The Writah Raps

Hip-hop is as much a literary genre as it is a musical one, and as a means of storytelling the medium of hip-hop has lent its ability to convey meaning to both traditional and modern aspects of African society. And with a mic as his pen, P.P.S. the Writah crafts lyrical masterpieces that connect Senegal’s proud traditional history with it’s push toward the future. Continue reading “The Writah Raps”

Excuse my Wolof

My last article discussed Youssoupha’s album NGRTD. While reading the lyrics of his song entourage, I realized Youssoupha discussed many of the same themes MC Solaar touches on in his early albums produced some 20 years ago. While you could write a novel on the thematic similarities of African hip hop produced two decades apart, there was one distinguishing factor of Youssoupha’s newer music that, hopefully, is indicative of improvements in African communities at home and abroad: the in-your-face nature of NGRTD across a top-5 album in the French music charts. Continue reading “Excuse my Wolof”

Dakar’s Female MCs and the Power of the Cyp(her)

In a hip-hop scene as developed and competitive as Senegal’s, the cypher continues to act as a platform by which talented, young rappers make their debut. The fast-paced intensity of a hip-hop cypher is the perfect way for new artists on the scene to prove to their worth to the public. And in a society where women must give it their all to make an impression in the musical community, the cypher allows female MCs to show everyone that they are just as lyrically passionate and complex than their male counterparts— if not more. Continue reading “Dakar’s Female MCs and the Power of the Cyp(her)”

Toussa, or all-inclusive

Who is Astou Gaye, and how did she set the contemporary precedent for aspiring female rappers in the banlieus surrounding Dakar?

Better known by her stage name Toussa Senerap, Astou began her career calling out a highly-patriarchal Senegalese culture that withholds respect for women in both marriage and the hip-hop industry. There is no questioning Astou’s commitment to overturning society’s status-quo: her first experience with rap was in 50 Cent’s international banger, “In da Club” – a testament to selling drugs and pimping women that Astou transformed into a struggle for women’s emancipation. Continue reading “Toussa, or all-inclusive”

L’argot de Sénégal

“Senegal slang” signifies more than its catchy nature would insinuate.

It is impossible to watch this “Y’en a marre” (enough is enough)  video without recollecting Golden-Age American hip hop artists discuss social progression some 20 to 30 years after the civil rights movement. The video begins with Senegalese rapper Djily Baghdad discussing crumbling social and political institutions contemporary with the 2011 Arab Spring movements. Continue reading “L’argot de Sénégal”

On the Other Side of the Tracks with Gokh-Bi System’s “Pikine”

New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit— name a city in America and there’s sure to be artists that represent the vibrant hip-hop culture that inhabits it. The same holds true across the Atlantic in the West African nation of Senegal, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another city that embodies hip-hop culture as much as the capital city of Dakar. Continue reading “On the Other Side of the Tracks with Gokh-Bi System’s “Pikine””

MHD en sa Patrie

Mohammed Sylla (MHD) performed in front of thousands of Senegalese in Dakar in December 2017. This concert, staged in front of the 49-meter-tall African Renaissance Monument,  united the international phenomenon MHD with domestically-popular Senegalese hip-hop artists in an evening ripe with music, dance, and humor.  Continue reading “MHD en sa Patrie”

Ghana & Senegal: Letters to the People

There are many types of hip hop songs: some sample old songs, some create their own back track, some tell a story and some send a message. In many African countries, the voice that hip hop artists have due to their popularity has been used to speak to it’s community of listeners (typically the youth) to send positive and political messages. Protest and Combat type hip hop songs have been ways of stressing an issue that is affecting the lives of many. An example of this is the Senegalese group named  Y’en a Marre  who took their talents and urged the large population of young people to vote against corrupt actions that were taking place by the government. Besides these common characteristics, there are also songs with a message to the people that are simply enlightening.

Ghanaian hip hop/ hiplife artist m3nsa has a song that speaks to his audience in a way to reassure them about life’s doubts called No One Knows. The video begins with a young girl in a yellow rain jacket and red boots lip-syncing to the song No One Knows by Asa about the uncertainties in life with a big smile on her face. M3nsa then enters with his positive verses. The big picture that the entire music video as well as his lyrics were trying to convey was that despite the constant fear of the unknown, it’s okay to not know what will happen, just trust in yourself and live each day one step at a time. This song’s message and visual imagery conveys positive energy and reassurance to it’s audience.

m3nsa

There are many hip hop songs that are similar to M3nsa’s that bring comfort to a common fear that many have. On the other hand, there are times when an artist makes a song that comforts an audience who are experience a certain situation. The Senegalese hip hop group Wagëblë has the perfect example for that with their song titled Message of Hope. This song is not in English but there are many elements within it (and obviously the title) that are clear signs of a song with a message. The first thing the audience sees and hears  is a clip from a news report explaining how despite the great poverty in Senegal, there are young musicians who are developing a “unique brand of hip hop, sending a message of hope to the country’s younger generation”. This sets the mood and theme for the video. Wagëblë are those artists and they want to bring that message of hope. Throughout the music video you see them performing live which shows not only their connection with their fans but their influence. There isn’t much imagery or any theatrics in this video like in m3nsa’s but I believe it’s for the simple goal of the audience having their focus on the lyrics. This is also hinted during part of the video that only show their lips mouthing the lyrics.

wageble

Both these songs come from different artists from different countries and yet despite their differences they both have a common goal of getting a message across. The message doesn’t always have to be about politics and it doesn’t always have to be about mundane anxieties but what does matter is that the audience can understand and relate. Hip hop will continue to change, warp, and evolve but one thing that keeps it alive is what makes us human: empathy.

“Respect the Nubians”

Hip Hop requires authenticity. No matter how you define authenticity it is the central element to hip hop. As stated in The Struggle for Authenticity and Against Commercialization in Tanzania “to be considered hip hop you need to stay true to the origins of hip hop as a tool of resistance and a voice of the people. For some authenticity is about skill, staying true to hip hop’s emphasis on lyrical skill and creativity, even if one is not overtly politically or socially conscious.” Ghanian and Senegalese hip hop is a form of art used to promote a message of social and political change. The hip hop artists produced from Ghana and Senegal infuse in their music a message of resistance and a voice for the people. Hip Hop is just one of many tools used to incite change for the people of Africa.

Senegalese hip hop group Positive Black Soul is a demonstration of how hip hop music is a form of art used to make a political statement. Their name alone, Positive Black Soul, is an affirmation of deconstructing the derogatory view of blackness. One of their songs with a political message is “Respect the Nubians”. The song is a rally cry to respect everyone especially black women and men. The songs seeks to reinforce the positive image of what it means to be Nubian, dispel the negativity associated with Nubians, and display the beauty of Nubians. In the last verse of “Resect the Nubians” they rap, “Sometimes I wonder, under the sun/ I used to ponder ‘cos we’re in the same situation/Here and yonder, there just trying to divide to rule/Takin’ us for fools, teach us lies from the early school/Don’t let no one put the blame on your brotherman/That’s a sham, you’re a true nubian, damn”. Positive Black Soul outwardly speaks to the common struggle that is faced by black people no matter where one is on the map. Black people share a common struggle of being divided for the sake of greed and being taught a one-sided story of black history. They tell their listening audience don’t allow your blackness to be the blame. Blackness being used for self-interest is part of a bigger scheme and “you’re a true nubian,” not just a commodity. The song is a message of resistance and a cry for a change in the treatment of Nubians.

Positive Black Soul incorporates activism in their music. The song “Respect the Nubians” is a demonstration of resistance. Positive Black Soul is using their music to change the dialogue surrounding blackness and to disprove the western aesthetic. Black people and black culture is often deemed inferior to that of whiteness. Using hip hop as a weapon to change black inferiority and promote black empowerment can change the white/black binary. Positive Black Soul and other artists out of Senegal are ensuring that hip hop remain authentic and remain a platform to be a voice for the people.