Ken Ring

Hip Hop

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Ten years after Swedish rap pioneer Ken Ring burst onto the national scene with his debut album and the breakout hit "Mamma," he released his most successful to date, Hip Hop, a reflective effort with a couple standout hits. Born in Kenya, raised in the Stockholm suburb Hässelby, and influenced by the early to mid-'90s American rap scene, Ring made his full-length debut in 1999 with the trailblazing Vägen Tillbaka, one of the first Swedish-language rap albums to reach national success. He released several more in the years that followed, including a collaboration with Norwegian rap kingpin Tommy Tee, 2 Legender Utan Pengar (2004), and he also ran into trouble along the way, stirring up controversy and winding up in prison for a while. Hip Hop, his ninth solo album to date, finds Ring on firm standing. The title of the album, especially when coupled with the front-cover homage to Nas' classic debut album, Illmatic (1994), gives Hip Hop an air of seriousness before the music even begins playing. The album begins slowly with a couple lyric-heavy tracks, "En Man" and "Välkommen Till en Ring," the latter of which rides a weepy piano-and-strings backing track with a heartbeat pulse for a few minutes before breakbeats at last give the song some kick. "Wharrrup" has lots of kick, and eight minutes into the album, it's where Ring finally comes unleashed and Hip Hop shifts into high gear. From this point onward, the album shifts gears often, alternating ruminative downers with upbeat highlights. A couple highlights stand out above all, both of them sequenced mid-album. The first is "Africa," one of several songs on Hip Hop with impressive sampling, and a couple songs later comes "Nu Måste Vi Dra," which boasts a ska guitar riff, a floor-stomping Motown rhythm, and a catchy hook by a sweet-voiced singer. Another standout is the album-closing title track. It's an autobiographical look back at Ring's history with hip-hop. The lyrics reference N.W.A., Cypress Hill, and other American rappers while a sample of vintage Nas shows up on the chorus. Ring even throws in some English-language vulgarity at the end of the song for good measure. A key album in Ring's discography, Hip Hop is not only one of his best and more insightful full-length efforts to date, it was also his most successful, breaking him out of the Swedish rap underground and into the national Top Ten.

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