Monday, April 23, 2007

Rap Italiano

I got into 99 Posse when I was studying in Italy in 2000. I was trying to absorb the culture and language through music, and these guys were one of the few Italian bands who I could handle. Italians contribute many, many wonderful things to the world, but non-cheesy music is not a strength of theirs. I’m not saying it’s a weakness, just an area for improvement

99 Posse (the 99 is pronounced novanta nove, not “ninety-nine”, btw) started around 1991 a Centro Sociale in Napoli called Officina 99. As their website says, the group was born as a direct expression of the Centrol Sociale and of the new urban cultures that found in music a powerful vehicle”. A Centro Sociale, or Social Center, is sort of like a commie community center, I think.

So basically, from Day One the group was politically motivated, and this is one of the coolest things about the band. Like Manu Chao and most of the Italian left, they are anti-imperialism, pro-minority, pro-immigrant, and think communism is sweet. They are for marijuana and the working man, and against the government mob, and bosses.

Musically, the are essentially a less-irritating Black Eyed Peas, complete with sexy female singer and multi-kulti vibe. Rather than going for the cartoony pop overload of the peas, 99 Nove is more oriented in trip-hop and electronica, with some rock and funk thrown in. It wouldn’t be a revolutionary party band without the funky rock, after all.

I have two albums by them – 1999’s Corto Circuito (Short Circuit) and 2000 “La Vita Che Vendra” Corto Circuito is a little mellower, a little more rooted in trip hop, and not quite as pop and political as “La Vita”. By contrast, “la vita” is a Technicolor explosion, Che Gueverra and the Children of Seattle by way of Europop. The song starts out with the techno-infused call to arms “Comincia Addesso (“it begins now)

One of my favorite tracks is “L’anguilla”, a bouncy, surf-guitar infused track with the best diss line EVAH – “e va fà mmocc’a chi v’è mmuorto”, which is Napolitano for “go give head to your dead relatives.” Awesome.

I’m also a fan of the rockin’, bass-heavy “esplosione imminente” (Imminent explosione), which is about all the tensions in the world and how there is a whole breed of disaffected underclass ready to stand up against the system and fight the powers that be. “No School No Job No Indentita’”.

The most pop song on the disc is “Commutwist”, which laments how socialism has fallen out of favor in recent years, claiming that it is so out of mode to be communist that they dance the twist. For all it’s bouncy goofyness, it is rooted in solid convictions and lines like:

“E poi c’é la flessibilità
a nuova moda a tutti ormai nota
che ci divide tutti a metà
chi more ’e famme e chi va in Europa”
(and now there is the flexibility, a new way that has already been noted, that divides the entire world in half – those who die of hunger, and those who go to Europe.)

I don’t know if the song was a hit in Italy, but it certainly had the possibility to be one – it’s the kind of cheesy europop that gets overplayed in cafes and discos over there. I can imagine them doing a halftime show. It’s an ingenious way of spreading a serious message. Jay-Z may sport a Che shirt, but 99 live it, baby.

I think the band still exists in some form or other, although it seems like they’ve been in semi-permanent hiatus for the past six years. There stuff is also not easy to find in the us, although with the magic of the internet, I’m sure it’s findable. I’m not sure that someone without an appreciation for Italian and Italian music would necessarily get in to 99 Posse – it can’t begin to compare to PE or Rage Against the Machine or any other political American hip hop acts. However, if you want to explore the impact hip hop has had on the world, and want to see how other cultures have adapted the hip hop into their own, “La Vita Che Vendra” is a good place to start.


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