Music—let’s unravel this thing that compels us so. All-consuming and exhilarating, music never ceases to grip an emotion, toss it up high in the cosmic void and bring it back wholly anew. Day after day, we’re joyful victims to its sticky tentacles. But why do we give in so easily, so irretrievably? Ever enquiring, we sought answers nowhere else than in the thriving local Dutch hip–hop scene, which saw itself unified under the umbrella of city–hopping programme TRANS//FORM. Powered by Prince Claus Fund and CT Collective, TRANS//FORM brought together over 50 hip-hop artists—established and emerging, local and international—for nights of dialogue and performances that span over Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Leeuwarden. A celebration of music’s power to tell a story, to activate and transform, to leave its trace on the heart but also on the neighbourhood or street we live on. We sat down with some of the programme’s most exciting participants—Rotterdam’s powerhouse D–Luzion and Utrecht’s multitalented ReaZun—to hear their thoughts on hip–hop, street culture and their sound’s message.
Do you remember your first encounter with music? Where were you, how did it make you feel?
D–Luzion: First year of kindergarten, I saw Michael Jackson’s Leave Me Alone video. I was so intrigued that the next day I remember asking all the kids if they knew who he was! Which, of course, they didn’t, they were four or five years old…
ReaZun: The radio in my parents’ crib—bouncing to songs in diapers, getting to know Bob Marley and being taught the difference between hit parade music and “message” music by my dad.
In what ways do you see the environment in which you were raised as shaping the music you make?
D–L: I’ve grown up in an intercultural Dutch Caribbean and Dominican family, and also with tons of issues between my parents that caused us to temporarily move to Curacao at some point. My mum was the one always encouraging me to read, draw and be creative, regardless of the fact that she struggled immensely to make ends meet. She was also abused by a family member, which I witnessed as a child. That gave me nightmares and anxiety that still sometimes pervade my adult life; hence my dark, twisted fantasies. So, you can imagine that, compared to my peers, I was different, I invented my own language of doing things. Adding all that instability up, my environment has provided me with endless inspiration to make music and write songs.
R: Indeed, environments shape you. I make my own unique music and sound by putting my self out there. In a way, a circle is complete.
D–L: It’s also a form of healing. My sound always has something melancholic about it, but I find it to be one of the most positive elements in my development as a person.
Do you perceive hip–hop, and music in general, as an exclusive or an inclusive community?
D–L: Hip–hop as a culture and music genre is growing and evolving, and newer generations are more and more open–minded. Still, I think there’s a long way to go, especially when it comes to misogyny and homophobia.
R: Certainly, things can be macho, masculine and conservative at times. But today, with the new trapper youth reigning hip–hop’s avant–garde, I believe the genre’s most inclusive era has begun.
Is there a sense of support communities in the creative scene of your city? How do they shape the environment?
D–L: In Rotterdam in particular—not as much as I think there should be. But baby steps are taken, and for example, I’ve noticed many more events with female artists included in male–dominated line–ups. Personally, I believe this is more effective than to organise just female–only editions of events—it’s always better to work towards inclusion that normalizes seeing women next to their male counterparts, both sides being equally involved. As to LGBTQIA+ inclusion, next to some ‘open minded’ parties, there really is no scene here. Yet, that means there’s room for some people to shift things up and change that!
R:In Utrecht, where I live and work, there’s definitely a sense of support communities! There’re various communities, Kytopia being a great illustration of that—a utopia for music producers that mobilize themselves and work with Utrecht’s creative community to find solutions for artists and their shared problems of studio spaces, for instance.
Do you see yourself as part of street culture too?
R: In a certain way, yes. Most of the people whom I share this passion with I literally met on the street. Also, the freestyle cipher culture was often practiced on Utrecht’s streets. So, I guess I’m part of it.
D–L: Myself, I’d say that I’m part of it in mindset, but only partially in a fashion sense. I believe self–expression is crucial, but my looks don’t necessarily resemble street culture all the time. It’s more of a rebellion against people, who try to put me in a box in which I don’t belong—I’m too diverse to be one thing.
What’s something you want to tell people through your sound?
R: Keep it real, stay open–minded to fresh sounds, try meshing new, old and live sounds together, and inspire the listener to novel insights.
D–L: It’s OK to be vulnerable! Talk to someone about your traumas, speak up about things that bother you. It can be in a very simple way yet still able to reach a deeper level.
How can hip–hop, in particular, help you do that? Why do you use that genre as your medium of expression?
D–L: Within hip–hop, I can be angry without being aggressive. I can be sad without being depressed. I can express myself in so many ways, on so many levels. I can totally lose myself in sounds, melodies, and beats. Before going into therapy, hip–hop was, and kind of still is, my psychologist and psychiatrist.
R: Hip–hop is and always has been the ultimate counter–culture. I think that as long as a cultural style is avant–garde, it’s a relevant art form by definition. Art should be avant–garde, and hip–hop has been exactly that for over thirty years now. I firmly believe in this.