Hip-hop has always been a genre born out of a mix of young boredom, political anguish and an artist yearning for their voice to be heard. Whether they were part of the genre’s roots on the opposing US coasts in the late ’70s, or the kids in South Korea making their own imprint on the scene today, the international language of rap has resonated with so many, both performers and fans.
Rarely given a shine on an international level, Italy’s hip-hop scene is a diverse breeding ground for colourfully-dressed dudes making commercial pop-rap, as well as a reel of artists making more serious stuff, who have their sights are set on a making a difference to the towns and cities they grew up in.
In a piece for Huck Magazine on Milan’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, journalist Cian Traynor argued that “some [rappers] rely on hip-hop as an outlet for self-expression, some… a weapon for social change… others just see it as fun music.” This killer triad of hip-hop making qualities can be seen all across Italy’s biggest cities; with Rome and Milan both acting as burgeoning hubs for the movement.
To prep for the imminent worldwide breakout of some of its artists, here’s our rundown of the best rappers coming out of Italy that are worth keeping an eye on.
Hailing from Rome, Achille Lauro – real name Lauro De Marinis – dubs himself the “anti-rapper,” a hip-hop musician who forgoes the macho stereotypes of rap culture in favor of a feminine aesthetic, making tropical-tinged samba rap in the process. He broke out back in 2014 with “Achille Idol-Immortale,” a rap record steeped in religious allegories, but found a fresher, more contemporary sound last year. 2017 saw him sign with Sony Records, releasing party-friendly rap in collaboration with producer Boss Doms, who now makes his mark on pretty much all of Achille’s tracks.
We’re still trying to decide whether his flamboyant aesthetic is an example of queer tourism or signs of an artist rejecting toxic masculinity in hip-hop today, but for now we can revel in this lad’s daring style and entertaining musical delivery. Think Lil Peep meets Tommy Cash.
Carl Brave x Franco 126
History is riddled with the success stories of rap duos, and in the contemporary Italian hip-hop scene, the the duo that seem most poised to join these ranks are the Rome-based Carl Brave and Franco 126; otherwise known as producer Carlo Luigi Coraggio and rapper Franco Bertolini.
After meeting when their respective crews began collaborating, Carl and Franco quickly realized they had a special dynamic on their hands, with the former enlisting Franco for work on his debut project Phase Rem. Now, the pair have a whole album under their dual moniker – Polaroid, which was certified Gold this past December, at the same time as the project’s addictive single “Pellaria.”
A Universal Music signee and longtime contributor to the Italian rap scene, Gemitaiz has been dropping mixtapes and full-length records for 15 years now. When he was just 13, he surrounded himself with the Rome-dwelling hip-hop crowd, befriending fellow rap star CaneSecco and forming Xtreme Team, a collective that would go on to dominate the industry between 2006 and 2012.
He’s still a big deal today though. Gemitaiz is known for dealing with street and narco culture in his lyrics, and hit a tough point in 2014 when he was arrested on suspicion of drug dealing offences. After being placed on house arrest, he bounced back with an album that went platinum in Italy. Rumor has it his next full length LP is due to drop pretty soon.
Ghali is, for us, Italy’s most exciting young face in hip-hop right now. Born to Tunisian parents and raised in the suburbs of Milan, he draws inspiration from everybody from Michael Jackson to Migos when making his trap-heavy records. Famed for his keen eye for fashion, killer ear for beats and an even better one for good flows, he’s been around for the past half decade, working with a number of different rap collectives, but gaining his brilliant solo breakout in 2016.
His music touches on the dichotomy between his African heritage and Italian upbringing – which he ponders through tongue-in-cheek metaphors in “Pizza Kebab” – and how chill his approach to relationships is; “We’re watching documentaries on the universe and how it works” he admits on the excellent “Habibi.” His debut LP, titled Album is a party-ready dive into the life of this 24-year-old Milanese rapper, and has already gone double platinum in his home country.
Taking inspiration from the white god of trap Yung Lean, KETAMA126 is Italy’s prime purveyor of hazy, soaring cloud rap. Working mainly with his Love Gang group (aka SOLDY MUSIC, aka CXXVI/126 – they have many monikers), he’s part of a softer, more expressive movement coming out of Milan at the moment.
Working alongside Pretty Solero, Franco 126, Nino B and more, KETAMA’s catalogue is shaped by this dream-like vision of the world he and his friends grew up in – dwelling on drugs, relationships, and the pressures of growing up across his last three releases. His most recent LP, Oh Madonna, saw him remove himself from the equation, painting a wider picture of the lives young Italians lead. “It speaks of me, of my life, but through images – not anecdotes,” he said.
Another member of the Love Gang group, Pretty Solero makes swooping, bass and percussion heavy hip-hop for the “snowflake” generation. A creator of crestfallen love songs, he’s opted to call his record Romanzo Rosa, or Romance Novel; it’s no surprise that he’s superimposed himself into some Lana Del Rey clips for the video of his song “Red Roses.”
We have to say, the visuals for Solero’s work veer on ‘white boy rap’ satire at times, but the songs themselves aren’t too bad. Whether soppy odes to past lovers are your thing or not, there’s no denying that there’s a refreshing element of fragility to his work. If you’re a hip-hop obsessive whose not looking to get too crazy, give this guy a try.
It’s safe to say that hip-hop everywhere, not only in Italy, is unfairly dominated by male voices. But with the rise of a woke new generation, we’re starting to discover more talented women in the rap sphere; in Italy, Priestess is leading the pack.
Part of Universal’s roster, Priestess, real name Alessandra Prete, was discovered after her name wound up in the hands of MadMan, an Italian rapper who featured her on his 2015 record, Doppelganger. She doesn’t need anybody’s cosign though: Prete makes feverishly catchy and smart trap songs about cutthroat relationships, told through the lens of some of history’s most iconic women.
Allured by the hip-hop game by his rapping older cousin, Milan-raised emcee Rkomi originally started out as one half of a familial duo named Cugini Bellavita back in 2013, before parting ways and going solo. After a short time away from making music, he returned in 2016 with an image and sound that hip-hop fans and radio stations went crazy for.
You can recognise Rkomi’s work thanks to his relentless flow. He can somehow pack what feels like two dozen syllables in one breath – and his subjects of discussion seem pretty varied too. On his verse for the posse cut “Bimbi” (alongside Sfera Ebbasta, IZI and more), he’s musing about the inescapable nature of the city he grew up in. But he’s not always so melancholic: “Liam Gallagher,” a brutal two minute cut in which Rkomi compares himself to the famed Oasis frontman, is a track about cockiness and knowing your worth.
Part of the respected Def Jam roster, Sfera Ebbasta calls himself the ‘Trap King’ on his Instagram feed. With his flash pink hair, grills and Kurt Cobain shades, he certainly looks the part, channeling artists from his genre’s emo renaissance. His music, however, is more the kind of polished pop-rap that could tear up the Billboard chart.
A chance encounter with producer Charlie Charles at a rap event back in 2013 led Sfera on the path to making hip-hop. The pair linked up for a series of projects together, including his debut album XVDR and his eponymous follow-up – both of which landed him with a loyal fanbase in his home country. Then came Rockstar: his most recent LP that saw him collaborate with Quavo and Rich the Kid – a rare crossover for Italian rapper. It’s clear that Def Jam think he’s got what it takes to go all the way, so watch this space.
Bouncing between Genoa and Milan throughout his childhood, Tedua’s sound is the product of a man who’s never felt at home in either place. Raised in a single-parent family, his frenetic, often anger-laced rhymes dwell on the violence that surrounded him in the streets as a kid. That being said, he’s able to apply a similar energy to a collection of tracks that poke fun at rap culture, while pandering semi-ironically to its stereotypes too; they’re both present on his Orange County mixtape trilogy.
When he’s not rapping, you can see him dipping his toe in the fashion world, too. For Dolce and Gabbana’s latest menswear collection, Tedua joined the sons of the world’s most famous faces to walk the FW18 runway.
For more like this, take a look at our list of 10 Korean rappers to keep on your radar.
- Photography: Andrea D'Auria