One of the most succinct and articulate quotes on mainstream hip-hop over the past decade came from Erykah Badu and is doing the rounds on social media again. It goes a little something like this:
How y’all gonna stand by and let our music turn into pop techno cornball ass music?
Well Erykah, I don’t know, but I’m sure a lot of hip-hop heads agree. Since that comment was made, there’s been an undeniable expansion in the size of the ass and the frequency of the pop/techno/cornball qualities it dispassionately rides on. Thanks to the infectiousness of the hip-hop movement and its loyal fans and practitioners, though, there’s a global basement of good stuff to explore. In the States alone there’s a massive alternative scene so widely listened to it can hardly be called underground. If you want to look further afield, countries in Europe have for decades been churning out a spectrum of hip-hop varying internally and internationally.
In 2014, cast your eyes southwards if you want to reignite a love affair with the genre. Over the last few years, voices and characters from the African continent have been tagging their names in indelible ink on the walls of hip-hop. You may have heard of Die Antwoord and K’naan, but have you heard of Fokn Bois, Outspoken, or Dirty Paraffin?
Here’s an African hip-hop playlist for you in 2014.
How can you not love a sub-genre called “primer stove music”? That and the name of the outfit alone give an idea of the off-the-wall creativity Dirty Paraffin wields. Okmalumkoolkat and Dokta SpiZee are a South African duo “on a mission to cure attitudes of the young and old.” Their track “Papap Papap” sounds like the offspring of a video game in the early ’90s, a muffled and reworked Knight Rider soundtrack, and a conversation with a friend about their weekend plans.
Outspoken is a Zimbabwean hip-hop and spoken word artist and co-founder of the Magamba network, an organisation that promotes events, artists, and expression on the urban cultural scene in the country. His much-anticipated double album, Uncool and Overrated: God Before Anything, was released last year. The first disk is available here.
A symbol of rebellion against the regime of Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos, MCK has become a messenger for young, impoverished Angolans. A state rich in minerals and lacking in effective social distribution of wealth is home to a marginalised community of frustrated youth. MCK has attracted attention globally for his defence of social justice and attack on inequality and corruption.
If Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, calls you inspirational, there’s not much left for you to accomplish in the hip-hop industry. This is a reality for Tumi. His three albums with the backing band known as The Volume (made up of members of the group 340 ml) have impacted heavily on the live instrumental hip-hop scene. His latest offering is the 11-track LP Pick a Dream.
Fokn Bois clearly don’t give a fuck what you think of how they dress or talk, or the music they make. Similarly to Dirty Paraffin, Fokn Bois embrace strong local accents and language juxtaposed with minimalist synthesised beats. Bring in the self-deprecation and wild humour, and Fokn Bois are crafting truly innovative music — with some of their other tracks incorporating elements of afrobeat, blended with Ghanaian hip-life and hip-hop.
Blitz the Ambassador
Blitz was introduced to hip-hop via his brother’s copy of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. From the first track he recorded, Blitz was regarded highly in the Ghanaian hip-hop community. He then moved to the US, and his carrier has been gathering steam over the last few years. After being led astray by one too many record labels, Blitz set up his own, Embassy MVMT.
Y’en a Marre
Few artists or groups could claim to affect positive social change as directly as Y’en a Marre. Made up of emcees and journalists, this crew of activists was dedicated to ending the nepotistic rule of the Wade family in Senegal. Through door-to-door campaigns and the production of tracks demanding change, its members undoubtedly had an effect on their communities. The group remains active after the election that unseated Wade, and is an example of how Senegal has used the genre so productively to affect political and social change.
I may be slain for including Nneka in an African hip-hop compilation, but I think there’s a case to be argued. She’s as hip-hop as Erykah Badu, and whilst her style may class her more as a vocalist, her content is undeniably hip-hop. A positive, powerful, and hypnotic voice from Nigeria — this track is evidence.
Mixing soul, funk, and R&B with hip-hop, Baloji has made himself known to critics across Africa and Europe. Originally from the DRC and raised in Belgium, Baloji has spent a lot of time back in his country of birth and infused local sounds and language into his music.
Daara J Family
Those who came before. Daara J Family have been pedalling Senegalese and wider African hip-hop across the world for over a decade. This award-winning conscious hip-hop crew have shared the stage with the likes of Public Enemy, Wyclef, and Mos Def. They continue to lead Senegalese communities in the fight for social justice and are one of the pioneering and most recognised groups to emerge from the African hip-hop stable.