An update with the Belgian Sauce King: Hamza

Pictures by Guillaume Kayacan

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Some say Brussels-based rapper Hamza is criminally underrated – and they may have a valid point. With only 23 years of age on the counter, this talented fella has released over 6 mixtapes and EPs, and sold out multiple shows across Belgium, France and Canada. Most of us picked him up when he dropped the slow trap singalong ‘La Sauce’ over two years ago, which was featured on his excellent H-24 mixtape. Fast forward a little bit, and Hamza aka the ‘Saucegod’ has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Listening to his top-notch ‘1994’ release, which came out in October, one can clearly hear his versatility, his dedication and his enjoyment as an artist behind the mic. With upcoming shows at prestigious venues like Ancienne Belgique and Paris institutes La Cigale and L’Olympia, this fine export product of contemporary American-influenced hip hop was eager to take 15 minutes of his time and have a little chat with us.

How's life treating you?

"Life is good! We have been doing  some promo for the mixtape, a couple of shows here and there. All in all, it’s quite calm, with tireless days spent in the studio, working on my upcoming debut album - which will drop in the summer."

What about your work-life balance?

"When I’m outside, I just live my life like anybody else. The studio is a place of work for me – and I don’t take work out of the workplace, you know?"

How was your ‘1994’-mixtape received?

"Very good, actually. By both the fans and other professionals. That really gave a boost – I’m very motivated for the next release now!"

Do you feel like this was your best work to date?

"Most definitely! Musically, this is the best work I’ve ever made – so far. You can hear the improvements I have made compared to earlier releases. My growth has been a long and steady one, but this mixtape personally feels like it marks an important point my evolution as an artist."

From all the Belgian rappers, you seem to have the most distinct ‘American/Canadian’ style, similar to Young Thug, Ramriddlz or PARTYNEXTDOOR. Where does that come from?

"Ever since I’ve been listening to music, I’ve been listening to hip hop from the other side of the Atlantic. So, yeah, that style has definitely influenced me – and not just my music, my whole lifestyle as well. It has also allowed me to open some important doors: I’m able to break through in other countries now, because of that. Even though an English-speaking audience may not understand my lyrics, they can feel my vibe nonetheless."

There are not many Belgian artists that bring a mix of (t)rap, R&B and dancehall the way you do, while this trend is definitely present on the international scene. Would you feel bored if you wouldn’t switch it up like you do now?

"It depends on what I want to do. If someone here wants to rap, then they are free to rap how they are pleased. But that’s just not what I want to do. I’m not a thoroughbred rapper in the strict definition of that word – I like a lot of other styles and genres too, so I try different things. Additionally, it doesn’t put me in a particular niche – something I’m a lot more comfortable with."

You have worked on tracks with Toronto rapper Ramriddlz in the past. Any more stuff coming out soon?

"Yes! There are still a few new tracks in the pipeline, and we’re already talking about another collaboration. There’s just a very good connection between us, we really understand each other’s music. He’s a genuine dude, always walking around with a smile. Keep an eye on him, he might drop a new collab by us somewhere soon…"

If there was any other rapper in the world you would like to dive in the studio with, who would that be?

"There are so many! In Belgium, I’ve done some bits with Damso already – and I’m sure more will come out soon. Caballero & JeanJass should be fun too, but we’ll see how that goes. As for international artists, maybe Travis Scott, although it could be interesting to work with more women. I definitely wouldn’t mind a collab with Jhene Aiko or Rihanna (laughs). Most of our music is up the same alley anyways."

Unlike a lot of your colleagues, you also work on your own beats. Do you feel it’s necessary to be involved in the production of your music from start to finish?

"It’s not necessary per se, but it’s definitely a huge plus. When you’re participating in the production of the beats, you’ll be able to understand the music a lot better. Being involved from A to Z allows me to have a clear vision on my output, as opposed to just rap on an already fully mastered instrumental. Personally, I’m a melody freak – and sometimes composing a beat feels like an important way to express myself. That said, I have not been as involved in the music production on my latest mixtape, as I really wanted to focus on my voice and lyrics. However, that was an exception; I’ll be back behind the buttons on my next release."

In ‘Life’, you rap about the support your DJ (Nico Bellagio) has given you throughout the years. Would you be where you are now if it weren’t for him?

"Me and Nico met each other in the studio when I was looking for a DJ – and it all just rolled from there. He’s more than just my DJ though, he is someone who supports me in a lot of different ways: my PR, my label (Just Woke Up, ed.), my artistic direction, my video clips, my album covers, my general management, etc. He even makes beats for me sometimes. He’s close to me, like a brother."

You were part of the Kilogrammes Gang. What’s up with that collective nowadays?

"Killogrammes Gang was a crew me and two friends formed when we all started rapping, mainly just to have some careless fun. It doesn’t mean much anymore nowadays, though – but they are still family."

Your lyrics barely talk about commonly used rap subjects, like social injustice or the flaws in society. Are these topics you exclude on purpose?

"That’s most definitely a conscious decision. I’m not going to be able to change anything with my music, so why would I rap about it? There’s just no point in doing that. For me, music is a distraction from these harsh realities, so I like to keep it a little ‘lighter’. Personally, I don’t listen to artists that only talk about these kind of things – unlike for some people, it distracts me from dancing and having fun. In the end, isn’t that what the music is for?"

Hip hop is on the rise in Belgium, in no small part thanks to the local scene here in Brussels. What’s your relation with the other Brussels artist from your generation?

"It’s very good. I maintain good relations with each and every one. We’re all in this together, you know? We all go way back – and now it’s great to see a lot of them are doing so good."

If you’d be able to live anywhere else but here, where would it be?

"Pasadena, in Los Angeles! I even dedicated a song to it, in which I explain that if I could die peacefully there, I would be a happy man. The weather, the vibes, etc. Everything is better there – and no one bothers you, they let you be who you are. It would be nice to finish my career there one day!"

What about Paris? Would you ever consider to moving there for your music career?

"No. I could do that, but I don’t want to. Life is too fast and busy over there. I prefer the relative peace and quiet over here. Paris is great to visit every once in a while, but not to live there every day. Brussels is my home base. It’s perfect."

Hamza will perform a headline show at Ancienne Belgique on Friday the February 24. Don’t sleep on it, as the tickets sales are going fast. All information can be found right here.

Keep an eye on the man's Facebook page for more updates on his forthcoming album.