In their songs all of these artists explore their identities within the context of the larger societies they live in. Subtextually, all of these artists are rapping about the ways in which their existence as sons and daughters of African parents have affected their ability to relate to those around them. All of these artists found a way to explore their experiences as 1st generation sons and daughters through rapping. Whether it is experiences of growing up, felling disconnected, or struggling through individual difficulties, these rappers use their lyrics to paint pictures of their lives and the difficulties that exist in navigating through the world.
The form itself is interesting to consider. Rap and Hip-Hop is a genre created by African Americans. Its spread has been universal where it has taken on many new audiences and purveyors, but it is still an important point to make. By rapping, all of these artists are choosing to communicate in an art form that has roots in America. This action is symbolic of their connection to the broader culture they were reared in. Principally, Skepta is a very visible simple of the Grime subgenre. He and his brother, JME, are of Nigerian heritage and grew up in London.
Also worth exploring is the language and dialects used by these artists. All of these artists rap in English and take on the rhyming conventions of their respective regional hip-hop scenes. This too shows an interesting intersection of connection between artists and the cultures they are members of. The embrace of rap and its language conventions also carries a great deal of irony for many of these artists. All of these artists are extremely versed in the genre and create brilliant pieces of art in which they explore their disconnection from culture and society. This irony of being accomplished within a major cultural touchstone but using it to explore how you feel alienated is seen most evidently in the music of Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator.
When listening to the selected songs by Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator its it interesting to note their levels of connection to their African heritage. In “SMUCKERS” Tyler, the Creator raps about not having his father in his life. He also raps alongside very recognizable American rappers in Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Earl Sweatshirt’s “Peanut” features him working through his feelings about the death of his father. The song ends with him connecting with his Uncle, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela, a South African musician. Their songs reconcile their Africans-ness and their lack of connection to the people in their lives that root them back to the continent.
Skepta and ENNY rap about the ways in which they have struggled through British culture. ENNY explicitly raps about contemporary British politics and references BREXIT and gentrification and its wider effects on her community. Skepta overly embraces his roots as a Black Londoner in “Shutdown”. This song helped to establish Grime as a subgenre and presented Skepta as a representative of a place and a sound. ENNY too is representative of a movement of women in Grime and has used her platform to rap about important issues of race and class. Across the pond, Maxo Kream talked about the struggles he and his family face while growing up. In a similar way, Maxo is reflecting an authentic 1st generation experience. He raps eloquently and gracefully about making it and rising above the trials of his youth. He also remarks on the changes in his life and the success he’s found in his career.
Mostly, these rappers are exploring what many rappers with American or British parents explore- the displacement of black people within the larger society and the actions undertaken by individuals in order to find some equitability. They also represent authentically the dissonant feelings of belonging and displacement of their identities. Whether it be experiences of disconnection with African family or connection with community, all of these rappers talk about the ways in which they are connected to their culture. Some rappers are even representatives of wider movements. Others tackle their identity and find catharsis and connection in their music. All of these artists use their music to explore their identities in novel and interesting ways.