As hip-hop now occupies its rightful place as the most popular genre in the country, it has spread its wings to new shores all over the globe.
France, England, South Africa, China, and numerous countries in between, now have their own take on the genre, with hip-hop artists bubbling up in countries thousands of miles away from the South Bronx (or Queensbridge depending on your preferred hip-hop origin story).
But how the hell are we supposed to track all of the hip-hop goings on across the world? I mean, I can barely keep track of American releases, expanding my search for rap artists beyond our borders is a pretty intimidating proposition.
Enter Foreign Rap, an online platform on which you can find hip-hop from dozens of different countries. A dropdown menu at the top of the page allows the user to select the country of their choice and listen to rap from Iceland to Mali, Kazakhstan to Romania.
The brains behind Foreign Rap is Aziz Firat, an Oslo, Norway-based designer currently working for Tidal, who was inspired to consolidate the global sounds of hip-hop into one space.
I recently exchanged emails with Aziz to further understand the origins of Foreign Rap, hip-hop’s period of globalization, and the fickleness of American rap fans.
Firat told me that Foreign Rap began when Thomas Vimare, his friend and co-creator of the platform, got him listening to a French rap song. Then Firat sent Vimare a Norwegian rap song, suddenly the pair realized there was something to their correspondence:
“Thomas Vimare, co-creator and designer friend of mine, tweeted a French hip-hop song a year ago. Even though I couldn’t understand one word of it, I’ve put that song on repeat for a month. I DM’ed him and shared a Norwegian song and he loved it. From there on we started sharing some rap songs with each other. I was sending him Scandinavian & Dutch rap while he kept sharing more of that French stuff. My Twitter inbox got so full that I started asking myself if it deserved its own place.”
Foreign Rap is a genius concept, but it also requires some extensive research and knowledge of the musical landscape. I asked Firat how he built up his website’s catalog to the state it is now.
He explained to me that they began with a solid database and now are aided by their active and passionate community (Foreign Rap has a tab where users can submit new music).
“Thomas is from France, so he already had a huge list of French & Belgium songs. I live in Norway, but I’m from the Netherlands so I had my list ready as well. Together with the help of friends and searching on Reddit and YouTube, we had around 60 songs on launch. We are getting a lot of help from the community, right now we have around 1000 songs.”
Starting an expansive website from scratch isn’t an easy thing, but Firat and Vimare are aided by their skills as designers. I questioned Firat on how his background as a designer informed his work on Foreign Rap,
“There are two things in the world that I love to do, that is designing and listening to some good music. Being able to make a full-time job out of it is a dream come true. Having this background made it easier for me to build the website. We actually built and launched Foreign Rap in a week!”
It’s impressive that Firat and Vimare were able to scale so quickly (1 week!), but it’s also a testament to the wide scope of rap music right now.
For this platform to work, there has to be actual material. Firat and I spoke about the purpose of Foreign Rap as a tangible articulation of the global nature of the genre.
“It definitely is! This is also the reason why we don’t have the US on the website. Even though the US is foreign to ‘us’, the whole world is already dominated by rap music from the US. We all know the artists, we hear them on the radio, we see them on TV. With Foreign Rap, we want to show the rest of the world. I mean who even knew that you have rappers in Switzerland?”
But with new rappers popping up every day all over the world, the Foreign Rap brain trust has to make sure any new submissions are up to their standards. Those standards? Their own taste. Firat explained the submission process at Foreign Rap,
“It’s simple; if I like it and Thomas approves it, I put it on the website. But it needs both of our approval. We don’t want to end up with bad songs on the website. But, I can see which songs are getting skipped a lot and I try to clean them up once in a while.”
As most music platforms rely on algorithms or industry plugs to place music, it’s pretty cool to see Firat and Vimare using nothing but their taste for Foreign Rap. This assures the user a sort of quality assurance that anything they find on the platform will be fire.
But American hip-hop listeners are a special breed. We’re definitely reticent to try new things. We have enough on our plate over here with intergenerational debates about mumble rap and the supposed death of lyricism to take our ears across the pond, but Firat assured me that American listeners who are willing to try new things are using the platform as much as anyone.
“After France, we get a lot of traffic from the US to the website. So you guys do embrace it. But, rap music is so huge over there, why would you even bother with foreign music? But the ones that do check us out, they love it.”
So with an expanding library and users from every every corner of the globe, what is the next step for Firat, Vimare, and Foreign Rap? Firat explained the future plans for his platform on Version 2 of the site.
“There won’t be huge visual changes, but we will make the experience better on desktop and mobile. There were some features that our users were requesting, like a volume button. Another feature we are working on is filtering countries. So you can select the countries you want to listen to. And most importantly, hearing new songs every time you come back. Also, the Apple TV app will change and I’m looking into making it available on Android TV and Amazon Fire Sticks.”
As you wait on Version 2, go over to Foreign Rap and explore the wild, borderless world of hip-hop.
Foreign Rap is not only a useful tool for anyone trying to understand the scope of global hip-hop, it’s also a catalog of some fire music you definitely haven’t heard yet.
‘Bout to go vibe out to some Finnish rap. Bless.