Proud Nerd Redefines Latin Rap
Who would have thought? As it turns out, Colombia’s top rapper is giant, unrepentant nerd.
You won’t see Jiggy Drama rocking shiny chains and big jeans – he favors oversize glasses, sweaters over collared shirts, and even the occasional bow tie. But very little about Jiggy Drama is typical. The Colombian wordsmith has consistently avoided cliché approaches to hip-hop and reggaeton, forging instead an “urban alternative” path based on unconventional beats, humorous song concepts, a slick-as-butter flow, and witty wordplay.
Jiggy’s real name is Heartan Lever, and if that sounds like some ancient English pirate name — it is!! (Well, close enough.)
Jiggy grew up on San Andres, an island 500 miles from the Colombian mainland, located in the exact middle of nowhere of the Caribbean Sea. The islands, though belonging to Colombia, are traditionally home to English-speaking Afro-Caribbean people called the Raizals. As a result, the music people listen on the island is super varied: dancehall, salsa, soca, cumbia, just to name a few genres. Jiggy Drama, however, fell in love with a different sound. From the first time he heard hip-hop at 10 years old on BET, he was hooked, listening obsessively to the Fugees and Mos Def and performing his own rhymes.
Now all grown up, Jiggy incorporates all those sounds he grew up on San Andres into his music. On his 2011 album Nerdside, there’s dancehall reggae grooves, cumbia horns, fat electro synths, boom-bap beats and soul sounds. And he’s getting the last laugh on all the kids who made fun of his bulky glasses growing up: Jiggy Drama is a bona fide Colombian celebrity these days as the winner of the “Best New Artist” award at 2010 Shock Awards (the local version of the Grammys).
Much of his recent rise to fame is thanks to two hit singles that rocked Colombian airwaves – a flute-speckled reggaeton jam called “La Flaka” and an extreme sexual pun-off called “La Fuga.” The latter (embedded below) is the musical version of that Austin Powers joke where a naked Mike Myers nearly exposes his junk to the audience, only to be covered up by a phallic looking object at the last minute. In “La Fuga,” Jiggy does just that by setting up a vulgar rhyme about his intentions with a girl only to flip it into something innocent at the last minute. It’s kind of a gimmick, but flawlessly executed and deeply danceable at the same time.
Naturally, comparisons to Puerto Ricans alt-reggaeton heroes Calle 13 are common. Indeed, Jiggy Drama and Calle 13’s Residente have a lot in common, from their production aesthetic to their lyrical dexterity and potty-mouth sense of humor. In interviews, Jiggy admits that there are similarities, but likes to point out that they are very different artists at the same time. Where Residente uses his skills to wax pan-Latin political, Jiggy is more interested in clever party rap. In the long run, that might end up being to Jiggy’s advantage. Calle 13 ended up becoming hated by “true” reggaeton fans in Puerto Rico and beyond, but if he plays his cards right, Jiggy just might be able to lead the Latin Urban mainstream to a better, smarter future, from within.
(Feature image courtesy of El Ritmo Records)