If the history of Romand rap was to be summed up, we could draw up a line of emerging artists passing on the baton to one another over time. At the end of the 90s, Double P.A.C.T gently took the place left vacant in Switzerland by Sens Unik. Then, out of Double P.A.C.T emerged Lausanne’s Stress as a solo rapper. Yvan Peacemaker, who continued to work with him, explains the reasons for this new chapter: "We were on an independent label, we had reached the end of what we could do with there. Stress, for his part, wanted to have complete freedom on his albums and since he’d been solo since 2002, we stopped Double P.A.C.T. Stress brought that "second degree" touch, inspired by Eminem that was unusual in rap." An element that was crystallized in Billy Bear, Stress's first album that sold nearly 17,000 copies.
Pop and Rap, united under the same banner ?
In recent years, rap has made its way into popular culture. A new way of approaching this music has developed and membership of the hip-hop fraternity is no longer a prerequisite to enjoying rap, hence the end of marginalisation. Rap has now gone prime time and resides at the top of the international streaming charts. Pop feeds on rap, and vice-versa
A transition that Double P.A.C.T and Stress have touched on during their careers, as Yvan Peacemaker points out: "We wanted to come from rap and open up to something broader. However, I don’t know how much it was done out of artistic curiosity or necessity - we simply felt that we had to do it in order to live off making music in Switzerland, but we were not forced to do it. The current generation does not need to do it. Urban music replaced pop over ten years ago.” A paradigm shift that inspires the contemporary chapter of Romand rap. Arma Jackson, signed to the Youssoupha label, alone represents this fusion of genres.
Multiple flags for a new generation
While the Romand rap flag was most often waved by its representatives in Lausanne (Sens Unik and Double P.A.C.T.), this new decade sees most of the action coming out of Geneva. The Superwak Clique collective, composed of Di-Meh (who recently graced the Inrockuptibles' magazine cover), Slimka, Makala and the producer Pink Flamingo, have recently been propelled to the forefront of the scene by their talent as well as the work of Geneva record label, Colors records.
Rootwords, a Geneva-based rapper of Zambian and American origin, has released several albums that have enabled him to perform at the great Swiss festivals (Montreux Jazz and Paléo Festival), not to mention France, Peru and New York. A very promising start to his live career. There’s also the multi-cultural Danitsa, based in Geneva and signed to the local Evidence Music label. She adds a Jamaican twist to her version of Romand rap. Definitely a talent worth discovering through the portrait dedicated to her here.
That said, Geneva is not the only city to represent today’s Romand rap scene. Newcomer, Comme1Flocon, originally from Lausanne, is signed to the Parisian label Bendo Music, fulfilling the dream of exporting Romand rap to the French older brother. For 13 years, Sim's from the Jura region and signed to Escudero records, has been bringing his rap/slam flow to the numerous stages around French-speaking Switzerland.
The coming together of the regions has given birth to one of the most eclectic projects in the history of Romand rap: Kenyan Muthoni Drummer Queen. With her two Swiss-French beatmakers GR! (from the Vaud canton, who, with Mr. F, has already produced Akhenaton IAM) and Hook (from Neuchâtel), they create a universe at the frontiers of the genre. Her rap mutates into song and flourishes on beats rooted in a story of many colours. She, her latest album released in 2018, on the Neuchâtel label 39ème chambre got her to Rennes Transmusicales, attracting lots of media attention along the way (Rolling Stone, Télérama and FranceInfo) and the French label Yotanka. The latter will be releasing her work in France, Belgium and Canada.
Yesterday, the beatmaker Yvan Peacemaker had conquered France. Today, it’s the beats of GR! and Hook that carry the voice of Muthoni Drummer Queen across the border. Rap is living a contemporary history with multiple interlocking chapters, where we continue to dream of seeing it shine ever stronger and further.
Rap is definitely Romand. But, will it ever succeed in marking the spirit of hip-hop culture with a definitive international stamp?