In 2008, I heard a decent rap track called “Non Stop” by an MC named Brainpower. About halfway through, I realized I could only understand about every tenth word. After a lot of repeat spins, head scratching and late-night calls to my smarter friends, I determined that the track was actually in Dutch, a language that sounds uncannily like English, but slightly sillier. Like, imagine a German guy speaking fake English, and he’s specifically trying to be funny.
I enjoyed “Non Stop” as a curiosity, but I didn’t think much of it until the next year, when someone pointed me to a track called “Aye” by Dio (not Ronnie James; they have their own Dio). This one, in addition to being even more charmingly Dutch, seemed to be awful dang good. Dutch hip hop was batting 1.000 so far, and I vowed to learn more about the strange parallel rap scene of the Netherlands.
But learning is hard, so I just listened to a shitload of Dutch rap on YouTube for the next few years instead. I started downloading albums, telling my friends about it, and now there’s a weird little pocket of Dutchboyz on the West Coast. I’ve had at least one or two windmill jams in my heavy rotation every year since; 2010 was all about Faberyayo’s “Uniform” and De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig’s “Sterrenstof.” 2011 was dominated by Sef’s “De Leven.”
If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. Most Euro rap is pretty dire: lots of outdated beats, ungainly languages and sallow skinheads in track suits. But Dutch is a far more natural-sounding rap language than most, and the production — not even grading on a curve — is often pretty good. It’s probably not worth becoming a full-blown Hollandophile eccentric and wearing wooden shoes to the club, but a healthy Dutch hip hop curiosity will be well rewarded.
2012 was a difficult year to discover new Dutch rap through YouTube. Subscriptions to Dutch label channels (along with the related-video rabbit hole) used to be my primary discovery method, but this year a lot of major artists are switching to that awful Vevo bullshit, which region-locks everything; I’m missing out on a lot of new videos by some of my favorites, unless I scrounge unofficial sources. Nonetheless, I’ll share a few of the more interesting Nederhop jams of the year.
(I’m not going to call these the best of the year, because who the hell knows? I’m locked out of most of the high-profile stuff due to Vevo, and besides, I don’t know what the hell these guys are rapping about. They could be advocating human vivisection or rapping glowing reviews of that new Guy Fieri restaurant.)
Zwart Licht – Ja Toch!
Zwart Licht (“Black Light”) has consistently excellent production and rad videos, so they’re a natural starting point for the Dutch rap novice. Their new album, Leeroy Draait Door, has produced two excellent singles so far. “Ja Toch!” is a classic seizure banger, while “Weg” finds them in a more mellow mood. Their extremely realistic rhyming almost makes me want to track down a Dutch person and ask if their lyrics make any sense, but I don’t want to spoil it.
Ronnie Flex – Geert Wilderniss
This Ronnie Flex character has been hitting a lot of features lately; I’m estimating him as maybe the rapper-mode Chris Brown of the Netherlands (in style only, I hope). This track is a solid migraine, but it engenders a perverse desire for repeat spins. WARNING: do not look for other Ronnie Flex material, because he seems to hang around this awful Jeremy Renner looking guy who mixes rap with Eurodance garbage. Le Le – Neen
Faberyayo’s side project with illustrator Piet Parra dropped this legitimate amusement early in the year. It highlights one of the primary joys of Dutch rap: picking out words here and there and feeling like you can almost understand it. Even better, Le Le provided a rare cheat sheet in the form of an English version of the track (it turns out he’s saying “no” to a bunch of lame shit).
Kabel – Klootzakken (ft. Roscovitsch & Faberyayo)
The aforementioned Faberyayo is my favorite Dutchman by far– c’mon, his name is a portmanteau of Fabergé eggs and cocaine. He’s been on a roll lately, between his excellent solo material, his strange side projects (last year, he teamed up with Sef for a trap mixtape about skiing) and his work with De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig (best known abroad for their 2005 single “Watskeburt,” which managed radio play all over Europe and even the UK). Skip to to 2:17 in this Kabel track for an excellent verse by Yayo, which demonstrates how he lays down a compelling flow even if you don’t know what the hell he’s saying.
Brainpower – Hing Hing Hing
Brainpower has always seemed to regard himself as an American rapper trapped in a Dutch guy’s tongue, dropping US slang and flowing over counterfeit DJ Premier beats. Alas, he started to take the idea a little too seriously, and he’s been lost in a wilderness of sad English rap for a couple of years; he’s not terrible as an English-language rapper, but he sounds like a Dutch guy rapping in English. (Sorry, dude, we’ve already got rappers.) Mercifully, he dropped this little novelty in his mother tongue this year– skip to 1:17 for a good taste of his adorable gibberish wordplay.