At the moment, I’m listening to Korean rap duo GD&TOP’s album GD&TOP Vol.1. For the past few months (since October) my primary hip hop albums have been outsourced, and it’s only recently with Tyler, the Creator’s work with OFWGKTA that my rap tastes have come back to North America. Before that, I was bumping Die Antwoord (which I told you all about) and Bigga Raiji, a Japanese “ragamuffin”–which they seem to think means performer or fan of a blend of reggae and hip hop. Like, reggae stylings and modern hip hop production styles. And it hit me, when I was trying to sing along to Korean or when I found out the lyrics to “Doos Dronk” are almost entirely in Afrikaans, I was identifying more with foreign music than I was with the stuff at home. And I wondered what I saw in it.
Sadly, the answer’s really simple. GD&TOP, despite–or perhaps because of–being members of Korean boy band Big Bang, they’re the only rappers out there who focus on the style and the swagger of being rappers. It’s been so long dealing with this post-prison aesthetic in rap, where everybody tries to convince everyone how “hard” they are, and how “hood” they are, and how much they’re real and from the streets. Ironically, this is entirely a fabrication by these guys who, since they began to earn millions of dollars a year, have been farther removed from you than Bill Gates himself. Jay-Z may have sold coke, but lord knows that he doesn’t represent the street or the mafia in his raps today after building an empire on legitimately legitimate business. The man married Beyoncé Knowles. The number of us who could do that without selling our souls to Satan is zero.
No, GD&TOP don’t try to front like they’re ghetto, hood or any of this stuff. Instead, they just up the style beyond anything I’ve seen before. If Big Daddy Kane had kept the suits from Long Live the Kane, and went beyond suits to every style in the book, make-up, hairstyles, hair dye, all of this modern art and quirkiness–he’d still be at least two levels below GD&TOP in style. Big Daddy Kane is still the godfather of fast rap and holds a special place in my heart, but since he left us after his second album (because he did) the vacuum of style has been filled AND MORE by two members of a Korean boy band. Not to mention, their work has such a carefree attitude–a lot of rappers talk about not giving a what about anything you say, but you’ll never see them release a country song in skip time or a big heavy metal boy band ballad. The last American rapper I saw try to do a heavy metal song or anything was Lil’ Wayne. And he went to jail. (Truth.)
But no, these two are like the Japanese and visual kei–if they want to do it, they just up and do it. It’s sort of like the early days of jazz when white people thought it just meant any American music and put on “Jaz” revues with country and blues and western and ballet and stuff all up in them. White people never knew what made jazz jazz and now that they think they do, jazz is this weird, stagnant form of music played in bookstores. And also really good hip-hop influenced electronica with nice acoustic instrument samples. Hard bop was where the realest were at. Where was I? Right. GD&TOP pretty much look at all of American music and say “hey, we can do all that!” and then do. There is nothing off-limits for them, and that makes for a far more interesting listen than yet another record wherein a tough black man yells at me about how awesome he is.
Bigga Raiji is a different story. I first found his stuff through a music video Dan found for the song “おなかの唄” which translates to “Song of the Stomach”. Neither of us knew what it translated to when we first saw it. All we saw was a very rotund Japanese man in baggy shorts and baggy shirts with a big hat with an unbroken in brim rapping about food. The hook is “Big belly man, big belly man man/[Japanese I’ve yet to have translated]/Big belly man, yo!” I wish I could make that up. And after seeing that video a good 20 times, I found a torrent for the album that song was on in FLAC. I then burned those flac files to CD, ripped that CD as 320 kb/s MP3 (someone out there is crying) and rocked out. The big surprise of the album was that despite the fact that the song that hooked me was hip hop, the rest of it was really good, really well sung reggae. It isn’t legitimate reggae–as far as I’m aware–but it’s legitimate music and it legitimately makes me happy. It’s good stuff.
Die Antwoord–read a couple articles. That’s why.
So why do I listen to foreign music? I think it’s because I’ve always held the point of view of the outsider. I’ve always liked punk music for being the runty outcast of rock’n’roll. I’ve always liked the fringe of New Wave and the birth era of industrial music. I still listen to Nine Inch Nails, and you can’t get a bigger fandom who are more ashamed of themselves in daylight. I listen to D-Sisive, and Exclaim! magazine tells me that he’s outsider rap. I guess rapping about Jim Jones is unlikely to win you mainstream fans. But within the outsider fringe, within those artists who nobody really listens to, lie some real artists. Some real brave folks with unique voices and unique points of view who want to be heard but don’t have the distribution. It still doesn’t explain why I listen to the Afrikaans version of $0$ more than I do the English version, but that could also be because the Afrikaans version has “Wat Pomp”.
Like seriously. Best song ever.