Armed with insightful lyrics and infectious sounds, a generation of non-Anglophone rappers is stepping out of the shadows to make their mark on the hip-hop world. While lovers of the genre have long looked stateside for inspiration, Europe’s finest have been working tirelessly to promote their sound without compromise.
As exemplified in Belgium, the country’s tastemakers appear to have their sights set on a hip-hop renaissance. Boasting three national languages, a number of music and arts festivals, and an increasingly popular street art scene; up and coming practitioners are highlighting the multi-cultural nature of the country’s landscape.
With much of the nation’s talent residing in capital city Brussels, participants of the genre have gone on to chart their growth from freestyle ciphers to Gold-certified records. Aided by the support of Francophone fans and publications such as Grünt, eager listeners are slowly tapping into ongoing developments within French-spoken rap outside of its native home.
Making a defiant step away from much-loved pop-acts such as Stromae, here are 10 rappers in la scène belge, you ought to keep on your radar.
Born in the Brussels suburb of Linkebeek, 25-year-old Romeo Elvis is the go-to “Prince” of contemporary Belgian rap. The Lacoste-wearing rhymer gained notable attention upon the release of his 2016 album Morale and recent follow up Morale 2; which became the third album in Belgian rap history to be certified Gold. Having worked with producer Le Motel on both records, Elvis’ sound hallmarks a return to drum-led beats combined with hard-hitting flows.
Known for his tongue-in-cheek verses, baritone delivery, and crazy French wordplay, Elvis is a regularly featured artist in the “BXL scene.” Throughout his music, the artist speaks candidly about philosophy, his battle with tinnitus and the Belgian identity as one separate to France. In a similar vein to what “Talkin da Hardest” by Giggs means to Londoners, Elvis’ 2016 hit, “Bruxelles Arrive” quickly became an anthem for Belgian youths.
The ever charismatic Krisy effortlessly switches between smooth-talking rhymes and street-ready verses. Prior to his 2012 debut mixtape, Black Souag, the producer turned rapper was already making beats under the moniker De La Fuentes. Reworking classic tracks such as Chet Baker’s “Alone Together” or Spandau Ballet’s “True,” Krisy’s attention to samples, lyrics, and flow are reminiscent of an early Kanye West.
Having founded the collective Le Jeune, Krisy then went onto release 5 further musical projects in preparation for his forthcoming album, Euphoria. Since signing to French management agency Hashtag NP in 2017, the rapper maintains a low social media profile but more than delivers when it comes to bars, beats and ‘fits.
Caballero x Jean Jass
Having already made notable waves as solo artists, Spanish-born Caballero chanced upon Belgian producer and rapper Jean Jass at a radio show in 2011. Since their meeting, the two embarked on a union that marked a much-needed playfulness in the Belgian scene. Citing East Coast rappers as key influences, the pair’s tracks highlight Brussel’s take on women, drugs and the police in rap music.
To cement their efforts in the “BXL scene,” the duo released their first joint album Double Hélice in 2016 and Double Hélice II a year later. Stylistically, their beats echo the looped patterns of Future, Migos, and Drake, but undoubtedly match the melodies with pun-filled bars and a cheeky smile.
L’Or du Commun
L’Or du Commun aka The Common Gold is solid proof that good things come in threes. Consisting off members Primero, Loxley and Swing, the trio represents the ever-growing combination of jazz and chillwave melodies in hip-hop. Early projects such as L’Odyssée saw the group draw notable inspiration from boom-bap beats, which has since evolved into radio-friendly tracks with smooth vocals to match.
Having gone on record as discovering Romeo Elvis in his early career, collaborations between the two artists are not uncommon, exemplifying the interconnected nature of the Brussels scene. With the release of the group’s 2017 album Zeppelin in partnership with producer Vax1, L’Or Du Commun are a group that neatly subscribe to the saying “for us, by us.”
Embarking on a journey of his own, L’or du Commun member Swing marked the start of his solo career with the release of his project Marabout. Whilst still maintaining group duties, Swing’s personal pull to Belgian rap is hallmarked by his extraordinary vocal abilities and attention to color and tones.
As seen via his visuals for “Cercle” and “Corbeaux”, Swing’s knack for matching easy-going beats with high-definition videos only serves as a reason to get behind his vision. While his solo material by no means overshadows the work of his bandmates, a fresh take on the group’s sound can easily be found in his work.
Formerly known as PsMaker, the Woluwe-raised rapper is one of Belgium’s more explosive performers. Following a short break from music, Isha came back with a name change and a defiant sound to match. Determined to master any genre or beat that came his way, Isha’s bars are universally applicable to any sound or circumstance.
Whether it’s grime-heavy beats or rap/sung collaborations, Isha’s understanding of his own musical reach is firmly backed by a concrete awareness of socio-political constraints, race-relations, and the music industry complex. While he may take a little longer than his counterparts to release new music, his 2017 album La Vie Augmente Vol. 1 is a good indicator of what’s to come.
It goes without saying that this male-dominated list deserves a much-needed female touch. Hailing from the Dutch region of Antwerp, rapper and singer Coely first stepped to the mic at 14, and honestly, we’re happy she did. Opting for English-uttered bars over the usual Francophone-based tracks, the Universal Music signee released her first album Different Waters in 2017.
And different she is. Having opened stages for Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, J-Cole, Ab-Soul, Nas and Mos Def, the young performer has certified her penchant for catchy melodies and self-written bars without a co-sign. Whether she’s discussing relationships, her upbringing or dreams of success; each and every lyric comes from the heart.
Kinshasa-born Damso aka the “Tintin of the Congo” is not one for imposing limits on his music. Whether he’s opting for trap-style drums on “BruxellesVie” or introspective lyrics on “Graine de Sabiler,” his first album Batterie Faible, demonstrated the rapper’s ability to switch between varied styles of music and flows.
Upon the release of his second project, Ipséité, the triple platinum disc also achieved Gold status in Belgium and Switzerland. Backed by French Capitol records and an ever-loyal fanbase, the 26-year-old is set to reach new heights with the release of his upcoming third album, Lithopédion.
At just 23 years old, Hamza has already garnered fans in Belgium, France, and Canada. Having released 6 projects via his Warner Music sub-label, ‘Just Woke Up,’ the self-proclaimed “Sauce God” is arguably the most American-influenced on the list. With that said, don’t let it deter you from his East meets West sound. Fusing Arabic and African-music samples with contemporary trap beats, the young star made his notable mark in the scene upon the release of his 2017 mixtape 1994.
Pior to the release of 1994, Hamza released his H24 mixtape, which garnered the attention of Ontario artist Ramzriddlz. The two then joined forces on the Francophone dancehall-style track, “El Dorado.” Citing Drake, Young Thug, and Travis Scott as his primary influences, it’s not difficult to see why Hamza’s new wave in Belgian rap is a testament to cross-cultural sounds as well as the resulting success of DIY initiatives.
Like Coely, Woodie Smalls was also born in a Dutch region of Belgium – Sint-Niklaas. From humble beginnings in his Uncle’s home studio, Smalls went on to produce his own tracks, eventually landing himself a record deal with Sony. Spitting his rhymes in English, his music cites notable influences from Pharrell, Kanye West, and Odd Future.
In 2017, Smalls’ track “Tokyo Drift” was chosen to be on the NBA 2k video game soundtrack in addition to songs from Drake and Kendrick Lamar. In the same year, Small landed a spot at one of Belgium’s biggest music festivals, Couleur Café. On “Planet Shrooms,” (featured above), Small effortlessly takes to rapping about money and success over a drum and synth track, with a pretty catchy hook to boot.
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- Main and Featured Image: La Straussphère