Arts, Culture & Media

This rapper speaks to Italy's unemployed youth

It’s a staggering statistic. In Italy, more than 40 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 can’t find work.

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In the southern region of Campania, the youth unemployment rate is a whopping 48 percent. It’s something that rapper/hip-hop artist Clemente Maccaro — known as Clementino — tackles head on. He grew up near Naples in the Campania region, and that's where his latest music video was filmed.

His song "O' Vient" is about the desperate situation faced by Italian youth, especially those living in the south.

Earlier this year, Clementino opened his first tour across Italy in Milan, and fans came from as far south as Sicily. Many waited hours to buy a ticket. With a near-full house, Clementino bounced onto the stage in a flat-brimmed New York Yankees cap, tattoos covering both arms.

At 31, Clementino is just becoming recognized throughout Italy, but Giuseppe Forino says he’s been a fan since Clementino put out his first album seven years ago.

“Coming from where he came from, a rundown little town, it’s difficult to get noticed,” Forino says, “but he did it. He’s great.”

Forino is 20 and, like many of Clementino’s fans, he’s unemployed. He says he’s thinking of going to Australia or England soon to look for work. He says Clementino’s songs speak to him.

In the chorus of his hit single, “O' Vient,” Clementino talks about being the voice of those who have nothing. "As the boats leave," he says, "all that’s left is the wind." He raps the chorus in Neapolitan, a dialect spoken in the south, and those words are especially meaningful in southern towns, where unemployment has forced many young people to leave.

This song is a nod to my home and all the beautiful things that Naples gave me,” Clementino says. “I wanted to acknowledge that since this is one of the first representations of the south to really go mainstream.”

Just this past year, the number of young Italians emigrating jumped 30 percent. Italy’s new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who’s 39, has promised to make unemployed youth one of his main priorities by offering incentives to companies that hire young people and helping university graduates find jobs and internships through the Youth Guarantee program.

Calling that encouraging, Clementino says it’s important that Italy not lose its brightest young artists. That's particularly important in a country that prides itself on its artistic and cultural heritage.

He notes that, at this point, any kid in Italy can make a video with an iPhone and put it up on YouTube the same day.

“Anyone can see it all over Italy,” he says. “Anyone can see their work.” 

That’s essentially what Clementino has done — built a following through his music videos on YouTube, which now get millions of hits. He says that’s his personal message of hope, especially for young people like him from Italy's poorest regions.

This story was produced in association with Round Earth Media, mentoring the next generation of global journalists. Guia Baggi contributed reporting.

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    In Milan, Clementino at the opening concert of his first Italy-wide tour, with a flat-brimmed New York Yankees cap and tattoos down his arms.


    Zanna McKay