A new generation of Belgian rappers is conquering the Netherlands with catchy, light-hearted tracks that found their way to the top via TikTok. But why is it that artists like Katnuf, Jinho 9 and Brysa are less successful in their own country? ‘Flanders is lagging behind.’
“Who is Anas ‘Katnuf’ Kasmi, creator of the 2022 summer hit?” headlined de Volkskrant end of August. The answer: Kasmi is the man behind ‘Be Van mij’, a light-hearted and danceable love song that is still in the top five of the Dutch charts on Spotify today with 15 million streams. In Belgium, ‘Being mine’ has not yet reached 37th place in the Ultratop. However, Katnuf has been living in our country since he was 6 years old and does not consider his hometown Amsterdam, but Roeselare as his real home.
Katnuf is not the only Belgian who is doing better in the Netherlands than with us. Among the new songs by David Guetta and Sam Smith you will also find the Ninoof rapper Jinho 9 in the Dutch charts, who collected three million streams in one week with the sultry club track ‘Blind opzoek (Trapagas)’. The Mechelen rapper Makar is a bit further down the list with ‘Mood’, but has the most success in the rest of the world: thanks to top twenty quotations in Switzerland and Germany – for a Dutch song – the song has 33 million streams.
There is no real Belgian scene in the Netherlands, but the stories of the successful rappers are similar. For example, Jinho 9 and Katnuf are best friends. “As a child I already watched Junior Eurovision Song Contest and The Voice Kids, but I kept my music to myself for a long time,” says Katnuf. “It was only during the lockdown in 2020 that I found the courage to put a few songs online. Jinho thought those tracks were ‘hard’ and sent me a message. A while later we were back in the studio messing around. When Jinho was on the toilet, I randomly clicked a file on his PC.”
That file eventually became ‘Interesting’, a song for which the two collaborated with another Belgian, Jiriel Thunder. The track instantly went viral: about 60,000 TikTok users used it as a soundtrack for their own videos. “I already had conversations with labels before that, but they hardly saw me because I didn’t have a viral hit yet,” says Jinho 9. “That’s how it goes these days: you have to have developed your own revenue model before they sign you.” After ‘Interesting’ Sony jumped on the bandwagon.
Makar neither knows Katnuf nor Jinho personally, but his story is much the same. Originally he wanted to be an actor and with funny videos on Facebook he got his first audience together. A parody of mumble rappers was so popular that his best friend, who is now his manager, convinced him to start making music himself. A week before the release of ‘Mood’, he already gave the chorus away on TikTok, so that it almost became a hit before the full song came out.
No one can properly explain why the Belgians are just now coming to the Netherlands, not even Bryan Mg. However, the Ghent rapper has been scoring more streams above than below the Belgian-Dutch border for years. “The only thing I can say is that I have always aimed for the Netherlands. The urban scene is simply much more visible there. Just look at FunX.” Bryan refers to the radio station that only plays genres such as hip-hop, R&B and dancehall and is especially popular with young people in the big cities.
Jinho 9 already played a session there two years ago, for his big hits. “The Dutch are hyenas,” says Makar. “Once they see your talent, they try to bring you in.” Katnuf knows by heart that 78 percent of his listeners come from the Netherlands. “I love Belgium, but for my career, the Netherlands is better. The urban scene in our country is lagging behind what is happening there. Almost all producers are there and you have a studio on every street, so to speak.”
That backlog is historic. Spotify was available in the Netherlands a year earlier than in Belgium and our northern neighbors responded much faster to the worldwide rise of hip-hop. The big milestone is the New Wave project: under that name, some twenty rappers and producers went into hiding at Schiermonnikoog in 2015 to come out with a joint record, which included ‘Drink en drugs’ by Ronnie Flex and Lil ‘Kleine.
Flanders still has a hard time with that kind of accessible Dutch-language rap, and not just because there are three times as many Dutch people as Flemish. The rappers who are successful with us sing in their own regional language (Brihang, Tourist LeMC) or distance themselves from the mainstream (Dvtch Norris, Zwangere Guy).
Not that the Belgians are not welcome in the Netherlands: the popular rap video platform 101Barz regularly welcomes compatriots, while rappers such as Zwangere Guy and Freddie Konings also collaborate with their Dutch colleagues, but a hit as big as ‘Van mij zijn’ delivered that until recently. not on. Rare streaming guns such as Bryan Mg and Soufiane Eddyani received less attention in the Belgian media.
“Something is happening,” Makar thinks. At the beginning of this year, rapper Brysa from Kessel scored a number one hit in the Netherlands alongside Cristian D and Ashafar with ‘Amsterdam‘. Wawa, the Aalst native who recently appeared in the VRT MAX documentary Plan Awas allowed to taste the success two years ago when he collected 18 million streams for ‘Entrepreneur’ together with Dutchman Kempi.
Will the great Flemish wave of streaming rap start via the Netherlands after all? Everyone expresses great ambitions, Makar has even signed with Universal Germany and is now learning Goethe’s language at a rapid pace. Bryan Mg has one more advice for the new generation. “Now it comes down to not sticking to that one hit.”