Various Artists

The Rough Guide to African Rap

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Perhaps the greatest craze in African music yet, the advent of African rap has encompassed the whole of the continent, with performers popping up in every country and in every tongue. Taking note of the wave is this Rough Guide compilation that takes a stab at covering the bulk of the major regions and performers, though the full spectrum is far out of the reach of a single disc. The rap of Africa is in many ways far more lyrically driven than beat-driven, as opposed to the heavy regard of the all-powerful beat in American hip-hop. The lyrics are generally based in social commentary as is the majority of African music, refreshingly different from the bulk of American rap's posturing. What one might note here most surprisingly though is the amazing homogeneity of the rappers themselves. Each one has his own style to some degree, but there's an overall degree of fluid slickness and cool, relaxed delivery, reminiscent of the French rap scene (MC Solaar in fact was originally based in Africa). What changes notably from track to track however is the backdrop and the language in question. The various artists continually make use of both traditional instruments, local musical flavors, and native tongues to assert their originality, and more importantly their origins. The album opens with a Tony Allen collaboration with London rapper Ty, then moves into the pinnacle of current South African rap with the somewhat harder Prophets of da City. The omnipresent Manu Dibango displays his ability to turn a trick with a rapper in "Senga Abele" with some surprising fluidity, and the godfathers of African rap, Positive Black Soul, show off the natural tongue-twisting ability of the Wolof language. Tanzanians X Plastaz interestingly make use of influence from the Maasai tribe, a surprisingly functional mix of the contemporary and the extremely traditional. Reggie Rockstone from Ghana doubles up the previous influences as he uses some funky Afro-beat loops à la Fela over which he raps in Twi in a bouncing style reminiscent of some early-'90s American (and British) acts like Das EFX. Mabulu uses the marrabenta guitar style as a backdrop and Angolan Das Primeiro mixes in aspects of other Portuguese colonies with samba and morna finding their way into his stylings. Representing the Dakar scene (the ultimate hotbed of the style) is Pee Froiss. South Africans Trybe mix some five or six languages with a sultry drum loop and early Tanzanian act the Hard Blasters present the ultimate reworking of the Fu-Schnickens sound. After a quick stop in Congo-Kinshasa, the album finishes up with the Malian trio Tata Pound, whose machine gun-delivery is something worth hearing regardless of language. African rap is a pan-continental craze right now, but it's quickly splintering into separate styles and forms. This compilation does an admirable job of collecting the various threads and showing both their diversity and their similarity.

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