S3E14. Italian rap is surfing the Balkan wave
Second generations from the Balkans are revolutionizing the rap scene also in Italy, with new styles, sounds and messages. Alen Đokić, aka Doppelgänger, helps us to analyze this emerging music trend
welcome back to BarBalkans, the newsletter (and website) with blurred boundaries.
Balkan music, we said. It is almost an obsession, with trumpets, accordions and gypsy rhythms (if you lost your way, you can find the last stop here).
There was a missing piece in our analysis of the genres included in the vast framework we call “Balkan music”.
Only one genre was missing, that is decisive to understand the direction we are heading to in recent years, if not months. And not only in the Balkans, but finally also in Italy. The last European country to open its music doors to it.
This genre was missing because it is emerging right now, as we listen to it, write about it, read about it. And BarBalkans is sure it deserves its own space.
We are talking about Balkan rap. A wave that is sweeping the Italian rap scene thanks to the second generations, born from those who left the Balkans in the Nineties.
What is Italian-Balkan rap
The Balkan wave is a music trend that has been emerging in the Italian rap scene for a very few years.
Not before 2020, while its explosion dates back to 2021-2022, as the release of singles and albums by young artists intensified.
We cannot talk about Italian-Balkan rap without considering the origin of its exponents. Young people born in the very late Nineties or early 2000s (or moved in their early life), whose parents emigrated to Italy from Albania and former Yugoslavia.
These are the second generations with one foot in Italy and one foot in the Balkans. Second generations with a part of their identity on one side of the Adriatic Sea and a part on the other side.
Italian-Kosovar Ghost, Italian-Albanian Daxter and Xhovana, Italian-Bosnian Doppelgänger. Each of them with a personal story and a unique artistic path.
Musically, their style echoes iconic Balkan rappers such as Noizy, Frenkie, Edo Maajka, Coby, and Ghetto Geasy. It is often raw rap that talks about suburbs, guns, drugs, exclusion and social conflict.
But the Balkan wave exponents also have another characteristic that makes them different from other Balkan rappers. The story of a life lived in Italy and a soul linked to the Balkans, as emerges from their lyrics and sound.
To better understand what lies behind this rising trend, BarBalkans asked one of the most interesting exponents of the Italian-Balkan wave to tell us how a new phenomenon in the rap scene starts and develops.
Alen Đokić, aka Doppelgänger, is an Italian-Bosnian rapper. He was born in 2000 in Rome to a family originally from Kotor Varoš, a few kilometers from Banja Luka (in the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia and Herzgovina).
Doppelgänger’s most original feature is to pour into his music the deep meaning of an identity split in half and not easy to fit in any framework. But most of all to speak not only to Bosnians and Italian-Bosnians, becoming a reference point for all Italian-Balkan people.
The way he does all of this is through entirely original sounds, that recall little-known music scene in Italy, and through lyrics that talk about brotherhood and real life. Young people with similar origins and experiences can easily identify with his music.
A wave split in half
Alen, can you tell us how you started?
«It started a little over two years ago, in November 2020, mainly out of boredom during the pandemic. I always liked music, but I had never made it.
I discovered that I appreciate the whole creative process, from finding the most suitable beat to publishing it. Some lyrics I write overnight, others take me months.
My evolutionary process took a year, until December 30, 2021, when I collaborated with Frenkie, one of the greatest exponents of Bosnian rap, on the single Mic Check.
To get there, I looked for a way to best promote my music. I found it in TikTok and by making a link with the Balkans, but not ridiculed.
The real explosion happened in June 2021. Since then, I’ve been constantly publishing songs. Blk Bld, Alen, Mai Morto, until the latest single Hooka, which entered Spotify Novità Rap Italiano [Italian Rap Novelties, ed]».
As a Bosnian born in Rome, in your lyrics you speak often about being split in half. What does it really mean?
«There is a great virtue and a great flaw in being split in half, one part Bosnian and one part Italian.
I am really proud to be at the same time an Italian from Rome and a Bosnian Muslim from the Serbian part of Bosnia. Only because of these origins I could tell about decades and centuries of history. I am proud to be a mix of cultures.
But it also has a flaw. You feel like you don’t belong to anything. It is like when you are at a party and everyone accepts you, but you can’t fully integrate.
When I go to Bosnia there are so many attitudes that I don’t understand and sometimes I wonder if I am really Bosnian. The same thing happens in Rome: I admire the environment, I am Roman, but in a way I feel like an outsider.
It is almost impossible to explain. Not even my mom can understand me all the way. It’s just you with yourself».
What impact does this awareness have on your music?
«It helps me a lot, actually, because I can take negative aspects and turn them into something positive.
Because it’s not just me. I can convey my music to other young people who are like me, whether they are Croatians, Macedonians, Bosnians, Albanians, or Serbians. We have two identities: added up together, are they worth zero or are they worth double?
It can end in three ways. You hate Italy and you want to go back to the Balkans. You hate the Balkans and you break all ties. And then there’s us, with one foot on each side».
But let’s be clear. Are you seeing this Balkan wave in the Italian rap scene growing?
«Yes, Balkan wave is rising right now. I’ll tell you more: it was born with Balkan wave, in 2021. Even Il Ghost at that time realized he needed to focus more on the link with Albania. It’s like our minds merged.
There are two lines about to meet.
On one side, Il Ghost, Daxter and me are spreading the wave, each in our own way. On the other side, the public is getting tired of the wake of trap and drill and is looking for something new.
We take inspiration from the countries we come from, bringing sounds almost never heard in Italy. For example Blkn Bld is a raw Balkan rap, while Hooka is something totally new on the Italian scene.
These two lines are meeting and are going to bring Balkan wave to the next level in Italy. It is not a matter of years, but of months.
This is an experiment that can unite Italy and the Balkans, with collaborations with artists from Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Albania, who are just not considered here. The Italian scene is closed, while the Balkan scene is known all over the world, especially in Germany and the United States.
It’s time for Italian rap and Balkan rap to cross».
Let’s take a step back. What do Bosnia and the Balkans represent to you?
«To me Bosnia and the Balkans are intertwined, unlike other very patriotic rappers who only praise their own country.
Bosnia is the only country that contains all the characteristics of the Balkans, from religion to tourism and food. When I talk about it, I may sound patriotic, but if I go to Croatia, Kosovo or Serbia I consider everyone equal to me: we greet each other, we eat, we smoke the same way.
I like to think that - as a Bosnian - I can represent everyone. I consider Serbs as my cousins, as well as Kosovars.
It was clear during my two concerts in Rome and Milan. Half the audience was Serbian and half Albanian, but it went very well. Because people who follow me are smart enough to think in the same way about living peacefully».
Do you still perceive tension about the Yugoslav Wars among generations born in the 2000s?
«Young people born in the 2000s need to know about the wars, but also that it was not all or nothing. As there were Serbian war criminals, there were also plenty of good Serbs. And as there were Bosnian and Croatian victims, there were also Bosnian and Croatian war criminals.
Guilt and crimes must be admitted, apologized for, forgiven. And then move on. New generations are accepting it. We think about it, but we see brotherhood rather than ethnic and religious hatred.
In Bosnia, it doesn’t happen anymore that we cannot hang out with people of other ethnicities. And even if we recognize each other as Serbs or Muslims, it doesn’t change anything... not like if you support Lazio [he jokes talking about the football rivalry between Roma and Lazio, ed].
Anyway, it’s not always easy, because there are still families - of any ethnicity - who confuse patriotism with nationalism, keep their children ignorant and teach them to hate.
From what I’ve seen with other friends, there are great generational differences.
Elder people don’t look at religion, because they grew up with Titoism and socialism, and then found themselves in the midst of war. On the other hand, generations born in the Sixties and Seventies are a big problem for the Balkans: they had everything, but they hated each other for no reason, convinced by politicians with empty words. And then they ruined the next generation.
People of my age don’t have this problem. Neither those born abroad, nor young people living in the Balkans, because they all end up leaving the region. They arrive in Milan or Brussels and recognize themselves as brothers».
What is the awareness about the Balkans in Italy?
«Until five years ago, in Italy there was no knowledge about the Balkans. However, in recent years there has been more exposure. A little bit because of art, a little bit because of Goran Bregović’ music, but mostly because of sports and soccer players like Edin Dzeko and many others.
I am happy that we talk more and more about it for these reasons. It is always better for music, art and sports than for war. But we never do it for history.
How is it possible that we don’t know anything about the Balkan history? World War I broke out in Sarajevo, and the Yugoslav Wars happened only 30 years ago! I would cut the program on Babylonians and I would study Yugoslavia in the last year of high school.
In any case, in Italy my generation knows more about the Balkans than our parents do. And we have to make sure that more and more will be known».
Did you know that BarBalkans has its own podcast that takes you back to what happened in the former Yugoslavia 30 years ago, month by month? Discover BarBalkans - Podcast here, or look for it on Spotify or all streaming platforms!
With your music you are already doing it. But how far would you go?
«I would like to participate in the Sanremo Music Festival, just to say: I am from the Balkans, I am the first Bosnian-Italian to stand on this stage. Then I can also end up last, but it would be incredible exposure.
Sanremo Music Festival is becoming interesting, although there are still many things to correct. If I participated, I would bring a very sad song and then I would duet with Goran Bregović for the cover songs’ night!»
Pit stop. Sittin’ at the BarBalkans
We have reached the end of this piece of road.
Today, Doppelgänger himself hosts us to our bar, the BarBalkans. With one of his Balkan videos that, along with the lyrics and arrangements, have made him popular on TikTok.
Here is a shot of rakija and here is his Italian friend’s reaction.
All we have to do is try it out, singing the latest hit by one of the most promising exponents of the new Balkan wave of the Italian rap scene.
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Let’s continue the BarBalkans journey. We will meet again in two weeks, for the 15th stop.
A big hug and have a good journey!
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