The Young Turk: Kamufle's Basement-Deep Hip-Hop

(press photo)

In his full proper debut album, Turkish rapper Kamufle creates brilliant soundscapes that evoke the vibrant and animated colours of graffiti art, where daisy-age hip-hop meets an Eastern sensibility.

Thump and Grind

Currently riding the crest of Turkey’s hip-hop new wave, Kamufle has signalled a turning point in his country’s urban music culture, bridging an underground movement with the popular mainstream. He looks like an average 20-something kid decked out in Adidas wear, but his musical ideas betray a wisdom in groove heard in such left-field hip-hop acts like Shabazz Palaces and Mike Ladd. Facing the Turkish masses with the sincere posture of a young man honing an artform often misunderstood in his native land, Kamufle delivers his work with the candour of a youth on the verge of forming his identity in front of the watchful eyes of thousands.

A few years back Kamufle (his stage-name) was writing and recording independently, trying to get a handle on a sound that was entirely his own and yet judiciously borrowed from the many influences he grew up with. The rapper made a few ripples in Turkey’s hip-hop underground in his beginnings, but he hadn’t yet perfected the seamless blend of grit, humour, playfulness and swagger that his full proper debut, Hayale Daldım, bristles with.

Hayale Daldım is a collection of experiences that I’ve gained in my ten years of music,” the rapper says. “There are a lot of different styles presented here and a lot of ideas, which had been in my head for a long time; those ideas are a little more mature and professional. It’s clear that I’m inclined to many different sounds and types of music. On this album I tried different tones, harmonies and styles and the results were successful.”

Tapping one of Turkey’s most sought after rappers and hip-hop producers, Da Poet, Kamufle set to work on Hayale Daldım in late 2013, slowly putting together a collection of songs that encompasses everything from basement-floor hip-hop grooves, Pharoah Sanders-styled jazz, electronica and a smattering of traditional Turkish sounds. As Kamufle says, “Da Poet has earned the respect of hip-hop heads everywhere in Turkey; he’s spent years developing Turkish rap with a pure heart. He has great skills, both as an MC and producer and I’ve always wanted to work with him, so we made Hayale Daldım together. For three years we tried to make new and original music and I injected my cleanest vocals into our music.”

Having helped to shape and define what hip-hop means among the Turkish population, Da Poet has found a most welcome and spirited protégé in Kamufle; together they create brilliant soundscapes that evoke the vibrant and animated colours of graffiti art, where daisy-age hip-hop meets an Eastern sensibility. There are voluptuous grooves, skewed melodies, sweet and sour funk and bruising raps which fly high and fast over the pounding rhythms. Hayale Daldım was made in Turkey and bears the markings of Turkish urban youth culture, but it's also the product of a global cultural assimilation, taking in trends and styles of the West and re-appropriating those influences in a way that could only be defined as Turkish.

Foreign ears that take in Kamufle’s album will be far from alienated; he raps in his native Turkish, but there's a deeply felt appreciation for hip-hop culture. Many tracks are startling fresh and cutting edge, and in many in ways ahead of Western hip-hop, appropriating a decidedly futuristic bent. Numbers like “Bi Yolunu Bul”, the album’s first single, display a boisterous wit amid the heavy, blockbusting beats (its accompanying music video plays up the humour, lampooning hip-hop swagger in a series of exaggerated rap music tropes). The album’s title track (featuring a rap by Da Poet in addition to his production duties) is flushed with singalong braggadocio, lifting its chorus to brassy heights, while its jazz leanings see a lone trombone blowing a funky line through a slamming groove.

On the album’s closing number, “Kimin Doğrusu”, a low growling synth-line does battle with the free jazz of a wailing sax; seductively catchy and impossibly clever, Kamufle’s send-off delivers sass with the drive of a stone-cold, propulsive beat. “I’ve tried to touch on different subjects with each one of the 11 songs on this album,” the rapper deliberates. “The concepts and themes of the songs often contrast with one another. There are songs about love, political issues, depression and loneliness. My songs incite battle raps, they make people dance, they speak about dreams, they defend the truth – and they exhaust people! The people who hear this album will face 11 different moods.”

In a country that has been underway in its development of hip-hop culture, Kamufle, who belongs to the new school of Turkish rappers, has found a unique bridge between the homegrown hip-hop of his nation and the dizzying heights of Western ambition. Possessed of a boyishly rugged demeanour, Kamufle has benefited from a highly developed stage presence (he’s dabbled a little in acting) which pushes his live shows into realms of drama that touch upon all forms of performance; there are hip-hop throwdowns meshing with tongue-in-cheek comic spectacles, and rhymes delivered intimately or sometimes in an orchestrated show of grandiose theatrics.

The rapper dipped his proverbial toe into his country’s mainstream waters of pop culture in 2013 with a teaser from his work in progress called “Sittin Sene”. The number features an unlikely appearance by one of Turkey’s most curious luminaries, Gökçe, an off-the-wall pop diva just tastefully skirting the flashy weirdness of Lady Gaga. The song turned some heads and raised quite a few eyebrows in some of the more staunchly purist hip-hop circles of Turkey; a strutting electro-big-band hip-hop number with piping Balkan melodies, “Sittin Sene” would shake-up the rigidity of Turkish urban music and introduce the spark of ingenuity in an insular musical movement. The track appears on Hayale Daldım and sits comfortably alongside the other hip-hop numbers, each exploring a multitude of rhythms in pop music and beyond.

Outside of his own work, the rapper has been travelling down other avenues of music that have introduced him to fellow musicians outside of his respective home circles. Along with Da Poet and an assortment of Turkey’s prized rappers, Kamufle made headway overseas, hooking up with renowned hip-hop producer DJ Premier (whose production credits include KRS-One, Nas and Jay-Z) for a one-off track that debuted early in 2015. That same year, Les Benjamins, a fashion company which originated in Istanbul but has been making waves across the globe (with shows in Paris), recently tapped the rapper to be one of the faces for its new line of clothing.

Hayale Daldım, in the meantime, has been slowly spreading across regions in Asia Minor and throughout parts of Europe as Kamufle’s profile continues to steadily rise. “My album has had some good feedback in places like Vienna, Bulgaria, France, Azerbaijan and Germany,” he says. “I had the chance to get onstage at an event for a Turkish fashion firm called Les Benjamin in Paris and it was there that I was able to expose my music to the different fashion communities from around the world. That was a really good experience for me and I had some really satisfying feedback from a lot of people. In the meantime, I hope to help Turkish rap music cross cultural boundaries more and more and that I get a chance to take part in bigger projects.”

[Many thanks to Akif Emekli (aka Rahdan Vandal) for all of his gracious help in translations for the interview portion of this feature.]

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