I have a feeling Music Week will predominantly be Rap Week because I find it endlessly fascinating. I couldn't tell you why, but I like finding it. Today I will be posting a few Polish rappers I liked when I was browsing around. All but one have English subs, though you can enjoy rap without knowing what it is they're talking about. Part of the reason I've always liked rap in CEE is because it is absolutely unlike the top 40 hits in America, which are concerned with nouveau riche things like diamonds, scads of women, and showing everyone who's boss (the trend seems to be reversing a little bit with artists like BOB, however). I have yet to come across a rapper that vapid in CEE, not to say they don't exist. All the rap I've come across is slightly more thoughtful and concerned with political, economic, or existential issues. The Polish rappers I found today run along this vein. The first I found was Fisz (pronounced feesh), who is rather prominent according to Wikipedia.
You can probably already see what I mean. The song is about an internal struggle. Yes, there is a woman involved, but it's not like the old favorite "see the sweat drop down these balls/ down these females crawl". I liked it before I found the subtitles, but it was so much better after. I also enjoyed this song, but the lyrics are not as philosophical.
This song is by WWO, another prominent rap group. When I went to the trouble of translating lyrics (a three step process), it had a similar tone to Dissziplin's "Plattenbauten" (I really can't contain myself). It has a killer beat and the rhythm is fantastic.
So why is it that rap is so prevalent in CEE? I've found that rap finds popularity among the oppressed (or repressed) as a subversive form of expression. Discriminated groups tend to gravitate to rap, which shouldn't be surprising since it has roots in rebellion. Rap was scandalous when it erupted in the States and N.W.A. is a perfect example of how rap was used to rebel and communicate to the oppressors. What's interesting is that rap has evolved into a generally acceptable genre that earns billions of dollars worldwide, yet it still has a reputation for dissidence. It's been used by those in poverty or who feel restricted as a way to garner attention to the issue; in a way, the ruling class gets hoodwinked by the success of rap and draws even more attention to it by causing controversy. But if nothing else, rap is a renegade art form.
It's also a celebration of language. Rap plays on rhymes, words, and idiomatic sayings. The melodic use of words makes language the instrument. In a world where English reigns pretty supreme, rap offers the opportunity to celebrate their native tongue. Clearly, the cleverness of their rhymes or word play are not preserved in translation, which makes the original track valuable and irreplaceable. It's really a clever way to carve a niche for their language. I knew people in high school that listened to things like French rap even though they didn't speak a lick of the language. It doesn't have to be English to be appreciated, at least in rap. Languages have unique sounds and cadences to them and rap is built on those concepts, which means rap can celebrate the uniqueness of each language. Rap from country to country varies precisely because each language has a distinct voice. Rap is fundamentally tied to language, which is also why CEE has embraced it.
I will touch more on these points when I talk about East German rap because I will know what I'm talking about. In any case, rap is controversial outside the US because it is so fundamentally American and practically owned by the black community. It's appeal to the outside world is not so much the American-ness of it, but the idea of rising from the ashes to have it all. This is particularly pertinent for CEE because it is the second world. Great strides have been made since the Soviet era, but there's always a sense that they're being left behind. The bootstrap legacy really touches a nerve in the area because it's essentially their task: the Soviets left right as globalization picked up enormous speed. The complete overhaul in the years following 1990 hasn't been fast enough despite the best of efforts. Though the American dream of rags to riches isn't exactly what they're aiming for, the idea has an inspirational ring to it. Tune in later this week for more discussions on rap! Until then, enjoy these other artists:
And for a good oldie that isn't rap: