The European rapper is a sorcerer when it comes to producing cinematic sounds.
In the mid-‘90s, the teenaged Belgian rapper was part of a platinum selling Hip-Hop group called, Starflam, and today he is a solo artist creating and performing African diasporic music incorporating iconic elements pioneered by his Congolese forefathers.
Known for his unique musical arrangements and big productions, Baloji is the quintessential French rap artist ushering in his brand of simplicity and authenticity to the forefront of popular culture. When listening to his music or watching his music videos, the experience is synonymous to time-traveling or dreaming while you’re awake. Myspace chatted with the rapper about what the name Baloji means in Swahili and which artists he enjoys listening to.
Hometown: Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Homebase: Gent-Liege, Belgium
What is your first and best memory of music?
At home, my parents were only playing three artists: Tabu Ley Rochereau (a singer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Marvin Gaye and Julio Iglesias. They have a huge influence on the music that I’ve liked to listen to at home: Jai Paul, Thundercat, Frank Ocean, Andre 3000, D’Angelo, etc. Commonly, these three artists have a very melodic, elegant, and sophisticated sound constructed on multiple layering. Each style offers a different approach; light or candid, pop or experimental, at the same time.
What is the intent and vibe of your forthcoming project? How does it differ from your 64 Bits and Malachite EP?
This project has an empirical approach and construction mixing live instrumentation with MPC programming, singing and rapping located in this Bermuda triangle between Africa, France and American music that we keep on the album as well. We are going to release a cool video for a song called, “Spoiler.” This video is special because it includes four different generations of Congolese musicians, starting with the musicians of Wendo Kolosoy, who was one of the first recording artists of Congolese Rumba, also known as Rumba Lingala or Soukous. These musicians never had artistic status or ASCAP registration for the hundred plus songs they’ve published. They are completely ignored by the pop scene and cultural figures.
An important characteristic of Congolese music (like Jamaican, Colombian, etc.) is the way they integrate popular music genres; from Rumba, Soul, Funk, and Disco in the early ‘80s, into a style that changed the way Africans integrate synthesizers and drum machines.
You’re not like others. Your songs and music videos are poetic narratives. In your personal life, are you also meticulous? How important are details to you as an artist?
Thanks! I’m equally passionate about images, photos and film as an extension of the music. When I’m making music, I always try to make it visual, a sound in motion. I spend a lot of time on each step of the process. I’m jealous of people who are capable of making an album, cover and videos in 3 weeks like the Futures and Young Thugs. [The product comes out] so fast although the quality suffers, in the long run, it’s very impressive.
Which artists, current events, or movements are you inspired by these days?
[There is] so much great music out there! Some amazing UK Grime artists, and Nederland and Canadian electronic producers. I love guys like ScHoolboy Q, Jazz Cartier, Wells, Kamasi Washington but also [I am] a fan of the sound that the label Enchufada puts out. Also, Belgium bands like STUFF. and SX.
All theses artists being themselves, out-of-the-box, and passionate like Thundercat, Grimes, Bjork, or Sufjan Stevens.
For fans who aren’t French-speakers, which topics do you tend to rap about most?
It’s a large spectrum of personal situations to a diasporic look at Africa to political-social issues.
Your debut album Hotel Impala was a response to a letter from your mother. Do you think about her when you’re creating new material? I ask because “Capture” (featuring Muanza & Petite Noir) sounds like a song about women.
“Capture” addresses the Congolese people’s fight for peace in the wake of years of a civil war that has plagued the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Ode to the struggle to resilience / The goal: black excellence.”
The Congolese spectrum isn’t at the center of this track as it questions the fact that most African contries can’t deal with the words transition, political changes.
“They named a provisional president / Out of the old régime.”
The title is referring to ‘screen capture’ and the blood phone metaphor (like blood diamonds).
Baloji, the artist, takes cleanliness, style, and design seriously. Are you making these decisions yourself or is it the result of a team?
I’m working on my own with an extensive list of collaborators and consulting friends in different disciplines. I’ve worked closely with ACF (a British duo of designers) on this EP. Also Christina Hardy (the Photo Director at AnOther Magazine), but I directed all [of] my videos and construct all concept and art direction, but I try to work with some talented peoples to execute and concretize the ideas.
Do you have any special collaborations in the works or tour news that you could share with us?
Yeah, we are working on a US tour that we will announce soon and for the collaboration, I have a “dream list.” I had the chance to meet some people this past year that I would love to work with like Saul Williams, Lunice, or Blood Orange but also [I’m open to] doing more work with previous collaborators. We had great chemistry with Olugbenga (Metronomy), Petite Noire, Thomas Azier and others. When you know the people, the collaboration is built on trust.
Can you dance?
I dance a little, but I always mess up the choreography because I’m not focused enough on stage.
What does Baloji mean?
Baloji means “sorcerer” in Swahili.
Where do you see yourself in 2020?
In 2020? [I] hope to be alive like 3K (or Andre 3000) said, but I will be happy, and relieved if I can have finished my feature film and start working on my TV series called, Fleuves des méduses. Cinema time is insanely slow and stretched out for newcomers.
Share a Myspace memory.
Since his photo was super silly, the founder Tom was in my Top 8.
Originally published on Myspace