Foggia, a city i southern Italy, is a place of stark contrasts—rich history meets challenging present, with the shadows of organized crime marring the beauty of its landscapes. Within this complex backdrop, a poignant voice has emerged from the underground rap scene. Luca Gabriel Bisceglia, a nineteen-year-old rapper from Foggia, is using his music to reflect the realities of struggle and survival in a city ravaged by corruption and crime. Gabrix Graffio (Bisceglia’s rap moniker, stemming from his days as a pre-teen parkourist) stands as a testament to the growth and potential of Italian rap, illustrating how the genre has become a powerful medium for storytelling and cultural expression.
When I had the opportunity to chat with Gabrix about his music and its messages, it was clear from that understanding the context of his life and times would be essential to retelling his story. Gabrix is from Manfredonia, a town in the province of Foggia (skirting the province’s main city, also called Foggia), which is located in Italy’s most southeastern region, Puglia.
Foggia’s relationship with organized crime is deep and turbulent. The Società Foggiana or Mafia Foggiana (a split from the older Sacra Corona Unita, a Mafia organization predominant throughout the region of Puglia), has long held sway over the city, maintaining a stranglehold on the local economy through drug trafficking, extortion, and violence. It is one of the most brutal and bloody of all the organized crime groups in Italy—according to The Guardian, there was about one murder per week, one robbery per day, and an extortion attempt every 48 hours in the province of Foggia (which, in its entirety, boasts a population of only about 620,000) in 2017 and 2018. As Gabri raps in one of his verses, “Le persone buone non vivono alla mia terra / Qua chi fa l'amico ti vuole solo farti fesso.” (“Good people don’t live on my land / Here, those who act as a friend only want to make you an idiot”) This pervasive criminal influence has stunted economic and bureaucratic development in the area, creating a challenging environment for the youth of Foggia and leaving them with limited choices and opportunities. In turn, Foggia has experienced a phenomenon all too common in Italy’s most rural or economically impoverished areas; known to Italians as spopolamento, the issue of depopulation of southern or rural Italian towns is changing the demographic landscape of the country.
Firstly, there’s “fuga di cervelli,” or “brain drain,” which refers to the emigration of a country’s most highly trained professionals to countries with more industry opportunities. The professionals who don’t leave can only find valuable opportunities in economically stimulated cities, which, in Italy’s case, are almost entirely located in the northern part of the country. Combine that with the rapidly declining birth rate among Italians and their long life expectancy (globally second only to Japan), and you’ll get enclaves such as Foggia in which the population is stagnant (if not aging), the opportunities are few aside from a life of crime, and the administrative structure of the area is hardly more organized than it was when the Fascist Regime fell in 1943. “Vengo da uno di quei posti disagiati, disorganizzati e abbandonati,” (“I come from one of those disadvantaged, disorganized and abandoned places,”) Gabrix explains, “quei posti dove vieni due settimane all'anno per trovare i tuoi parenti anziani e scappartene il prima possibile.” (“[one of] those places where you come two weeks a year to visit your elderly relatives and escape as soon as possible”).
It was in this harsh reality of criminal activity and economic struggle that Gabrix Graffio found his voice, turning to rap as a means to express his inner turmoil, difficulties at home, and the struggles of his community. Beginning his journey in the world of music at just nine years old, the young Gabrix would frequent local spots like Villa Manfredonia (the town center), asking people to throw him topics to freestyle on, honing his skills and developing a unique style characterized by clever flow and sharp wordplay. At twelve, he discovered more of the local hip-hop scene, befriending a group of provincial rap enthusiasts who held freestyling events. From there, Gabrix's lyrics quickly matured, showcasing a depth of understanding and a flair for clever writing well beyond his years. He garnered legitimacy through the years, winning various freestyling competitions, eventually reaching his first national final at just fifteen. Most recently, he became one of the Italian champions of the international Gold Battle circuit last March. His Spotify discography is currently comprised of ten singles and a collaborative album with fellow rapper, Crytical, titled Sangue Nero, (Black Blood) which to date has over 250,000 streams. His ability to balance rapid-fire delivery with clear articulation allows his messages to permeate, ensuring that the weight of his words is not lost in performance. As explained in his line from ‘Giovane Achille’ (Young Achilles), Gabrix is the “detentore di sta terra, un fiore tra la merda,” (“keeper of this land, flower among the shit”), a rare and positive force in an otherwise oversaturated or corrupt environment.
Amidst the evolution of the Italian music scene, rap has emerged as a standout genre, resonating with the younger generation and reflecting the sociocultural shifts within the country. In recent years, Italian rap has transcended regional boundaries, drawing inspiration from diverse dialects and local cultures, adding a layer of authenticity for many listeners.
Gabrix’s music is one such example of the current state of Italian rap, serving as a reflection of his environment and experiences, especially when speaking about Foggia in the local Manfredoniano dialect. Also in Giovane Achille, he raps, “non sono a disagio con il rap italiano perché c'è così tanta mafia che me sento a casa” (“I’m not uncomfortable with Italian rap because there is so much mafia that I feel at home”). His latest verse from the song “Calà” exemplifies the struggle of growing up in a place where the allure of criminality is ever-present: "Tu ti fai la galera per rubare una collanina / Non siete boss ma coglioni senza rispetto" ("You go to jail for stealing a little necklace / You're not bosses, just fools without respect"). His words serve as a stark reminder that the glamourization of crime often obscures the grim realities that accompany it. Gabrix is acutely aware of the implications of success, especially in a city like Foggia, where wealth can attract unwanted attention and legitimate danger: "If I have a lot of money… it’s a problem.” Despite these challenges, he remains committed to his roots, stating, “Ma se tutti ce ne andiamo poi, come lo miglioriamo questo posto?” (“But if we all leave, how do we improve this place?”). He recounted to me his desire to one day construct a skatepark or basketball court for the local youth, providing them with opportunities for recreation and an alternative path to the life of crime that ensnares so many of his peers.
His clear positivity and passion do not go unnoticed. Gabrix has been able to garner a lot of support on TikTok and Instagram with clips of his freestyles, with one commenter on a fan-made TikTok writing, “é vero nessuno odia Luca, Luca si può solo invidiare” (“it’s true, no one hates Luca, Luca can only be envied”).
If you’re interested in listening to Gabrix, you can find him on Spotify (Gabrix Graffio) or Instagram (@gabrix.graffio). My personal favorite of his songs is called “Cos’è stato?” but he recommends new/American fans start with “Insicurezze” or “Calà.”
Elizabeth Pecoraro is a junior in the college studying English, Italian, and Economics. She went to Puglia this summer.