Afrocentricity has always been a very prevalent in hip hop. Which isn’t surprising because it was conceived by African Americans as a form of catharsis and creative expression. Artists such as Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill have reveled in hip hop’s Afrocentricity. But, somewhat surprisingly, we rarely ever hear hip hop music and narratives from African artists. It’s a story and experience that often goes untold. And Gibrilville is here to change that with their latest album, The Foreigner JJC Deluxe.
Gibrilville is a Ghanaese hip hop and alternative band fronted by Gbril, a Ghanese immigrant with a passion for hip hop. Gbril spent his days and nights in Ghana obsessed with hip hop but didn’t get actively pursue his dream of making music until he emigrated to the United States in the mid-2000s. These dual experiences set the tone for The Foreigner JJC Deluxe.
The Foreigner JJC Deluxe often feels like an old school hip hop influenced African rhythms and beat patterns. And his experience as a Ghanese citizen and immigrant dominates Gibril’s lyrics.
In an interview posted on the group’s website, gibrilville.com, Gibril reminisces on his early adjustment to the United States.
Growing up in Ghana, being a hip hop fan wanting so much to absorb [African American and hip hop culture]” Gibril said. “So, now I’m here and it’s like ‘wow’ and I’m a sponge for that and I’m trying to get it all in. So it really didn’t give me an opportunity to look at the negatives and positives of some of the things I did back then. Trying to fit in with certain friends who had been here and adapted to the African American way of life.”
The album’s opening song “Foreign Exchange Hustlers” captures Gibril’s dual experiences and adjustment to urban culture: “Makin’ my way to the top, and I’m chasin’ that paper/master my art like martial arts/it’s the foreign exchange, the African hustler/my feet don’t move if it ain’t on turbo/drove off the lot like it’s Gran Turismo”
“Foreign Exchange Hustlers” has an American hip hop in feel but it offers a new narrative. This narrative, while similar to many other artists’ pursuit of wealth and stunt-able possessions, it comes from the viewpoint of a foreigner. Someone who admittedly was trying to fit in to a culture he learned about through media with Africa’s history of unrest as Gibril’s internal backdrop.
Other joints like the “We Are Going To Make It” feel decidedly danceable and feel influenced by rhythmic African beats. It’s the type of joint you could imagine playing at bumpin’ African club or a spot that caters to entire gamut of individuals descended from Africans from the Caribbean and beyond.
The album’s best song, “Streets of Africa,” features hip hop luminary M1 of Dead Prez. M1’s energy, experience and lyricism does a fantastic job in helping tie together Gibril’s dual experiences by revealing they’re shared experiences. M1’s verse is arguably the best on the album but Gibril isn’t totally outshine either.
In the first verse, Gibril spits: “Let me tell you about the streets of Africa/AK-47s and M-16s/government officials, blowin’ up houses and refineries/Now, let me tell you about the streets of Africa, bangin’ on your doors at night/You at school, another armed robbery/pick up your phone but you can’t call the police”
While the settings are different, the social unrest Gibril details feels hauntingly similar to African American experiences in urban ghettos. Crime is prevalent and the establishment’s involvement and indifference is self-evident. To the point that Gibril, and his people, don’t feel empowered enough to inform those who have sworn to protect and serve.
In a way, you could say it’s the same old song we’ve heard many times before of street porn and gore. But the narrative Gibrilville African narrative lining up so closely to the American struggle makes it international and universal. Gibril is sharing his perspective of a shared narrative and struggle. Which makes understanding his as important as understanding our own.
And that makes Gibriville and their album The Foreigner JJC Deluxe as important as any domestic hip hop offering.