One of the first and most important forces in Polish hip-hop, Kaliber 44 left behind catchy beats, memorable lines and, above all, a whole mythology that is alive today.
There is no more important hip-hop group in all of Poland
Order of Mary, to Battle!
Kaliber 44 was founded by the Marten brothers – Michał, or Joka, and Marcin, or Abradab. They were later joined by a classmate of Marcin, Piotr Łuszcz, whose stage handle was Magik. It was 1994 and hip-hop remained a largely unknown phenomenon in Poland, despite the fact that in many countries to the west, it was a driving force in the music industry. Polish listeners were only exposed to bits of this fascinating culture, which thrived in poorer neighborhoods of large cities. In the late 1990s, hip-hop played a similar role to that of punk-rock in the 1980s – it described prevailing social relations and was a voice of dissent. Magik, for example, was inspired by the song Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey), from De la Soul’s second album.
Our origin comes from the fact that we could not sit and just listen to the music, we thought we could do it, so why not? 44 is the magic number, kaliber – the size of that number. The name, however, comes from when we still played gangsta.
Kaliber’s first recording appeared on the tape Hear Our Demo. The artistic quality of the production is highly questionable, but it is nevertheless a unique historical document that should be re-released and discussed in detail. On that tape, we hear the origins of sounds that have created the unique style of Kaliber.
Born of a DIY ethos, it may be primitive but it leaves a strong impression. It is otherwise a testimony to a depressing era – a few guys from the neighborhood looking to American rappers, calling their tracks Więcej szmalu 1 and Hardcore, but mostly just talking about life. Actually, though it may sound weird, this is a recording filled with existential themes. The most repeated line on the album is “Brother no longer has love for me.” Is this a quotation from the Old Testament, Camus or Cioran? No, it’s only Magik.
Psychodelia – this is her name
They managed to release their first album in 1996. Support from journalists helped find distribution with SP Records – the company behind Kazik, Armia, T.Love and Pidżama Porno. The label's catalog covered the panorama of 1990s Polish rock – and Kaliber 44. The band's release included contributions from DJ Feel-X and Sebastian Filiks – a DJ whose scratching has left its mark on Polish hip-hop. The album also features Jajonasza, know from Paktofonik, Rahim.
The Mysterious Book. Prolog is probably the weirdest album to have entered the canon of Polish music. Its beats are noisy and unsettled, there is little melody in them, and they grate with unpleasant dissonance. The album is full of strange sounds and samples. Low metallic sounds blend with vibrating, high squeaks. Over all this hover Magik’s rhymes, which avoid complex sentences and generally depart from Polish grammar – his is a sort of personal dialect. His unique style is particularly evident on the track Psychodela.
It is fair to say that before and after Magik, his form of expression and vocal technique was used only by the great 1970s phenom Czesław Niemen, a few avant-garde composers whose music has never reached beyond the walls of the Philharmonic, and the punks in Jarocin. Magik howls, screams, squeals and abnormally shortens and prolongs syllables. All together it sounds like a spasmodic cry for help. Perhaps these were the sounds of Slavic rites and rituals – maybe Magik unconsciously refers to this heritage? Finally, the greatest inspiration to the members of Kaliber 44 was marijuana – Mary Jane, the “White Widow.”
Normally at this point
Their next discs, Around the World in 63 Minutes and 3:44, were sparser but equally distinctive. Film, a single from Around the World in 63 Minutes, climbed the charts of Polish Radio's Channel 3, a real achievement for a hip-hop track. It unfolds slowly and steadily, the rappers’ rhymes accompanied by the scratching of DJ Feel-X. In Kaliber 44’s music, turntables are a legitimate instrument – which in Polish hip-hop is not always the case. All of this is accompanied by the sounds of dripping water.
Magik left the group in 1988 and Kaliber invited others to join in on their tracks: Guests included DJ Bart, WSZ, CNE, and Gutek. In 2000 they released 3:44, their next and last album. The atmosphere of 3:44 is more grounded. Rhymes talked about current events and smoking marijuana - whereas the rapping on earlier albums had been about the states that were caused by getting high. Verses from the cuts Normalnie o tej porze and Baku Baku to jest sklad were taken into colloquial speech by young Poles.
And that’s why I hate Christmas
Together Peja and O.S.T.R. they recorded the song Oddałbym / I Would Give, which is a touching tribute to deceased hip-hop icons – both Polish and foreign:
I’d give all verses for one Magik
For life, for the life rap could breath
December 26, it was 2000, and that’s why I hate the second day of Christmas.
Magik committed suicide in 2000 and Joka emigrated to the U.S. Led by Abradaba, Kaliber 44 continued to perform until 2003, though they never developed new material. They have left behind a rich mythology, a musical universe that young musical apprentices study to this day. Kaliber’s texts are rich like the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, or any other great poet. Kaliber 44 is a group for the ages – thanks to them people can more easily express their experiences.
Autor: Filip Lech; 28.06.2013
Translation: AA 02.07.2013