Afro-Italian rapper Valentino Ag balances popular themes with social consciousness in his music. He lent his voice to Fred Kwornu's documentary 18 IUS Soli which examines the law that that denies citizenship to Italian born of immigrant parents.
EXCLUSIVE: Valentino Ag's Afro-Italian rap
BY JACK ABOK
At a time when Europe's streets are on fire you might expect hip-hop artists, especially European ones, to only focus on the discontent of the disenfranchised around them. For Afro-Italian rapper Valentino Ag, 24, however, creating music with popular themes and hip beats versus a focus on social consciousness means walking a fine line.
In much of his work, Ag favors party anthems and club bangers, full of guitar loops and keyboard claps with lyrics about sex and auto tune vocals that allow his West African accent to shine. But there is also a serious side to Ag's work. Last year, the rapper/model/actor lent his words and his voice to 18 1US SOLI, a documentary about the law that denies citizenship to second generation Italians, many of whom are people of colour. The film chronicles the frustrations of living as an immigrant in one's birthplace.
"I love pizza. I eat Lasagna. I mean I sing Italian songs with my friends, so that makes me an Italian just like my friends," Ag said in a trailer for the film.
Ag, who raps on the soundtrack, was happy to use his music to expose the problem. "I feel people should express themselves the best way they can. In the world we living in today music is a very powerful tool. If used the right way it should be used to address important issues," he said.
Born Onierhovwo Agunu in Rome to Ghanaian parents in the late 1980s, Ag was sent studied music as a child.
"My origins radically influenced my music, because my voice is black. Inasmuch as I tried emulating Italians or Italian music I eventually differentiated in one way or the other," he explained.
Though Ag loves music; he is quick to explain that it is part of a larger plan. "I'm a full time student. I study biotechnology. Music, modeling and acting are a way of making my money to support myself," he said.
With a budding hip-hop scene, which is for the most part based in Milan - though Ag says " Rome is rising like yeast-" finding venues to perform can be a challenge. But, this does not bother Ag. "As long as I have an audience I'm cool with any location. You create your spot, in clubs, pubs and bars," he said.
Unlike, Black British rap/hip-hop which faced criticism after the UK riots, Italian rap remains largely embryonic and thus of limited influence on young audiences, Ag said. "The music in Italy is yet to take a direction, plus we don't have black main stream Italian artists."
Ag is critical of the media's linking of race to the summer violence. "I was in London when the looting occurred, and this was not a racial thing! I saw youth of all races. The media emphasized on making it racial but it's a lie," he said.