Let’s see… Jay-Z, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Drake. Do these names look familiar? Those five artists are the biggest names in hip-hop today. One of those men is different from the others, though. While Hova, Em, Weezy, and Ye are all American, Drake is actually a native of Canada.
Born and raised in Toronto, the rapper has made quite the impact in the rap world over the last couple of years. Hip-hop, like all musical genres, knows no borders and its influence is not just confined within the United States. Just how global is the rhyme-spitting category? Well, there’s literally an entire world of hip-hop you probably aren’t aware of so sit back and take in the flavor of these fine artists from all over the world.
Our first casualty is England’s Dizzee Rascal. The London native first starting rapping as a teen and dropped his debut album, Boy in da Corner, in 2003 while he was only 17. The album reached the Top 40 in the U.K. and before the age of 20, Dizzee was touring all over the world. I first heard this guy’s name when he released his second album, Showtime, in 2004 as the internet was raving about him and his single, Stand Up Tall. I was just about to wrap up high school when a few music website encouraged me to check him out as well as British rap group, The Streets. I took more of a liking to Rascal because his flow is super tight and I never tire of that accent. His fifth album, apropriately titled The Fifth, was released in 2013 and is his most commercial effort thus far containing appearances by artists that have notoriety in America such as will.i.am and Jesse J. Also on the album was Tinie Tempah, a fellow English MC who had a worldwide hit in 2010 with Written in the Stars. Don’t be shocked to see Dizzee Rascal crossing over big time in the U.S. in the next few years.
These guys hail from the Great White North in Vancouver, Canada and broke out as a trio. Swollen Members originally formed in 1992 and consisted of Prevail, Madchild, and Moka Only. Moka bailed in the late 90s but rejoined in 2002 and Rob the Viking was later added briefly making them a four-piece. Even though their name is not-so-edgy attempt to describe the male sex organ, their rhymes are still pretty sick so don’t let that deter you. Their debut album, Balance, dropped in 1999 but it wasn’t until their sophomore output, Bad Dreams, that they started making waves in their home country. Their third album, Monsters in the Closet, boasted the impressive single, Breath, featuring Nelly Furtado on guest vocals. This is one of the band’s signature tracks and is reason alone to give them a listen. Moka split from the group again in 2005 to pursue a solo career but he still collaborates with his former band mates from time to time. Prevail and Madchild have also tried their hand at solo careers to moderate success. While they haven’t gained much of a following in the states, two of their records have cracked the Billboard Top 200. To date, Swollen Members have released nine full-length albums and won four Juno (Canada’s version of the Grammys) awards.
I first heard of these guys when Moka Only guested on a track from former Canadian nu metal band, Project Wyze, who were recommended to me from a friend in high school. After hearing that track, I had to seek out more Swollen Members and yes, I do mean the group.
Cape Town, South African produced this unorthodox rapping duo of MCs, Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er. Die Antwoord made their name in the world of hip-hop in the late 2000s thanks to the power of their breakthrough single, Enter the Ninja. The track was accompanied by a crazy music video that helped it gain more notoriety. Actually, a lot of their singles are complemented by video clips which showcase their wacky sense of humor. In addition to Enter the Ninja, check out at the videos for Evil Boy and Rich Bitch to see exactly what I’m talking about. Their sound is a combination of brutal rhymes, sometime uttered in their native language, and pulsing electronic beats that sometimes make you feel as if you’re in the middle of an underground rave. Take that and add in their uniqueness, Die Antwoord became a worldwide phenomenon. Their high energy music coupled with their intense performance level, and distinct personalities helps them maintain their fan base. In addition to music, Die Antwoord has also dabbled into acting. The duo starred in the 2015 Sci-Fi flick, Chappie, which was directed by fellow South African, Neill Blomkamp.
I actually had the pleasure of seeing Die Antwoord live in 2012 and it was definitely one of the more insane shows I’ve ever been to.
All the way from the Nordic country of Iceland, Quarashi were often regarded as Europe’s answer to the Beastie Boys. These youngsters came together in 1996 and later experienced a small amount of success in America in 2002. The nu metal boom of the early 2000s was still well in effect that year so Quarashi were signed to Columbia Records who forced them to roll with what’s popular hoping to discover the next big thing in the genre. While they were considered unique in their homeland, a couple of guys rapping over distorted guitars and a drum machines just sounded more of the same to Americans. Their first single from their only American release, Jinx, was Stick ‘Em Up which you heard in every sports montage that year. An interesting song from that release was Tarfur, which was re-recorded from one their earlier albums. While the original track was recorded in English, the re-recording was in Icelandic to give American listeners a taste of their home flavor. After Jinx, the boys packed it up and moved back to Iceland where they continued to perform until their breakup in 2005.