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Scene Report: Luxury-Obsessed Funk Ostentação Hits Brazil

Scene Report: Luxury-Obsessed Funk Ostentação Hits Brazil
MC Kelvinho (Credit: Funk SP)

As Brazil’s economy booms and Brazilians collectively head to the mall to spend, a new, money-loving, tag poppin’ brand of baile funk is poised to rise.

By Marlon Bishop
May 16, 2013

The video for MC Guime’s “Plaque de 100” opens with a shot of a scrawny kid counting stacks of blue, $100 bills in Brazilian reals. He has big gold rings on every finger, chains draped around his neck and a mouthful of braces. “Counting stacks of 100s in a Citroen/ They invite us because they know the girls will come,” he raps in Portuguese. In the next bars, MC Guime goes on to tick off a list of luxury motorcycles he supposedly has: Honda Hornets, Suzuki Bandits, BMW RRs. Later in the video, we see Guime in other enviable positions: sitting on a throne, flanked by a small army of beautiful women, rolling up to the club on a red carpet, and in one moment, even making it rain reals on his aforementioned Citroen.  #Yolo.

“Plaque de 100” is just one example of a new style in Brazilian music called funk ostentação: literally, “ostentatious funk.” It’s a spin-off on funk carioca (often known abroad as baile funk), the favela party music made famous beyond Brazil by Diplo and MIA back in 2004. It features the same booty rattling beats and sing-songy chanting that funk has always had, but introduces a new lyrical theme: the pure joy of conspicuous consumption. 

Funk ostentação songs are about having money, spending money, and owning lots and lots of stuff. And it’s growing fast. In the last few years, funk ostentação artists like have started packing venues around the country, and racking up tens of millions of views on YouTube. It’s young exponents, such as MC Guime, MC Dede, Boy do Charmes and Nego Blue are likely to become the next national baile funk stars.

Backdi e BioG3 (Credit: FunkSP)

Funk ostentação is about expressing happiness, by talking about our conquests: luxury cars, motorcycles, jewelry” says MC Guime, who at only 20 years old is one of the biggest names of the new style. “It’s about dreams realized and those not yet realized. Today, thank god, we’re showing the life we actually live. Some of us, such as me, can call this our reality.”

As in any genre, there’s a formula to making a ostentação hit. First you need a good kit – or designer outfit, including accessories like sneakers and sunglasses. Then, you need a sick-nasty nave (literally:ship, but slang for car). Then just turn on the microphone and let the brand names roll off the tongue. But forget US hip-hop’s obsessions with Louis Vuitton and Gucci, funk ostentação has its own cannon of fetishized brands: Oakley sunglasses, Hollister shirts, Juliet watches, and Johnny Walker Red Label whiskey are just a few that make frequent appearances.

Funk wasn’t always ostentatious. Baile funk was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s as the sound of weekly open-air soundsystem raves put on in the hillside slums. Over the decades, it has gone through many phases, but by the late 2000s, the most popular subgenres were proibidão, “prohibited funk” about the exploits of favela drug dealers, and putaria, X-rated funk songs about dirty, dirty sex.

Nego Blue (Credit: FunkSP)

Funk ostentação, however, isn’t from Rio – it was spawned in São Paulo, Brazil’s 20 million person megacity and the country’s economic capital. Most agree that the genre’s first song was 2008’s “Bonde da Juju,” by the funk duo Backdi e BioG3, featuring the refrain “We only wear Oakleys.” Backdi e BioG3’s neighborhood, Tiradentes, became the epicenter of a new funk movement, with more and more groups talking about money and brands in their songs. Shortly after, it began to spread throughout the city’s vast working-class suburbs and satellite cites.

It’s probably not a coincidence that ostentação was created in São Paulo, of all places. Hip-hop, rather than baile funk, has long been the preferred sound of the city’s dispossessed. Many funk ostentação MC’s admit they borrowed their ostentatious style from US rappers. (“My biggest inspirations are Wiz Khalifa, Soulja Boy, and Rick Ross,” says MC Guime.).

Boy Do Charmes (Credit: FunkSP)

Hi-gloss music videos helped the new music’s spread. The first one came from Boi do Charmes, who decided to make a video for his song “Megane.” Other  people were allegedly stealing credit for his songs, and he hoped to reclaim them by putting his visual stamp on his music. The video quickly racked up views. It became clear that music videos were a perfect compliment for funk ostentação songs, allowing  artists to show off the over-the-top fantasy lifestyles they rapped out.

“To have a good ostentacao video, it’s important to have all the elements you mention in the song,” says director Kondzilla, funk ostentação’s visual architect. Kondzilla started out making extreme sports videos for BMXers in his neighborhood, and got into funk after doing a music video for a friend. Today, if you watch just a few of the hundreds of funk ostentação videos on the internet, you’ll notice that most of them have his logo prominently scrawled over the intro. He found a simple and effective strategy for making a song a hit online: rent a condo and some nice cars for the day, get some premium liquor and some ladies, and shoot the resulting party in glorious HD.

Until Kondzilla and ostentação came on the scene, music videos were never part of baile funk culture. People learned about new music and artists when they were played at the soundsystem parties themselves, or from mix CDs sold hand-to-hand around the neighborhood.

“Funk is moving from the favelas to the internet,” affirms Menor do Chapa, the top ostentação artist in Rio, best known for his song “Eu Sou Patrão, Não Funcionário” (“I’m a Boss, Not A Functionary.”) Menor do Chapa says that ever since Rio’s military police started cracking down on favela baile funk parties in preparation for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games, the best way to promote music is online. “Now if you put up a video online, you can get millions of views and people will know you.”

Menor do Chapa (Credit: FunkSP)

Menor do Chapa believes the ostentação sound will prove to have a wider appeal than previous iterations of baile funk because its lyrics are less likely to offend delicate sensibilities.“This music isn’t about crime. It doesn’t use bad words. It respects women. This music is about self-esteem, about giving people from the favela a sense of power by saying, ‘I’m a boss, not a functionary. I can have nice things too’,” he says.

As it happens, nice things are more accessible in Brazil than ever before. “Unlike the US and EU, Brazil is having a really good moment,” says Renato Barreiros, director of the “Funk Ostentação” documentary. The recent economic boomtimes have created a new, vibrant, lower middle-class in Brazil known as the clase C (social classes are categorized from A to E in Brazil.) The clase C now makes up 54% of the population, and are the holy marketing targets for companies in Brazil, a class of newly-empowered consumers, itching to spend.

“It’s a class that has a new purchasing power, including for luxury goods,”  says Barreiros. “They can buy a pair of Oakley glasses or an Abercromie shirt with an installment plan, in ten payments. They have a little money to go to the club sometimes, to start drinking whiskey instead of beer. This is a new reality for Brazil, and its being expressed in funk ostentação.”

Mc Guime (Photo: Courtesy of artist)

New clubs catering to the clase C have sprung up throughout São Paulo, leading to a super-charged nightlife industry and lots new stages to book with performers. On an average weekend night, funk ostencao MCs can play 6 or 7 shows, rushing from one club to the next. MC Guime says he makes six to nine thousand US dollars a show, and plays up to 45 shows a month – meaning he can make up to about $400,000 monthly. Whether or not those numbers are inflated, it means that funk artists have a shot at actually owning some of the outrageously priced things they rhyme about. (Though Guime admits some of his favored brands, such as Lamborghinis, remain dreams for now.)

Ostentação has already begun to displace hip-hop as the most popular music in São Paulo, and the phenomenon is spreading beyond the city. Top performers are getting booked in major cities around the country. Production value for the videos is going up, with one recent video by Backdi e BioG3 costing $30,000, according to Renato Barreiros. And, ostentação-style lyrics are spreading into other genres. Munhoz and Mariano, a group that plays the hyper-popular Brazilian country music known as sertanejo, have a hit called “Camaro Amarelo,” (“Yellow Camaro”) about the joys of buying a new Toyota.  And hip-hop star Emicida recently collaborated with MC Guime on a yet-unreleased track for the upcoming World Cup, produced by rising electronic music producer Leo Justi, who draws on baile funk rhythms.

MC Daleste (Credit: FunkSP)

Not everybody, as you might imagine, is a fan of ostentação. Leo Justi thinks the new music is promoting bad values. “They talk about spending money on designer clothes for their kids instead of giving them an education.” says Justi. “Back in the day, baile funk was about having fun and romantic sh*t. Guys would talk about being in love.”

On the other hand, Renato Barreiros, the documentary director, says it’s a natural expression of what Brazil is going through right now. For generations, there has been little cause for celebration among the country’s poor, why not let the good times roll for a change?  “You can’t say it’s good or bad,” says Barreiros. “It’s people who are living in a moment of well-being for the first time ever, and expressing their desires, their dreams, they way they want to live one day.”

Perhaps, however, music video director Kondizilla  has the most accurate assessment of what the rise of funk ostentação means. “It’s normal, “ he says. “We live in capitalism. This is what it’s all about.”

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