One rainy Monday evening in October, a cheering crowd welcomed Ghali Amdouni back to Milan, his hometown. Born to Tunisian immigrants, Ghali, as he is known, was raised by his mother in a poor neighborhood where for a time they slept on carpets and cooked with camping stoves. Tonight, she stood beside him onstage and blew kisses to the nearly 13,000 people who had come to hear him perform trap music, the originally grim variety of hip-hop that developed in 1990s Atlanta.
Ghali has in a very short time risen from obscurity to ubiquity. In 2017, his debut album surpassed Ed Sheeran’s 2017 album in Spotify streams in Italy. Today, the 25-year-old is everywhere: on the radio, in ads (for Adidas and Vodafone), in video games. In one sense, this is not surprising. Trap is the most influential genre of the century, its defining elements—heavy bass lines, synth, minor keys—now echoed in pop around the globe. Ghali, however, is not a typical trap artist. Eschewing his fellow Italian trap musicians’ harsh language and macho posturing (rapping about guns, for example, in a country without much of a gun culture), he cultivates a polished sound and an unthreatening persona. His unofficial slogan is “T.V.B.”—short for “I love you” in Italian. He performs in bright-colored suits. He punctuates his Instagram posts with rainbow emoji. And, in a particularly Italian move, he sings about his mother. “I always have my mom on my mind,” Ghali told me. (When I interviewed him by phone in December, he paused at one point to take her call.)
All of which helps explain how the child of Muslim, Arabic-speaking immigrants has achieved such fame in Europe’s most anti-immigrant country. [Continue reading…]