Timbuktu

Timbuktu

BandHip Hop

Biography

In Sweden, Timbuktu is the MC who even your grandparents have heard of. No, they probably aren't rocking his album at their Tuesday dance class, but they know he exists. And in a country where the generational divide seems to expand daily, this implies that Timbuktu's music, while uncompromising, in its willfully worldly, multi-cultural purview, is somehow entertaining enough to resonate amongst a people associated more with meatballs than, say, mic skills. Yet that selfsame music, though oft acclaimed, fares far worse when it attempts to educate and uplift, which is often its very intention. With that said, it would certainly seem understandable for Timbuktu to "dumb down" and double his dollars, like so many of his American counterparts. But such would be a fate inconceivable to the Swede MC. On the contrary, Timbuktu admirably assumes an unstated role as the lone voice of reason in the wilds of the Western hemisphere, and is ultimately willing to bear genius' inevitable burden, which is ridicule, if only to provide the faintest glimmer of hope through his music.

The artist known in Nordic hip-hop circles as Timbuktu was born Jason Diakité--the product of American parents--some 30 years ago, and was introduced to hip-hop by his father, who blessed the young rapper-to-be with a 12" vinyl single of Melle Mel's obscure hit "Jesse Jackson." Though exposed to rap early, Diakité's musical tastes were varied, so it's unsurprising that when asked--in 1989--what album he wanted for a present, the musically-inclined 14-year-old's requests were either Paula Abdul or De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. Needless to say, Diakité was saved from a life of tights and dance classes (not to mention suspect musical tastes) when he received the latter, which he played repeatedly, savoring each song and skit, as only the young and impressionable can. Shortly after receiving the seminal record, Diakité made the acquaintance of a female friend who persuaded him to start writing rhymes, and he immediately began cramming metaphors and similes into bar after bar, honing the craft, which he would soon master. By 1999, Diakité, along with several childhood friends, had formed JuJu Records, and released a 12" vinyl single entitled "The Conspiracy." The record did well, garnering a trans-Atlantic buzz, but it would not be until a year later that the burgeoning MC would stumble across the formula that has made him a household name in Sweden.

At some point in 2000, when recording a track with another well-known local rapper named Petter, Diakité decided--on a whim--to rhyme in Swedish. The decision was a risky one for Diakité, who then believed that hip-hop, being a product of the States, should be recited only in English. But after witnessing the overwhelming response the record received upon its release, Diakité began to seriously consider recording his vocals in the language of his motherland. Because he was still a bit skeptical of recording a thoroughly non-English album, Diakité decided to release a double LP with one side recorded in Swedish, and the other in English. On the Swedish side is the song "Pendelparanoia" (i.e. "the commuter paranoia") which tells the story of a Swede and an immigrant riding the subway. Both men, in the song, assume, with one glance, what the other is like, based on the prevailing stereotypes of the day. (The Swede thinks the immigrant is a lazy, abusive savage who will attempt to rob him, and the immigrant figures the Swede for a soulless, rich white bastard.) Diakité concludes the narrative by having both men admit that the desire to judge a book by its cover far outweighs the desire to accept people from different cultural backgrounds. Though not originally intended as a single, Diakité eventually chose to release "Pendelparanoia," and the reception was jolting: people from all walks of life constantly approached him on the street and confessed that the song had really touched them. Considering that Swedish society is passive-aggressive by nature, and that no one had ever really taken a stand against the proverbial white elephants that stampede so freely in the midst, the concept of an MC getting a positive response for stating the cold truth about the country's race problem is novel, indeed. Nonetheless, it's a concept Jason Diakité decided to take further.

Inspired by the tongue-in-cheek letter to George W. Bush in Michael Moore's snarky bestseller Stupid White Men, Diakité wrote a letter to Sweden's Prime Minister Göran Persson, questioning some of the Prime Minister's stances on various issues while hoping to spark change. In addition, Diakité recorded the track "Ett Brev" (i.e. The Letter). Though it wasn't initially slated for release as a single, a popular concert promoter told him the song should reach a wider audience. So with a "why not?" attitude, Diakité shot an accompanying video before he left on a cross-country tour with the Swedish rap group Loop Troop. While on the road,