Zampa / Rapper
Culture passes through pioneers and their ability to imagine the unexplored, to travel roads yet traveled, and to see fullness where empty spaces hold sway. Alessandro Zampini, aka Zampa, is a pioneer of the Italian rap scene, a wordsmith who has made poetics and credibility his cornerstones. Coming out of the musical wasteland of Verona in the late 80s, Zampa has continuously focused on being true to himself and artistic resolve, preferring truth to trappings and content to crazes. At 44, this storyteller of the grim backstreets, social woes, and emotional waxings and wanings tells us about his long career. It’s a career that’s always been inspired by the flow and beat. And it’s about evolution; a process of artistic and individual awareness that might have reached its final, sought-after maturity.
Where did your relationship with music and, of course, rap, start?
It was gradual. When I was a boy back in Verona, nobody knew anything about rap, and music wasn’t really a part of my family tradition. I decided to play guitar when I was 8-9, starting with classical and moving on to electric. My musical upbringing was unusual; I worked my way through rock, punk, and heavy metal. I also had a band and loved writing songs. Just one problem: I was out of tune.... I used to spend whole afternoons in record stores listening to everything, that's how I discovered Rage Against the Machine and rap-singing: a whole world opened up without constraints on melodies, metrics, or words. That’s how I got into rap and hip hop abroad, and then into the nascent Italian scene. I understood that the sense of rebellion and those lyrics were my only chance to escape from the grayness of provincial life. About 30 years have passed since my first freestyle, which happened by chance during a party in downtown Verona...
How have your writing and themes evolved over the course of your artistic journey?
There have been a lot of changes, both from a technical point of view and in terms of content. I've always thought that rapping is like playing a musical instrument: the more you practice and write, the better you get. My career is divided in phases: the first is emulation, anger and the desire to change the world; over time, there was a spiritual and technical evolution, where I gave space to disillusionment and stylistic calm; finally, there was the questioning phase, the realization of what I can do and how I want to do it. Now I’m happy because I feel I’ve gained some cross-cultural awareness. I know that I can still say meaningful things about myself, and I also know I’m very different from what I was years ago. All genres and people should evolve, and I’ve always tried to do that by keeping up with parallel scenes, like trap and drill. But there’ll always be a framework I carry with me: my poetics, related to melancholy, the night, the streets I grew up on...
You always put the words in the foreground before the persona. That’s not so common in contemporary rap. Why do you do that?
It came naturally because of that upbringing. Not being born into rap but listening to stuff like Cobain and great Italian songwriters for example; this means that writing a song has always been about conveying a message and telling a story. But those things belong to me. There’s often this dualism between the rapper 'persona’ and the rapper as a person. I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced that. I respect both artistic choices, but I’ll never feel the need to be anything other than myself.
How would you describe the transition from being self-taught to being recognized by the whole rap scene in Italy?
I want to be honest. When I was doing the most touring in Italy, the scene existed but it got no media attention. There were no sponsors, no social media ... Everything was different. I've always been very connected to the underground and loved the vibes and attitude that run through the whole scene. The great thing about this genre is that wherever I go, I immediately feel a powerful connection with people I don't know. It just takes a few seconds to get in sync. Ultimately, we’re all sharing an important part of our lives through music.
Now that you’ve reached this level of artistic and human maturity, what’s the outlook? What are your goals?
I just released my new album, which is also out on vinyl. My goal now is to go back to playing live on a regular basis. The pandemic put a stop to that. Besides its obvious effects on touring and live shows, that period forced so many important venues to close, and that’s been hard on the underground scene. It’s struggling today because it lacks that 'middle ground’ of clubs and 300-400-person venues; people go to arenas for huge concerts or bars for gigs with a handful of people. I hope clubs will get back to playing that important role. That said, I’ve got some gigs set up starting in January. I’m going to take the album around Italy, and I’ll be doing that for the rest of the year. Then I’m definitely going back to writing. Thanks to this album, I’ve ironed out some doubts about the direction I want to go artistically, and now I want to set up some collabs I’ve had in mind for a while. I think something pretty interesting is going to be ready next summer.