British hip-hop MCs Foreign Beggars making waves
Foreign Beggars’ latest album, The Uprising, is a rap record, but you’d never mistake it for a product of the American hip-hop world. From its hyperkinetic lyrical flows to its immersion in an impressive spectrum of electronic-music styles, it could only have emerged from the cultural crucible that is London. The U.K. has had a vital hip-hop scene since the early ’80s, one that developed largely underground, spinning off into a diverse range of subgenres from trip-hop to grime.
On The Uprising, Foreign Beggars MCs Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis (DJ Nonames is the group’s third member) spit rapid-fire verses over a cross-section of circa-now styles courtesy of a number of producers. From Knife Party comes the industrial-strength moombahcore of “Apex”; Millions Like Us serves up heavy drum ’n’ bass in the form of “Mind’s Eye”, which features Tommy Lee (yes, that Tommy Lee) leaning into a hard jungle beat; and 16bit’s Eddie Jefferys brings the dubstep to “Anywhere”.
Reached in a downtown Los Angeles recording studio, Metropolis insists that Foreign Beggars didn’t set out to showcase its diversity in such a dramatic fashion. He says The Uprising was planned as an eight-song release, but the group expanded it to 13 at the request of its label, the deadmau5-owned mau5trap.
“We already had a few tracks with Alix Perez, who’s a good friend of ours, and also with kidkanevil,” Metropolis notes. “Those are the original joints that we already had in the bag. They both have their own specific sound and specific style. And we were just in the studio, just hollering at people, like ‘Hit us up and send us some stuff.’ It just worked out that of the broad spectrum of people that we approached, everyone came with their own flavour, you know? And the unifying factor was our flows, and the way that we work on stuff. But even if you listen to our previous album, [2009’s United Colours of] Beggattron, it’s also a little bit of a mixed bag, because we are so versatile and we like to push the boundaries and try stuff in different genres, different tempos and stuff.”
On these shores, Foreign Beggars are known best for their contribution to “Scatta”, a cut on Skrillex’s multiple-Grammy-winning Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP. They’re not household names, exactly, but Metropolis and Vulgatron say they—and British MCs in general—are starting to make waves in North America, in spite of the inherent challenges. “The hard thing about promoting something in the States is that it’s so big that when you do promote something here it takes a lot of money, especially if you’re coming from the outside and there isn’t the grassroots kind of buildup,” Vulgatron says. “With legitimate hip-hop, for something to be digested by the discerning fan, if somebody’s good, it’s good, and that’s undeniable. It just comes down to the lyrics, flows, and musicality of what’s happening. That’s why I can listen to French hip-hop or German hip-hop or Swahili hip-hop. It doesn’t matter what it is, I can tell if somebody’s good or not. But the fact is, we’re also speaking English, and U.K. street culture isn’t that far off. It’s the same shit, really.”
“I think that people are becoming more and more used to hearing U.K. rappers,” Metropolis adds, “because now you’ve got guys like Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal, and all of these dudes who are blowing up, who are mainstream guys. I think it goes back further than that. I think it started with the Streets, really. People are getting a little bit more used to it.”
Foreign Beggars play Venue on Wednesday (November 14).