Thomas and Ariel from Foreignrap

ForeignRap: When Hip-Hop Leaves the U.S.

It’s time to quit thinking that the USA is the only place making good rap. To set the record straight, a couple of fans made an internet library of the globe’s best hip-hop songs and videos.

Ariel and Thomas, two out of the three founders of met me at Superfly Record Store in Paris. With the help of, Aziz, a Dutch designer from Tidal they made a music discovery site that lets rap lovers find new songs and music videos. The whole point of the website is to showcase rappers from countries other than the US. There’s so much talent in other countries, they decided to promote it.

Despite their lax vibes, Thomas and Ariel know their stuff when it comes to hip-hop and design. Ariel is the man writing the code for the website, but every decision about Foreignrap is made between the three founders.

What’s Foreignrap?

Thomas: It’s a website that showcases artists from countries besides the USA. We kept seeing good videos and rappers popping up in all different places, especially this year when a couple Belgian rappers came out in a style like Damso. And the Swiss are starting to come out with a cool sound too. Really, there are no boundaries to rap, every country has is its own sound.

Thomas and Ariel for Foreignrap by Jérôme Vivet

© Jérôme Vivet/HEREYOUARE

How did the project start?

Thomas: I met Aziz on Twitter. He’s a designer like me and we were always sending music back and forth. Him being based in Oslo, he was always sending me Scandinavian rap and I was sending him French. Aziz had the original idea. He thought it was frustrating that there wasn’t one simple resource for all the sounds we’d been sending each other. We wanted other people to listen. We called Ariel to handle the development side of things, and that was that.

Ariel: Thomas and I are buds from school. And I listen to a lot of rap so the idea really vibed with me. We got it off the ground pretty quickly and we just keep adding content. Me, I listen to a lot of Asian rap, so I started adding sounds like that.

How many music videos are on the website?

Thomas: There’s gotta be at least 300. These days, people are being overwhelmed by playlists, but they’re all made by bots. A playlist made by a bot means you lose a lot of the human side that you’d get if a were DJ making it. We’re trying to put that element back into music discovery.

Ariel: We can get up to 1000 clips. The architecture of the site is really quite simple. We only add the sounds that we really love. Quality, not quantity.

Ariel for Foreignrap by Jérôme Vivet

Ariel from Foreignrap © Jérôme Vivet/HEREYOUARE

How do you make your selections?

Thomas: We have to like the music video just as much as the music. It’s a mix of both. On the site, we like to showcase the video because we want the experience to be visual too. What the videos show is that it’s not only in America that they have a budget. Just look what they’re doing in Asia. With a camera and a little bit of editing, anybody can make something look good, and it’s making music videos better and better. What we wanted was something like MTV, but just rap. We also wanted you to have the ability to switch channels and songs whenever you want. To put up a video on the site, it’s got to be given the go-ahead by all three of us. It doesn’t matter if it’s one of our own recommendations, or if it’s from one of our users. If a suggestion from a user gets on the site, we like to send them a personalized message on Twitter. It makes it more like a community and helps to ensure people keep suggesting music. We add music every week, but we don’t have a set amount of how many we want to add. We get a lot of requests. We listen, and we pick. The people usually live in the countries that their songs are coming from, and we try to treat them like they were another blogger as well.

Why is the USA not included on your website?

Thomas: We made the site from an American’s perspective. That’s why it’s called Foreignrap. But it’s funny because really, most of our users are American. So it really is foreign rap for them! Maybe one day we’ll put American rappers on the site. But they would have to be more underground. We want every artist you find to be a new discovery. We’re not trying to be another Youtube.

Thomas from Foreignrap by Jérôme Vivet

Thomas from Foreignrap © Jérôme Vivet/HEREYOUARE

What’s the difference in hip-hop cultures from developed and developing countries?

Ariel: Just like in economy, we’re seeing more rappers from countries like South Korea, China, Indonesia. Rich Chigga is starting to blow up in Indonesia, which is gonna help others artists trying to make it in that country. For sure there are differences, but you always see that no matter what country, the artists have been “americanised”. Still, they always bring their own universe, their own culture. I’m thinking about Nigerian rap which has a strong African influence made from African beats and soul rhythms.

Thomas: When you surf around the site enough, judging by the style and instruments of the song, you’ll be able to guess from what part of the world the rapper is. In Cote d’Ivoire for example, the artists are really autotuned and the words are more sung rather than rapped.

What do you think about today’s rap? who are your favorite rappers, past or present?

Ariel: Right now I’m listening to a lot of French rap. I think there’s a really good scene going on there right now. But deep down I’m partial to US rap and funk. Even though I go through my old school phases, I’m usually more interested in today’s music. Basically, I listen to an artist for about three months–every day, the same thing–and then I move on. There’s also this genre that I really dig, but it isn’t too well known, it’s called future funk. Rap’s message has become pretty diluted I think. It’s turned into more of a business like everything else. But there are some rappers out there, like Dosseh who still give off a strong message. Damso too, even if he acts like “I’m just here for the cash,” and Booba: proof that you don’t have to sacrifice voice for sound. Hip hop today has moved away from the stereotypes of who a rapper has to be. Now, anyone can do it. I’m thinking about Bifty, whose personality is like, completely WTF, but his rap is cool. And being a goofball but doing it well has opened the door for a bunch of other people to get in the mix.

Superfly Records by Jérôme Vivet

© Jérôme Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Thomas: We’ve been in a really special time these past three years for rap. In a couple years, I bet people are gonna say we are living in the second golden age of rap. So many different things have been coming out. I’m thinking a lot about rappers from francophone countries, but who aren’t technically French.
I try to listen to everything that comes out. I spend a lot of time browsing different blogs. I also follow a lot of artists on SoundCloud, so I’ve always got something to listen to. The rap today is less political and engaged, but it’s more creative. For instance, a dude like Lil Peep is meshing rap and rock which usually don’t go together.

What are your favorite places to go in Paris?

Ariel: Me, I’m from Ivry so I spend a lot of my time in the 13th arrondissement, near the Francois Mitterand Library. There’s a lot of street art, and I love walking around there.

Thomas: To go out I really like the Nouveau Casino. There are good places to catch some rap shows or the “Yards” parties on Tuesday at Wanderlust in the summer.

Thomas and Ariel from Foreignrap

© Jérôme Vivet/HEREYOUARE

What are some other projects you’re working on?

Ariel: I just wanna be a millionaire! But I want to continue working on Foreignrap. The project is so chill. I love rap music and my job is already to make websites, so doing it with friends is even better. Right now we are working on a Foreignrap application for Apple TV, and soon maybe even Android TV.

Thomas: Honestly this is the project we’ve spent the least amount of time on it’s been the most successful. We’ve gotten a lot of traffic on the site so we’re trying to take advantage of the initial interest. So far, we’ve really had no trouble at all! We just do our thing and see what happens. Right now we’re trying to take the website mobile. Sometimes labels contact us to see if we can promote their artists. But we’re trying to be patient. To be fair. The label for Joey Bada$$ contacted us to help promote an artist of theirs: we listened, but we didn’t decide to put it up. We like to keep out artistic liberty.

Visit Foreignrap

This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness

Credits: Photo Jerome Vivet

Thank you Superfly Records!

Julien Giacalone As far as Julien can remember he always wanted to be a gangster. Unlike Henry Hill, he mostly became a writer. But a strong part of him is still anti-establishment. Which part? Only the good half.