For those looking for a rapid introduction into the universe of Zwangere Guy, we advise to give a spin to ‘BXL Finest’, the opener for his upcoming debut mixtape ‘Zwangerschapsverlof vol. 3’. Not only does the track set the tone for what is about to follow, it’s a preview of the topics going through the Brussels based rapper’s mind. In the track, there’s attention for the constant pressure to perform, following his dreams and a troubled family relationship. And at the same time, it’s an ode to his STIKSTOF brothers and his beloved Brussels. In a short period of time, this ‘Brusseleir’ grew up to be a pacemaker in the capital’s music scene, beholding the language barriers of the capital as a blessing, rather than a curse. Prior to his album release we met up with him to have an introductory chat on all things Zwangere Guy.
Fans of LeFtO might already have had an introduction to Gorik van Oudheusden and his Zwangere Guy persona in the new documentary ‘LeFtO in Transit’. In the second episode, where LeFtO focuses on Brussels and its music scene, Belgium’s favourite bearded radio DJ explains: “People of Brussels always have been ‘debrouilleurs’, people who just manage, cope with what they have. Gorik is a real ‘Brusseleir’”
“It’s great to receive the recognition and I’m very thankful for that. Me and LeFtO got pretty close these last months, mostly thanks to the documentary. He’s an important gatekeeper and he can put things in motion. But in the end of the day it’s still me who must act, write and work hard.”
Gorik’s musical parcours was shaped by various influences: “My mother was very fond of R&B and many of these artists were collaborating with rappers by whom I was intrigued. I got to know some classic artists like 2Pac, Eminem, Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan. At the age of twelve I began to dig deeper. I was buying cd’s and cassettes at HMD and Music Mania, where LeFtO used to work. I would exchange those cd’s with my friends, which got me into funk, soul and lots of other black music. I was exposed to various influences and it made me hungry for more.”
It’s no coincidence Gorik was named a ‘debrouilleur’ earlier. Eventually it was that attitude that led him to trying his luck in music, but he had to go through a hard time: “When I was fifteen, I left home, due to some shit that happened between me and my parents. Since then I had to work out life myself. At the age of fifteen I was already working as a construction worker. I felt angry and there was a need to put those feelings into something, so I began to write a lot of poetry. I wrote every day, but not necessarily rhymes. To me it was a logical reaction to the stuff that happened. Rap and hip hop music became an outlet.”
The streets of Brussel became Gorik’s Playground. Because of a socially engaged attitude and healthy sense of entrepreneurship, he became a facilitator for numerous initiatives for alternative youth culture in Brussels. Which eventually also led to his current job as a coordinator for Brussels youth centers. In the city center at the Saint-Catherine square, 54 Kollektiv began to develop: “I acquired the taste of live hip hop and wanted to record something. A friend of mine told her brother, Paulo Rietjens, was a beat maker. I went to him and we just went for it. Before we knew we were rapping together over his beats, so it became more than a solo effort. It was a real boost for our confidence. Afterwards we wanted to set up something at Saint-Catherine, where we would mostly hang. It soon became apparent Paulo, Jasper, Maxim and I had a special chemistry. We would meet up every Friday and write as much as we could. It was the basis for STIKSTOF. “
Paulo, Jasper, Maxim and Gorik might not be names to generate a lot of street cred in the scene, so they came up with new names for their hip hop second self: Astrofisiks, Jazz, Rosko and Omar-G. During live gigs, they are assisted by Joris, aka DJ Vega. Meet STIKSTOF! “My first shot at a hip hop alter ego was Gomard, but I wasn’t too convinced of that one. I used to go out and party a lot when Omar-S was in town, a major influence of mine from the house scene. I borrowed the idea to place the ‘G’ behind Omar and so Omar-G was born.”
My first shot at a hip hop alter ego was Gomard, but I wasn’t too convinced of that one.
The collective starts to rap in Brussels dialect about everyday life in the city, while also observing contemporary problems of their generation. The lack of attention for classic hip hop clichés, is compensated by the regard for their own language concepts. In short time, they established a strong live reputation, earning them support slots for big names like Nas, Schoolboy Q and Mick Jenkins. An extra reward came to them in the form of the artist in residence program of Ancienne Belgique for the 2016-2017 season.
“I owe a lot to STIKSTOF and I don’t think I would have made the same progress without them. I think we are at our strongest in a live environment, also thanks to Ancienne Belgique. The ability to rehearse in that kind of club, with good lights and sound is a great preparation. But also on a vocabulary level STIKSTOF is motivating. We try to develop our own jargon, without taking into account trends or hypes. When everyone was using ‘swag’, we would say ‘die shit is zwanger’ –or in English: ‘That shit is pregnant’. Hence the name for my solo project: Zwangere Guy.”
To Gorik, the motivation and explanation for his solo adventure, is very clear: “The time was right. I’m someone who likes to push boundaries. Sometimes it’s important to try something, take a nosedive, get up and keep on going. That’s my shit. It's a totally different outlet and Zwangere Guy serves as a project for the things I can’t do at STIKSTOF. At times, it’s easier to take decisions on your own. STIKSTOF beats can be quite dark sometimes and I wanted to face new musical challenges like rapping on a laid-back beat by another producer or try singing. It’s like going on a holiday on your own. You feel the need to anticipate, because you’re alone and as a result you discover new things and you develop yourself. And that’s what I want music to trigger in me. But at the same time, it’s all tongue in cheek, you know. Some online forums try to bring me down, taking it way too serious. I am taking it seriously, but you should be able to laugh at things. I know that tomorrow I'm going to get up smiling and continue writing. I think half the scene doesn’t respect me because of my name. Secretly I kind of enjoy that. I want to be an ‘enfant terrible’.”
I feel Zwangere Guy has given a new boost and I’ve got so much energy right now to undertake new things. I want to write and make music every day.
“I feel Zwangere Guy has given a new boost and I’ve got so much energy right now to undertake new things. I want to write and make music every day. That’s why there’s a need for different channels. Both STIKSTOF and Zwangere Guy are on a good timeline. The division of the two projects has been frequently discussed. Sometimes there’s a clash, but everyone’s on the same page now. To me Zwangere Guy not at the same level yet as STIKSTOF. “
Gorik’s enthusiasm is something he can barely put away and even though he’s been on stage only a couple of times with his solo moniker, the podium looks like his natural environment: “I think it’s quite hard to make people dance during hip hop shows, but to me it’s so important. I want people to go bananas for 35 to 45 minutes. Even if they’re sober, I want to get things moving. People who saw my show say I act the same way on as of stage and I’m happy they notice. To me there’s no room for fake emotions and what you see is what you get”
This last mindset is the same motto behind his upcoming mixtape, Zwangerschapsverlof vol.3. On his tape, he likes to showcase different aspects, without hiding certain issues, which leads to a very eclectic, but also honest portrayal: “I’m not special you know, just like a construction worker likes to build things, I like to rap about everyday stuff. On the tape there’s room for laughs, but I also wanted to expose my heart. A track like ‘Outfit van m’n Daddy’ is about some very personal stuff. That’s what I want to keep on doing. I don’t know how my upcoming music will sound, but I do know about which I want to tell. The words and the stories are already on my head. I am dependent on my surroundings so it’s only logical that I’m including them in my music.
Even though his first mixtape is not out yet at the time of writing, Gorik already has one eye on his future: “We’ll already begin the work on the new STIKSTOF release this month. it might be an album, might be an EP, but we hope to release somewhere early 2018. Further, collaboration is key. I love to experiment and to work with different people. With le 77 there’s a tight connection and we already have four new tracks ready. I will keep on working with that crew. By the time that winter kicked off there will be an EP with Kasset and I’ll also do some features on some tracks by francophone artists. I’m already dreaming of an album, but there’s still some time to discover who Zwangere Guy actually is and what he wants to do. I hope by 2019 there will be an album with a defined sound.”
To Gorik it comes as no surprise both Dutch as French hip hop are establishing a foothold in each other’s language area. At the 2016 edition of Couleur Café, STIKSTOF participated in ‘Niveau 4’, a showcase presenting the blooming Belgian hip hop scene with a.o. Coely, Roméo Elvis, Senamo & Seyté, Dutch Norris, L’or Du Commun, JeanJass & Caballero. It was a strong signal of a united hip hop scene was which was previously rather fragmented by province: “I think the main difference is that our generation is multilingual. I was born and raised in Brussels, so to me there’s no distinction in language and It feels natural. We no longer think in frames and won’t limit ourselves to one kind of music or influence and I think it also applies to the francophone side. The best example could be seen at the Romeo Elvis x Le Motel shows in Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp during the ‘Morale 2 tour’. The response at those gigs was incredible! Brussels has become an important gateway. We no longer take the United States as an example and we believe in our own strengths. Look at artists as Hamza, Damso, Romeo Elvis, Stromae… Why shouldn’t we look at our own music scene? What we have in common is that we like to be on stage and love to make music and if we continue to do so, great things will keep on happening. If someone next to me is rapping in Polish, and if it sounds good and I can feel it, then there will be chemistry. Just like falling in love.”
Zwangere Guy will be presenting his new album ‘Zwangerschapsverlof vol. 3’ at the album release at Crevette Records on April 14.
*Pictures by Jordan Vanschel (header and pool) and Benoit Do Quang (car)