With the somewhat bogus feeling an old fogey like me gets when witnessing a third generation punk (I’m second gen.) get excited about the hyper-cynical Sex Pistols reunion, it would have been little surprise if I had shrugged off the idea of Czech style Hip-Hop off, and smugly slipped my Black Sheep tape into my Walkman. Diky ne.
And I might just have done, had I not lucked into an interview with Chaozz, the first authentic Czech hardcore to be signed to a major label. Rollin’ on the 3 Tram through the industrial and working class area of Zizkov, (the Bronx of Prague), me and Deph, one of the Chaozz founders, rewound the 8th track back through the brief history of the city of the Vltava’s flirtations with ‘the inner city blues’.
Legend has it that though a dink in the armor of the senescent Soviet Empire, some daring young G’s scammed a copy of GrandMaster Flash’s ‘The Message’, yes, black-market style. As a blueprint, the first Czech(oslovakian) rappers, Manzele (translated; a married couple), carried on for years, releasing the big beat sound in 1991 on Bonton Records.
The love of the music, however, couldn’t make up for the time warp of missing Run DMC, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and all the other innovators taking rap from Ellington to Miles. Something would have to fill the gap.
The next couple of years were a growing up period for the would be rappers. Often, attempts to break the scene were one shot deals, (Michael V., a Golem Radio DJ, more metal than rap as time went on, Pirati (JAR), and blatant commercial efforts (RapMasters) degrading the genre. At this point in the interview I sense some tension in Deph’s extrapolation. I chidingly ask him what he would do if he had an AK-47 and the RapMasters in the same room.
“I’m not a gangster, but I’d like to kick their ass.” he says, flashing his dental work.By 1993 Peneri Strycka Homeboye (something like ‘Homeless Uncle Homeboy’), used samples exclusively for their jams, though now they’ve added live elements. Their lyrics often were written to fit the rhyme, but in general they talked about what they knew.
WWW (We Wanna Work) continues to play Prague, fusing live jazz and playing with metaphors oft’ misunderstood as the artist still remain ahead of their audiences. Behind the scenes at this time a crew by the name of UNIT was mixing the embryonic ingredients that would give birth to a scene that will break this June. Deph, Bass and Rusty were about to break off, meeting Fugaz and DJ Smog on December 16th, 1994.
Last September, with another year under their belts, they were approached by a record shop manager about the Czech rap scene, and in a few short months found themselves in a deal with Polygram Records. Somewhat suspicious, but with full control of the product, Chaozz is set to blow up old Panasonics all over the Czech Republic with their first single, ‘Television’ in late June. I smiled and bobbed my standard bob as the intoxicating hardcore beat lapped at my invigorated dome. The delivery… SLAMMmmin’, in Czech, you’ll just have to listen.
Chaozz on Rap: “Hip-Hop is about bringin’ the people together, how friends are to die for and a way for us to escape our problems.” On the album: “We’re just trying to get the message out. and were surprised Polygram was interested in such a small market. Hopefully more people will listen to the music.”
On the lyrics: “We’re speaking as we speak normal, about things we know about; against violence, politicians, police brutality, mindless TV, and about partyin’, you know, smokin’ raps!”
After witnessing most West Coast rappers become an anachronism of the Gangster Life they once portrayed as a means of getting the masses uptight, it was refreshing to hear unpretentious pioneers taking their craft to the next level. Despite being firmly planted in the underground, most police don’t even know the attack they will be subjected to, and in a positive way club owners can still promote shows without the requisite threats of violence endemic to stateside clannishness and posing.
Having a wide variety of influences, and giving roots to the music’s roots, Chaozz have done the impossible; making viable Hip-Hop in the Czech Language and on top it used samples from the country’s rich musical history to keep the entire package proper. You won’t hear about ‘b*tches ‘n’ ho’s’, or about money, but you will hear a freestyle jam featuring sixteen performers from all over the Republic, including sketches in English, Greek, and say it ain’t so, Sudanese, along with a local equivalent of ‘Fcuk the police’.
So what’s the scenario? Copyright laws are laughably lax, and flyers for shows are poppin’ up everywhere. Clubs and performers are both in position to reap the rewards of a musical maturity.
There are strong voices and a deep love of the music all over Europe, from France, the Turkish ghettos in Germany, and now the former east. The rappers can’t relate US styles to their lives, so they are taking the medium for their own purposes. Here in the Czech Republic we are witness to the banality and fragmentation of emergent capitalism.
Yo Deph, if this record made you a millionaire, would you buy gold chains an’ sh*t? “No, I want to stay as I am, with my friends, my people… maybe I’d buy a car. I want to live making music, and if it keeps me from that style of living of the others, goin’ to school, gettin’ a job, coming home, eat my dinner, bang the wife, go to sleep, work again… then more power to it.” Word.