m just playin’ my part
Yeah, it’s the rap Picasso, the rap apostle
I do it like it’s gospel for cats that’s hostile
I do it for them cats on trial, cats in the bing
I’ma master this thing, I have to be king
If this song’s the last that I sing I won’t stand for failure
This for my niggas in Europe, Japan and Australia
I do it for them young punks traffickin’ junk
on the Jersey Turnpike with a half in the trunk
I do it for single moms and high school sing-alongs
When I sing a song, this is what I bring along
a passion for rap, and mashin’ a track
I do it for Carribean and African cats
I did it all when I had to do it before
I’ma do it for y’all till I can’t do it no more”
For those keeping track, “Live For Hip Hop” could pass as an update of the German GZA-featuring “Ich Lebe FÃ¼r Hip Hop” from 2K. Using their love for hip-hop as the common deminator, Ace and Zoxea create one of the most convincing cross-Atlantic collaborations to date, the latter echoing the former’s “That’s hip-hop, place nothin’ above it / and when you’re seein’ me do it, I do it cause I love it” with the French-accented English statement “I didn’t do that for the dough, I did it for the love of props.” A similar sentiment is expressed on the gently rolling “Part de Vie,” hosted by Afu-Ra, YÃ©na and Nostra, who represent those for whom hip-hop has become a part of life.
Maybe no other crew can attest to the fact that hip-hop runs deep in Europe better than BK’s Boot Camp Clik, who regularly tours the continent and has guested on local releases before. Producer Nestre lays down dark drums and spiraling organs for “Bucktown to Mars,” which pairs Black Moon’s Buckshot and Smif-N-Wessun with two members of newer French crews, Sako from Chiens de Paille and Alonzo from Psy4 de la Rime, both hailing from Marseille. While the Cocoa B’s matter-of-factly delivered menacing chorus fills in the blanks, the rappers themselves argue more in-depth, Buck’s soldierly spirit taking on a universal quality sandwiched between the two serious youngsters from the Mediterranean metropolis they call Planet Mars:
“They don’t play fair, I’m gettin’ grey hair
Should I stay here or should I leave?
Nah, I got another trick up my sleeve
Cause every night it’s a new hustle
No clown, no circus, but we do juggle
Flex the muscle, the bicep, the tricep
Like three ways to accept what I said
This is what it is minus the nonsense
If money is the root of all evil
then why am I in hell still broke with my people?
Where murder seem legal, but not for civilians
So we chameleon when the cops in the buildin’
some play the wall, some play the steps
Little man, keep your hand on the hip where the eight is kept”
Expect a humorous note to be injected whenever Ruck and Rock enter the stage, as is the case with the following “Baisse-Toi! Baisse-Toi!” that hits even harder with a simple, dry piano chord serving as the beat’s backbone. Heltah Skeltah’s trademark sarcasm aside, the track is a blast because the deep-throated duo meets its match in Marseille’s Veust Lyricist, whose voice drops even deeper.
Another hip-hop globetrotter is J-Ro, who with his fellow Alkaholiks has played many a gig overseas and in 2004 even moved to Sweden, opening up a shop in Malmo. He teams up with respected French rapper Dany Dan (another one of the Sages PoÃ¨tes de la Rue) for “L’Homme Fort,” over a euphorically thumping track boosted by rock guitars, multi-chord organs and DJ Sensay’s stop-n-go cutting. Taking the “Trans Europe Express,” Rogram isn’t about to slow down: “I’m in the EU searchin’ for that buried treasure / the only thing different is the sirens and the weather / work hard all year, never take a semester / so I burn big tree just to relieve the pressure.” Taking beat-induced euphoria even a step further, MaÃ©n’s “City of Gold” fires shots of symphonically aligned high-octane samples. California’s Rasco and Switzerland’s Greis do their thing, but it’s Germany’s Curse who steals the show with a passionate verse whose intricacy unfortunatley will be lost on those who don’t understand the language.
Rounding off the American appearances are Boston’s Edo.G and The Wake Up Show’s DJ Revolution guesting alongside Swiss German Tenor on the closing “Long Road,” and the underappreciated Timbo King, known to Wu-Tang fans as the Royal Fam lead man, and to European heads for his part in IAM’s classic “La Saga.” He joins Swiss rap vet EKR for “You Can’t Stop Us (Original Remix),” an international update of the latter’s “NÃ¼t Hebt Mich Zrugg.” Producers J-Fase and MaÃ©n go crazy with this one, constructing an anthemic, slightly ’80s pop rock-influenced track that would sit nicely on any DipSet release.
“Street Selection Volume One” is not the ultimate global hip-hop summit. However, it passes as the ‘International Hip Hop Compilation’ it is billed as. To attract an international audience outside of France and Switzerland, it’d have to contain less Swiss selections and more international collabos. Equally representative of the global radiation of rap music as of its local manifestations, musically “Street Selection” delivers the promised ‘Swiss Made’ quality, but tends to be caught up in uniformity. Lead by main producer MaÃ©n and supported by long-standing professionals Just One (mixing) and Dan Suter (mastering), the MXX team creates up-to-date East Coast burners in the tradition of Just Blaze’s sequenced soul (minus the funk), as well as more indie-tinged soundscapes. They’re especially good at spotting and singling out that uplifting element that evolves a track from a simple arrangement of bass, drums and assorted ingredients to a beat that makes you get up, pump your fist, nod your head, etc. Yet despite spectacular, anthemic elements, the beats sometimes have a certain mechanic appeal to them. Boldly claiming to be ‘one of the best producers pool in the hip hop game’ in the CD booklet, MXX has made the first step towards gaining international clout. At this point, it’s up to one of the locals to remind you, “Bitch please, these are the real Swiss beats.”
With high-profile guests from both sides of the Atlantic and raps in languages as different as French, English, German and Swiss-German, “Street Selection Volume One” is an exceptionally well executed release. What in other people’s hands would have ended up a simple, sloppy mixtape, presents itself as a polished product that was two years in the making. The album’s lingua franca may be French (which is why our rating remains incomplete), but a lack of understanding never stopped us non-Americans from appreciating hip-hop. If we did let it stop us, this shit would have never come this far.