Promoe: The White Man's Burden

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Swedish rapper Promoe's new album mixes learned social lyricism with party vibes, a slew of quality international guests... and a whole heap of hair. "I made a vow never to cut my hair," says Promoe (born Märten Edh). "Not because of anything to do with Rastafari, but as a way of rebelling against society. At college I noticed you had to look a certain way to be accepted and seen as cool. I wanted to say 'Fuck that.'"

Promoe's conscious "fuck that" attitude has manifested itself in many more ways than just the unruly mass of thick dreadlocks that cascades from his head to his chin. As a youth he was part of graffiti crew Babylon's Falling; "My tag was SHIT," he recounts. He's a vegan. "Not because I disagree with killing to eat, that's natural," he says. "It's the meat and diary industries I disagree with." And his latest album–a choice amalgam of hip-hop flow, reggae beats, and dancehall chat–is bravely titled White Man's Burden.

"I've had it in my head for years but no one else I worked with was into it before," he explains of the title. "For me, it sums up so much with what's wrong with today's society." Explaining such a weighty issue is not an easy task, but a necessary one. "I'm not saying white people are responsible for their ancestors' actions," Promoe begins. "But I am saying the negative repercussions of the slave trade are still being felt today. Not only that but I'm referring to the ruthless nature of global capitalism, corrupt politics, and the continuing destruction of the environment for monetary gain."

He pauses, mentally arranging his next point. "I mean, look at Sweden, a country that's supposedly a social model. Try applying for a job with an Islamic or African name in Sweden; then see what kind of social model it really is." Defying the intrinsically heavy nature of the issues that occupy his mind, Promoe's music is far from hard work to listen to. He delivers his gripes over accessible uptempo beats and boasts simple, clever, and almost poppy turns of phrase; you may even find yourself merrily singing along to lyrics about fatal anorexia, colonial heritage, and confused identities.

Four of the tracks feature killer vocal takes from Jamaican reggae/dancehall artists–Capleton appears on "Songs of Joy," Assassin on "Time Travellin'," Daville on "In the Morning," and Kardinal Offishall on "Trapped." "I felt much more confident recording Jamaican artists for this album," confesses Promoe. "I used to let them just do their thing, but for White Man's Burden I directed them. I was in the studio with Capleton for ages and we were getting nowhere. I asked him if he really wanted to do it. I think I offended him but the next cut he gave me was amazing so it was worth it."