Blitz the Ambassador

Blitz the Ambassador is a diasporic rapper. The Ghanaian born artists incorporates references about other locations in the “black world.” Through his lyrics he speaks about other African nations including Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt to name a few. His song, “Hello Africa” is a “call and response” to other African nations. Lyrics such as “Nagen def menga fils rollin in Dakar / Cruisin highway Cheikh Anta Diop to Accra / Ugali —- we party in Nairobi / All across the continent you know my people know me” evoke images of a Pan-African identity. Blitz the Ambassador goes beyond rapping about his home in Ghana. Instead, he appears to have a sense of pride while mentioning different cities and villages across Africa. His song, “All Around the World” provides references about members of the African diaspora who exist outside of Africa. The music video’s opening scene takes place in a capoiera circle in Bahia, Brazil. Other images include scenes from a race riot and a militarized police force. Both of these serve as powerful references to the black experience in the western hemisphere. Similar to Hello Africa, All Around the World also employs the names of people, cities, and events in different countries to highlight the black experience there.

Blitz the Ambassador’s song, “Ghana Black Stars” celebrates Ghana’s soccer team and the pride that it brings to being Ghanaian. The music video opens with scenes from a Ghanaian soccer victory. Both verses are spoken in one of Ghana’s indigenous languages (Twi?). He incorporates videos of children in Ghana playing games and people driving in a market place. Clips of large Ghanaian crowds cheering and celebrating something flash briefly between images of soccer players and children. Although I am not able to understand what is being said, it appears as though Blitz is implying the significance of Ghana’s soccer team and that many people take part in it. The images of children playing soccer, the large cheering crowds, and people in the market place selling soccer balls insinuates how significant this sport is to Ghana, its people, and their sense of nationalistic pride.

Femcees–Pushing back against the rock in a hard place

Female hip hop artists find themselves in a precarious situation.  They navigate a male dominated industry that profits from objectifying women’s bodies through sexualized images and lyrics. Their environment is misogynistic. The presence of a female emcee (“femcee”) is antithetical to mainstream hip hop norms. Because of this, female artists (particularly black female artists) are confronted by stereotypes that are often responsible for policing a woman’s body and sexuality.

In her song “Hold on,” Medusa confronts gender norms through her clothing, flow, and body language. The first thing I noticed about her was her country of origin. Medusa is from Tunisia where Islam is the national religion. Although Tunisia has granted more autonomy to its women than other Muslim-majority countries in its region, Tunisian women still battle with sexism, religious conservatism, and misogyny. When I clicked on the link to Hold On, I did not know what to expect. Medusa, however, challenged gender norms through her clothing. She wore a hat on top of her long, natural hair. She sported jeans and a blazer–a style that is perceived as both masculine and western. She also sported earrings which contrasted with her more masculine appearance. Her rap-flow can also be perceived as masculine. Whereas women are either musical props or expected to sing, Medusa came forward as a rapper. Her rhyming style reminded me of a few of the male rappers I’ve heard in the US. Lastly, the way Medusa used her position on the set and her body language also challenged gender norms. She was at the center of the music video. This is significant because most women in the hip hp industry are placed at the margins unless they are wanted for their bodies. Medusa was also one of the only people on the set for the majority of the video. All attention was on her as she freely expressed her body.

Little Simz’ song, “Dead Body”, is one of the most incredible examples of a femcee defying sexist stereotypes and individual/artistic expression. The title, Dead Body, is violent and eye-catching. Aggression and violence, in the Hip Hop industry, is usually expressed by men. Guns, assault, and violence are often conflated with hyper-masculinity. Because of this, few women in hip hop (or in the music industry in general) are expected to be as explicit about these themes as men. Calling a song Dead Body and writing lyrics such as “Do you want to see a dead body? Probably not” is a direct challenge to the norms that dictate what themes a woman can express.  Furthermore, the themes of this song are incredible. She begins by talking about the demons that torment her. She mentions the struggles of being a homeless drug addict on the street. The chorus is very compelling as well, “I just might sell my soul. Cause I don’t feel like I am a part of the world no more. Will anybody miss me when I’m gone? Will anybody miss me? Have you ever seen a dead body? Prolly not.” The most powerful aspect of this song is Little Simz’ artistic expression. She provides the audience with a window into the inner turmoil of her mind. She walks the audience through her addiction and her repudiation against religion. This, coupled with intense black and white imagery defies stereotypical norms about women emcees who are often expected to talk only about love and sex.

Black Noise Vs X Clan

My interest with South Africa’s oldest hip hop group, Black Noise, began when I read chapter seven of Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati. Here, the author explained the significance of the “colored” community in South African hip hop and the emergence of an Afrocentric blend of Khoi/San traditional music and hip hop–dubbed “Khoi-pop.” Black Noise was listed as being one of the pioneers of the genre.

My first experience listening to Black Noise was spent analyzing their song “Black is Back.” The title seems to fit with the Afrocentric quality present in the Khoi-pop genre. The beat begins with what almost sounds like a James Brown song (or some other 1970’s hit from Black America). A female vocalist is then accompanied by a fast/upbeat hip hop rhythm. The style reminds me of an early 2000’s fusion of US r&b and hip hop. After she finished singing the chorus one of the lead rappers started the first verse which was full of Afrocentric and Khoicentric references. Some of which included the following: “What it look like? Mad fingers on the deck/It’s all about the culture and the spiritual connects…The Khoisan is back and the change will be next.” In this verse the artist also made references to the transatlantic slave trade and the five elements of hip hop (deejaying, b-boying, graffiti, emceeing, and knowledge): “One love for my people in the hood/…The five elements always make you feel good/The black noise is back make your body want to move/nobody move, nobody gets hurt/For five centuries all my people get whipped/for five centuries.” Much of the rest of the song follows the same trend. Black Noise is an excellent example of Khoi-pop music and the problack identity it holds. In Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati discusses this identity preference as a protest against the “colored” identity and the discrimination coloreds face in South Africa.

To compare Black Noise to a group in the united states I decided to look for a group (rather than an individual) whose popularity began in the 80s/90s, and who also believed in Afrocentricity. X Clan was almost a perfect match. Their hit Heed the Word of the Brother serves as a good example. Although this song takes on a much more militant aesthetic (images of civil rights demonstrations, Harriet Tubman with a gun, and lyrics that are more aggressively Afrocentric) their cultural and political focus is similar to that of Black Noise. Heed the Word of the Brother contains the following lyrics: “Great blackness brought from the genesis/Won’t exist ‘til armageddon is a witness/The originals built the Earth.” And others such as “The key opens knowledge and plays as an antenna/Americana man, Africana brother/ Don’t forget the land cause the birth is from the mother.” X Clan, and other pro black groups during their day were landmarks in Hip hop’s social/political development. Like Black Noise, this development is centered in a Pan African/Pan Black identity.

Keur Gui

I was first introduced to Keur Gui in Chapter two of Dr. Clark’s book, Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati. Dr. Clark discussed the youth-led protest movement, Y’en a Marre, which was spearheaded by hip hop artists journalists, and other civic organizations whose mission was to register young people to vote and oppose the reelection of president Wade. Keur Gui, a Hip Hop duo, helped lead the resistance campaign. To the government, their music epitomizes rebellion. To the people, their lyrics are an urgent battle cry for freedom.

“Diogoufi,” a  Keur Gui single, challenges the assertion that economic progress has been made in Senegal since the election of its new president. Translated from Wolof, Diogoufi means “nothing has changed.” It is a sober portrayal of poverty and oppression.

The music video opens with a scene from a local market. The falling cords of a somber piano is heard in the background. A member of Keur Gui is seen in front of the store, passionately reading the news paper, and narrating in a French/Wolof blend. He begins by saying, “Même chat yi, Même chien yi. . .Même promesse électorale” which, from French, translates to: “Same cats, same dogs. . . Same electoral promises.” I don’t understand the rest of what was said (I also couldn’t find an English translation of the lyrics). However, by examining how the the music video utilized cut scenes from a village, the market place, and the Keur Gui member reading the news paper, I can assume the narrator is listing the broken promises made to the people by their government. At 1:30 the narration stops and another man sings the chorus Wolof which was briefly interrupted by a rap.

As structure, cadence, tone, melody, and rhyme-scheme is concerned, this song appears to stretch our understanding of Hip Hop. Most of Diogoufi is dialogue and melody. However, it still carries certain elements of Hip Hop culture which was masterfully blended with Wolof.

I wish I spoke Wolof and French so that I could understand what appears to be a powerfully crafted message. Diogoufi is a work of art. The singing is beautiful and the message seems poignant and timely.


My first Experience with African Hip Hop

As an African American, my experience with Hip Hop has been limited to the United States and (to a lesser extent) South America and the Caribbean. Until now I have never listened to an artist from an African country. I have always known Hip Hop to be a global phenomena–one which has been appropriated and transformed by cultures from around the world. However, I have had very little exposure to artists from outside the Americas.

The first African Hip Hop artist I listened to was Cassper Nyovest, a prominent artist and record producer in South Africa who is famous for his rpdocution in Hip Hop and Motswako music. The first song I heard from him was the English version of “Doc Shebeleza.” The cadence, tone, and artistic style was very reminiscent of modern American Hip Hop. Even the bombastic and egocentric undertones, which occasionally present themselves in American Hip Hop, were present in this song. English and an indigenous African language mixed creating an artistic experience wherein Nyovest skillfully transitions between languages. Because of this, I am not fully able to understand what is being said. However, in what I am able to understand, there are parallels between what Nyovest raps about and what American Hip Hop artists rap about; a “started from the bottom now I’m here” story, women, and being one of the best rappers in his country (or generation/city).

The next African Hip Hop artist I listened to was D’banj, a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and TV host. His song, Oliver Twist, borrows more from the “pop” genre than Cassper Nyovest’s Doc Shebeleza. The first thing I noticed about Oliver Twist was its use of autotune. The fast rhythm, heavy bass, repetition, and automated singing reminded me of Jamaican Dancehall music. It was difficult, however, to discern what D’banj was talking about in his song. It seemed as though he could have been talking about sex with lines like, “Hey why you come dey shakey, shakey, bum-bum.” At other times he spoke about American artists. “See I like Beyonce, but she dey with Jigga. I like Nikki, her yarsh is bigger.” His message wasn’t clear. However, I am assuming that the point of Oliver Twist was to produce a song for young people to dance to.