‘Hip Hop and Rap are an evolved type of Maltese għana’ – Il-Lapes

Inside the studio with rapper Claude Agius ‘Il-Lapes’

‘Hip Hop and Rap are an evolved type of Maltese għana’ – Il-Lapes
‘Hip Hop and Rap are an evolved type of Maltese għana’ – Il-Lapes
‘Hip Hop and Rap are an evolved type of Maltese għana’ – Il-Lapes

Hip hop in Maltese: A natural marriage?

Hip Hop started in America, but we know that in Malta we used to rhyme before them in the 1920s. We had Għana and spirtu pront. Obviously, it is not the same type of rhythm. Għana is slower and has more changes, while Hip Hop and Rap are an evolved type of għana. It is faster paced. Spirtu pront is more difficult with rap than with għana. When I listen to an għannej, I hear the beat dropping, and I sort of predict what he is going to say, from miles away, because I have the time to think… you know what I’m saying, because you have that rhythm. But in rap the timing is always coming, coming, coming and you have to rhyme in a supersonic way.

How does one earn a living going full-time on music?

Because the music market has changed, not only for us but even internationally, people don’t buy albums anymore, and I think that has lowered standards in music, with everything being streamed through social media and digital platforms. You can basically get anything off the internet basically.

Taking complete control of my social media platforms, I see that I have solid social media marketing, as well as merchandise, and my website. These things are quite viable to get to where you want. Like abroad, sponsors are very important, as success attracts more sponsors, and sponsors invest more in you, and your name is more well known.

Gigs obviously… you have to make sure that you put up a good show at gigs. Television and radio are still strong mediums to promote your music, music in clubs. Basically, I think the more your name grows, the more your value increases, the more money you can make.

Photo by James Bianchi
Photo by James Bianchi

How did you get your start in rapping?

I started writing… I always had a love for writing, like compositions and stuff like that, and when you switch to music writing, you find yourself saying, ‘What am I doing?’ You literally don’t know where you’re going to start, and you find yourself writing and throwing out everything, and then you do it again. By time you get the hang of it, and you find the rhythm.

I was also inspired when Jon [Mallia], released Lucija, and there I saw rap taking a new direction. I used to see people taking local rap for granted, and when Jon released his music, he gave the genre that seriousness and respect, everyone started saying: It’s cool now. You get it?

How do you write your lyrics and lay down tracks?

A lot of the times I have to hear the music first. Nowadays, with this team, the way I’m working with them is, I first go to YouTube, and hear some music to get in the mood I want, so I get comfortable expressing music that I like, then I finish it to some extent, I come here, we listen to the recording, they come express themselves. Mac does some part of the production, Miles does the instrumentation and slowly everything starts to come together. Then they give it back to me, and I add the chorus, which is the hook. If I write, they sort of know where I’m getting at musically, in terms of the beat and what they need to produce.

Photo by James Bianchi
Photo by James Bianchi

You sang at an anti-corruption protest…

From the rap side, it sort of comes naturally that you should talk about the ongoing situation. It is a rebellious style of music, and impacts society a lot and gives you a voice. I feel an obligation, because the more serious the situation… Politics affects all of us. What they do in that office, in that building, what the Opposition does, affects us. They are literally discussing how the lives of Maltese and Gozitans will be changing, and if they amend the Constitution, or a change there or here, it is us who will be impacted, so obviously we have a need to speak up – why not? Because I have a voice as much as they do, because I am a citizen of my country as much as them.

What do you think of Maltese politics and the state we are in today?

Let us start with the aspects I dislike. It partisanship, because partisanship destroys, and it is something that is dividing us, because we aren’t open-minded enough to realise what is good and what is bad for us, and this is not just in today’s circumstances… even at the time of the Nationalists, when we hadn’t voted in a new government, it was the same thing.

When you have this group of people, who despite the actions of the government and their party, still applaud them, and congratulate them, we have a problem there, because Malta cannot function in that way, no country can function in that manner. To have large groups of people, who no matter what they do, vote them in regardless… They can kill, they can do that and this, they still find an excuse.

Or else, this is the ironic excuse: “Because when you were in government, you don’t remember what you did in your time”

We can continue going like this forever. Malta is going around in circles. One party gets elected, this will happen, the other gets elected, and we see how we fare with them in power. Malta has been going through this loop for years. The words partisan and patriot in the same sentence don’t make sense. I am Maltese like you, I am not with any of them, that’s how I feel. Before we just came from 25 years of government from one party, and we felt as if everything was going good, but then out of nowhere, facts started coming out on corruption. So I came in a position where I said, we just voted out one party, because they were corrupt, now we are being governed by the other, and they are doing the same thing. And so… I don’t know.

But this is happening right in front of our eyes.

What can we do to improve the overall quality of local music productions?

Obviously more investment from the government’s side… so they give us better resources to work with. For example in sports we have seen improvements, because I like to go play basketball, and I’m quite interested in sport, you can see an improvement in quality, they opened the new sport school and that helped a lot, nowadays, for example in sport, they go to the sport school, they go with their team, and carry out individual training. That is professionalism, And the same should happen in music I feel… that we are better respected as artists, because a lot of people say, ‘What do they do?’, or else you manage to become successful, and they tell you it’s luck, when in reality, a lot of that success matters on the different skills that one might need to become a lawyer, or any other profession. I feel that a school should be built, and authorities invest in us in the same way they invest in the same way they invest in other sectors.