Album + Compilation
Behind the counterfeit 50 Cent T-shirts and bootleg mixtapes piled high in market stalls in Western African cities like Dakar lies a thriving indigenous hip-hop culture, one that's inspired as much by the teachings of Mohammed as it is the rhymes of Jay-Z. For, if hip-hop is meant to tell the truth of everyday life, then it's natural that in countries such as Senegal and Mali where Islam is the dominant religion that rappers should reflect that in their rhymes. So in some ways, although the ideals of devout Islam seem to directly contradict the materialism espoused by those rappers flaunting their rides and riches across MTV, this Islamic hip-hop is much truer to the music's original spirit than almost anything we've heard on Def Jam recently.
That's one thing we learn from Many Lessons – a compilation of Muslim rappers from Western Africa – although unless you're fluent in the different languages used here you are going to need the words translated to work that out. Yet whilst understanding what the likes of Keur Gui or African Akhlou Bi are actually saying as they rap about their spiritual and political beliefs adds a whole new depth to what you are hearing, it's far from essential for enjoying this music. That's because Wolof and Mandinke, the two main languages used here, flow so smoothly when rapped that when the odd verse is dropped in English – as on Backa's Ya Rassulilah – the tongue we're most used to hearing in hip-hop sounds almost awkward and unwieldy in comparison. And the cadence of the lyrics is largely mirrored in the beats, which feature far more native instruments like the djembe and mbalax influences than they do boom-bap breaks, although there are certainly some sprightly basslines to be found in Sister Fa's Selebou Yoon or Silatigui's My Life In The Ghetto. But for all the Islamic and African music influences Many Lessons remains recognisably a hip-hop more than world music album, or rather one that teaches us that hip-hop is world music in the most literal sense of the term.