Musical trend as well as cultural force, hip-hop went global long before the worldwide web became such a handy tool in connecting people all around the world. Yet for all the globetrotting it’s done, hip-hop as a global phenomenon is rarely commemorated via compilations. In almost every hip-hop spot there are only two scenes that matter – the domestic one and the North American one. French and British rappers regularly attract their share of international attention, but on a global scale they remain exceptions.
On the double disc “Hip Hop World,” German world music label Lola’s World gathers over 30 tracks from various local scenes. Led by a handful of familiar faces of international hip-hop such as k-os from Canada, Leningrad-born and London-bred DJ Vadim, Mexico’s Control Machete, and Senegal’s Daara J, the sampler covers a lot of unknown territory.
Unlike the vast majority of compilations on the market, “Hip Hop World” discloses who picked the songs. That fact alone gives it immense credibility. The first CD is compiled by DJ Ralph ‘von’ Richthoven, radio journalist and club deejay, the second by Gülbahar Kültür, a deejane and writer of Turkish heritage. Both work for multicultural radio station Funkhaus Europa in Bremen, Germany. The ‘world music’ background of the project is noticeable as the grooves are lighter and the tempos faster than what we’re used to from mainstream rap music of the past decade.
Chile’s Tiro de Gracia (apparently one of the most influential rap acts in Latin America) set the pace with 2001’s “Sueños” (“Dreams”), an upbeat funk track that bolsters a quaint Shuggie Otis loop with live guitars and horns. Rapper Juan Sativo rides the beat with a suitably nimble flow, eager to express his ‘anxieties happily through the passionate global movement of rap’ and considering ‘hip-hop solely revolutionary, having nothing to do with a vanity fair or superficial statements’ (“Quiero poder feliz expresar mi angustia al pasional movimiento mundial del rap – hip-hop solo revolucionario, nada que ver con el mercado del glamour o posiciónes superfluas”).
Spanish is frequently heard on “Hip Hop World.” Andalusia’s La Mala Rodríguez, a guest on Nelly Furtado’s Spanish album “Mi Plan,” gets down and dirty with a bassline that is as hard as it is funky on “Fuerza” (“Power”). Another distinct female voice from the Iberian Peninsula is Shuga Wuga, whose “Ya No Tengo” (“I’m Out Of…”) pitches hollow vocals against a charming beat, which might just work for a song dealing with a breakup. Control Machete feature vocalist Randy Ebright of fellow Mexican crossover act Molotov on “Ahora” (“Now”), a streamlined mixture of everything from dub to electronica that can truly be called globalized music. The compilation’s oldest track comes courtesy of Mangu, a bilingual MC of Dominican origin who had considerable exposure thanks to a deal with Island Records. 1998’s “Calle Luna, Calle Sol” (“Moon Street, Sun Street”) is the Spanish version of his biggest hit, a rap reimagination of a classic Willie Colón/Héctor Lavoe tune. Pearl and Don Dinero disclose a background similar to Mangu’s when they rap, “Yo soy mitad Boricua, mitad Dominicano / reppin’ from NY to MIA con mi socio Cubano” on “Tenemos El Juego Lockeao” (“We Got the Game on Lock”). What comes as a surprise is that Pearl goes back as far as the early ’90s when he was a member of Bronx trio Mesanjarz of Funk.
While he does not rap in Spanish here, Don Diego was born in Buenos Aires before his family moved to Sweden, and his first steps in hip-hop were with a crew called Latin Flavor. His wonderfully contemplative “Fagnani (Min Far)” (“Fagnani (My Dad)”) is based on the same moody guitar loop once utilized by Nashiem Myrick for Mase’s “What You Want.” Also from Scandinavia, this time Denmark, are Alliancen with their ‘Dansk G-Funk.’ On “Okay” Jimmy Anthony’s talkbox has just a prominent place as the raps.
“Hip Hop World” brings to attention a particular aspect of global rap music – the confluence of cultures due to migration. Especially easily detectable when different languages are combined in the same song. “Ez Keç Im” (“I’m a Girl”), a track rooted in at least three different countries, mixes Kurdish raps and French crooning, as rapper Dezz Deniz and singer Beejay team up for an emancipatory number dressed in international ’90s pop rap attire. “Taxici” (“Taxi Driver”) is a German collabo between production duo Eastenders and rapper Sultan Tunç and carries a live feel that connects dots as far apart as Turkey and Jamaica. Arabesque and Nova Emad met up in Toronto, he being born there, she having migrated from Iraq, today following in the footsteps of her mother, Iraqi Armenian singer Seta Hagopian. Their club-ready duet “Desert Dessert,” set off by a “Ms. Fat Booty” reference, fully banks on Middle Eastern mystique. Makale, a Swiss crew with a Turkish background who has found an audience in both countries, make radio-friendly music as well, still “Sabahin Korkusu” may just be one of the best examples for the musical individuality of global hip-hop found on the two discs.
Without a doubt one of the most prolific artists presented here, Hard Kaur is one of the few whose career can be looked up online in English. Dubbed as ‘the first female Indian rapper,’ she got into rap after moving with her mother to England in the early ninetines, and by the late noughties her music started appearing in Bollywood movies. “Nobody Knows” is a thoughtful look at the woman in the mirror, benefiting from a sweet hook in one of those languages from the Subcontinent.
In short, the music on “Hip Hop World” stems from the most diverse backgrounds. From Emmanuel Jal’s experience as a “Warchild,” to the Caribbean roots of French ragga/rap artist Lord Kossity and the UK’s Speech Debelle (not necessarily resulting in the same kind of music). And then there are Daara J, who once claimed that rap was born in Africa and grew up in America (their ode to music, “Number One,” ironically giving off a strong Jamaican flavor).
Aside from Letoya’s Ludacris-assisted “Regret” and the Roots/Fall Out Boy collaboration “Birthday Girl,” who are both completely out of place, and the neglect of the South East (Japan, the Philippines, Australia/New Zealand), “Hip Hop World” provides a generous sample of what rap scenes worldwide have to offer. There’s the band project that embodies the idea of global urban music (Koalas Desperados, who feature UK forward thinkers Foreign Beggars on “Negro”), there’s the brave activist against female genital mutilation (Senegal’s Sister Fa). There are MC’s trying to come to terms with their role in the world (Disiz’ “Il Est Déjà Trop Tard” (“It’s Already Too Late”)), there are MC’s demanding more from their country and its officials than what they currently portray (Goin’ Through’s “Kalimera Ellada” (“Good Morning Greece”)). There’s material licensed from major players like Ninja Tune (One Self, a group that includes DJ Vadim and Yarah Bravo), there’s stuff so obscure only experts like the compilers would have heard of it. There are beats that appeared in commercials (k-os’ “The Love Song”), there are tracks that are only remotely indebted to hip-hop (Mandoza’s kwaito tune “Nkalakatha” (“The Big Boss”)). There’s folksy fare (Kwal’s “Elle”) and soulful boom bap (Vadim’s “That Lite”).
There are even songs one might catch at the Eurovision Song Contest as part of the East/South-East European pop bazaar. After all, Elena Risteska, singer on Snow Black’s “Come and Get Me,” represented Macedonia in 2006 in Athens. The exact background of rapper Snow Black is unknown, but his English is pretty solid, plus it reveals that Special Ed’s debut not only continues to inspire today’s biggest rap stars (Rick Ross), but even unknown mic-wielders residing in countries that didn’t even exist in ’89.
Hip-Hop from abroad remains a special interest. If this review inspires some readers to check out videos from Hard Kaur, Tiro De Gracia, Don Diego, Disiz, or, a personal favorite for quite some time now, the Austrian project “Grounding” by Langoth and Da Fonz, we’ve made some progress.