Around the turn of the millennium, American rappers often crossed the Atlantic to record collaborations – not with their fellow English-speakers in the UK, mind you, but the artists of the booming French hip-hop scene. The UK has not until recently been all that great at producing hip-hop acts, whereas France with its large African population was both receptive to American rappers and good at creating local stars.
French hip-hop came out of the same place as American hip-hop: the poor African communities, where music was one of the few escapes from a hard life in the ghetto. The African community in France faces many of the same problems that the African community in the states has already gone through (remember those riots in Paris back in ’05?).
Alliance Enthnik – Fat Come Back (feat. Biz Markie)
Another connection is religion: the Wu-Tang Clan and IAM both claim strong connections to Islam*, and Prodigal Sunn spells out pretty clearly what’s influencing his diet in 1997’s Le Saga.
IAM – Le Saga (feat Prodigal Sunn)
Given all the similarities, culturally, that formed the connection between American and French hip-hop, I don’t think the same forces are at work propelling the current crop of Americans to grace Australian hip-hop tracks with their presence. It’s happening all the same, though…
I can take a shot in the dark at what’s going on here – Australia is another market to tap out. In the 80s and 90s mainstream hip-hop still had a solid grip on its credibility and connection to its roots, hence the strong connection to French hip-hop. In the 21st century, though, rap is just another exercise in big business; this new wave of cross-border collaboration is certainly bound to have been dreamt up in a board room, not in a room full of marijuana smoke at an MC battle comp afterparty. The overwhelming majority of established Aussie hip-hop artists are not of African descent, are most likely from a middle-class suburb and not the ghetto, and most certainly are not Islamic.
Board room decision or not, it’s so far been dudes with some lyrical credibility turning up over here; there’s no sign of 50 Cent or the Black Eyed Peas, which bodes well enough for the quality of the music that will come out of this new wave. Skip-hop probably isn’t the descendent of its Francophone counterpart, given the different motivations behind the collaborations, but it does seem like it’s based on some kind of respect for the music coming out of Oz nonetheless (and, of course, the fact that a strong local scene equals dollars to be earned).
This could be a good sign for my home country, because if the Aussie acts are significant enough to attract some American players, maybe some day Canadian hip-hop will get to be the new Australian hip-hop…
* Not that I’m endorsing crazy-assed Islamists by any means, but I’m not about to let that asshat Mohammad get in the way of a kickass beat.