How trap rapper Bello Figo infuriated Italy's racists and split public opinion and how it is still a mystery whether he's a genius or just a crazy boy.
A wave of trap rappers has swamped Italy's music scene in the last few months. Never heard of trap before? Check out this video of Young Signorino:
Asking yourself why anyone would ever want to listen to this? You're not alone.
Trap, Wikipedia says, "is a style of popular music that was developed in the late 1990s to early 2000s from Southern hip hop in the United States." Themes of trap lyrics often resolve around the hardship of street life, poverty, drug use and dealing, money and women, and personal harsh experiences of the artist.
While one can picture this genre developing in an underground ghetto in Atlanta, it's hard to imagine that its Italian imitators who in their late twenties still live in their childhood room and get their socks washed and folded by la mamma come from a similar background. This makes it confusing because you never know if what they're singing is rubbish or if you somehow are missing the hidden genius.
So while many of Italy's trap artists are just fooling around like Young Signorino (who is 20 years old, proclaims himself to be Satan's son, has an own son, has gone through rehab and gives people epileptic shocks with his videos), there is also Bello Figo, Ghanaian-Italian artist who came to Italy when he was twelve and now, ten years later, has five million people clicking on his YouTube videos. Here is his most famous one:
It was this song that sent quite a big part of the Italian population into a rage, particularly politicians and sympathizers of the right wing spectrum. The song is called "I don't pay rent", and Bello Figo brags about living in 4 star hotels, the 35 Euro of state money he gets to spend every day as a refugee and how he doesn't need to work - clichées that anti-immigration populists use to be, well, populist.
"We want WiFi and pocket money
I sleep in a 4 star hotel because I’m black
Yeah, I don’t pay rent, I don’t pay rent, yeah!
Yeah, I m not a worker, not a worker!"
Of course, only a small part of people (obviously the ones with a sense of humour) realized that his intent was to make fun of exactly these clichées. However, misunderstanding the song completely, Italy needed answers as well as some drama, and where best to make a public display than on the talk-show called "Dalla vostra parte" (On your side), sponsored by Silvio Berlusconi's TV channel.
15 seconds into the show and in the middle of explaining the real intent of his song, Bello Figo got yelled at by Alessandra Mussolini (the dictator's niece who says things like "If my granddad would still be around things would definitely be different, better" in public and who's husband had to stand trial for being a client of an under-aged child prostitute) to fuck off to the country he came from and cut off his hideous, dyed-blonde hair.
Then a shit storm unleashed upon the rapper from all sides and he got destroyed by what appeared like a pack of bloodthirsty hyenas but really was a group containing all kinds of characters from Italy's right wing establishment (the conservative TV format hadn't bothered inviting someone from the opposing side). To tie right into this level of professionalism, a group of Italian welfare receivers addressed Bello Figo from a connected screen, stupidly (and what they clearly intended to be reproachfully) calling him "Signor Rapper" and trying to make clear to everyone that their lives are so much worse than the lives of immigrants (who have fled war and famine) because of how the state treats them.
To give off the impression that all sides had been considered, an African cultural mediator the programme had found who-knows-where appeared as next guest, voicing how shameful Bello Figo is to the entire African community in Italy.
Bello Figo didn't care and kept his style. On a poster for one of his next concerts, he advertised 7-Euro-tickets to immigrants while Italians were supposed to pay 15 Euro - another joke that didn't sit well with too many people. After the Neo-fascist faction (yep, they still exist) vowed to destroy him if they ever found him walking on the street, Bello Figo had to cancel his concerts. The places he was supposed to perform at received too many hate messages which soon also found their way onto social platforms: "Better go back to picking cotton and bananas, you monkey".
I decided that I want to speak to him for a news article and contacted him via his Facebook page but he was more interested in hosting me privately at his house. Genius or crazy boy? Both? Who will ever know.