The Rough Guide to African Rap

The idea of Africa – if not the actual place – has long been pivotal in much Black music. It forms the basis of reggae; it’s arguable that the idea of ‘home’ so prominent in gospel was all the more poignant because of the brutal making of the diaspora; even rap, that most urban of forms, is increasingly interested in its Afrocentric roots. We know what these songs sound like, but what about the flip side? That’s where the Rough Guide’s excellent introduction comes in.

There is, it has to be said, a huge pleasure in hearing the talents of groups such as South Africa’s Trybe, Angola’s Das Primerio, Kenya’s Kalamashaka – all strong presences among the 14 tracks here. On the one hand, we’re hearing rap being reflected back to its roots; on the other, hearing – in a rich linguistic mix of indigenous and European tongues – lyrics that say much about the colonial heritage of the continent.

What’s most intriguing about African Rap is its difference. Instruments, rather than samplers and breakbeats, are the order of the day. Continually impressive is the acrobatic lyrical prowess, as crews such as Tanzania’s Hard Blasters or Senegal’s Pee Frois create verbal rhythm tracks of dazzling dexterity. Above all, The Rough Guide to African Rap is a refreshing change from the gangster strut and bling-bling avarice that’s made much Western rap so formulaic.

New Internationalist issue 368 magazine cover This article is from the June 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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