The Maltese hip-hop scene continues to remain underground, despite a number of talented individuals in the mix. While the culture flourishes in the USA and mainland Europe, the general Maltese public never grasped its’ core concepts. In a country full of electronic music lovers, rockers and pop fans, rap is far down the pecking order.
The term “hip-hop” is often incorrectly used as a reference to rap music. It’s actually an umbrella term used to describe a subculture jam-packed with exciting forms of self-expression. These include, but are not limited to: rap music, break dancing, graffiti writing and DJ’ing. It’s a way of life – a mentality which originally upheld important maxims like education, unity and having fun. It has its own set of rules, style of clothing and terminology.
The most recent Maltese hip-hop event was held at Black Pearl titled “Botta u Risposta”, in which brave artists took the stage to battle each other in a test of skill.
The vibrant crowd witnessed a rap battle between a member of the old guard, Hooligan, and one of No Bling Show’s talented MCs, Lapes. A beat box battle and break-dance battles also featured. While the event was a success, they’re few and far in between. This highlights the problem within the local scene – the small number of events results in a fan base which never really has a chance to grow.
Experienced artists like Digby, No Bling Show and Rumbull are still making things happen. Chapter Zero’s (Digby & formerly DJ Mac) following has grown substantially over the years, No Bling Show received nationwide acclaim for their well-produced music videos and Rumbull regularly entertains crowds across the Island. They’ve all have released albums in recent years.
Unfortunately, there are no official meeting places for hip-hop fans, except one-off events. There are no clubs strictly dedicated to rap music, regardless of the claims of certain establishments. It’s not uncommon to hear a rap song played in a nightclub or even on the radio, but don’t expect much other than mainstream hits. Hip-hop DJs in Malta are a rare-breed, with Lockstock and DJ Mac the only names worth mentioning.
On the bright side, in the last five years a number of talented foreign MCs have blessed Maltese microphones. Underground stars like Immortal Technique, Ill Bill, Diabolic and RA the Rugged man have all made appearances.
With regards to the other elements – graffiti has taken centre-stage at the Msida skate-park, with different artists allowed to use the empty walls as their canvases, producing many works of art. One can spot different tags and graffiti pieces around the island, some in well-hidden locations, and others out in the open. The Sliema Street Art festival encouraged local graffiti artists like Cooker and James Grimaud to use their skills to create a live graffiti show. Slowly, but surely, Maltese people are beginning to respect it as an art.
Breakdancing is one of the more popular hip-hop elements on the island, and a quick Google search will reveal a number of classes for budding b-boys and b-girls. Groups like Maltese Knights and Underground Shadowz crew have represented Malta in international breaking competitions. However, according to an interview with the Maltese Knights by the Times of Malta, the number of local crews has dwindled in recent years, and many well-respected members have left the scene. Luckily, there are still inspirational leaders like Jimbo Thinlegz, organiser of the Breaking Limits project, designed to teach eager youngsters and persons with a disability how to breakdance.
Beatboxer and singer-songwriter Dana McKeon has had success abroad, touring around the UK and winning female beatboxing championships. She’s hosted workshops in Malta, and her debut single “Street Art” topped the number-one spot on local airplay charts.
All in all, the state of Maltese hip-hop right now is promising, but one wonders whether it will ever really break out of the bubble it seems to be trapped in. More events and a stronger sense of togetherness would surely go a long way.