I didn't realize that Scandinavians rapped until I reviewed "Pohectic: The Second Chapter" last week, which featured verses from Finnish rapper Stigg Dog. I certainty wouldn't have pegged Sweden as a hotbed for hip hop. All I know about Sweden is Abba, Roxette, Peter, Bjorn, and John, and tall blondes. Of course, times are changing, Europe is changing, and the world is getting a lot smaller. Kanye is rapping with Peter, Bjorn and John, and they in turn have come out with a mixtape called "Re-Living Thing" which has rappers like GZA and Bun B rapping over remixes of tracks off of "The Living Thing." If the king of dirty Texas rap can spit over an Swedish indie folk song, why shouldn't Swedes be able to kick some rhymes of their own?
Of course, Looptroop Rockers have been around since long before anyone knew who Kanye was. The group formed in 1991, and started releasing cassette-only albums in 1993. That makes them OGs and old men in a genre that does not value experience or longevity. The group, which changed its name to Looptroop Rockers instead of plain old Looptroop for this album, consists of rappers Promoe and Supreme, and DJ/Producer Embee. Although "Good Things" is my first exposure to the group, it is their fifth proper album this decade, following four years after 2005's "Fort Europa."
Musically, Looptroop Rockers follow the multi-culti approach of other European acts like Manu Chao and American rappers like Wyclef Jean. They embrace influences from a variety of countries and musical styles, from reggae to hip hop to traditional folk music to latin. Promoe himself is a big white rasta, and that reggae vibe works itself into a lot of the songs on the album. There is also touches of the Black Eyed Peas pop-rap sensibility, and Lyrics Born's feel-good party rap. "Building," the first single off of the album, works a beat around an accordion and skanking guitars. It begins with the group sing/rapping off key:
"Hey now I can't take another day
There's a feeling in the air and I can't find the worlds to say
Chaos in the building where we stay
We're living in a house that we can't wait to set aflame
Burn it down"
It's a party song, but there's a message buried within the lyrics. The song uses an apartment building as a metaphor for a neighborhood, a nation, the world, the system, whatever fits. "I ain't never seen my neighbors on the top floor," Promoe raps, "But judging from the car they drive, I know they're not poor." Burn it down, indeed. The lyrics might not be as overtly political as on their previous album"Fort Europa," but this is still party music for lefties. You can almost smell the hash mixed with tobacco. A lot of the lyrics deal with the paranoia and police controls that have been implemented in this Age of Terror. "Blood and Urine" is about Promoe getting pulled over by the cops and made to piss in a cup. "I ain't saying that I'm a model citizen but still I can't comprehend/this cup I'm pissing in/they sample my blood and saple my urine/so those above can control what I'm doing." "Trance Fat," featuring verses from Dilated Peoples Rakaa, deals with political prisoners. Even their take on the familar hip hop subject of life on the streets gets a more political bent. "That's the rhythm of the innercity gunshot/a loud scream another victim of no pity/and we an split the profit fiddy fiddy," they rap on "Rome", pointing the finger at:
"Corporate vandals [who] invade public space
If you wanna contribute better cover your face
Cus they got you on camera
No one can care anymore
We gotta give up our rights to fight this holy war"
Most of the non-U.S. hip hop I've heard has either been in the native tongue or native accent of the rappers. Looptroop Rockers rap exclusively in English, and their accents, delivery, and slang all sound American. When Promoe raps, "Yep, man, I'm tireder than a mu'fucka" on "Marinate," he sounds like he grew up nearer to Houston than Oslo. Not that they sound like they are imitating or copying American rappers: these boys are real deal. There is, however, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes this different from American hip hop. For one thing, the subject matter is much more tied to European leftist youth culture, in contrast to American hip hop culture, which tends to be less politicized. There are also elements to their sound that most American rappers wouldn't do. It's like the Earth-Two version of Batman or Superman; similar to the original in most ways, but changing up the story to better reflect the times and avoid getting painted into a corner.
In some ways, they stay truer to hip hop's roots than most contemporary American rappers. While the original five elements are a distant memory to some of the younger stateside MCs, graffiti culture is a large part of Looptroop's identity and lyrics. They make constant references to graffitti and tagging, and "Stains" is about their pride in their paint-stained clothes from bombing their neighborhood. Like the British blues musicians of the 60s, Looptroop Rockers have a reverence and respect for hip hop culture that is greater than some of the artists from hip hop's native land.
Most of all, they are making party music. They may deal with serious subject matter, but by and large the tracks on "Good Things" are fun. The production is lush and layered, mixing in a variety of sounds both famiiar and unusual. "Stains" mashes icy 80s synths with acoustic guitars; "Al Mazika" has a Middle Eastern flair; "Rome" has a snapping snare beat and xylophones, and is some of the grimiest, hardest underground hip hop you'll hear on any side of the Atlantic. When they bomb, they bomb spectacularly, like the cheesy dance rap of "Naive" and the terrible cover of Bon Jovi's "Living On A Prayer."
I hope I haven't sounded too ignorant or chauvinistic in my surprise that a foreign act could make such authentic music. Rest assured that I am ignorant no more, and listening to "Good Things" has been another humbling reminder that Americans don't have a monopoly on rap music. Looptroop Rockers take the blueprint of hip hop that was born and perfected in the United States and add their own spices and elements to it, creating a final product that stays true to the roots of both the music and the musicians. This is a vibrant, fun, thought-provoking album that proves just what a small world it is.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 25, 2009