The rhymes by African-Americans get a translation
The Hip Hop culture appeared in Brazil in the early 80s (shortly after its emergence in the U.S.), more strongly in São Paulo. It arrived in Brazil by the hands of teams that arranged soul balls and parties, and through albums and magazines that could be found in the downtown area. The first ones to appear were the break dancers, who were kicked out of the region by shop owners and the police, landing on the São Bento subway station. Soon there was a clash between break dancers and rappers (also known as babblers), who were just starting to craft their verses and had to move away to Roosevelt square. Before long, they became the strongest faction within hip hop in São Paulo, and some of the break dancers were turned into rappers.
The first registration of Brazilian rap is the compilation Hip Hop Cultura de Rua (Eldorado, 1988). It featured tracks by Thayde & DJ Hum, MC Jack, Código 13 and others. It was the Brazilian debut of a style based upon rhyming speeches delivered over dance bases sampled from funk albums, with occasional scratches. Nevertheless, the rap aesthetics had already been tried a year before on a radio hit: Kátia Flávia, by Fausto Fawcett & Os Robôs Efêmeros (from Rio de Janeiro). The scratches had also been used in 1987 in the album Estação Primeira, by the band Gueto, from São Paulo.
Still in 1988, another rap compilation was put out in São Paulo: Consciência Black (first release by the label Zimbabwe). In this compilation, there was a group that would make history in the following years: Racionais MCs. With songs like Pânico na Zona Sul (Panic on the South Side) and Tempos Difíceis (Hard Times), Ice Blue, Mano Brown, Edy Rock and KL Jay provided their audiences with a view on the very hard life of young, poor black men in the suburbs of São Paulo, lost between crime and social distress. In the early 90s, Thayde & DJ Hum and Racionais were established as the most serious and important rappers in São Paulo, often involved in campaigns for awareness, promotion and unification of the hip hop culture in Brazil.
As their third LP came out (Raio X Brasil, from 1993), Racionais MCs were unanimously regarded as the voice of the suburbs, gathering up to 10 thousand people at their gigs, which granted them an invitation to be the opening act for Public Enemy’s shows in Brazil. The songs from this independent release – especially Fim de Semana no Parque and Homem na Estrada – managed to penetrate into FM stations, spreading the name of the group through audiences that were oblivious to the existence of such slashing music. A CD was quickly assembled by Continental, merging the songs from their three albums.
At the same time, an unpredicted rap force came up in Rio: white middle-class teenager Gabriel Contino, a.k.a. Gabriel o Pensador (Gabriel the Thinker), enjoyed great success by the end of 1992 with his song Tô Feliz, Matei o Presidente (I’m Glad, I’ve Killed the President), addressed to former president Fernando Collor, who had just resigned in the midst of a corruption-related impeachment process. Hired by a major label, he penetrated the radio waves with the songs Lôraburra (Stupid Blond Girl) and Retrato de um Playboy (Portrait of a Playboy), which, in spite of the pop production, displayed violently witty criticism toward the manners of the wealthy youth of Rio de Janeiro. Gabriel (who has always preserved his connection with the hip hop movement) appeared on the first rap compilation made in Rio, Tiro Inicial, which also featured a track by a future big name in Brazilian rap: MV Bill, from Cidade de Deus (City of God, housing project turned into a favela)
Meanwhile, rap was disseminating to other parts of the country, inspiring a series of artists like Câmbio Negro and GOG (from Brasília), Faces do Subúrbio and Sistema X (from Recife), Da Guedes and Piá (Porto Alegre) and Black Soul (Belo Horizonte). By the middle of the 90s, Brazilian rap suffered its first mixings with rock, made by bands like Planet Hemp and rap groups turned into bands, like Pavilhão 9 (a reference to the exact location where about 100 convicts were murdered by the police inside the Carandiru jail) and Câmbio Negro.
The greatest moment for Brazilian rap, though, was 1998, when Racionais MCs released the album Sobrevivendo no Inferno (Surviving in Hell), a masterpiece that went beyond the barriers of the suburbs of São Paulo with the song Diário de um Detento (A Convict’s Diary) - a report on a convict’s routine in jail and his personal thoughts on October 1, 1992, i.e., one day before the mass execution – on heavy rotation. The videoclip was shot inside Carandiru, shaped as a documentary to give life to Mano Brown’s amazing lyrics. The video wound up getting the Viewer’s Choice award at MTV Brazil, as well as the Video of the Year award. The album, which featured songs like Jorge da Capadócia (by Jorge Ben Jor), Capítulo 4, Versículo 3 and Periferia é Periferia (Em Qualquer Lugar) sold over a million copies, a record for independent releases in Brazil. It testified to the great popularity and credibility conquered by the band – and mostly among suburban audiences, even though their message was successfully put through to white middle-class teenagers.
The success enjoyed by Racionais granted good exposure for Brazilian rap, stimulating major labels to put out rap albums and hire rappers by the end of the decade. MV Bill had a second release for his debut (independent) album, Traficando Informação, on Natascha Records, and played the Free Jazz Festival along with American group The Roots. Planet Hemp vocalist Marcelo D2 released his first solo album, Eu Tiro É Onda (1998), which featured an inspired fusion of rap and samba.
In Recife, the group Faces do Subúrbio placed their bets on the embolada-rap. Nonetheless, São Paulo has remained as the greatest rap production center in Brazil, with a well structured scene based upon a series of independent labels. Some of the names that emerged in the region are DMN, De Menos Crime, RZO, Xis, Dentinho and Detentos do Rap, the latter being a group of convicts who are still doing time in Carandiru. As a matter of fact, the fascination with gangsta rap encouraged a number of rappers to assemble a CD with songs by one of the most famous gangsters from Rio, former drug traffic king José Carlos dos Reis Encina, a.k.a. Escadinha.
Corpo Fechado – Thaíde & DJ Hum
Kátia Flávia – Fausto Fawcett & Os Robôs Efêmeros
Fim de Semana no Parque – Racionais MCs
Tô Feliz, Matei o Presidente – Gabriel o Pensador
Diário de um Detento – Racionais MCs
Cachimbo da Paz – Gabriel o Pensador
Marquinho Cabeção – MV Bill
Eu Tiro É Onda – Marcelo D2