“If you're a black man or muslim (people) discriminate against you (based on how you) look. In music if you try not to sound like other people they say ‘we don't understand’. I work hard to be different, because the only way to be different is to be yourself. And that's what my video reflects”
Congolese MC Badi is breaking down the concept for his video (above) for Jump. Visually and sonically, the song channels vintage Beastie Boys. It’s due to his brand of social observation that there are parallels being drawn between the French-speaking rapper and another steward of Black American pop culture. He is known as the Spike Lee of Belgian Hip-hop, although when he speaks to me on skype from his home in Brussells, he distances himself from the comparison: “I'm not calling myself like that, it's the people. It’s his vision, his way to tell a story I think,” his accented explanation offers.
Growing up, cassette tapes and a love for the iconic Yo MTV Raps passed down by his older sister inspired the awe Badibanga Ndeka felt generally towards Hip-hop music. But Tupac’s Dear Mama was the one song he recalls that transcended any language barrier and triggered an emotional response which would later fuel his decision to pick up a mic himself. “At this time I didn’t understand what he was saying but I was so moved by it,” remembers 31-year-old Badi. Via Hip-hop he not only assembled his English vocabulary but also escaped, albeit temporarily, the confines of the tiny apartment he shared with his three sisters and parents. Leading a six-piece band of mates from around the way, he began to hone his craft.
Class consciousness was a lesson Badi would learn early in his school days.
“In the 80's we were the only black family in my school and we didn't have enough money to go on holiday. And on those first days of class when they would ask where I went on vacation I would just lie.”
Badi’s mother, at the time a domestic worker and their household’s sole bread winner, would likely have encountered more pressing needs than taking holidays. In 1977 she had accompanied her ex-soldier husband on the run from then Zaïre’s Mobutu regime. He found work at the Kenyan embassy in Belgium but suffered a debilitating heart attack in 1986 which cost him his job and consequently, his and his family’s right to remain there. The only way to make ends meet was for Badi’s mother to take on menial cash-in-hand jobs which didn’t require one to declare their status.
Such was their 15-year immigration struggle that eventually culminated in a double-edged outcome which he explains, “was a gift and a curse. For us kids, we now had more opportunities. But my father, after all those years (spent waiting) was too old to work when we finally received legal status. He became depressed and started to drink.
“Till today I live with that scar. I have a good relationship with my parents, despite his short-comings my father is still a hero for me and my mother is my be
st friend,” avows Badi, himself a fairly new dad. With the birth of his daughter, which happened as his November 2011 EP Si Je Meurs was being conceived, came a reincarnation for the rapper.
BD BANX is his old pseudonym, synonymous with his previous recording persona – categorically an urban rap artist who made weighty collaborations with the scene’s most revered. Artists including the Kanye West-endorsed Stromae, Fredy Massamba and the legendary Congolese musical and political figure Tabu Ley Rochereau’s son Youssoupha, one of French Hip-hop’s most prominent names.
His latest EP leans a bit more left, deeper mining his influences so that it’s more inclusive, reflecting even his pop-rock tastes. On it, this more inward-facing Badi shows a low threshold for hollow posturing and challenges the façade which rap culture sometimes perpetuates. For instance in J'déteste la Rue (loosely translated, “I hate the streets”) Badi says, “When you're a rapper you have to say I'm from the street to sound “real” or something like that. We glorify the street life but the fact for me is, there is nothing to glorify because we lose time, we lose friends, because of the drug and the violence those songs talk about.”
Condamne is his latest single. Its video is a stunning piece of noveau cinema so visceral you could almost do without the missing subtitles if you don’t speak French.
These days family values drive Badi. Naturally, the template for his approach to parenting is his own upbringing. A childhood in which his parents spoke to him in Tshiluba and Lingala, and played the music of Congo's renowned music ambassadors like Franco and Tabu Ley Rochereau around the house. His extended family he says, is always just a quick phone call away, spread out as they may be in the UK, in Canada and in the Congo, which is top of the bucket list for Badi. While his dad is yet to return to his home country for fear of his safety, Badibanga plans to make his first ever trip with his daughter for both their sakes: “I wish for my daughter to know the Congo especially because she's mixed race. And to have her grandparents close to her so she can learn Tshiluba and Lingala like I did. My life’s most significant change is the responsibility I now have because whether I like it or not I have to be an example, and I have to give my daughter the opportunity to advance further than me. That's my hope.”
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