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 exoticforeign 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
Im so ridiculous, I gotta compose this order/ Im
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/
African Way, The Dusty Foot Philosopher,
So come now dont 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/
KNaan, I Come
Prepared, Troubadour, 2009.
I first heard
about the Somali-Canadian MC KNaan 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 arent accurately
aware of the truth behind the Somali piracy brouhaha, they know enough to trace
where KNaans fiery passion
comes from. KNaan 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, KNaans 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, isnt exactly of the quality
and caliber many anticipated, thats just KNaans way of letting the world
know that he doesnt care If Rap Gets Jealous.
My confidence in KNaans music leads me
to believe that 20 years from now, if the coffin of Hip-Hop isnt officially
closed, his energy and excellence would be studied as a blueprint for MCing.
Ive been through itpassports, no visas/ Being so
broke, having to fill it with no reefer/
Babylon Breakdown, Manifestations,
Youre dead wrong for twisting out my history like
blunts in trees/ Like Public Enemy, Elvis aint meant sh** to me/
Sankofa (My History), Coming to America,
I first met
M.anifest at a communicators 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 ideafreestyle 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 roomyoung and not so
youngspell-bound and completely energized, pumped-up for the 6 more hours awaiting
M.anifests 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 dont 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 KNaan. 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 couldnt
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.
You suppress all my strategy/ You oppress every
part of me/ ... You dont care about my point of view/ If I die another will
work for you/
Asa, Jailer, Asa, 2008.
whos 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 youve never heard of Asa, walk away in shamehands-over-eyes. Now, Asa, the Paris-born, Nigeria-raised singer/songwriter isnt 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 Asas 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.
album was recently released on Naïve records, and the raving reviews
couldnt be more assuring for this young, genial genius-in-the-making.
Perhaps its my nationalistic nature
crying out, but I can see Asa number one on the billboard charts sometime soon.
Gotta be brave, money, and I reckon it all depends
on heart/ Or lack of it/ I figure its 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/ Its 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
Youve probably never heard of Tumi and the Volume, but, of course, youre the kind of fan who also thinks Hip-Hop was conceived in the mid 90s and Lil Wayne is a pioneer. Im not knockin you; I just think your horizon could use some expansion.
& The Volume (TATV). This Johannesburg, South Africa-based group is
hard to define. The lead character, Tumi, is a lyricist of unmatched skill, but
hes only 1/4th of TATV. Their biography isnt uncommon: A Jew, a South
African, and two Mozambiquans walk into a bar and TATV is formed. With that setup,
its 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 groups
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 internationalespecially
AmericanHip-Hop scene, and its 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 toas it guarantees increased
demand for equally entertaining artists on the continent.