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African Artists: Stormin’ Into The Hip-Hop World

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African Artists: Stormin’ Into The Hip-Hop World

 

For some reason or another, there exists

the misconception that African artists cannot be authentically Hip-Hop, or that their sound is exotic—foreign to the

indigenous Hip-Hop rhythm. Of course, like all misconceptions, this is grounded

in falsehood. Any true Hip-Hop fan is aware of the contributions old school

Jamaican Reggae music made in the conception of this cultural phenomenon we

today take great pride in; but many might not be as enlightened about the

storytelling and rhetorical contests Hip-Hop adopted from its African ancestry. 

In spite of the passion and

pervasiveness of ignorance in our society, no greater repellent has been more

successful in pushing back against these claims than the blossoming of African

Hip-Hop artists on international soil.

Today, we look at four rising stars

currently making impressive headway in the cutthroat, semi-hostile world of

western Hip-Hop:

K’NAAN

“I’m so ridiculous, I gotta compose this order/ … I’m

sorta like a reporter strapped to a little recorder/ The border having an order

not to let me in/ In order for me not to cause a slaughter/”

—K’Naan, “The

African Way,” The Dusty Foot Philosopher,

2005.

“So come now don’t you try to play the hero/ Around

here we got pirates with torpedoes/ Alongside all the warlords and beardos/ The

only city Ni**as blacker than tuxedos/”

—K’Naan, “I Come

Prepared,” Troubadour, 2009.

I first heard

about the Somali-Canadian MC K’Naan in 2006. At the time, not many were aware

that the North African country from which this budding icon emerges was in

terrible shape, following decades of Western exploitation of its natural

resources, but circumstances have changed considerably recently.    

Today, though most aren’t accurately

aware of the truth behind the Somali piracy brouhaha, they know enough to trace

where K’Naan’s fiery passion

comes from. K’Naan is a musical jewel. And

he knows this. Tales of Beatles and Rolling Stones stardom swirl around him

wherever he goes. And he knows this.

He has in his hands the power to control his destiny, and carve out a legacy

that would arrest the attention of generations to come after him. And he knows this

In truth, much need not be written about

this great musician, for his reputation precedes him. When his debut studio

album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, was

released in 2005, K’Naan’s talent was exposed to the rest of the world. The

album was welcomed by most as a much needed hurricane of fresh air.    

And even though his sophomore project, Troubadour, isn’t exactly of the quality

and caliber many anticipated, that’s just K’Naan’s way of letting the world

know that he doesn’t care “If Rap Gets Jealous.”

My confidence in K’Naan’s music leads me

to believe that 20 years from now, if the coffin of Hip-Hop isn’t officially

closed, his energy and excellence would be studied as a blueprint for MCing. 

M.ANIFEST

“I’ve been through it—passports, no visas/ Being so

broke, having to fill it with no reefer/”

—M.anifest,

“Babylon Breakdown,” Manifestations,

2007.

“You’re dead wrong for twisting out my history like

blunts in trees/ Like Public Enemy, Elvis ain’t meant ‘sh** to me’/”

—M.anifest,

“Sankofa (My History),” Coming to America,

2009.

I first met

M.anifest at a communicator’s conference earlier this year. We had just been

through a few hours of intense training and exercise, and more work needed to

be done. Plus, lunch was still fresh in our bellies. Understandably, fatigue

had taken control of the room. (“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”)

So, “M dot” had an idea—freestyle and engage the audience in a way that borrows

from the Hip-Hop tradition of call-and-response. “Represent, what? Represent,

wh0?” he called, as the audience responded by repeating his words. And then, at

that most unsuspecting moment, the Ghanaian native ran through a 2 minute or so

freestyle that had me, as well as everyone else in the room—young and not so

young—spell-bound and completely energized, pumped-up for the 6 more hours awaiting

us.    

M.anifest’s performance was more

surprising, it seemed, because we had no idea an MC was present in our midst.

His humility had checked at the door any egos brought along with him from

Minneapolis, Minnesota. On that day, he was less M.anifest and more Kwame

Tsikata —a progressive communicator who trains non-for-profits around the

country in harnessing the power of social media to increase their efficiency.  

But don’t get it twisted: The Brother is

Dick Cheney-vicious on the mic.

In his few years as a performer, M.anifest has shared stage with many greats

including Brother Ali, Atmosphere, and K’Naan. The MC, once described by a

hometown Newspaper as “smart as Talib Kweli and as funky as Kanye West,” released

his first album, Manifestations,

independently in 2007. The critical acclaim with which it was welcomed couldn’t

have been more rewarding for this talented tenacious artist.  

He is currently touring various parts of

the country, and working toward the completion of a collaboration album with

Ugandan Hip-Hop heavyweight contender, Krukid. The African Rebel Movement (A.R.M.)

project is expected anytime soon, and with the great buzz surrounding it, the

dynamic duo can count on a successful outcome when it drops. Amongst his many

other devotions, M.anifest has his eyes set on finishing his long-awaited

sophomore release, Coming to America,

set temporarily for the fall.

ASA

“You suppress all my strategy/ You oppress every

part of me/ … You don’t care about my point of view/ If I die another will

work for you/”

—Asa, “Jailer,” Asa, 2008.

 “Tell me,

who’s responsible for what we teach our children?/ Is it the internet or the

stars on television?/ … So little Lucy turns sixteen and like the movie she’s

been seeing/ She has a lover in her daddy/ She can’t tell nobody till she makes

the evening news/”

—Asa, “Fire on

the Mountain,” Asa, 2008.

If you’ve never heard of Asa, walk away in shame—hands-over-eyes. Now, Asa, the Paris-born, Nigeria-raised singer/songwriter isn’t exactly what you would consider “Hip-Hop,” but her smooth, eclectic melody, fused with thought-arousing lyrics, is sure to seduce even the most back-pack, hardcore Hip-Hop aficionado. Asa, partly inspired by the late Hip-Hop legend J Dilla, is sure to secure the same amount of buzz in the Hip-Hop community that she has found in other genres like Soul.  

When she sings, you hear Bob Marley, you

hear Femi Kuti, you hear Nina Simone, you hear Mahalia Jackson. She is musical

dexterity and diversity in living color. 

In Asa’s music, what most strikes

the listener is her precision and accuracy. No note is hit imprecisely and no

chord is misplayed. She is a meticulous musician, who ingrains in every

listener a sense that popular music might not be facing the death rattles many,

including the writer of these words, had long predicted.    

Her self-titled

album was recently released on Naïve records, and the raving reviews

couldn’t be more assuring for this young, genial genius-in-the-making.  

Perhaps it’s my nationalistic nature

crying out, but I can see Asa number one on the billboard charts sometime soon.

  

TUMI AND THE VOLUME

“Gotta be brave, money, and I reckon it all depends

on heart/ Or lack of it/ I figure it’s hunting all the same/ Look in my eyes,

search for the story behind the pain/”

—Tumi and the

Volume, “The Story Behind the Pain,” Tumi

& The Volume, 2006.

“They bump into me/ And you/ It’s the South African

freed/ That wants us to be as cruel as the master had been/”

—Tumi and the

Volume, “I Came Home,” Music From My Good

Eye, 2007.

You’ve probably never heard of Tumi and the Volume, but, of course, you’re the kind of fan who also thinks Hip-Hop was conceived in the mid ‘90s and Lil’ Wayne is a pioneer. I’m not knockin’ you; I just think your horizon could use some expansion.

Enter: Tumi

& The Volume (TATV). This Johannesburg, South Africa-based group is

hard to define. The lead character, Tumi, is a lyricist of unmatched skill, but

he’s only 1/4th of TATV. Their biography isn’t uncommon: A Jew, a South

African, and two Mozambiquans walk into a bar and TATV is formed. With that setup,

it’s hard to box them in.   

Like TATV, most artists hate to be categorized

into limited niches, but, unlike TATV, not every artist is capable of mustering

the creativity needed to stimulate listeners in appreciable ways. Thankfully,

TATV, largely considered the South African version of The Roots, has found a

way to do just that. Though formed less than 7 years ago, the maturity put

forth on their self-titled debut album guarantees greatness for this group’s

future.

TATV is currently hard at work on a follow-up

studio album; so is Tumi, whose debut solo project, Music From My Good Eye, released 2007 on Motif Records, left no one doubting

his lyrical superiority.    

***

It remains to be seen just what impact

these emerging African stars would have on the international—especially

American—Hip-Hop scene, and it’s even more impossible to predict whether their sound would remain unpredictable, maintaining

and expanding the fan base nurtured hitherto; but, if past work is any

indication, the future is worth looking forward to—as it guarantees increased

demand for equally entertaining artists on the continent.   

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