Off the coast of Senegal, there is a group of tiny islands known as Cape Verde. My mother’s side comes from this country, though I have never been to these islands nor have I been immersed in Cape Verdean culture. I maybe know two or three words in the native Kriolu language.
However, I have begun to learn something of the Cape Verdean youth generation by listening to Cape Verdean hip hop. Like its developing island country, Cape Verdean hip hop is slowly developing itself, not yet having carved out its own unique style and instead imitating U.S. hip hop trends.
This could have something to do with the fact that there are more Cape Verdean diaspora than there are Cape Verdeans actually living on the islands. As a result, Cape Verdean artists naturally reflect at least some of their assimilated ideals into their music.
For example, Chachi Carvalho—perhaps the most well-known Cape Verdean hip hop artist—reflects mainstream U.S. hip hop ideals like partying and getting “turnt up.” While he does have more soulful songs—like “Sabim”—that incorporate classic Cape Verdean hits into the hooks and melodies, most of his songs sound like I would hear them in a U.S. night club. However, seemingly paying homage to Cape Verde and attempting to connect Cape Verdeans in the United States with their counterparts in Cape Verde, he often raps in English and Kriolu lyrics.
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Cape Verdean artists who are not as hot as Chachi—like Mad Rappers—also seem to want to be more like American artists than to introduce a unique Cape Verdean style to hip hop. Including singing into their repertoire, the group appears to look like B2K, their facial expressions and gesticulations almost forced like they have been watching way too many American music videos. They even brush each other’s shoulders off toward the end of their “Nha Ghor” video.
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While Mad Rappers embody a softer, faker aspect of Cape Verdean hip hop, GPI are a harder, more “real” Cape Verdean rap group. In their video “Lembrancas de Niggaz,” some of the group members don the thug-like apparel that was popular among U.S. hip hop artists in the early and mid-2000s. With parts of their video shot near dilapidated infrastructure and a graveyard, the group seems to bring alive a street, gangster aspect to Cape Verdean hip hop.
As Cape Verdean hip hop develops alongside its tiny island nation, it will be interesting to hear whether the music becomes more unique or sunken, even more watered down. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll visit my ancestral country and start or contribute to some kind of hip hop revival.