By Rebecca Simonov
In collaboration with the American University of Rome
From La Scala, arguably the leading opera house in Italy, to its famous conservatory and many theatres, Milan has no shortage of world-class music. Parallel to this centre of high art and culture, there is a newer, flourishing hip-hop and rap subculture.
American-style rap first entered Italy’s consciousness in the late 1980s. The process to define a uniquely Italian rap and hip-hop culture continued slowly. Artists such as Marracash began to put Italian rappers on the map in the mid 2000s. In 2013 Marracash partnered with fellow rapper Shablo to found Roccia Music, an independent record label seeking to nurture new musicians and make rap more mainstream in Italian culture.
Five years later, this dream has become a reality. On 14 February, rapper Ernia released the teaser for his music video, La Pelle del Puma, which was filmed outside Milan’s S. Siro stadium. Ernia collaborated with AC Milan to create a music video to introduce the soccer club’s switch of sponsors from Adidas to Puma. This large-scale marketing plan is just one of the ways rap has become intertwined with Milanese culture.
While rappers like Marracash and Ernia are demonstrating commercial viability in Milan, a great majority of the city’s musicians are operating on a strictly indie level.
An unlikely source of Milan’s rap and hip-hop culture is from its Latin American community. On the outskirts of Milan, immigrants from Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and other central and south American countries gather to rap through Facebook-organised events. With tensions surfacing occasionally between Italians and Latin American immigrants, these underground musicians have turned to music to try and shed a different light on their communities. At these gatherings, new and old immigrants alike come together to share their stories, using rap and the Spanish language to do so.
Another hip-hop artist, first generation Syrian Italian, Zanko ‘el arabe blanco’, uses his music to relay themes such as humanity over nationality and multiculturalism. Zanko’s music is particularly relevant in Italy, a country seeing mounting racial tensions amid an influx of African refugees.
In addition to Milan’s ethnically diverse hip-hop and rap musicians, there is a small but poignant female-rapper presence. The most notable example of this is with the group, Fly Girls, which brings together female rappers, DJs, and singers. In a traditionally male-dominated genre and a culture of strong masculinity, these women artists are bringing another much-needed dimension to Milan and Italy’s hip-hop and rap scene.
Meanwhile, Milan’s music infrastructure is becoming increasingly hospitable to this new generation of Italian rappers. The nightclub VIBEroom promotes itself as the first “urban” Italian night club, with hip-hop music featuring heavily among its lineup. Further, in November 2017, the city held its first ever Milan Music Week, an event dedicated to “above all to new music, a platform to introduce young artists and new productions.”
Milan is a city of the old and new, of the established and up-and-coming. It is a testament to its role as a global city that Milan should see continuous growth in the music created by its citizens. Newer styles of music are weaving themselves into the fabric of the city and it is these Milanese musicians that are creating their own subgenre of Italian rap and hip-hop.