On June 27, Red Bull Elektropedia is hosting the opening event for BOZAR's YO! Brussels Hip Hop Generations exhibition. It opens officially on June 28 and focusses on hip hop and its favoured means of expression: breakdance, graffiti, DJ-ing and rap. Hip hop has become a global phenomenon, but it has its roots in New York's cultural development, during the 1970's deindustrialization. Thanks to globalization, the genre also found its way to Brussels, where it has been developing throughout different generations. BOZAR's YO! Brussels Hip Hop Generations will overview hip hop’s trajectory in the Belgian capital, where in recent years, a striking scene has flourished. On the opening night, we asked some Brusseleirs like Lefto, Jr. Goodfellaz and DJ Vega to serve a fitting soundtrack. As a preview to the expo, we check on their opinions and experiences with Brussels and its hip hop character.
Hip hop and the urban environment have always been intertwined, therefore it’s no surprise that a city like Brussels has been a fertile soil for the evolution of the hip hop genre in Belgium. With its complex culture and richness in multiculturalism, the city draws inspiration from diverse influences, alike hip hop. Lefto, well known DJ and gatekeeper, clarifies: “Brussels has had an essential role in my musical development. After being exposed to jazz, pop and new beat, I came into contact with hip hop during my high school days. Brussels has the power to put you in touch with different genres, because multiculturalism is very concentrated in our city.”
Brussels doesn’t only deserve praise for its diversity, but also for its pivotal role in the Belgian musical landscape. L’or Du Commun DJ and TLP buddy Junior Goodfellaz recognizes Brussels its musical character: “its streets and squares have always inspired my vision on music. I’ve been attending concerts and events in different neighborhoods since a long time. We’re very lucky to live in a city that has that many qualitative venues and infrastructures.
DJ Vega, pacemaker at Frontal and Stikstof's DJ, joins him : “Brussels and its record shops have been very important to me. I was always on the lookout for new vinyl and mixtapes in shops like New Top 2000, Music Mania, DMC store and Big Shot. Besides that, I discovered a lot of Brussels rap and hip hop through niche radio stations like Radio Campus, Radio Panik andVibration.”
The success of the current Brussels hip hop scene has also been the merit of several generations of young entrepreneurs who participated during the 30 years of creation in the capital. YO! Brussels Hip Hop Generations also wants to put these in the spotlight, because as we all know; to understand the present, you must embrace the past leading to it. “This new generation of Belgian hip hop is a very powerful one with a lot of impact. That’s why it’s even more important for our generation to know our roots and understand our history through an exhibition like this one.” Says Junior Goodfellaz. Lefto agrees, but also hopes that the exhibit will show the complete picture: “It is important to put the pioneers in the spotlight, they are the backbones of what is happening today. The Brussels institutes, from venues to cultural organizations, have been into hip hop thanks to the local hip hop crews.“
Some say that Brussels hip hop has been blooming in the underground during the past years, but there’s no denying that the scene is now almost taking mainstream proportions. There are several reasons that lie at the root of Brussels hip hop’s emergence according to the DJ Vega: “There’s no doubt that the amount of quality in today’s scene is due to great diversity in our city, which is a very big source of inspiration. Internet is another important factor. Music has become more accessible to everyone as there is a low-threshold. And hate it or love it, but a social media presence has become indispensable to stand out as an artist.” Lefto sees another important component for the evolution in Brussels: “The professionalization of the scene and its surroundings has been critical. There are better structures, everyone is better surrounded and organized, going from bookings to advertising, videos, public relations and image. This makes the scene is gaining credibility and people from the music world take the genre more seriously.”
But how much of hip hop its original characteristics are still present in the genre nowadays? Hip hop originated from young people’s dissatisfaction with prevailing social values, in which they did not recognize themselves. Is social criticism still present in (Belgian) hip hop?
DJ Vega: ”We’re living in a society which is steered more, where we have less freedom, so it’s important to look critically at certain aspects. Adding social criticism in rap & hip hop can raise awareness.“ The shortage of depth is something that bothers Lefto too: “The lack of profoundness in the lyrics strikes me. It seems branding and shallowness are above social criticism. Due to the superficiality of mainstream rap music (which is the new pop music), it has become difficult to show up with meaningful lyrics. While we live in a time where we have the right tools to talk about certain issues. But fortunately, there are exceptions.”
YO! Brussels Hip Hop Generations will be held in Bozar, from june 28 ‘till September 17. Check out the website for more info.