In 1997, Hip-Hop in America was at its most controversial. There were deadly feuds between the East and the West Coast, which resulted in the tragic day of March 9, when the legendary Notorious B.I.G lost his life due to the chaotic territorial rap wars. While all of this was happening, a young Dutchman by the name of Thomas Gesthuizen, known as Juma 4 formed a website that would soon bring African Hip-Hop culture to the consciousness of many.
Africanhiphop.com consists of hip hop culture from 40 countries across the continent. The site has eight solid sections dedicated to African based content including a library, maps, forums, news articles, and extensive archives going back to the beginning of the sites creation. More recently, the site has joined forces with africanhiphopradio.com, a monthly webcast which is two hours in length featuring some of the hottest radio personalities from six African countries in languages such as Dutch, French and Swahili.
The site has received recognition from the mainstream outlets like The BBC.The Motherland. Rap music in Africa is just as prevalent there as it is in western civilization. The philosophy behind the website is that it is not important where you are from, it's where youre at... and Hip-Hop is our tool to reach our shared goals, and build on the revolutionary power of rap.
That being said, AllHiphop.com had the chance to talk with Juma 4 about the rising Hip-Hop culture in Africa, the socioeconomic system, and helping to put African Hip Hop on the map for global recognition.
AllHipHop.com: Im just looking through the website here. How often do you update the site?
Juma 4: Depends. Whenever I get the time. A few years ago, I had more free time. The past year, we really concentrated on africanhiphopradio.com and on building our non-profit organization.
AllHipHop.com: the African Hip Hop Foundation?
Juma 4: Yes, were an official foundation. The next step we want to take is to get some funding to take that organization to a next level, where I can spend some more time, and hopefully take a few [people] along with me to build the website and other related projects. We do try to make a difference among some of the organizations or media that come up now, which are like all western Non-African owned, and seem a bit disconnected with what is happening in the streets.
AllHipHop.com: What initially influenced you to create the website?
Juma 4: I think my early trips inspired me cause that is when I decided to take African studies and Swahili at university. I first traveled in Africa when I was 17, and Im now 32. I have been to different places [in Africa] -like 12 times or more, just lost count.
AllHipHop.com: I remember being told that based on the amount of hits, you can turn your website into a career? But I take it because you are not for profit thats not so?
Juma 4: Well, we can get sponsoring and then it could work out. We want to get development sponsoring first, and then when the site updates are more frequent we want to get a good corporate sponsor. And no alcohol or cigarette brands. We had an offer and turned that down.
AllHipHop.com: Would you like the site to be global?
Juma 4: Well, we have four board members one of whom is from Capetown, South Africa and living there... and we have a few people here in Amsterdam who do work already. We are making moves locally now. For instance, if 50 Cent comes here [we] get the interview. But meanwhile, we already had a team of people in different African countries for example on the radio and on the website. So all that is already fully functional.
AllHipHop.com: So is the radio station live to air?
Juma 4: The radio is web based only. We have two monthly shows done by presenters in six different countries though each presenter does have his or her own show on local radio in their own country - such as Lee in South Africa who is hugely popular on YFM radio, and Revoltod from Cape Verde.
AllHipHop.com: Give us some African Hip-Hop history
Juma 4: Nost African Hip-Hop communities were entirely isolated from each other until very recently. And until now, people in for example Senegal have absolutely no clue that in Tanzania. We have been trying to create more awareness so that they can be inspired by the fact that other people in similar circumstances as them, are doing it for themselves. So the mainstream doesnt have a lot of inspired lyrics and people are afraid to talk the truth, they rather not talk about poverty and problems in society cause they are afraid that is not what the people want to hear on the radio. And even if the people do want to hear that, the presenters and music programmers will tell them to 'soften their message.
AllHipHop.com: You have taken a keen interest in Senegal and Tanzania. Are those the countries that are most controversial? Or do you find rappers are the most talented in those countries?
Juma 4: I have been there, so I know the scene of these countries better than others.
Also, they are very active scenes. I dont think these countries are very controversial.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me what the rapper in all of Africa that has been the most controversial, what did they rap about?
Juma 4: I think every country has had its controversial rappers. One person I liked for speaking the truth was Mr. Devious from South Africa, who died last year. <br
AllHipHop.com: Really, so what did he say that really caught ears? What was the cause of his death? <br
Juma 4: he was talking about corporate lies. Devious was from the cape flats, the poor townships outside Capetown and initially, a lot of what he said was informed by what the youth on the streets were saying. Like, they had all these conspiracy theories about AIDS, and then he started to do self study and read books and get informed so that he could teach his audience. He was also working with youth in the prisons of Capetown. That guy touched so many people. He died because he was stabbed by some gangster youth in his township - the same kind of boys who he was trying to help in the prisons. <br
AllHipHop.com: Juma, a lot of people in western civilization call Africa the "Mother Land" and really believe that is the only place for us black North Americans to find the true meaning of civilization, but when I look through the site, the rappers, the people on there, it's really not that easy, it's almost as though us over here are superficial, what's you're take on that? <br
Juma 4: What I get from listening to some MCs - and much of the Afro-centric movement in Hip-Hop around 1989 - is that they create this image of Africa in their head... as a better place, more pure and true to the meaning of life than the place where they find themselves. And many of these MCs never actually made it out there. So its almost logical that.... that they don't get to see what life in modern day urban Africa is like. I don't pretend I know. because I have never lived my life there, but it's true that there is a lot of stereotyping - positive and negative - about Africa. <br
AllHipHop.com: So basically, North American's are kind of misinformed when it comes to what life in Africa is really like... <br
Juma 4: I think a lot of people around the world don't have a clue as to what life in Africa is like, and we can blame the media for that. It's true that there is a lot of stereotyping - positive and negative - about Africa, starting with the concept of Africa as a single society or country, instead of a continent which is more diverse than most other continents though. <br
AllHipHop.com: Has this site created cognition to mainstream rappers internationally? <br
Juma 4: Yes a couple. Tahir [a producer] for dead prez. Ty, who is UK's most popular rapper. Chuck D and KRS-One recently did shout outs for our radio, and they felt the connection. <br
AllHipHop.com: Yeah I definitely could see Tahir on this, he loves going to Africa, he's always mentioning it <br
Juma 4: Yeah, this one song [I'm a African] in which he describes Africa as a long lost love who he is about to see again for the first time in decades. <br
AllHipHop.com: Lastly, tell the readers something that you really feel they should know, besides what we have already talked about, something to really enlighten them. <br
Juma 4: The first African rap 12 was released in 1986 in Ivory Coast. And break dancing was around in Cape Town, South Africa in 1984. So Hip-Hop [in Africa] has been around. Another one is that the life stories of popular American MCs are very influential on young kids in Africa. [An] example: at some point a rebel army in Liberia was wearing 2pac t-shirts as uniforms. <br