June 1, 2006

Hip-Hop Citizen of the World

Hip-Hop Citizen of the World


Graffiti from Mikko’s album [mikmikko/Flickr]

Few people embody hip-hop as a global phenomenon better than blogger Mikko Kapanen. He was born in Helsinki, Finland, studies in Birmingham, UK, and DJs for a community radio station in Cape Town, South Africa. Corresponding with him, it quickly became clear that he is passionate about the distinct flavors that each local community adds to global hip-hop mix.

The idea of my show is to prove that, regardless of its American roots– and it would be very easy to argue against [hip-hop as American music], as musicology sees different styles as a continuation, so supposedly Africa would be the birthplace for it as well– hip hop and rap can be done in every culture. The beauty of it is when people take something of their own and then add it up on this global framework of what we know.

Mikko Kapanen, Welfare State of Mind, in a letter to Open Source, 3/21/06

Every week, Mikko records Welfare State of Mind in Birmingham and sends it via email to Bush Radio in Cape Town.

I think it is important to show that the music most radio chooses to play is not of superior quality; arguably, it is more of the opposite. To me, American music sounds rather boring right now. And although there are dozens of exceptions to this rule, I rather enjoy British rap, or African, or South American, or French…you name it.

Mikko Kapanen, Welfare State of Mind, in a letter to Open Source, 3/21/06

We asked him for his current playlist and for some recommendations. He says that Grime, a strain of hip-hop from the UK led by Dizzee Rascal, may have found its new hero in Sway DaSafo, a Ghanaian who represents London and pokes fun at American 50 Cent. (“The pound is stronga than the dolla, holla!”) Mikko also plays X-Plastaz, a Tanzanian group that celebrates Maasai culture, and South African classics like Black Noise and Prophets of da City.

His favorite group right now, however, is Looptroop, a Swedish crew that he says makes “political music with quite commercial beats, but completely independently. Some of their songs, especially earlier, had that Scandinavian melancholy which exactly was what I talked about – taking a global idea and implementing that in your own social context.”

Check out Mikko’s radio show blog for a complete and constantly updated list of international hip hop.

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  • Emerson

    Deejays and selectors play a big part in the global proliferation and cross-pollination of hip-hop and urban dance music.

    Radioclit, a Parisian Deejay crew, mash-up UK Grime, American “Dirty South” rap, and european electro for fashionable hipsters in the clubs of London.

    In the states, Diplo a Deejay from Florida by way of Philly, mixes Brazilian favela rap and funk, Jamaican dancehall, Baltimore hip-hop house and even Punjabi bhangra at parties and rock shows for art school kids and bike punks.

    All of these styles fall into the blender of hip hop through the hands of dejays and producers like these, who share and trade mixes and hot tracks instantly online, through message boards, Myspace, Mp3 blogs and peer-to-peer file sharing.

    In the street markets of Cambodia I found bootleg mix CDs by a Khmer artist called DJ Cream, who matches samples from 60s Khmer rock, which was the last great youth culture movement there before the Khmer Rouge, to contemporary rap from Phnom Phen, which is the first great youth culture movement there since the Khmer Rouge. And it sounded dope.



  • lala

    Adaptation of Japanese hip hop is just artificial style only. Japan is after all homogenized middle class nation. There is no depth in lyrics. I found your commentator from Florida is overly glorified. What Japanese youth need to complain?

  • Robin

    Hey Lala-

    I thought the same as you until I talked at length to Dawn-Elissa Fischer (actually from Oakland,CA) about hip-hop in Japan. According to her, Japan is more racially and ethnic diverse than most Westerners think, and our attitudes about Japanese hip-hop as being style over substance only reflects general Western prejudices against Japan. I tended to buy her argument. For example, the Korean population in Japan has oft been prejudiced against. Do you have direct experience in Japan that makes you think otherwise?

    And thanks for all those cool suggestions, Emerson. The Cambodian stuff sounds especially cool. We were talking about doing a Cambodia show for a while that kind of got tabled, but I definitely want to know more. Where can I hear some DJ Cream?

  • ken_lewis

    I have lived in Japan, and there is much for the Japanese middle class to “complain about.”

    Having lived and traveled in 40+ countries around the world, including Thailand from where I write now, I can tell you that Japan is (in my eyes) the most oppressive social situation in the world. The Japanese are told in everyway that they can’t be themselves, and instead have to be simple actors in the play of Japanese life. That is stressful, and that is why the Japanese rank #2 in the world’s most suicides per capita (behind Russia).

    The flipside of it, is that sometimes it takes a tight squeeze for someone to stand up for their inner freedom, their inner rights. And, I’ve met many of these Japanese people in India, who are happily on their spiritual quests and relieved of being out of there. Even here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Japanese “refugees.”

    I sense this isn’t a case of minority oppression that yields Japanese hip-hop.

    On the other hand, I saw that the Japanese are terrific at copying the style of rebellion. They can masterfully present themselves as fully rebellious, because that is a normal way to conform in modern Japan.

    Sorry, I don’t know enough about this music to give specific comments on it.