TALLINN - Hip-hop often gets a bad rap, and too often from the wrong people. Many discard it as overly macho, violent, tastelessly materialistic and sexist on top of that. So it's hard to imagine the Estonian people warming up to a musical genre, whose main exporters, like Eminem, are often as famed for their legal troubles, as their hit records.
Hip-hop often gets a bad rap, and too often from the wrong people. Many discard it as overly macho, violent, tastelessly materialistic and sexist on top of that. So it's hard to imagine the Estonian people warming up to a musical genre, whose main exporters, like Eminem, are often as famed for their legal troubles, as their hit records.
Yet Chalice, an Estonian hip-hop artist who calls the university city of Tartu home, has managed to sneak past people's gut reactions. Since his debut album "Uhendatud Inimesed" (Connecting Peoples) was released after a freshly inked deal with Umblu Records last October - Chalice has been getting noticed by all the right people, and his music has earned him publicity of the highest order, as well as cultural accolades.
Consider the fact that for the first time ever this January, the Tartu Cultural Music Awards, held at the Vanemuine Theater in Chalice's hometown, nominated a hip-hop artist - Chalice - in the music category. While he didn't win, he admitted that the crowd was pleased with his live performance, and to him that was rewarding enough.
These days Chalice is maintaining a low profile, feverishly at work at his studio, cooking up new songs and commercial breaks and professing to be "a musical perfectionist."
"I like to really work on a song - maybe one song a week," he says. Lately he has also been employing the services of a live band that includes horns, a female vocalist, live percussion and, of course, a DJ.
"These days rappers are thinking more about instrumentals," he says. "They want to create more music. I like having a live band. It is more interesting than just having a DJ. It is more inspiring to watch a group of musicians get into it," says Chalice.
The funny thing is that Chalice isn't just a lightning fast poet, he's a musician as well. Born Jarek Kasar, he was sent to music school at age six, and by age 10 had started writing his own raps. "I was a young boy who had a lot to say," he says modestly. Aside from being lectured on the finer points of choir conducting and violin and piano performance, Chalice built up his taste for live music and lyrical verbosity.
It's one thing to please fellow musicians, though, and another to strike a chord with general audiences. Chalice has had success in winning over both. As an artist, he has managed to get a foot in the door with his band - again sliding past the local rock, jazz and rhythm and blues repertoires that stack the bills of most venues.
"It is easy to get into clubs these days because ladies are really starting to like hip-hop, because ladies like to dance," he says. "And when the ladies like hip-hop, the men start to like it as well."
Yet, strangely enough, the club is one place he does not want "the culture" - as he calls it - incorporated.
"I don't like it when hip-hop gets into the club from the streets," he says. "Because the clubs are not about music, they are about posing and sitting around and drinking," says Chalice.
"I'm trying to change that. I want to take the culture out of the clubs and back to the streets and the real battles," he says.
His main faux pas according to the local community of rappers? Jazz. Chalice likes jazz, and jazz is where he wants to go.
"Jazzy" certainly would be an accurate description of Chalice's music, which colors his fast-paced rhythmic raps with orchestral strings, blue note horns and bossa nova beats. It's very akin to the "Native Tongue" clique of rappers like De la Soul, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and A Tribe Called Quest, that emerged out of New York and later Oakland, California in the early 1990s - except that his raps benefit from the curvy vowels and trilled "rrr's" of the Estonian language.
But the influence really stops there, because while other rappers can cop lines from old mix tapes, the Estonian rap resources are limited, so in a way, Chalice really is, as he says, "feeling his own flow."
While he dismisses himself as too small to be considered the "leader" of Estonian hip-hop, Chalice says that Estonian hip-hop is in a period of coming out of the closet.