Griff and I go way back to Macalester College, where I took over for him as bass player in the jazz band. Like a lot of college acquaintances, we've stayed in touch over Facebook, which is where I saw several months ago that he was getting ready to publish a book about European hip hop. I immediately wanted him to do a Faux Sounds Guest List, because this is one of those rich corners of music that I don't know much about. And, you know, how often do you get to harness the knowledge of someone who literally wrote the book?
Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality is now available from University of Chicago Press. You can download a pdf of the intro, and learn more about the book (including how to purchase it...) at https://europeanhiphop.org/ You can follow him on Spotify at professorgriffrollefson.
J. Griffith Rollefson is Associate Professor of Music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. He has served on the faculties of music at the University of Cambridge and at UC Berkeley, where he served as UC Chancellor’s Public Scholar, implementing the community engaged scholarship initiative Hip Hop as Postcolonial Studies in the Bay Area. I can also vouch for the fact that he is an incredibly friendly and smart dude. Enjoy! ~ Josh B. Fox
I’ve put this playlist together for Faux Sounds with an ear to what I want to listen to right now. The playlist includes a number of tracks featured in my new book Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality (https://europeanhiphop.org/), but the main aim is to give you an intro to the breadth of hip hop “over there” via some bumpin’ beats, ill flows, and otherwise sonically seductive music. That is, I’m not in professor mode here, I’m in hip hop head mode. In fact, as I put together the list I realized that I’ve reimagined myself walking the streets of Berlin in January again, cold as fuck but beckoned onward by the warmth of a show. A bunch of these tracks provided the soundtrack for those treks during my fieldwork trips over the last decade. I hope they keep you warm and inspire you to check out more tracks by these and other European hip hop artists. In fact, I’ve stuck with Spotify for the list here, but always remember that many great artists get left off these streaming services – I’m thinking here of a lot of great underground artists as well as classics like the Irish greats, Scary Éire (go YouTube “Truncheon Song” for example) and Smiley Culture’s “Cockney Translation” which would’ve otherwise ended up on the list. All that said, I think you’ll dig what I’ve cooked up here…
Roots Manuva (UK) - Colossal Insight Okay, let’s start with what’s basically my favorite track of all time, regardless of which side of the Atlantic it came from. The track starts like a sonically muffled and hazy dream before it brings us into hip hop consciousness with its… “Colossal Insight.” It’s something of a hip hop prayer that’ll keep you in tune with the universe and keep you warm as the winter wears on. I’m not the biggest electro beat guy, but this one is killer with its simultaneously rising and descending lines.
Oxmo Puccino (Fr) - Ghettos du Monde Here’s another one to keep you warm. This is “the French Biggie” from Paris hoods. Even if you don’t speak French, you’ll lose your shit on the alliteration at 1:10 – 1:17 where Oxmo completes the ill line with a ROAR (for his peeps in Lyon). Oh, also, they call him “Black Popeye,” cuz he smokes mad “épinards” [spinach].
Erci-E/Cartel (Ger) - Weil ich ein Türke bin This one is the live version of a classic Turkish German track which translates as “Because I’m a Turk.” It’s got a nice intro and loop featuring the iconic Turkish instrument, the saz, and ends with Erci boasting that he speaks better German and drives a fatter Benz than the Germans themselves. It’s an absolute take down of contemporary German racism. I’ll put my translation up on https://europeanhiphop.org/ under chapter three.
Marxman (Ire/UK) - Ship Ahoy Here’s a classic track featuring the Irish and black British crew, Marxman (Get it?! Take that Public Enemy!). It’s got a really powerful narrative aligning the Transatlantic slave trade and the “death ships” of the Irish “famine” (or as it’s known in Ireland, Queen Victoria’s genocide). The track features an epic Irish trad soundscape, and who’s that Irish girl singing the hook? Yep. My man on the scene, Stevie G, tells me these guys were supposed to blow up in the mid-1990s. They didn’t. Capitalist conspiracy.
Rusangano Family (Ire) - Kierkegaard If that’s the sound of Irish hip hop 25 years ago, this is the sound today. The DJ, My Name is John, is ethnically Irish and the MCs are part of the recent wave of immigration to Ireland that’s come as part of its EU membership. MC God Knows was born in Zimbabwe and MuRli was born in Togo… and they both identify as African-Irish. Great references to old school hip hop throughout and beats that stretch from County Clare to Chimurenga music.
Amewu (Ger) - Leidkultur Amewu (aka Halbgott) was one of my best friends and guides during my research in Berlin. He’s since blown up – and for good reason. He’s got crazy skills and would regularly dominate the city’s freestyle sessions with his non-stop double time flow. This track is another one that has that warming effect for me and it’s got a supremely conscious message. The title “Leidkultur” [struggle culture] is a play on the ethnocentrically white, German term, “Leitkultur,” [mainstream culture] – a word used ceaselessly in assimilation debates aimed at non-white Germans.
Sidi-O (Fr) - Extrait d’Amertume Sidi-O is another MC who I met in Paris. I love the “spit” aggression and message in this one, in which the MC says he takes his bitterness, distills it down into its most pure essence and then lets it flow onto the page in his acrid and angry lyrics. Here I also love the simple harpsichord loop—a musical reference that I hear as an indictment of France’s ancient and entrenched haute couture that hides the reality of the Capitale Sale [dirty capital], the name of Sidi-O’s record label.
Juice Aleem (UK) - Rock my Hologram If there’s one MC who you have to go check out after you listen to this playlist it’s Birmingham’s own: Juice Aleem. He’s got a new album out at https://juicealeem.co.uk/ and is, I think, the best active hip hop artist in Europe – seamlessly blending grime’s lyrical urgency and tightly wound beats and UK hip hop’s brilliant wordplay and spiritual depth. This one’s got a great Afrofuturist video too – go dig in the interweb crates now!
Lady Leshurr (UK) - Queen’s Speech 4 What I was just saying about grime above… this is it. And this is the sound of London today, right now. From what I can tell, Lady Leshurr is the future of grime – and the future is bright! The flow is tight like Nicki Minaj’s without the accompanying BS and the “Queen’s Speech” is a series of her tunes that casts a much-needed spotlight on the anachronistic reality of a monarchy that, c’mon, has got to have something to do with this out-of-touch Brexit foolishness. “Brush your teeth!”
MC Solaar (Fr) - La Belle et la Bad Boy This is another one of those warming tracks, despite the chilling pizzicato beat, with some of the classic French rapper’s best lines. My favorite: “He didn’t worry about the balls, it was the goal.” The track is another one that implicitly and explicitly addresses the realities of life and love as a non-white European – and more than just telling you his story, I feel like you can really feel it through the bittersweet beat and the fluid lyricism.
Chefket (Ger) - Identitaeter I met Chefket at the same time as Amewu, playing bass for the two—who still collaborate regularly—at an open mic night hosted at a Berlin sci-fi creative computing NGO called C-Base. Where the Afro-German rapper, Amewu, excels with a futuristic double-time flow, the Turkish German, Chefket (a Germanized play on his given name Şevket), while also an accomplished and thoughtful MC, really shows his breadth with an über smooth and soulful singing voice as well. That’s him singing the hook on the track.
Sefyu (Fr) - En Noir et Blanc Chapter two of the book is all about this slick and moody track built on haunting Nina Simone samples. Nina was, famously, an American expat who lived in France, so they claim her over there too. The Senegalese-French MC, Sefyu, picks up where Nina left off, rapping about the psychological effects of racism. For a full appreciation of this one, check out the Chapter Two details on https://europeanhiphop.org/ where I include the original Simone track and a podcast on its recombination on the Sefyu track.
Aziza-A (Ger) - Es ist Zeit Here’s another classic German track that stands the test of time. Aziza-A was Germany’s first non-white TV host, and this track is about Turkish women in Germany being caught between mainstream racism and the sexism of German and Turkish men. Aziza is known as the German Queen Latifah, and with the confidence and pride you can hear in her voice I can’t really argue with that simplification.
MIA (UK) - Amazon Okay, we all know this track – and some of you might even debate whether MIA belongs on a hip hop list – but I wanted to include a track of hers in this context. How do we hear this track now, after having heard all these other European hip hop tracks? I’ll lay it on the line here and admit that I’m still a huge MIA fan. The production on this track still sounds remarkably fresh and evocative and MIA’s storytelling is a phenomenal encapsulation of the themes of asymmetry, hybridity, paradox, and displacement that I deal with in the book.
Cut Killer (Fr) - La Haine (Nique la Police) This track—which translates “Fuck the Police” for its French context—was one of the first that really got me thinking about the anti-establishment politics of European hip hop. From the classic French hip hop film La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995), the track includes great turntablist cuts and an array of tasty samples from French tracks (including Édith Piaf and hardcore rappers, NTM) to American ones alike (KRS-One, NWA). Anyway, I end here because, y’know, it’s still timely. Never have the global realities of state-sanctioned repression—of people of color, of immigrants, of women—been more undeniable. And, er, cuz it’s still the jam!