“All hip hop is local”: Teddy Yo’s Gurageton

Teddy Yo’s 2007 hit single “Gurageton” serves as a great example of the phrase “all hip hop is local” and demonstrates how African emcees strive for hip hop authenticity.

Teddy Yo is a veteran to the Ethiopian hip hop scene; he is self-taught, began making music in the early 2000s, and continues to be a household name in Ethiopia. He has cited Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and Tupac as some of his greatest inspirations, and after hearing their songs for the first time, he was compelled to participate in hip hop culture. Gurageton is the product of this aspiration, as it was the song that launched Teddy Yo into the forefront of Ethiopian hip hop.

Gurageton is a fast-paced upbeat track that sounds somewhat reminiscent of faster dancehall or reggaeton beats. Although the beat and rhythm of the song sound less like that of a traditional hip hop song, other elements of the song align with elements of hip hop music and culture. First, Teddy Yo’s flow has the high word count and rhythm of a hip hop song. While many of his lyrics in Gurageton as well as the beat and imagery from the music video indicate that the song was made for parties, some of his lyrics indicate deeper meaning. For example, in his final verse, he calls for people to spread hip hop and he places himself within the culture by invoking his own name as the name of hip hop. In terms of the video imagery, he evokes call and response, which is reminiscent of old school hip hop. The dancing in the video that emphasizes shoulder movements could be a nod to Eskista, which has even been linked to more recent hip hop dances in the US.

Arguably the most interesting part about this song is the local influence that Teddy Yo incorporates into the beat. Teddy Yo utilized traditional drum beats of the Gurage ethnic group, which originates from Southern Ethiopia. Not only is the regional sound apparent in the song, but the link is even evident in the song’s name. Localizing hip hop through language, lyrics, and beat, as Teddy Yo has done, is the culmination of the struggle towards authenticity that so many African artists face. This beat creation showcases the intersection between representation and fusion of different music genres that characterized the development of American hip hop, and epitomizes the phrase “all hip hop is local”.  

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