February 10, 2004

Mixtape Friday - International Hip-Hop
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Puff Daddy (I refuse to call him P. Diddy) once bragged, "I been around the world," but these emcees are from around the world. As technology increases the speed and ease with which music can traverse international borders, billions of ears around the world have fallen in love with hip-hop. By fusing regional style and international flavor, rappers from around the world have created some of the most innovate hip-hop in years. In the '80s, Slick Rick's British accent was a novelty; now KRS-One is rapping on a track with a teenage Japanese emcee, Lil Ai.

k-os "Call Me" Exit
Canadian rapper k-os (pronounced "chaos") raps in the tradition of fellow anti-Babylon revolutionaries Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill and combines large chunks of reggae, jazz, and funk. His debut album is quite simply one of the most impressive, beautiful pieces of music released in recent memory. Most notably, Exit is a complete album, with 11 diverse but thematically related tracks, with acoustic flamenco guitars, wailing vocals, and deep organic beats.

k-os explains the spiritual undertones of his tracks: "My parents are Jehovah's Witnesses so they go door-to-door with their messages. But for me, I've made a CD that has a chance to get into people's homes, and I don't have to knock on doors. People are taking me into their homes simply because they want to."

Lyrics Born "Callin' Out" Later That Day
When Rakim was rapping in New York in the '80s, he probably never imagined that people would be listening halfway around the world. Tokyo-born Tom Shimura moved to California and started making beats with friends at UC Davis. One of his friends, Josh Davis, is now better known as DJ Shadow, while another, Gift of Gab, later formed Blackalicious. On Later That Day, Shimura's debut under the moniker Lyrics Born, he proves UC Davis might be the next Berklee School of Music.

"Callin' Out," featuring pro-skateboarder Tommy Guerrero, offers a nasty beat for Lyrics Born to drop his breathless flow: "My life is the culmination of my past achievements/ with a lotta heavy liftin, a lotta deep breathin/ a lotta courage, a lotta doubt, a lotta mixed feelins/ a lotta love, a lotta luggage for a lotta reasons."

Orishas "537 CUBA" A Lo Cubano
"It's a goddamn hip-hop world, and now it has even invaded Cuba," complained Ry Cooder, producer of Cuba's most famous musical export, Buena Vista Social Club. For those excited by change and progress, rather then afraid of it, the Orishas are the future of hip-hop and world music in general. They rap in fluid Spanish over classic Cuban afro-jazz combined with contemporary hip-hop beats.

In their 2000 debut A Lo Cubano and follow-up Emigrante, the Orishas generally avoided sampling, but "537 CUBA" is a hip-hop remix of Compay Segundo's classic "Chan Chan." They also avoid the polemic issues of politics and communism in Cuba, preferring to focus on the personal experience of growing up on the island. Rapper Yotuel explains, "Adding a danceable rhythm to socially conscious lyrics is like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down."

The Streets "Weak Becomes Heroes" Original Pirate Material

Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, recorded his debut album in his basement, while his mum screamed at him to turn the music down. His lyrics are filled with local lingo: Girls are "birds," guys are "geezers," and weak rhymes are "rhubarb and custard verses."

He doesn't even actually rap, but just kind of talks in some sort of syncopated rhythm, often apathetic to the beat. He is definitely not rapping about life in "the streets," but mostly about PlayStation 2 and ordering Chinese food with some serious munchies.

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