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.
Trap 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 24⁄7. 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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