It’s often tossed around that America’s largest export is its culture. Whether or not this is accurate (I would pay money to see a cultural exports vs. explosives exports graph), it is undeniable that American culture does hold a great deal of influence overseas, and nowhere is this clearer than in the world of pop music. Since the creation of jazz, people in distant lands have been fascinated with the musical stylings of those crazy Americans. It shouldn’t be any surprise that rap has become a rather popular genre overseas in recent years. Now you might be saying, “But Max, rap is more of an increasingly diverse family of genres. DJ Shadow and Waka Flocka sound nothing alike!” And you would be correct. Which leads to the interesting question of what types of rap are popular where.
Oddly enough, Western Europe is home to a rap scene built on imitating American gangster rap. Two of Germany’s most popular rappers, Curse and Bushido openly celebrate this, with the former actually titling one his more popular tracks “Gangster Rap” and the latter filming a music video in a prison cell. Moving northwards we find different trends. Yung Lean, Swedish rap wunderkind, is indebted in equal parts to the irreverent Lil B, the enigmatic Salem, and the perpetually zonked-out DJ Screw. In fact, he’s quite unlike any other rapper out there, the product of American culture and Nordic post-ironic art.
While rap functions quite wonderfully as a counter-culture movement in Europe it works in other lands as a sort of musical soccer; full of room for complexity but having very few material requirements. This duality comes into play in Africa. Although there are certainly “artistic” rap outfits such as Die Antwoord, there are countless rappers out there simply making music for the fun of it. Africa’s most vibrant rap scene may be in Senegal, known at least partially in America as the home of Akon. The more critically relevant Senegalese rapper would the now-little know MC Solaar, a great example of more bare-bones rap relying on sheer lyricism for its impact.
And finally we arrive at Japan, the most confusing consumer of American culture. Their largest contribution to the genre is surprisingly tame, however; the late producer Nujabes. Listening to his music, one would be hard pressed to name any particular influence other than jazz. His life’s work largely amounts to laid back, instrumental beats. He is unique in the sense that his work is more influential on American hip-hop artists than vice-verse; modern beat-maker Clams Casino certainly owes a lot to him. But that may just be another aspect of the weird interactions of Japanese and American culture.