10/24/2013 06:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Hip Hop Scene in Senegal

No cars, bitches, sneakers, or East vs. West coast bullshit here! Senegal keeps its hip hop strictly about the serious.


The youth of Senegal have been busting out beats since the '80s. Today, they're influencing the rest of the African continent. A genre that has fallen into being defined by wanna-be thugs rapping about money, cars and clothes, hip hop here is more of a cultural movement covering the social and political life in Senegal (kind of the way New York originally intended it to be). Let the sound in, see your thoughts spin and get in the know with the Senegalese flow.

How It All Started

The musically-inclined nation of Senegal traditionally had griots. These are a respected people --separated into their own caste -- who were responsible for speaking about society through song. Oral historians and cultural traditionalists, griots would sing anywhere and about everything; like Twitter, if it was trending, they were covering it. As Senegal modernized by the mid 1980s, its youth yearned for a new voice. Griots faded out and hip hop artists came in.

The Rap

Think of Senegal's capital city of Dakar as the impact point of the hip hop bomb that would explode with flavor and rapidly produce new artists. Largely influenced by hip hop's beginnings in the South Bronx, the native Wolof tongue (along with French and English) is used to produce raps that cover all kinds of serious shit like crime, corruption, HIV/AIDS, poverty and ethnic strife. Beats are often backed by the banging of traditional Senegalese drums and-more so than American hip hop-the art form is widely heard, appreciated and understood.

Who You Should Know

The big shots in the Senegalese hip hop scene have managed to take their music international. Daara J (meaning "the school of life") is a group of artists who thrive on cultural diversity to get their messages to appeal to masses. Moussa Lo, better known as Waterflow, uses his hip hop talents to be the voice of the voiceless. The duo who comprise PBS (Positive Black Soul) take a similar approach by rapping their positive, feel-good stories in French, English and Wolof.

Continuing the political nature of traditional griots, Pape et Cheikh, a folk duo, craft their music with the mission to unite the conflicting social and religious groups of their country. Singing about change and peace is nothing new; Michael Jackson did it in his quirky way for years. The difference with these guys is that they're actually breaking through to politicians and changing the course of elections with their jams. In 2001, the long-ruling party of Senegal was peacefully removed from power after the opposition candidate, Abdoulaye Wade, decided Pape et Cheikh's powerful song "Yatal Gueew" (a plea for tolerance) was his official theme song for the election.

Fun Fact: Ever heard of Touré Kunda? No? What about Carlos Santana? Know that guy? Santana's "Africa Bamba," a hit on his uber-popular "Supernatural" album, was actually a reworking of "Guerilla Africa," a song by Senegalese group, Touré Kunda. Take that and strum it all Latin-like!

In striving to make gains for their country, Senegalese musicians use hip hop as a medium to discuss the crises facing Africa. Societies across the continent love to bob their heads to the beats and listen to the thought-provoking lyrics. Hip hop can change the here and now and Senegal is a perfect example of where and how.

Written By: Chris Platis