AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

The African Hip-Hop Generation Arrives
Blitz The Ambassador | April 28th, 2014

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I remember it like it was yesterday. My older brother had just returned from his freshman year of secondary school and the loud engine of my father’s old Nissan Stanza pulling into the compound had sent us all rushing to welcome him. Amidst my parents chatter about his grades and how he’d lost weight, my brother signaled me to follow him. He pulled out a Sony Walkman and told me he had a new dance to teach me. I can’t remember exactly what he called it, only that it was similar to the running man. The soundtrack to that dance was a sound I had never heard before: ‘Hip-Hop music.’ I spent the days that followed filled with immense curiosity, digging into this new sound. Years later, I would come to learn the names of the artists on that cassette tape: Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS One, Salt & Pepa, and Public Enemy. This was my introduction to a culture that changed my life.

I’ve always wondered what made Hip-Hop so captivating. Was it the beat? Perhaps, it could’ve been the hypnotic samples looped into 16 bar arrangements. Or was it the lyrics? Honestly, between the thick American accents and heavy slang, very few of my peers understood a word that these rappers said. So it must have been the urgency with which Hip-Hop artists asserted their views, a stark contrast to the love themed Highlife tunes our parents listened to. Most young people found that content redundant and Hip-Hop music helped break the monotony.

With a wide array of socio-political commentary from Public Enemy and deep ’5 Percent Nation’ knowledge from Rakim laced over neck snapping beats, a majority of young Africans were spell bound by the sonic manifestation of the culture. I, however, was enthralled by the physical attributes of the culture, especially the fashion and style. Giant Africa medallions, dashikis and kufis were the core aesthetics of Hip-Hop of that period. In my twelve year-old brain, I interpreted all that Afrocentric style as a symbolic call and response from a distant relative. I heard the call loud and clear but how would I respond? Was Hip-Hop really interested in hearing about my struggles and appreciating my Ghanaian aesthetic? Did the culture really value its international roots? After all, the Godfather of the culture, DJ Kool Herc was himself an immigrant. His block parties were directly related to the sound system culture of his native homeland Jamaica. So the light bulb went off- maybe I had to journey to the Mecca of Hip-Hop, New York City. There my response would be heard much louder.

That journey took me from local talent shows in Ghana to graduating college in Ohio (I’m African, I had to do it for my parents) to numerous world tours and even sharing the stage with my personal heroes Public Enemy at NYC’s Summerstage. But somehow the response to the call didn’t seem adequate. It took a while to realize that the initial call I heard in Ghana was powerful because it came from a collective voice. Whether it was the Afrocentric era (Public Enemy, X -Clan, KRS One) or the Native Tongue era (Jungle Brother, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, De La Soul) or the most recent Soulquarian era (The Roots, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def), it was clear that to make an impact you needed a definitive movement.

I started wondering: perhaps this idea of responding to Hip-Hop’s call rested not on me as an individual, but on a collective of young African voices. The more I searched, the more I found like-minded artists who were responding in their own way- from Somali-born MC, Knaan, to Belgian-based Congolese Rapper Baloji to Nigerian-German singer Nneka (the list goes on). We had all made inroads individually but had hit a similar brick wall collectively- being a solitary voice in the extremely territorial world of Hip-Hop. None of us could make enough noise to shift the paradigm, no matter how brilliant we were as individual artists.

So, some of us began a quest to help present a unified front- from collaborations to guest appearances to curating live shows and stalking the Facebook pages of some of our peers till they responded. We now understand that our power lies in our connectivity. To quote the brilliant scholar Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” I believe we are the next generation of Hip-Hop. A more globally focused generation, one that can bring back the same urgency we heard in our native countries when the culture first beckoned us. Thanks to the Internet, this movement continues to connect everyday. I believe there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The time for Africa’s Hip-Hop generation to influence the culture that influenced it is now.

Afropolitan Dreams–released today–is Blitz the Ambassador’s 3rd studio album and features Angelique Kidjo, Seun Kuti, Nneka, Oxmo Puccino and more. Buy on CD+Vinyl+MP3 as well as on iTunes in France and the U.S.  Photo Credit: Quazi King.

 

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Blitz the Ambassador is a Ghanaian-American hip-hop and visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York.

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7 thoughts on “The African Hip-Hop Generation Arrives

  1. Great piece, Blitz. Only yesterday was I reflecting on my own relationship with hiphop, wondering how many foreign leaders are currently out there in the world, whose policies, social stances, political beings were formed through the prism of the socio-political messages of PE and KRS One, A Tribe and De La…
    My own relationship with hiphop started perhaps in similar fashion to yours, and perhaps at around the same time. It was a glimpse of something new, and beautiful and exciting beyond belief, beamed through the tv, second hand and months late, after coursing through all of French tv. It was about this “new” dance and music from the bronx, and the few images looped, showed the same Puertorican guys bboying rubberlike and rythmically, while a black guy yelled into a microphone, and another stern looking black guy kept doodling rapidly on a record.
    The music matched the movements, a music I have never heard before, and was not imaginative enough to ever be able to even dream of, so alien yet so familiar! My mind couldn’t make sense of these beats, but my body knew exactly what to do with it, and it did, jumping up and down excitedly. Two hours later, sister and I were drenched in sweat, having spent every second of it mimicking that dance, that cool.
    I knew then that the path pre-established for me and every other Senegalese youth from the middle class, graduate highschool and go to France for university, had just been hijacked. The US, which wasn’t yet to me the land of basketball and Michael Jordan, of Levi’s jeans and Nike, was the land of this dance, this music, this cool.
    A decade later, I made my way through JFK’s immigration line and took my first breath of New York air, slightly acidic and grey, slightly dirty and dry. No time to feel apprehensive, I thought, there were some MC’s to be met, and more importantly, there were some DJing to be done, and as for you, being African and all, there was a college degree to be obtained.

    Though there is a necessity for collectiveness in African hip hop, I can’t but wonder what the possibilities really are. American hip hop started first and foremost as a local affair, depicting local circumstances and trends, before spreading out as a gathering of local messages and reactions. There were a flavor, and identity to each local zone (Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and later one Staten Island), before it become about larger local zones, but local zones nonetheless (East, West, South…), before/ while it became international. In other word, hiphop was a local influence first and foremost, and the combination, the collectivizing of those local influences formed that larger influence that does speak louder and whose message is therefore more potent. So to seek to form African hip hop according to the same method makes sense on paper.
    A couple of issues arise, however. African hip hop is barely a ripple in the wave of American hip hop, especially what the latter was in its heyday. There is hardly a market locally, let alone internationally. While American hiphop did to other genres what grunge to hair rock, taking over its market and making it almost irrelevant, African hip hop struggles against other genres, struggles with marketability, with political and social relevance, with local and national presence, with structural and economical stability. While American hip hop became bastardized only after it was established, reaching out to R&B, to rock, to Jazz as now equal to those genres, and helping make them relevant and youthful, African hip hop needs help spreading and asserting itself, an appetizer rather than main course.
    The second issue is that music is no longer what it meant. The same thing that helps spread it, that extends its reach, the internet/ globalization, at the time lessens its impact. The subject matters are no longer personal, or are too personal. The word oppression from NWA meant something to the Compton youth and the Palestinian youth, but will the word oppression from a Palestinian hip hopper mean much to a Ghanean kid? While every Public Enemy song can soundtrack a revolution, and music was the soundtrack, the necessary soundtrack to every revolution, these are no longer the same times, and music is simply no longer the social and political catalyst for change we knew her as, at least in this global word.
    Unless, that is, we return to recreating it at a local level. All politics is local and every change is also local, the world however is now global and our politics too are now global, and I think that to bypass the importance of the local in the global would be a major error.Two years ago, the M23 movement in Senegal was a major force in local politics. There was also a similar, less successful movement in Egypt. and also elsewhere in Africa. Had those forces combined their vision and efforts, their local impact would transcend their locality to then inform the continent as a whole. That was a missed opportunity.
    I agree that to collectivize African hip hop is a worthwhile endeavor, but if it is to be effective and foster change, it has to establish roots and foliage, foundation and roof, local and global.

    • Your comment shows extensive thought on the subject matter. My opinion is whoever you are, wherever you are, speak! We all understand the global side of Hip Hop, but it is from the local that we earnestly learn and absorb what the artist is saying. From the passing of Nelson Mandela, I reached out to South Africa through Facebook to express my condolences. South Africa responded and almost immediately I searched out South African Hip Hop. Researching further, my love for Hip Hop throught out all of Africa has exploded. I am not alone. I would say to Hip Hop artists of Africa, “don’t get caught up in the global, just speak, speak of what you know, the rest will take care of itself.”

      Because I’ve turned on friends and family to Hip Hop through out all of Africa, a relative pointed out Blitz the Ambassador. I am obsessed. Not only is he an artist of staggering talent, he has said “I am here!, Ghana is here!” My heart burst! The call was answered! Ghana heard us and hollered back. This is the power of Hip Hop and music in general. For now, it’s about learning all I can about Ghana,
      all because of Blitz. I look forward to learning much more about every country of Africa besides what I’ve learned through school.

      I relish exploring Blitz’s earlier works. Where can I get the t shirt?………………

      An African American in New York

      • Thanks, i have indeed put a lot of thought in the matter, and as I like to say, I have an ownership in hip hop because I heard its call and answered it, across oceans, cultures, societies, languages.
        I think your quote summarizes my rant quite well: “don’t get caught up in the global, just speak, speak of what you know, the rest will take care of itself.”

      • first and foremost you must know the difference between..Hip Hop and Rap…they are ( 2 ) genres and 98% of those who enjoy the dance and prance to the genres’ .should be cognizant that we hold the “Birth Certificate” of the music “birthed in the Bronx NY..where the phrase/s were born..and music took on the life of its own over ( OPM ) other peoples music..before becoming ‘Griots”

  2. Africa Hip Hop from Africa and Africa countries is awesome especially Nigeria..and So.Africa…which strongly control the music along with Senegal..Kudos to Blitz and we wish him much success..Urban radio does not hear it yet .;..as they did not hear GO GO music …nevertheless we have many who are editorial minded and read as well as listen and they will be attracted via print and social media as is was same for Sade who had much much press vs.radio and commanded her audience by readers vs urban listeners..

  3. No such thing as Jamaican Hip Hop, why? It’s heavily Jamaican in it’s influence and style and all (dress, wordplay, dj presentation: wheel up the tune, etc.) Any music to permeate should grip the soul of its target audience in languages and ways they can understand and be proud of. Therein lies the challenge in art, making it authentic whilst making it relevant for the purposes of business and still entertaining at the end of the day. Soul can be felt on Blitz’s song with Angelique Kidjo on this new album as it gives an authentic feel for what goes on in homes still to this day and keeps touching without trying. Soul music. Congratulations for cut through music that will inspire those who happen to be African or not causing them to relate to the experience of hip hop music.

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