The Hip Hop Travel Blog: Super Mario World- $.Mario (@killawhisper_)

This is for those people that accuse trap of ruin­ing Hip Hop. I just want people to under­stand that Hip Hop and Trap are two dif­fer­ent domains…It’s not try­ing to ruin Hip Hop, they’re two dif­fer­ent things’ — ($.Mario, 04/08/16, Bari, Ita­ly).

 

For a long time now I have always wondered why the UK doesn’t seem to allow main­stream music in from non-Eng­lish speak­ing coun­tries, espe­cially from it’s European neigh­bours. Post Brex­it this now seems to be even more note­worthy. We as Brits provide this kind of cul­tur­al bar­ri­er even when we travel. How many of us (includ­ing myself) are guilty of set­ting foot in another non-Eng­lish speak­ing coun­try and start the con­ver­sa­tion ‘Hel­lo do you speak Eng­lish?’ without even attempt­ing to even greet people in their home dia­lect?

Lon­don; is one of the world’s most diverse and eclectic cit­ies, from it’s wide vari­ety of eth­nic groups that live there, to it’s array of foods and fash­ion trends. How­ever, with­in it’s main­stream music scene, it’s not neces­sar­ily as diverse. I tried think­ing of artists in UK main­stream music sec­tor that do not sing or rap in Eng­lish and I couldn’t of even name one. This lead me to start think­ing our recept­ive­ness to artists in oth­er coun­tries that are mak­ing incred­ible music or art but are blocked because of our pos­sible lack of open­ness or may­be even aware­ness to what is going on out­side of the UK and not in USA. Here is the second of many attempts I will endeav­our on; to shed light on the many amaz­ing artists, doing incred­ible things for the Hip Hop world.

Whil­st mean­der­ing in Rot­ter­dam, I found myself attrac­ted to Mar­greeth Olst­hoo­rn fash­ion store for its quirky, avant-garde but high fash­ion qual­ity. As I wan­der­ing into the store, I came into a room which seemed sep­ar­ate; as there were no clothes; just few small pieces of art on dis­play and a desk with beau­ti­ful young woman work­ing away. I had learned from the woman; by the name of Alice; that in fact I had stumbled on a gal­lery attached to the shop called NL=US Art — a gal­lery show­cas­ing upcom­ing; as well as estab­lished artists from Hol­land and Amer­ica. We met for tea the very next day, where I learned that Alice’s part­ner was an Itali­an mod­el cre­at­ing his first ever Trap mix-tape.

mcmxTrap is a music gen­re that is mind blow­ing in terms of its con­cepts. It’s premise is very sim­ple but it’s inter­pret­at­ive range con­tex­tu­ally, espe­cially in spaces out­side of it’s ori­gin of Atlanta, Geor­gia makes it super inter­est­ing. Trap is evolving in terms of sound, lyr­ic­al con­tent, lan­guage and dis­tri­bu­tion; mak­ing it a gen­re that is def­in­itely push­ing the bound­ar­ies of the art, music and cul­ture. $.Mario (Super Mario aka Kil­la Whi$per) is MC, Mod­el and Pro­du­cer who is using Trap music as a way of self expres­sion. The dol­lar sign ($) in his name relates to many parts nar­rat­ive; which includes mak­ing money and his time spent with the A$AP Mob.

Bari is a city south of Ita­ly on the coast known for it’s busy port which con­nects to Greece, Albania and Croa­tia, almost mak­ing it the per­fect place to travel for the tour­ist. To the best of my know­ledge, the feel­ing isn’t entirely recip­roc­ated by it’s inhab­it­ants; which provides a great anti­thes­is. It’s a city rich in ancient his­tory jux­ta­posed with high pop­u­la­tion of young people that brings a cul­tur­al swag. This is $.Mario’s home but it’s his world­wide travels (like myself), that have equally fed his art.

How did you first get into Hip Hop?

I was 8 years old. You’re a kid and you don’t know what to listen to because you don’t know music that much; so you just pretty much listen to whatever you come across and I was lucky enough to come across some stuff. From Biggie,Tupac, Naughty by Nature and MC Breed. I just found a whole bunch of stuff between the age of 8 to 10. I also used to have a Play­sta­tion and I got a video game that was a Wu Tang Clan video game.               ‘36 Cham­bers’ was their album and the game was named after it. When I got that game, I would just listen to the music and be like ‘Yo what the fuck is this?!’ It’s so cool and that was my very first memory as far as rap or hip-hop is con­cerned.

Where were you born?

I was born in the south of Ita­ly close to Bari and close to the sea­side. There is Hip Hop going around, but it’s pretty much a cer­tain kind of Hip Hop; which is course related to the sort of mind-set, cul­ture and habits and things that people would usu­ally express in that con­text. So there are cer­tain things in Hip Hop or Rap here that are nat­ur­ally excluded and more con­tex­tu­al because they’re so dif­fer­ent from any­thing that would ori­gin­ate with­in this con­text. But we have Hip Hop here. We have a strong Reg­gae scene also.

Do you feel like the Hip Hop com­munity where you’re from is access­ible? How is it for me as someone from the UK to find out about the scene?

I think it’s pretty feas­ible in terms of the loc­al scene where I come from. On the oth­er hand, you can talk about what is going through­out the whole of Ita­ly, con­sid­er­ing dif­fer­ent con­texts because every region­al and loc­al con­text has got it’s own real­ity to it. They inter­act between each oth­er and among each oth­er but each con­text has its own space. But it’s pretty open towards any­one who is inter­ested. The thing that is not as open is the dif­fer­ent influ­ences or styles and con­cepts and new ideas. That kinda stuff is pretty much fixed and seemed like it’s not allowed to change. For example, there is a strong battle rap scene here. That’s how I star­ted rap­ping pretty much by means of free­style battles and cyphers.

I just real­ised that it’s one kind of dimen­sion and it’s one kind of brain-work and one kind of nar­rat­ive and it con­veys cer­tain type of mes­sages; where­as you might express a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent things in a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent ways which is the reas­on why I got closer to Trap and Grime. When I went to the UK and star­ted hanging out with people there, Grime became a thing because; as opposed to the kind of nar­rat­ive char­ac­ter­ised straight out of Hip Hop in the 80’s and 90’s gen­res; Grime and Trap offer a whole new nar­rat­ive or means of expres­sion. Hip Hop ori­gin­ates with­in a cer­tain social and cul­tur­al frame­work; as opposed to Trap which ori­gin­ates in a whole oth­er dimen­sion. You can com­pare a Fer­rari to a new Beetle, as they’re both cars. In Hip Hop and Trap, you got met­rics, you got verses, you have sim­il­ar express­ive devices but that doesn’t mean that you can put them in the same level.

Is there a Trap Scene in Ita­ly?

As far as I know there is no Trap scene in Ita­ly. You’ve got people who wan­na make Trap music that’s for sure. I notice this espe­cially because I don’t live in Ita­ly any­more. In my opin­ion if were going to talk about Hip Hop in Ita­ly now; we can put Hip Hop and Trap in the same group because were talk­ing about artists try­ing to put some­thing for­ward and actu­ally deliv­er­ing a mes­sage and being them­selves. Rather than try­ing come up with some­thing they feel like they should put for­ward, they got this way of being noticed and com­ing up which pretty much fol­lows the gen­er­al trend by the means of social media so it’s not so much about the art or put­ting for­ward a mes­sage by means or par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al device or social strap. That is what it is for me: a cul­tur­al device; which helps me con­vey a cer­tain mes­sage, the way I feel I should con­vey the mes­sage, but the major­ity of people I know and what I’ve heard so far, they’re just try­ing to get the spot­light.

As for more com­mit­ted artists try­ing to Trap from what I know Trap is the first place is a cul­ture, which ori­gin­ates with­in a cer­tain state of mind because before Trap as a cul­ture could arise you had people doing, reas­on­ing and react­ing to cer­tain things and facts of life in a par­tic­u­lar way whil­st sim­ul­tan­eously try­ing to express them­selves. I think that is the way Trap came about because people on the street faced with very dif­fi­cult life choices and con­straints at some point said I am here, I want to hustle and get my life togeth­er no mat­ter what hap­pens or where I am start­ing from. That’s the thing I like most about Trap.

But I believe in order to be able to put for­ward such a mes­sage you should know those things and people in Ita­ly for the most part are pretty com­fort­able with everything. I could be in a sim­il­ar situ­ation but at some point when I was 20 I just decided I wanted to make whatever I could out of my life. I said to myself I am going to New York, Par­is, I am going to mod­el and I am going to hustle as much as I can and that lead me to a whole bunch of really inter­est­ing things and inter­est­ing life exper­i­ences.  Which in turn, lead me to reach a cer­tain mind-set, atti­tude and will to be doing this kind of stuff which is what works for me as opposed to people I know who nev­er left home or just hang out with the same group of people and who nev­er really leave the place they were born because they’re com­fort­able and that reflects in their lyr­ics.

You can rap about any­thing I don’t care but it is cul­tur­al appropriation/expropriation because you’re just talk­ing about some­thing that you don’t know in a way that is wrong. This is the reas­on why the thing I am doing, I believe, is going to stand out. I lived in New York for a couple of years — I was liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton Aven­ue, in Brook­lyn. I did a fash­ion show with A$AP Rocky. I know these people. I know the Under­achiev­ers. Those people are my biggest influ­ences. Com­ing up with those people around; you share things them, espe­cially if you like what they’re doing, you feel that you’re pretty much on the same page not only as far as the music is con­cerned but a cer­tain mind-set or approach to life, cul­ture so I just felt like I found my dimen­sion over there and this is still what I am try­ing to push with the stuff that I do. Even if it is in Itali­an, it might be good. People might start under­stand­ing some of the new things by the means of what I do.

Do you MC in Eng­lish?

I have already done it. I star­ted rap­ping by free-styl­ing just from the top of my head because I didn’t have writ­ten rhymes and punch-lines to use but I wanted to go to cyphers and battles. I thought rap­ping of the top of your head was just the aver­age thing you should do if you want to rap so I insisted on that up until the point where that became my state of mind and A$AP Rocky knows one thing or two about this because he kept say­ing that you should get your mind used to it and you don’t need any­thing else. So, yes I rapped in Eng­lish as well. May­be I am not as fast as I am in Itali­an but I can come up with things with like one second more!

Where­as, in Itali­an I don’t even need to think. In Eng­lish, I have to think for a second or two if I wan­na make sure the line is good. I speak more than one lan­guage; so I am used to pay­ing atten­tion to details of com­mu­nic­a­tion; which go bey­ond the lin­guist­ic sys­tems con­duc­ted by the type of com­mu­nic­a­tion; because I have learned you have so many details in a person’s point of view. Which in turn, is influ­enced by their cul­ture and oth­er things. This is import­ant to con­sider when it comes to express­ing any­thing so I hope that this thing I am doing proves to people that you can take ele­ments from dif­fer­ent con­texts and cul­tures no mat­ter what kind of bar­ri­ers you come across.

You can do it and sound cool to any­one. I also respect the point of view that people feel like they belong to some­where and that they want to put their mes­sage for­ward any­way they want. I am not aim­ing to rep­res­ent­ing any­thing spe­cific because I don’t feel like a belong to some­where 100% in the first place on the grounds of my life exper­i­ence so far because I have been trav­el­ling for the past 4 years. I lived and trav­elled to a whole bunch of places, but at the same time I am try­ing to put for­ward a mes­sage that you can talk to any­one no mat­ter what lan­guage, place you come from or cul­ture and if people are cool with that, then i’ts gon­na work.

I think that it allows you as artist to go above and bey­ond your super­i­ors. You don’t know how the rest of the world will react until you try it out which is what I want to do. Even people who are not from Ita­ly to be like I don’t under­stand what you’re say­ing but it sounds full and its enga­ging. That’s what it should be. I’ve lived in Hol­land for 1 year now because I was doing Mas­ters in Rot­ter­dam and I rapped with people there. I did some­thing at a fest­ival: The Hag­ue Win­ter Fest­ival. It’s a big ass annu­al thing. They just had me on stage. They were like ‘You’re Itali­an, we don’t know what you’re talk­ing about but try it out it could be cool’. After I per­formed, they said ‘You’ve got such a beau­ti­ful flow and you got atti­tude. You def­in­itely got some­thing. We don’t under­stand but it’s cool’ I appre­ci­ated that people trus­ted it, but I just wan­na make sure everything is good qual­ity in the first place.

In New York, I was just cypher­ing a lot because people just cypher­ing any­way wherever. Every­one does it there; which for me was so good because when I got there I was like ‘I kinda like Big­gie’ and people were like ‘Oh well you’re in the right place!’ I just wan­na go back there and be like thank you so much for everything because it was a life chan­ging exper­i­ence.

Name your top 3 hip hop artists (if you can)

Grand­mas­ter Flash and the Furi­ous 5 for put­ting for­ward the imprint to this whole thing. For that reas­on to me they deserve a spe­cial place. Big­gie — Well I lived in Brook­lyn. It lit­er­ally raised me and his influ­ence I just learned so much from him as for flow and rhymes, atti­tude. Beast coast move­ment because that’s pretty much where I belong. I am talk­ing about A$AP Mob, Pro Era, The Under­achiev­ers, The Flat­bush Zom­bies,  Beast coast are like the con­tem­por­ary East Coast rep­res­ent­at­ives.

They brought togeth­er dif­fer­ent dimen­sions of self express­ing because A$AP Rocky and A$AP Yams by influ­ence of A$AP Yams and the A$AP mob carry out this vis­ion of put­ting togeth­er dif­fer­ent ways of express­ing your­self mainly through fash­ion, art, music and then on top of that dif­fer­ent kinds of music and fash­ion. A$AP Rocky says if you’ve got gifts and tal­ents and if you feel like you can express your­self in cer­tain ways and employ those gifts and tal­ents then go ahead and reach out to people who do the same things because you shouldn’t have bar­ri­ers when it comes to express­ing your­self and com­mu­nic­at­ing. I think they’re cul­tur­al influ­en­cers. They changed the way things are because of this is a new dimen­sion of express­ing art.

Can you tell me a bit about your time in the UK and your exper­i­ence with Grime?

Shout out to Reece Sanders. He lit­er­ally got me obsessed with Grime! We were liv­ing togeth­er because we were apart of the same agency in Par­is a couple of years ago and at some point we were put togeth­er in this apart­ment and on the first day he was like “do you like Grime?” and I said ‘I don’t even know what Grime is’. This was two years ago. He showed me the ‘Lord of the Mics’ and I was like this sounds like rap but its got some­thing dif­fer­ent. Liv­ing with Reece for two months, smoking weed and listen­ing to Grime pretty much 247. That was my first con­tact with Grime. Then I put it on the side because I star­ted get­ting into new school Hip Hop but then after one year I had got in touch with Grime again. I listened to Stormzy and Skep­ta and I thought ok I really need to under­stand this bet­ter because this is the future and this is fire.

By the time I star­ted listen­ing to Stormzy and Skep­ta espe­cially because they’re my two favour­ite Grime artists, I was listen­ing to the Beast Coast, Flat­bush Zom­bies etc. and one day I just down­loaded this Tim West­wood mix-tape with Skep­ta and I just heard a track where I heard the Flat­bush Zom­bies voices and I was like of course they col­lab­or­ated. They’re the per­fect com­bin­a­tion. Then I heard this mix-tape and there were 3 tracks of Skep­ta fea­tur­ing the Flat­bush Zom­bies. I’ve got everything I like because these are the things that I listen to the most. Skep­ta does a lot of things with The Flat­bush Zom­bies and The Under­achiev­ers and he’s really in touch with The Beast Coast.

I love Grime because of the dark atmo­spheres, the vibe that you get, the way artists express them­selves, the atti­tude, the flow and the met­rics. The fact that they use really long, really struc­tured sen­tences and really tight verses, is some­thing I love. You got rap­pers or artists who may­be don’t pay that much atten­tion to the way they struc­ture verses whereby there’s dif­fer­ent dimen­sions and ways you could struc­ture a verse. You could struc­ture a verse con­tent wise, met­rics wise or you could do all those things togeth­er which is for me what makes a good mc and tells a good mc from a bad one. I like Grime because they’re just so tight, intense, they’ve got an atti­tude plus they do it in a way that no one was doing before. I remem­ber when Grime first sort of blew up and people were like oh no I don’t under­stand what they’re say­ing and stuff like that. They’re fast and they use long sen­tences but that’s a cool thing. They have huge tal­ents and cap­ab­il­it­ies in terms of put­ting stuff togeth­er. That’s the best thing a artist can do and that’s what I am try­ing to do in the first place.

Tell me about the pro­ject you’re cur­rently cre­at­ing.

As much as you got people who wan­na stay true to their roots, you got people who feel like they don’t have roots. And that’s me pretty much. I mean of course, I have cer­tain core val­ues and things that I abide by but I also tend to ques­tion things like status, val­ues, estab­lish­ments so my pro­ject is called MCMXC — The Leg­acy, which is 1990: the year I was born in Roman numer­als and besides that MC is my ini­tials. There is mul­tiple mean­ings in any­thing I do so if you read some­thing you should think that there is ambi­gu­ity. This is the title because it is my leg­acy. It’s everything I have done so far put togeth­er and left there so it’s actu­ally my leg­acy. With­in the pro­ject I have sub-pro­jects; of which the mix-tape is prob­ably the main body. It’s a way to put for­ward the way I feel as opposed to whatever you’re sup­posed to do in cer­tain social con­texts or social estab­lish­ments.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff I don’t agree with so I was like I am gon­na put what I actu­ally feel like which is a reflec­tion of what I am actu­ally doing with my life in my music. So for instance in one track people would say its like a ‘swag track’ because I am talk­ing about the fact that I’ve been mod­el­ling that I have been (thank god) doing pretty well, that I’ve got some money, got some amaz­ing cov­ers, got some expos­ure, that I have self esteem and that I’m good at rap­ping. Look­ing in the face of a lot of people I know try­ing to rap in order to build a image which is ulti­mately not the true image of them­selves, the para­dox is even though I am talk­ing about swag and all that shit which could be mis­con­strued by super­fi­cial ideas, it is the thing that I am actu­ally doing!!

As opposed to any oth­er higher mor­al stand­ard which would only be a mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion. I hear a lot of people rap­ping about this and that. I don’t see inten­tion. And that’s what mat­ters to me. I don’t care if you talk about how cute your dog is as long as you mean what you say. That’s what I want to do with this work. The way I feel and the exper­i­ences I’ve had is my actu­al dimen­sion and to me that is a prop­er straight mes­sage to put for­ward as opposed to any oth­er pre­sum­ably higher value repe­ti­tion of what someone else might have done.

I wasn’t born in the streets; but I was born among crimin­al­ity because the place I come from in Ita­ly is all about that. So much drug deal­ing and even people dying; noth­ing com­pared to the UK but there is a lot of shit going on here and people need to face that. Doesn’t mean I am from the streets or that I need to abide by a cer­tain kind of nar­rat­ive there­fore sup­port cer­tain street val­ues. It is apart of my exper­i­ence and that’s what mat­ters to me the most; being able to con­vey your exper­i­ence, feel­ings and emo­tions in an hon­est way. Even when we were talk­ing about drugs and hust­ling as long as your hon­est, you’re doing your thing and you’re put­ting for­ward what you want to put for­ward its all good. I don’t care what they talk about as long as it’s true. That’s the import­ant thing in Hip hop- this thing of push­ing the truth. Truth recog­nises truth.

Talk to me about your cre­at­ive pro­cess.

Well I am 26 and my brother is 23 and he is gradu­at­ing at the Con­ser­vatoire with Piano. He’s been there almost 10 years. He’s a beast, so good. He’s so good at it. He’s also a pro­du­cer. Lately he’s been pretty much exper­i­ment­al. He’s been sampling noises and sounds from the sur­round­ings and the envir­on­ment and he works with those sounds to cre­ate. He’s doing sound design basic­ally. It’s so the next level of express­ing shit using music because you don’t rely on using the power of a rhythm, the power of a melody or shit like that you just cre­ate some­thing new, pulling it from scratch which is what he does. Were actu­ally going to record a mono­logue or a sort of actor’s script.

We’re gon­na record it without a beat or any­thing. In terms of met­rics it’s three tight verses. Pretty tight, but in a dif­fer­ent way, not using a given amount of syl­lables just being really free and open. What he’s going to do is take my voice and just build a whole atmo­sphere out of it using a sound design pro­cess and that is going to be the out­ro to my mix-tape. I’m just gon­na say all the things togeth­er that I’ve got­ta say in the form of speech as if I was speak­ing to someone because that’s actu­ally I’m mean­ing to do. For now he’s run­ning a stu­dio where a whole bunch of people are com­ing to record their shit. He’s becom­ing more and more known because of the shit he does is qual­ity. You can tell.

This exper­i­ence with him has been great because I haven’t seen him in one year and also just being in the stu­dio with him. So I just got back home, I saw him and I was like ok lets just go to the stu­dio. The beau­ti­ful thing is some­times I am just like ‘Yo, what do you see here at this point. Would you do some­thing dif­fer­ent here or what kind of inten­tion would you put for­ward with this’ or some­times he’s like “I think you should do it that way” and I’ve thought of that way as well so we com­bine all the things. It’s even more inter­est­ing because he’s nev­er done Trap before so this is his first exper­i­ence so even for him its some­thing new to deal with and it comes togeth­er with a cer­tain curi­os­ity com­bined with all these dif­fer­ent back­grounds and influ­ences. Over­all its great and a enrich­ing exper­i­ence. So I am record­ing everything with him and he’s mix­ing and mas­ter­ing and post-pro­du­cing everything. I trust him 100%. I wouldn’t do this with any­one else but him.

As for my ins­tagram it’s the things I wan­na say myself.  The whole idea and con­cept is just there in a sequence of pho­tos. Its called Pandora’s boxe$ because it’s box and with­in the box. You open the box and a whole bunch of shit comes out which is pretty much what hap­pens with what I wro­te because they’re just small phrases, words or codes but they embody a strong polit­ic­al, satir­ic­al and per­son­al mes­sages that I want to put for­ward. It works as a back­ing pro­ject to the main one just to get a sense of it.

What do you hope to achieve with this pro­ject?

I want those who listen to it to open their minds. I know for a fact that people are going to get what I am talk­ing about because I have made sure of it so I am not wor­ried. I am not wor­ried about put­ting for­ward a cer­tain mes­sage because it’s guar­an­teed to hap­pen because I have made sure of it. In the long term what I actu­ally want is for people to listen to it and look at the way I have done it. Then we can do a whole bunch of things and then we can start think­ing of things in more than just one way. Now we can cre­ate. I wan­na inspire people the way I felt inspired by all the things that brought me here. I don’t care how its going to hap­pen. I don’t care what people are actu­ally going to say about what I do. That’s their busi­ness. They can think whatever they want.  Every­one is free to think how they want. I want to inspire people to do some­thing with their lives that they feel like is worth doing. That’s all I want. If that hap­pens then I am good. If I get money and whole bunch of oth­er things I am good with that as well.

 

  ‘You’re real and you’re cool. You don’t care about what oth­ers do any­way because it’s you’re mes­sage and it’s not affected by what oth­ers. Every­one has got their things. People should just be real’.- ($.Mario, 04/08/16, Bari, Ita­ly).

 

$.Mario’s mix­tape, per­son­al­ity and artist­ic integ­rity is some­thing that leaps over any lan­guage hurdle that the UK music industry provides. He along­side many oth­er artists prove that real Hip Hop is know­ledge and with that it must be expressed hon­estly. Hon­est expres­sion is uni­ver­sal.

 

M C M X C : T H E  L E G A C Y is out now on Sound­Cloud

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.