Under the Underground trade emotions through rap music

In the darker corners of Camana Bay a group of guys hang out. Hands on mouth, standing back, almost imperceptible. Almost. I meet up with them through Gio, a guy who edits video for me. He is a rap manager who coordinates rap sessions on island.

I am introduced to five Caymanian rappers: Sin Gambit, Loki, Crimson Deadly, Juicy G and Thouguoht the Heathen (the unusual spelling is because it’s palindromic). In true Caymanian style their ethnicity ranges in the many shades between black and white. Gio tells me, “We got a lot of rap talent in Cayman, people don’t realise.”

He tells me they formed an association called Under the Underground that promotes various rap groups on Island.

He says its called Under the Underground because rap in Cayman is completely undiscovered.

On this particular Friday night, these guys have come together to rap. While we talk, the guys are busy marketing the session by broadcasting messages across Grand Cayman on their BlackBerrys. Many vibrating BlackBerrys later, the anticipation level is raised vociferously when we are suddenly interrupted by a security guard reminding us not to loiter. We move on.

We rummage through the Camana Bay crowds and in less than five minutes I realise that at least 10 other people have joined our group. Apparently the BBMs are working. But by the time Gio has secured a decent location to have the session, the crowd has grown to be 25 strong – of young Caymanian men and women.

Spit and flow

The rappers begin to spit and flow, sometimes in direct competition to one another, sometimes taking turns. I am struck by the multi-faceted aspects of the rapper. The rapper simultaneously controls the rhythm, rhyme and melody of the music–all vocally. With his mouth alone the rapper is a band that plays the different elements of music. The rhythm is determined by the timing in which he spits the words; the melody by the note he sings each syllable at; and the rhyme by the layout of his lyrics. Like Sin Gambit says, “The syllables in words can match the rhythm of a beat. Then you can fit the syllables to match each other and create the rhymes.”

“But it nah only that” interjects Heathen, “You have to have wordplay, too. There has to be subliminal messages. If you rapping like standard conversation, then you nah a catch nobody ear.”

And rapping is far from standard conversation. The average speed a person talks is 145 to 160 words per minute; I clocked some of the rappers at more than 400 words per minute. Quick thinking is essential. When the rapper Freestyles he has committed himself to maintain the beat by making up rhymes on the spot.

“At a certain point,“ Crimson Tide says, “we feed off our own adrenaline.”

Music is expression

But the most interesting thing about the rapper is the violent content of the rhymes, with includes guns, drugs and profanity. I ask them, “Why is the lyrical content so violent? “This is rap,” they say, “this is how we inherited it.”

Today’s rap may have been passed on from a violent society far from here, but music always finds its way home. “We’re from the streets!” these guys tell me, yet they are clear they do not condone violence. “It’s better to talk about things you are going to do, rather than do it,” says the Heathen, “I would much rather battle in a rap, than with a weapon,” says Sin Gambit, “We’re simply trading emotions.”

Because people still believe that music influences the youth, Cayman in general will have a hard time respecting rap. But music doesn’t influence the person so much as it is the person that influences the music.

Says Loki, “Rapping is a way to express ourselves.”

Music is the expression of the artist, and will always reflect the artist’s experiences. This should tell us something about society, not music. Art restricts itself to no single class and will always be a weapon of the marginalised. Music, while not the problem, can point to the problem, which can be generally summarised as inequality and injustice in every society.

As these young Caymanian rappers continue to meet in healthy camaraderie, it would be good for those us who are unfamiliar with their craft, to take them and their art seriously. In the words of Sin Gambit, “Rapping is poetry over music.” The rapper is a talented artist with extremely rare skills and an important message for our society.

Sin Gambit says, “I am not looking for a career worth millions of dollars. I just love music, and I love rap.”

Check out Under the Underground’s work at http://www.youtube.com/user/UTU345Cypher