The internet age threatens to condense the entire world’s culture into a single YouTube video: In it a personification of Youth Culture dances to 50 Cent while sipping a giant, corn-syrupy Starbucks latte. It’s world unity, sure, but from Helsinki to London to Paris, many fear that the oncoming juggernaut of the new internet age may pave over local difference.
Nope, argues Tommi Laitio in Eurozine. While it may seem like youth culture has become an international monolith, beneath that MySpace veneer bloom a thousand flowers of local culture. “Youth cultures present a strong case for the ultimate ideal of Europe–allowing differences within a shared framework,” Laitio writes. “Youth phenomena with an American origin can even function as tools for voicing European concerns in ways impossible through national, elite-driven culture.”
Take European hip-hop, for example. Hip-hop culture on the continent began by trying to remake American hip-hop in American-accented English. But now rappers rap in local languages about local problems, Laitio writes.
I did a thoroughly modern thing and checked out the MySpace pages and YouTube videos of the rap artists mentioned in Laitio’s article. Here’s a video of the Dutch group DuvelDuvel cavorting around in ape suits. Here’s an odd video of Yugoslavian rappers Bad Copy mixing Serbian up with Italian–which, more than anything else, suggests the creative, mongrel culture that’s coming from the cocktailed new Europe. And here’s the Polish rapper Fisz rapping on a train.
This is not just a new breed of local hip-hops, Laitio argues. It’s a new way of according merit. These people don’t care about what the “cultural elite” think about their art; they care about what their peers think and they can easily listen to their peers’ opinions through user comments, pageviews, and MySpace friends.
But looking at those MySpace pages and YouTube videos shows that there’s still a great gulf spanning the local from the foreign. While you can appreciate Fisz’s flow and bob your head to DuvelDuvel’s beats, you cannot appreciate the message of their raps, the acrobatic wordplay most emcees pride themselves on, and–most worryingly–the texture of the local identity the raps are celebrating. Instead, the sounds of foreign hip-hop bleed into one another: They are just rap in a strange tongue, a curiosity unless we either learn the foreign language or somebody posts a YouTube video with subtitles. Which isn’t such a bad idea.
For more on local incarnations of hip-hop, read Mackie’s online exclusive feature on Australian rapper Pegz.