Music in Global America



Hip hop culture has spread to every corner of the earth. The forms of art, dance, and music that were developed in the U.S. old school period were disseminated worldwide beginning in the early 1980s — mainly by the movies Wild Style, Beat Street and the end segment of Flashdance — and in following years by international tours by Public Enemy and other U.S. rap artists. Hip hop went through a process of adaptation as young people fashioned the culture to their own national and cultural identities and began to rap about issues important in their lives. In most countries outside of the U.S., rap began as a means of presenting social and political commentary and only later branched into sub-genres that were more mainstream and commercial.

Video Presentation: Globalization of Rap and Hip Hop 2 - Rap and Hip Hop around the World


France was one of the first countries to adopt hip hop culture and to develop rapping in a language other than English. Most francophone rappers are immigrants from the Paris arondissements that ring the center of the city, or from Marseille, a Mediterranean seaport on the southern coast of France. Hip hop, especially rap, has given the youth of these communities a way to speak out about unemployment, violence, tension between the community and the police, and other social problems.


English translation of the beginning of the song:

Gloire a l'art de rue                                      Glory to the art of the street
Jusqu'au bout art de rue                               street art forever

Ambience scandale danses de vandales        Scandalous ambiance, vandal dances
Sans nous vient la chaleur                             this is where the heat comes from
Gloire a l'art de rue                                       Glory to the art of the street
DJ, Breaker,B -Boy Graffeurs, Beatbox           DJ, breaker, B-Boy, graffiti writer, beat box
Jusqu'au bout art de rue                                Street art forever!

Le theme c'est de rue dedie a c'qui pratique                 The theme is street art, dedicated to those   
et c'qui  aime ce putain d'art de rue                              who practice it and who love this whore of street art,
C'que dance sur la piste sur la pierre ou a la zone        those who dance on the runway on stone or in the hood
ceux qui mixe c'qui parle sur la zic et c'qui                   those who mix, those who speak about the music and
    tague sur lo fourgon                                                 those who tag vans
C'est un mode de vie, qqc qui nous rend serieux          It's a lifestyle, something that makes us serious
Un besoin unique vecu jour et nuit                               Just one need, lived night and day
On desire toujours faire miuex,                                    We always want to do better
    vu que a vie n'est qu'un test                                     because life is a test
Et que toutes les situation sont completexes                And all situations are complex
On pense et l'esprit dit fais le,                                      we think of it and the spirit says do it!
    fonse tant qu'on respire et qu'on est libre                try hard as long as we breathe and are free!
Y a q1u'a oser vieux!               
Savourer l'existence comme on peut,                       Enjoying existence as we can,
l'essentiel est de faire c'qu'on aime                          the main thing is to do what we like and as we want
    et comme on veut
Morveux le rap c'est bon quand tu fais ca par          Morveux the rapper it's good when you do it for love
par amour mais pas quand ya beaucoup                  but not when there is a lot of money at stake
    de fric en jeux


This song is by hip-hop artist Black M, featuring the rapper MHD. The title, "A l'louest" means "in the west." Some of the lyrics are translated below:

“I come from a place where they don’t know about the dollar”[meaning it’s rare to see people living well in the place in grew up]
“Your wars are stupid and useless. Wake up, deep down we’re all the same. Tonight I’m in the old country; we’re coming off the plane without ID. A little spin through Madina, the flag on my back, the youth rise!” 



Japanese rappers had been building an underground following and performing in after-hours clubs in Tokyo from the late 1980s. But Japanese hip hop gained national attention only in 1994 when "cutismo" pop singer Yuri and hip hop trio East End joined forces for "Da.Yo.Ne." The album sold over one million copies, unprecedented for a Japanese rap/hip hop product. "Da.Yo.Ne" made hip hop commercial by infusing the American genre with bouncy tempos and music videos of the impossibly energetic teen members of East End. The lyrics were similarly light and apolitical.

King Giddra was a 1993 album by three hip hop artists — K Dub Shine, Zeebra, and DJ Oasis — founders of Japanese-language rap. All three members spent some time growing up in the United States and were influenced by the hard-edged sound and political content of Public Enemy.  The members of King Giddra rapped about social and political conditions — government corruption, materialism, a "crushing" educational system.  


Like many rap songs, Zeebra's "Street Dreams" is a first-person narrative about overcoming difficulties and achieving success. Zeebra draws a familiar distinction between "real hip hop" as opposed to "wack hip hop" (mainstream, pop-oriented hip hop). He seeks to establish his generation of rappers as the pioneers of a cultural shift away from conformity and obsession with wealth, and toward independence and dedication to a more meaningful life.
Zeebra: "Street Dreams"

I just wanted to become the rapper and grab the microphone when I started my career.
It was in 1990,  many people used to look at me that I was out of my mind because I was funky but back then
I was nothing but just one Japanese boy who was unknown.
I did not care about other people,
I just drop my 16 bar (rapping) and now look -- hip-hop music is a big thing in Japan today.
All the media will start shooting when I start rapping, and I have changed the Far East country (Japan) with my words.
I am going to prove with my lifestyle that if you keep trying hard to achieve your goal it will surely become true.
I am the number one hip-hop dream of Japan and who changed whole Japan. This is my style and this is my vibe and nobody can imitate what I have been doing. Get the number one hip-hop dream and all Japanese should be proud of ourselves.
Say what! Say what! Everybody say what!
This song is dedicated to all real heads.
Remember that rainy day when we had a big concert in the middle of Tokyo with all my people.
It was tough to put the food on the table everyday with hip-hop but I did not want to do anything besides to become the real rapper.
Who would rock the place tonight’s show is it superstar like Kaminari, Rhymester or Budda Brand???   
Hip-hop has been supported by many people like the owner of the clothing shop, a person who works at the record store,
a person who works at the club, dancer, small media and the real heads.
We truly invented hip-hop itself in Japan and we would not admit any hip-pop music. 
Nobody can change and stop our real hip-hop music. We have to start our master plan to stay on the top of it.
Say what! Say What! Everybody say what! 
I think of those people who used work with me to make hip-hop to the next level in Japan.
But many people have decided to take another path because of it was not easy to keep doing it without making any money.
But I am happy if you guys are having a good life. Anytime call me and guess what I am still doing this.
Do not worry about anything I am here to keep moving forward with this music for those people who had left.
I am not going to let any wack hip-hop to become the top of the game because I am here to represent real hip-hop to the fullest.
What would be our next life like?
Are you listening to the real hip-hop music?
I am the number one hip-hop dream of Japan and who changed whole Japan with this music.
Get the number one hip-hop dream and all Japanese should be proud of ourselves.





Marc Lacey, "Cuba's Rap Vanguard Reaches Beyond the Party Line," New York Times  



Kwame Nkrumah is a revered figure in African history. He spearheaded the revolution that led to Ghana's independence from Britain in 1957 and became the country's first president. Nkruma's victory inspired the pan-African movement and the decolonization of the African continent. Nkrumah supported the expression of African traditions as a means of separating African culture from the colonial past, and called for all Ghanians to unite and uplift the country.

Obrafour (Michael Elliot Kwabena Okyere Darkoh) updates Nkruma's idealistic calls. "Kwameh Nkrumah" is  part of the strong musical-poetic African tradition of praise songs, and in choosing this form Obrafour announces his own links to that tradition. Just as Nkrumah called upon the past by championing African traditions, Obrafour casts his song in the context of the royal court of Ghana. The song refers to the Odwira festival "celebrated annually by the Asante since 1701 to show their allegiance to their traditional authorities (the chiefs and queen mothers) and renew their loyalty to them and to cleanse the nation from the evil influence of spiritual beings by the invocation of spirits." [Louise Françoise Müller, "Dancing Golden Stools: Indigenous Religion as a strategy for identity construction in Ghana,”  Fieldwork in Religion, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2010)] 

Obrafour begins with the pouring of libations to gods and ancestors, recalling the duty of the court's priestly okyeame, who also acts as the intermediary for the king and embodies the spirits of ancestors. By acting as koyeame, Obrafour calls on the spirit on Nkrumah as speaks as his intermediary. He also identifies with Nkrumah who, as a student in England, made a point of pouring libations in defiance of his Christian mentors, demonstrating his embrace of African spiritual practices and his rejection of Western hegemony. 

The heavens and mother earth, a drink of libation, yao
Ancestors who have passed, a drink of libation, yao.
We sing praises of Kwame Nkrumah,
If we call on you [ancestors] it is not for evil.
Ghana needs direction.
[translation of Obrafour, “Kwame Nkrumah” from Urban God Talk: Constructing a Hip Hop Spirituality, Andre Johnson, ed., 2013]

The rapper continues to draw on the Odwira festival images and ideals:

Our past shows Ghana detests evil.
Kofi bad-child, I warn you, stop evil.
Drummer Asante, calls Ghana [to] listen
Here I am Executioner,  I have freedom

He warns Kofi, the "bad child" of Ashanti legend who upsets social order and enables immorality; the queen mother of the Ghanian court carries a long cane chewing stick which symbolizes her power to punish Kofi. (On another level, Kofi is also the name of the Golden Stool, traditional symbol of Ashanti origin myths and of the king's power.) 

Obrafour then summons the royal drummers who surrounded the king. In the context of the historical court of the Ashante, the figure of the Executioner in the original festivals was gruesome: He would "somersault" over the condemned victim and "in one mid-air swoop cut off his head, amidst applause. Then seizing the rolling head with his teeth, he would proudly walk towards the King to lay down under his feet his booty, on which the King with complacence put his left foot.” [A. A. Anti] Here, Obrafour calls himself the Executioner (which is, indeed, the literal meaning of obrafour). He issued Africa's first hiplife compilation album, Executioner Diary, on his own label -- Executioner Entertainment.  The "assassin" or "hitman" is a familiar trope in hip hop, as a metaphor for a rapper who "destroys" his competitors with words.

The courage and victory of Nkrumah
Saw that our own land is valuable to us.
The blood our ancestors shed for us
Saved us, helped us, rescued us.
It’s now you and I’s turn.
Deep cover-ups [scandals] against the state won’t happen in this country.

Next, Obrafour takes on the role of "rap priest," tying into the religious references in the first verse, and exhorting Ghanians to follow Nkrumah's example.

Today if you are asked what you’ve done for Ghana what would you say?
Lawyers, Doctors, let me ask the nurse
Traders, Drivers, let me ask the mechanics
Farmers, Tailors, let me ask the barbers
Soldiers, Teachers, let me ask school kids
Obrafour, (Executioner), Ghana Rap Priest


Nigeria (J-Martins)/Ivory Coast (DJ Arafat)

South Africa: Rouge ft. Big Star, "Mi Corazon"


China is a relative latecomer to rap and hip hop due to the Chinese government blocking Web content. In the past decade though, Chinese rappers have received worldwide coverage as they manage to circumvent firewalls and reach the outer world with homemade productions and video sharing sites.  In this interview for instance the crew members of Higher Brothers show a knowledge of American rap and a canny understanding of marketing.

Higher Brothers from Chengdu, who rose to fame with their song "Made in China," rap about contemporary obsessions such as the WeChat social network – “There’s no Skype, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, We use WeChat.”
[Clifford Coonan, "Chinese hip hop is banned as it emerges from the underground," The Irish Times, January 31, 2018]

Most important to making rap acceptable in mainland China is "The Rap of China," a rap competition show produced by the giant video platform iQiyi. 

But as in Cuba, the Chinese government has tried to use the popularity and power of rap to reach young people, by harnessing its energy as a propaganda tool. (See Coonan, above.)

Matt Sheehan, "Meet the Chinese Rappers Bringing Hip Hop to the Middle Kingdom," Huffington Post, August 2015


David Toop, Rap Attack #3: African Rap to Global Hip Hop, 3rd ed., Serpent's Tail, London, 2000.

Ian Condry, Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Globalization, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2006.

Tony Mitchell (ed.), Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 2001.

Jesse Weaver Shipley, Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2013.

Eric Charry (ed.), Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World, Indiana University Press, 2012.

Geoffrey Baker, Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2011.

Sujatha Fernandes, Cuba Represent!: Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2006.

Sujantha Fernandes, Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation, Verso, London, 2011.

Tanya L. Saunders, Cuban Underground Hip Hop: Black Thoughts, Black Revolution, Black Modernity, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2015.

Marc D. Perry, Negro Soy Yo: Hip Hop and Raced citizenship in Neoliberal Cuba, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2016.

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