Damso and his Batterie Faible makes gold. A successful tour for Caballero & JeanJass. Critical acclaim for Zombie Life by Hamza and several tour dates in preparation for Roméo Elvis. Looking back on a great 2016 year for the “flat country’s” rap scene.
A decade after discovering the Street Fabulous artists, who switched career paths to get into production, Spn who gave us the Stromae legacy, James Deano who is now a stand-up comedian and Gandhi, the only one still on board the Belgian Rap train, a new wave of Belgian rappers, mostly from Brussels, is making a considerable breakthrough in the French speaking hip-hop scene. Paris isn’t far away and Brussels is coming! (Bruxelles arrive!). Focus on Roméo Elvis, Hamza, Caballero & JeanJass and Damso.
Sensing the trap music trend slowly dying out, Roméo Elvis made the right choice by letting Le Motel and his airy beats deal with the production side of his Morale EP, which came out in spring 2016. Carried by the beatmakers’ mesmerizing melodies, you just need to spread your ears and listen to the lyrics to notice two things: Elvis is proud of his city and Roméo knows how to write about it. In l’Or du Commun’s, Caba & Double J’s orbit, Roméo descends directly from the laidback rappers’ bloodline initiated by Rakim and magnified by Snoop Dogg. His nonchalance grabs us and makes us pay even more attention to what he is saying. As a lyricist, he’s a witness to Brussels’ youth dragging their sneakers in search of a new dream.
However, Roméo also possesses a more festive side expressed in Bruxelles Arrive, Tu Vas Glisser and other such songs. In a nutshell, he’s a two-headed artist who still has many glorious days ahead of him. Already rewarded for his Morale EP and his 2016 performances, we’re impatiently waiting for his next EP : Morale 2, which should drop in early 2017.
Hamza is all up in our ears. Talented and prolific, he has a hands-on approach to his beats production. Being of an eclectic nature, he navigates between trap and dancehall. His appeal for Autotune doesn’t make him force this redundant mix of Gitano-spanish and hip-hop on us. Instead, he uses it smartly. Discovered online, the rapper totally accepts his “straight out of Atlanta” influences and mirroring Young Thug, uses Autotune lackadaisically whilst some melodic trap and snare sounds transport us as he jumps around in his rather well-directed music videos. After the successful release of his mixtape, H-24, in late 2015, Hamza scored points again with the French-speaking rap scene with the track Zombie Life, released in 2016. He doesn’t hide from it, his songs are meant to entertain.
By choice, he’s incarnating another aspect of this 90’s born generation, wanting to forget it all with a bottle of Hennessy (or rather Jack Daniel’s) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and dreaming about being at the top, having money, cars and raunchy conversations. Santa came early this year and placed the freely available mixtape Santa Sauce by Hamza under the Soundcloud tree on Christmas Eve. With a wisely chosen selection of instrumentals, this mixtape could make a lot of heads bop over the Holidays.
Caballero & JeanJass and the musical renaissance. Straight out of Brussels and Charleroi, there’s no way these hip-hop lovers couldn’t ride this new wind blowing in the back of the French-speaking rap scene since the success of the Entourage crew and their entourage. JeanJass : beatmaker with many influences including jazz, and Caballero who had already dropped an EP with Lomepal, Le Singe Fume Sa Cigarette. Not to forget, their producer : DJ Lo’, beatmaker from the 1995 crew. They all made the right decision when choosing to combine forces to our greatest delight… Thank you so much! But what’s even more interesting is that in their 2016 Double Hélice album, they don’t limit themselves to the 90’s New York-type beat (which this article’s author would not have been against). They also appropriate themselves new music trends like trap and cloud rap.
Elaborate lyrics and wit from start to end, the duo reached the Belgian sales top 20 and just in case you didn’t know, the authors were also rewarded by a Sabam award. Talented lyricist and flow shifter technician, also gravitating around Don Dada (music label created by Hologram Lo, Alpha Wann and Marguerite Du Bled), Caba raps and has been representing his city since 2013 at the very least and now captures this in his music videos. Nonchalant but full of bite, the Double J and his musical erudition give a voice to the Belgian “province”. Often funny and sometimes serious, this mixture of ego-tripping and self-mockery (signature-style of their Belgitude) represents, thanks to their proximity to Elvis and his followers, an additional facet to Brussels’ youth : those more carefree who discovered hip-hop more recently and who can appreciate its musicality and sometimes the lighter side. Started in late October and finished in early December, the two artists’ more than successful crowdfunding campaign, on KissKissBankBank, will allow them to build their own studio called Studio Planet and based in Brussels. May the force be with them and lots of successful years is all we can wish for them.
Damso has without a doubt become the prince of Belgian rap. Validated by Booba : Godfather of the French-speaking rap game wether you like it or not, Damso has, just like Moses, separated the waters of the Red Sea to reach the Parisian “Promised Land”. It was already the case in Brel’s time and still today, Paris is the French-speaking cultural capital. With a more than noticed verse on Pinocchio from Booba, released in 2015, Damso was promised to a fruitful future and evidently so. A couple of weeks later, Débrouillard and its music video dropped and confirmed Damso’s talent for writing.
With a dirty universe and a cold heart, this Brussels son is a mix between Gandhi (from Brussels not India) and Booba, but with his own penmanship. It’s not a surprise he has become a 9.2i (Booba’s label) artist. Then came the track BruxellesVie, released shortly after the 22nd of March terrorist attacks, and it’s been a real anthem ever since. With this track, he wishes to give the recently coined “birthplace of terrorism” capital a good image again.
Besides showcasing the beautiful spots of BX (shortened version of Brussels), the clip stars Shay, another Brussels 9.2i artist as well as Caballero. The buzz could have stopped there after acknowledgement of Damso’s writing skills and a taste for punch lines but his Batterie Faible album, released in June 2016, shows us that he’s more than just an average basic bars, trap beat rapper. Like Caba himself, he’s able to adapt his flow and his beats to any musical situation. Watching him freestyling and rapping live, is when you realize that we haven’t yet fully discovered all that he has to offer.
Storytelling being another aspect of his skill set, he’s also capable of turning a song into a tale, like with Amnésie or Autotune, which had been lacking in the so-called “thug rap game” for a while. Damso represents the new face of Black Brussels. Inheritor in his own way of Gandhi, Damso and his entourage (including Dolfa), embodies the day-to-day life of a part of Brussels’ Black population. Resourcefulness, clothes, locks, women and Gordon beer, there’s nothing missing. The only change is that urban gangs are no longer present and weed joints are more plentiful.
Where G.A.N. failed to conquer France (which might not have been his intention), Damso fulfilled this mission with success. Gandhi, too specific in his Péripéties, and in Le Dernier 55, touched a lot of real “Brusseleir” but wasn’t really understood by youngsters from elsewhere and that’s where Damso did a better job using subtle references to the everyday life of BX Blacks and Brussels youth in general. The rapper evokes the Bloody Louis, Mère Malou, the 12/12 Gordon beer and even the Congo, from where a lot of us are originally from, in his song Graine De Sablier. He chooses not to include Arabic or Lingala words knowing that it would exclude a considerable part of his potential audience. There is also attention to detail when it comes to locations and numbers. The bet paid off for the new “Prince of the City” seeing as Brussels and Paris made him go gold.
Pickier than their average French neighbors with regards to lyrics and beats, these rappers give Belgians another reason to be proud of where they‘re from, which is why we support them (even if, sometimes, we only tend to do so after witnessing French support for them). We wish them the same success – if not more – for 2017.
Thank You to these Belgians for rapping about our lives! Thank You to these artists for rapping about our city! #BruxellesVibre.
Jésus Isa Ngen
* This article is also available in French