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As we’ve previously discussed meticulously, the Italian rap scene is one changing exquisitely rapidly in the last couple of years, as differing genres blend into each other seeminglessly… and Youtube has given several artists the picture-perfect rag to riches archetype of a life.
Who better can comment on such development if not an artist who “flopped” a couple of years ago when the rap critics might have been a bit too rigid and then re-emerged now amongst the fog of the trap craze? The National Student spoke to Ernia, the Italian rapper from Milan, who attempted his debut with a rap gang defined as the Italian rap scene hitting rock bottom, the Troupe D’Elite, and then made it more substantially as a solo artist just recently.
After a hiatus in order to spend some time on his own, including a couple of months in London, Ernia has come back with his album Come Uccidere Un Usignolo (How to Kill a Nightingale), one replete with references to both classic Italian and Anglo-Saxon literature. Harper Lee ring a bell?
What do you think about Italy? Of the Italian youths and the opportunities available for them in this nation?
It's actually a difficult question, I’ve long had an unfriendly eye towards Italy, but I'm not one of those "accustomed Italians", ones with the usual self-loathing and self-defaming tendencies towards themselves and their own country; it’s common to hear Italians going on about corruption in our country, the mafia, unemployment, the bad-politics and the bad-health policies... behaving like full on victims, without ever considering the positive aspects of our country or never stopping to think about the fact that all of this is also found abroad, perhaps in different forms; yet foreigners do not tend to relentlessly advertise these issues so assiduously. Undoubtedly, there are some flaws in our system and a gap between us and some societies in central and northern Europe, but I believe that Italians often take it a step too far: I remember that when I was living in London the Italians, both from the north and from the south , talked about Italy as if it were a country in war, which citizens of nations with a much lower welfare than ours did not.
Regarding the opportunities for young people, I think that a nice little trip outside of our nation, one to build up on experience and maybe return home with a few more skills and having learned another language, is not bad either. My advice is: get out of the nest and take a ride, then maybe you'll come back, but start by taking that step outside.
You often sing about your time spent in London, did like it better in England? What does it have more of? What do you still feel you’re missing?
When I was in London I was lonely for a while. I'm not sure I can say I am better off to be honest, I actually think I might have chosen the wrong city to move to: London is too big, too dispersive, it's a gigantic version of my hometown Milan, people are not really interested in you, you are just one of many; one who takes a ride, takes what he needs, and then leaves again, so no one is willing to actually get attached. The only Brits I spent time with were a Jewish family, friends of my family. I often spent dinners with them, we celebrated Hanukkah together, but that was pretty much it. Aside from that I spent most of my time alone rather than with others, but it did definitely turn out to be useful, because learning to be alone is a lot harder than it seems, and it’s often something people take for granted.
What do you think about the rap scene in Italy? How is it evolving? And how do you think it’s evolving compared to the world rap scene?
Italian rap has made incredible progress over the last few years, especially with the advent of the new wave and with a public turn-over, who is now much younger than before hence not tied to those rules that Italian rap had self- imposed and limited itself to in the past; such as a particularly well-defined sound, or the themes to deal with. Up to a few years ago the rest of the world ran whilst in Italy it was a scandal if someone mentioned the word 'pussy' in a song, instead it was considered ok to rap about rap or sing songs which pretended to be about politics. Nice shit.
Similarly, regarding arrogance in rap, it’s still a bit of a struggle, or at least some are struggling take it in. I think it may be a cultural issue, Anglo Saxons are used to worshipping their ego: if you're in the US and you stand on a table in the middle of a restaurant and yell that you’re feeling yourself and you want to kiss them all, the other diners will applaud and will find this a funny gesture ("why shouldn’t he be gassed and feel good about himself?"). In Italy and probably the Latin countries in general, there is a cultural factor. Not an irrelevant one. We’re grown to be humble and stay in our own little square, which I believe has been imposed over the centuries by the Catholics (we are all equal in the eyes of God, here whoever wants to emerge wants to be less equal than the others) and during the 20th century by the communist party (the one in Italy was the largest communist party in the western world, and according to which it was detrimental to elevate oneself above the others) . Obviously, these are just my hypotheses, there are of course other factors influencing our behavior I’m guessing.
Where do you place yourself in the rap scene? In the UK Grime’s quite big now, and Italy is being taken over by trap. What are you? What do you bring to the Italian rap scene? Would you like to break through abroad too?
Bah, I honestly would not know where to place myself, I'm playing the little bastard a bit, trying to sum up everything I've experienced of rap; so it’s easy to listen to one of my pieces and find something a bit more classic, but then also something a bit more trappy. But I do not want to place myself, I want to rap.
With regards to making it abroad too, I see it quite hard, not just for me but for the Italians in general, mainly for a linguistic factor. Italian as a language is not very widespread and it is very difficult to get to the French, English or German-speaking audience, as the speakers of the aforementioned are also quite "nationalistic" in terms of musical influences from outside (perhaps France in the first place). Maybe we’ll find our way in the east and the Balkans, where Italian is better known, that wouldn’t be bad. We’ll see.
Who’s the best in the Italian scene right now? And globally?
In Italy, Guè Pequeno; a 20 year long career, 15 records or more in 14 years and hundreds of collaborations… these speak for themselves. A real war-machine. Outside of Italy, the best is Kendrick Lamar.