Over the last decade and a half, Hip Hop culture has become a global phenomenon. Tupac, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, just to name a few, are as popular in Europe as they are in the US. Thanks in part to early Hip Hop films (i.e. Style Wars, Wild Style) and books (Subway Art) that made their way into the robust European economies of the late-'80s, white kids in France, Denmark, and Germany began fucking with graffiti and b-boying. As time progressed and kids began copying the styles of Black and Latino kids in New York, MCs and graffiti crews emerged within particular European cities that had a strong economic base which would support the slow influx of product. Unfortunately, while the European movement helps the growth and development of the art form, it also distorts the face of Hip Hop since its development is precisely linked to Europe's historic and current first world position within the international capital structure. Hence, third world countries filled with poor Black and Brown bodies are seldom heard from and are last in line in terms of access to resources. However, history tells us that the third world will always lead in revolutionary action and today the illest, most grounded, radical push for a relevant Hip Hop culture comes from South America, particularly Brazil and Chile. - V.B
Hip Hop in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Imagine a bustling metropolitan area with a population of no less than 17 million people. Outside of the city's commercial and industrial centers for which it is most known, lies reality for the residing Black masses. Crime, violence, and drugs infect its large housing projects and shantytowns, making life all the more hellish in a nation the rest of the world recognizes only as paradise. The city is Sao Paulo, Brazil, a place that most who are familiar with its underground music scene identify as the second Hip Hop capital of the world.Sao Paulo, from the late 1970's to the mid-1980's, had its own US-influenced funk and soul experience, with US and national idols like James Brown, George Clinton, Tim Maia, and Banda Black Rio. For almost a decade Afros, platform shoes, and clubs defined popular Afro-Brazilian culture. As the funk scene began to fade, the urban youth again looked to the US for the next trend in popular African American culture. They were influenced by legends like Afrika Bambaataa, The Sugarhill Gang, and Grand Master Flash, to name a few. The subsequent development of Brazilian Hip Hop, complete with b-boying, graffiti, and Rap was only natural.
The number of Hip Hop groups in Sao Paulo, who refer to themselves in terms of gangs or posses, is estimated to be as high as 30,000. Groups commonly unite to form larger cultural organizations such as Posse Hausa and the Associacao Cultural de Negroatividades ("The Cultural Association for Black Activities"), which seek to raise the political and social consciousness of their peers.
In order to fully understand the strong political slant of Brazilian Hip Hop, it is necessary to be aware of a few facts. Brazil is a county of 169,806,557 people, of which at least 60% are of African ancestry. Of every four people killed by the police, three are Black. Only 2% of the students in Brazilian universities are Black. And every four hours, a Black man dies violently in Sao Paulo.Much of what is learned is reflected in rap lyrics. The all too typical urban problems of crack, alcoholism and police violence are the source of the powerful verses that flow from radios and fill the hundreds of frequented Hip Hop clubs.Even with such a large Afro-Brazilian population, Brazil never had a Black consciousness or civil rights era, in which people of color acquired access to the country's economic and political sectors. In short, Blacks are usually found at the bottom of the society's totem pole. Currently, the white status quo of discriminatory practices and mockery of the idea of African beauty remains a prominent part of life. And Afro-Brazilians, largely misguided by centuries of oppression, choose not to acknowledge or study their African heritage and accept European features as standards of beauty. It is in the area of awareness that the Brazilian Hip Hop movement functions. The movement seeks to deconstruct the myth of a racial democracy, in which Brazil has long prided itself, and present Brazil for the country it is: a nation contaminated with racism, poverty, and inequality.
Posse Hausa and gangs, like the Jabaquara Breakers, offer courses in dance, coordinate community development campaigns, and collect and distribute information about people of African descent. Negroatividades has a library, and members spend significant time reading and discussing articles in the areas of Hip Hop, the Black movement, and African and Brazilian political issues. All activities aim to educate youth and promote the Hip Hop movement.
Much of what is learned is reflected in rap lyrics. The all too typical urban problems of crack, alcoholism and police violence are the source of the powerful verses that flow from radios and fill the hundreds of frequented Hip Hop clubs. Topics range from the corruption of national politicians to unemployment to the exploitation of capitalism and the ills of neo-liberalism. However, lyrics are not all political. The Sao Paulo Hip Hop scene has its share of party anthems. One of last year's biggest hits was about the benefits of being a player.
One definite thing about the Hip Hop movement in Brazil: it is revolutionary. It is revolution for a society that for centuries taught its underprivileged youth to ignore injustices and avoid confrontation so that "we can all get along". Today these same youth organize lecture series and have gone as far as to challenge politicians head-on. It is revolution for a national music industry that once promoted primarily love ballads and happy-go-lucky theme songs. Today one of Brazil's top music groups is Racionais MC's ("Rational MC's"), a hardcore Hip Hop act that, out of reverence for Hip Hop culture, refuse interviews with most popular media outlets, including the national Yo! MTV Raps program.
Brazilian Hip Hop has a future. Its very existence is just one more piece of evidence, proving that what some kids once did just for fun in New York. is now international and growing nonstop. It is also testament to the fact that the application of Hip Hop, for those who love and create it, knows no limits. Maybe we could even stand to learn a lesson or two from the kids down south? -- T.G.
Look at any standard world map. Go to the middle and then go to the bottom. That should get you to the southernmost tip of the world. That's Chile. And within its slender frontiers there's a national underground Hip Hop movementon the verge of exploding.Like many indigenous countries in South America enslaved by the Spanish Conquistadors during the late 1700s, Chile's population developed into a mixed race of native Indians and European whites, known as Mestizos. Aside from its international dominance of classic wines, Chile is probably best known for its history of resistance against US imperialism. Following a string of neo-fascist regimes in the '60s, the country elected Salvador Allende, a socialist, as president in 1971. Once in power, President Allende initiated a series of reforms that gave the people ownership of Chile's largest copper industries. Needless to say, such action severely crippled European and US multinational companies who previously owned the rights to Chile's natural resources. In 1973, the US intervened through covert CIA operations which ultimately resulted in a military coup and the murder of Allende.
"Long before Atomic Pop, Kaco began downloading and copying MP3s with Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, and even the first Soundbombing album, servicing kids for free."
Over the next 16 years, Chile was ruled though the military government under General Agusto Pinochet, an old school army tyrant with an atrocious record of human rights violations. Pinochet kept the masses in check and allowed foreign companies like ITT and AT&T to re-enter the market place and make a killing off the copper used for its US phone lines.
Once in power, Pinochet forbade any non-sanctioned media in fear of widespread revolution. For 16 years, he made sure that all newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and music were controlled through the government with approval from the US. In 1989, after on-going mass organization of working class people, Pinochet lost in a democratic election and rule by the people was slowly restored.
During this period, Chile's youth began receiving early Public Enemy and KRS-ONE albums from friends and relatives in New York. Poor kids from the ghetto began breakdancing in the parks while their little brothers used old record players as turntables. Soon thereafter, urban graffiti replaced the political slogans on the street. By 1994, Chile began sporting local groups such as Las Panteras Negras (Black Panthers), a militant set who captured a decade of resentment towards the military establishment. Subsequently, the rivalry between the East and West coasts in the US prompted kids to diversify their rhyming styles and beats. By 1996, Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers was the most bootlegged tape in the country. The retail stores did not carry much Hip Hop so kids were forced to either search for vintage house stores that carried bootleg copies or to make their own music.
In 1996, a poor kid named Kaco from Vi�a del Mar, a beautiful coastal city known for its crystal sandy beaches, began fucking with the computer at his school not realizing he was about to change the way kids in Chile received music. Long before Atomic Pop, Kaco began downloading and copying MP3s with Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, and even the first Soundbombing album, servicing kids for free. Along with Abismal, one of his neighborhood buddies who has been collecting Hip Hop music since 1990 and who has religiously followed the likes of Organized Konfusion, Onyx, OC, and Company Flow, Kaco began organizing and promoting small concerts featuring local talent.
By 1997, Chile's three biggest cities, Santiago, Vi�a del Mar, and Serena had all undergone dramatic changes in youth culture. Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Michael Jackson became less popular among teenagers who were now looking to cop posters of Tupac. Kids in the ghetto began sporting baggy pants and oversized soccer shirts. Since there are very few shops catering to youth culture, many kids have resorted to making their own clothes.
Similarly, every 13 year old who aspires to be a rapper has a home-recorded demo.
On a lazy summer day in Vina, you can find Kaco and his friends chilling in the parks, sparking ciphers, snapping jokes, and occasionally running the local drunk out of town. B-Boys and B-Girls practice at night, providing a free spectacle for park strollers and cops who just watch in amazement. Vi�a's Hip Hop scene is young with many kids not understanding the roots of what they're spitting. Abismal who is part of Vina's most famous group, DDC (Decendientes de la Calle/ Descendants of the Street) has taken it upon himself to school other kids on the development of US Hip Hop. Since kids don't understand the lyrics and are not privy to the racial and economic context in which US rappers live, they tend to distort and glorify the scant images of street life that enter their homes through MTV. Like most third world countries who are experiencing economic growth, Chile has succumbed to the many temptations of capitalism. Fast cars, cell phones, expensive sneakers are all things that people want, and in some cases are willing to stick you for them.
With eyes fixed on gangsta and playa images up North, founding elements of Hip Hop such as the battle DJ have been underdeveloped as kids focus on copying rhyme and fashion styles. Unlike the multitude of dick-riders who just bite catchy English words and give themselves American names, Abismal is wise enough to understand that if Chile is to become a powerhouse in South America, it must develop its own sound and MCs must rap about local issues.
Nevertheless, the growth of Hip Hop in the US has had positive ramifications on lyrics. Picking up on the positive energy of the tradition of PE and the Native Tongues, Tiro De Gracia, Chile's first double platinum rap group, has broken ground with conscious lyrics and intricate rhyme styles and beats that stand on their own. Their success in Chile recently warranted a trip to New York City where they performed at the Second Annual Black August Benefit. Armed with a new album entitled Decision, they're on a mission to bring back the B-boy renaissance in Chile along with several other Hip Hop groups that have recently landed record deals.
The future looks promising for the new land down under. The fire that once propelled Hip Hop in New York is alive and kicking in Chile; and with each day that passes, a new kid joins the ranks. As far as the business side of things go, only time will tell if ghetto entrepreneurs will rise to the occasion and wrestle control of the burgeoning industry away from all the music corporate crackers. -- V.B.