By now, just about every country on earth is represented on Planet Hip-Hop, but few loom as large as Brazil. Though better known for samba, funk carioca, forro, tecnobrega, and the country’s billion or so other homegrown genres, Brazil has one of the world’s most popping hip-hop scenes. That’s especially true in the pereferia, or vast urban outskirts, of São Paulo, where boom-bap beats dominate the soundscape and colorful graffiti decorates every spare surface.
The hip-hop scene in Brazil was born out of 1980s favela street parties, where DJs played the latest American funk and soul records to largely Afro-Brazilian crowds. When the first hip-hop records came out, they naturally made it into the rotation, but they had a different impact on Rio and São Paulo.
“When hip-hop arrived to those funk parties, Rio de Janiero took the electro influence of Afrika Bambaataa, which led eventually to Miami Bass and the baile funk scene,” explains Rodrigo Brandao, the former host and VJ of the Brazilian version of Yo! MTV Raps. “In São Paulo, people picked up on Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” and a rap scene was born.”
Hip-hop grew and grew on the fringes in Brazil, with top artists like Racionais MCs reportedly drawing crowds of 10,000 in the ‘90s while being all but ignored by the music and entertainment industries. Whereas Rio’s baile funk became known for its party lyrics, mostly waxing poetic on the beauty of large asses, the hip-hop scene in São Paulo was fiercely political in nature, a tradition that continues to this day.
“It’s something we’re very proud of,” said hip-hop artist Emicida in a recent MTV Iggy interview. “There are a lot of people who say you can’t be political and be on television, but right now authentic hip-hop from the streets is getting bigger. I think we are seeing a really great moment.”
Thanks to the internet, a new crop of rappers like Emicida and Criolo have gotten out there with or without industry support, and there’s a feeling that hip-hop in Brazil is on the cusp of a golden age of sorts.
“What excites me is that think the Brazilian identity is becoming more of a trend in rap,” said Rodrigo Brandao, who also participates in alternative hip-hop group Mamelo Sound System, who use a lot of Afro-Brazilian elements in their music. “Now, people are like ‘I’m going to listen to the new Mos Def album but I’m not trying to gimmick Mos. I’m going to get samples from a dope Brazilian album and have a samba-related flow.”
We put together a little history lesson on Brazilian hippy-hoppy (as they say in Portuguese) for those in need of schooling. Here are 13 artists to know, in more or less chronological order.
1. Thaide & DJ Hum
In 1988, the first Brazilian hip-hop compilation came out, called Hip hop, cultura de rua (Hip Hop, street culture). Naturally, it featured Thaide one of São Paulo’s very first MCs. Thaide got his start where just about everybody did back in the ‘80s: the square outside the São Bento subway station in the heart of downtown, where newborn hip-hop heads gathered daily with their boom boxes to freestyle and breakdance. Together with DJ Hum, Thaide had a string of hits in the early ‘80s and ‘90sm, including “Nada Pode Me Parar” (“Nothing Can Stop Me”) from 1992. The video, which features a mustachioed Thaide flying over a grainy São Paulo with the help of a green screen, was shot mostly in the São Bento plaza. As a bonus prize, there are some dope classic dance moves on display.
2. Racionais MC’s
Racionais MC’s are hands down the most famous hip-hop crew in Brazilian history. Members Mano Brown, Ice Blue, Edy Rock and DJ KL Jay came up in the late ‘80s, writing hard-edged raps about the struggles of favela life, often with a revolutionary message. Albums like Holocausto Urbano (1990) and Raio-X Brasil (1993) are absolute classics of the genre. After a ten year hiatus, Racionais is coming back with a new studio album later this year. It will include this song, “Mil Faces De Um Homem Leal (Marighella)”, a tribute to Brazilian Marxist thinker Carlos Marighella, who advocated revolution through urban guerrilla warfare in the early 20th century.
3. Rappin’ Hood
With a name so good it’s amazing no MC over here came up with it independently, Rappin’ Hood (whose name in Portuguese actually sounds like “Happin Hoodee”) was one of the most important MCs of the early era, active mostly in the ‘90s. He has often rapped on topics relating to black pride, such as in the track “Sou Negrão” (more or less “I’m Very Black”), one of the first examples of a Brazilian rapping over an old-school samba.
At the same time a hip-hop scene was forming in São Paulo in the early ‘90s, a bunch of rappers were coming out of Brasilia, Brazil’s modernist capital constructed from scratch in the middle of nowhere in the 1960s. Among them, the most active voice was GOG, who grew up in one of Brasilia’s working-class satellite cities and wrote about the tribulations of street life in the capital. Case in point, his classic track “Periferia Segue Sangrando” (“The Outskirts Are Still Bleeding”).
5. Black Alien & Speed
Although they never recorded an official album together, Black Alien & Speed were one of the most influential groups of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. The duo from Niteroi, a sister-city across the bay from Rio De Janeiro, were pioneers in rapping over baile funk beats. Their music was traded heavily online back in the Napster days, and eventually one of their songs, “Quem Que Cagetou” was remixed by Fatboy Slim and used in a famous Nissan ad.
Sporting one of the most unique hair-dos in hip-hop anywhere, Sabotage grew up slinging drugs in São Paulo’s rough South Zone before becoming an overnight sensation with the release of his first and only album in 2000, titled Rap é Compromisso. In 2003, he suffered a violent an unexplained death, shot four times on his way home from a club. “His death really shook up the hip-hop movement all over Brazil,” remembered rapper Emicida. “ I think we were in a collective depression for a long time.”
7. Marcelo D2
From Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo D2 started out in a popular rap/funk/rock band called Planet Hemp which, no surprise here, was lyrically dedicated to the cause of marijuana legalization. In 1998, he went off on his own and began to experiment with rapping over samba-influenced beats. It was a winning combination, leading him to record six studio albums. Unlike many of the São Paulo MCs, Marcelo stayed away from street themes, rapping most often about samba and Brazilian culture. This is his 2003 hit, “A Procura da Batida Perfeita” (“Looking for the Perfect Beat”), playing off the Afrika Bambaataa song of the same name.
One of the most prominent rappers of the moment, Rodrigo Ogi is an São Paulo artist of partially Japonese descent who came up with the group Contrafluxo. His acclaimed 2011 album Crônicas da Cidade Cinza (Tales from the Grey City) was composed of 19 song-stories about life in SP that, according to one Brazilian reviewer, “portray the solitary, daily battle of the big city.”
9. Rael da Rima
With his acoustic guitar in hand, Rael da Rima is one of the only figures in Brazilian hip-hop coming to the music with a live, instrumental approach. At live performances, he plays his funky, sometimes reggae-inflected tunes with a full live band. Below is a flute and synth-laden morsel of his, “Vejo Depois.”
When people these days say that rap is breaking through into the mainstream, they’re largely talking about Emicida. He was one of the first rappers to get big on the internet and social networks, and then had a breakthrough hit with the funky-as-hell 2008 track “Triunfo” (below). Add a 2011 Coachella performance, participation in Vice’s Creator’s Project, and a soundtrack for the upcoming Max Payne 3 game, and it’s safe to say things are going pretty well for him. Check out our full interview with Emicida here.
11. Flora Matos
Probably biggest lady rapper in the game today is Brasilia’s Flora Matos. She works closely with Emicida, who has helped promote her album Flora Matos vs Stereodubs, a producer who lends samba-influenced, jazzy beats to her expert rhymes and hooks. Check out this live version of “Esperar o Sol.”
Criolo isn’t a new artist exactly – he’s in his last 30s, and has been hustling in the underground for over twenty years – but only recently has he emerged as one of the most important musicians in Brazil today. It would be a stretch to call his 2011 album Nó na Orelha a straight hip-hop album – it goes everywhere from crooning trip-hop ballads to Afrobeat and reggae. But Criolo comes from the rap scene and the rap tradition, and his new music has all the poetry and keen social consciousness we’ve come to expect from São Paulo hip-hoppers. Check out our full interview with Criolo here. It get’s deep.
13. Flavio Renegado
Representing the city of Belo Horizante in the Brazilian interior, Flavio Renegado has one of the most contemporary sounds of any rappers coming out of Brazil today. This song , “Minha Tribo é o Mundo” (“The World is My Tribe”) is his anthem of sorts, featuring dope flows, a crazy grinding bassline and surf-rock guitars.