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Hip Hop Worldwide

Tacinsk / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Wikimedia Commons

Hip hop’s early appeal had to do partly with its hyper-localism—the lyrics and musical tastes were originating from particular neighborhoods in New York City, each vying to produce sounds and styles distinct from each other.

As American hip hop grew and commercialized, this organic differentiation mellowed, and as the culture spread across oceans, hip hop was reborn in much the same way as it started: block by block, hood by hood.

You can still catch a lot of local flavor in non-American hip hop, and days can be spent listening to the music of a single region. France and Mexico each have hip hop traditions extending back nearly as far as the U.S., and so does nearly every country in Africa. Japan has been quietly making some of the most brooding hip hop for a couple of decades, while the Middle East is growing some of the best political emcees in the world.

Ironically, non-English hip hop is sometimes the best way for English-only speakers to be introduced to the genre. When our ears struggle to hear the words of our own language, we can miss the highly musical rhythms, and the harmonies in the rhymes. Letting go of the initial impulse to understand can make listening and hearing easier. It’s important to acknowledge that the words of other languages in hip hop have meaning-- but, at the same time, these songs can be a powerful tool useful for illuminating qualities in our own hip hop that we might not be able to hear.