Note from BW of Brazil: Brazilian Hip Hop, like its American counterpart, has always been a tool of the black community can use to express its grievances and disappointments with the respective societies in which they live. Groups such as the Racionais MCs, RZO, DMN and Facção Central have used their lyricism to paint powerful portraits of the cruel realities of life in Brazil. Many youngsters who grew up with these groups acknowledge their racial, social and political consciousness being sparked through the rhymes and beats of these groups and many more.
Many feel that as black rappers, it is a duty to speak of the situation of the black community that continues to be disrespected, invisible in circles of economic and political power and regularly burying its use due to the violent nature of Brazilian life. These realities may be topics that many fans don’t want to hear and don’t want to deal with. This makes total sense. In a Brazil that has long, and in many ways continues to deny the fact that race plays a huge role in the quality and inequalities of life of blacks and whites.
This inequality can even be noted in the world of Hip Hop, where one would assume black performers rule. This is not necessarily the case. Although its true that Hip Hop remains associated with black culture, with the possibility of earning money, a number of white artists have entered the ranks of Brazilian rappers and have been able to produce their music, have doors open quicker and find easier paths to success than their black counterparts.
Could this be another case of whites holding down slots that black artists deserve, as singer Negra Li recently suggested in a controversial interview in which she used the career of Elvis Presley to demonstrate her point and found herself in hot water?
Even though Elvis’s arrival on the scene was over 60 years ago and happened in the United States, as you will see in the article below, there are still similarities in what it takes to get to the top of the rap music world in Brazil and a key factor continues to be the color of one’s skin.
The economics of being a rapper in Brazil
Before throwing money in the air, there is a long way to go for those who want to make a career in hip hop. And this path is especially difficult if you are black.
By Amanda Cavalcanti
In January of this year, Don L celebrated his birthday at Sesc Pompeia in São Paulo with the debut show of the Roteiro Pra Aïnouz Vol. 3 EP. The 37-year-old’s celebratory cake, which was brought to the dressing room after the show, contained the words “Don L Rico” and was applauded for the typical “Parabéns pra Você” (Happy Birthday song). At the end of the song, however, a variation of the part of the lyrics “É pique/É pique/É hora/ É hora” came in the form of “É rico/É rico/É ouro/É ouro” (He’s rich/ He’s rich/It’s gold/It’s gold”, as Peu Araújo reported in a Piauí article about the event. The show happened weeks after the release of the song “Verso Livre Nº 2 (018)”, in which Don L shouted in the chorus: “Esse ano eu fico rico” (This year I get rich).
Don L is not the only one, however, who left the northeast thirsty enough to dry out SABESP. In June 2018, the compatriot of Don Diomédes Chinaski released the mixtape Comunista Rico (rich communist), whose self-titled single begins with the phrases “There’s no rap game, I want money game / Competition trembles, but I just want the safe / It’s insane to see, there’s no plan B / Damn, plan B should death. ” This year, Raffa Moreira also boasted that he made 10,000 a month alone while throwing money in the air in the “10K” video, and Minas Gerais native Sidoka celebrates the three zeros in his bank balance in “Drink.”
“Money will always be a strong point in my music, because its lack brought me many traumas and its arrival brought me many nights of sleep,” says Diomedes, in an interview with Noisey. He doesn’t think, however, that the bragadoccio already common with the rappers is in vain, or a futility. “It’s not just about economic values. It’s the cry of the sufferer who has overcome misery through a very dangerous road, because for us it’s never easy. Who flosses is the playboy, we don’t, we celebrate with what we never had before.”
With a career started at the end of the last decade in the suburbs of Pernambuco, Diomédes released his first EP, Ressentimentos, in 2010. But the path until then was not easy. The rapper reports walking miles to the studio, feeling hungry during recording sessions, and returning home late at night asking for a ride. Even the recordings could only be funded because the rapper sold his cell phone. “My mother thought I was smoking crack. I was also greatly helped by friends who did the art. It wasn’t any use charging anyone who was dressed in old clothes, a pin in their flip flops and badly done hair and beard,” says Diomedes, who remembers being called a “beggar” during a battle rap. “I never forgot that, because when I looked in the mirror I really looked like one.”
The difficulties told by Diomédes are common – it’s impossible not to remember the title of the first EP of today’s great Emicida, Pra quem já mordeu um cachorro por comida, até que eu cheguei longe (For those that bit a dog for food, until I went far)…. – but perhaps they are more present in a specific group: black rappers. This difficulty becomes clear even among the biggest names – while artists like Haikaiss (2.7 million) and Costa Gold (2.2 million) have millions of subscribers and views on their YouTube channels, for example, names like Emicida (1 million) Criollo (400 thousand) and Racionais MCs (700 thousand) have at most half the numbers of their white colleagues.
Haikaiss and Costa Gold
“In general, it’s the black artists who have less structure when it comes to performing their art, or take a long time to achieve this ideal structure,” says rapper Rincon Sapiência. The rapper, who has been engaged in music since 2000, has only been able to put aside other sources of income to support himself completely as an artist in 2010. Until then, the artist has already had some difficulties and misfortunes, such as having to carry CD of the software he used to produce his songs in his pocket if he went to the home of some friend who had a computer, since he could not afford one at the time. “I had notebooks and notebooks full of lyrics but for these lyrics to become music, it was very difficult and complicated. Outside transportation, locomotion, among other things. I was going from the Cohab to Aricanduva on foot, an hour’s walk. I’ve done this many times.” He talks about the issue of money in the lives of blacks in the track “Placo”, released last week.
While the middle-class artist already begins with money, investment, videomaker, producer and a team already thinking about strategies for his career, the periphery artist has his pen and, at most, some way of putting music to his compositions. “All logistics and strategy, responsibilities, family, consume more of the time and money. This makes it difficult for low-income artists to immerse themselves, many give up and many, like me, take a lot of time for things to happen,” says Rincon. The financial difficulty already almost prevented Brazil from having some of its greatest artists, such as singer and rapper Negra Li.
Before RZO, in the first group in which she participated, she gave up singing due to “precarious conditions” and the little money that the work presented. “I was very young, still supported by parents, and I began to help with the bills at home,” she says. “It was never for everyone, but for the few. Most of them spent what they earned from other jobs to invest, and yet they were forced to give up halfway.”
For Negra Li, Rincon and Diomédes, the path that leads to the difficulty of black and peripheral artists to build their careers in rap is very clear, and begins in the escravidão da população negra (enslavement of the black population). The reflexes are exposed for those who want to see: 76% of the poor population in Brazil is black, says data from the IBGE of 2014. According to data collected by the social organization TETO Brasil in the favelas of São Paulo in 2016, 70% of its residents are black. “Social inequality is so famous. We still have a lot to conquer,” says Negra Li.
Despite the difficulties still felt by those who start their rap career, it is possible that the conditions have improved a bit in recent years. Rio de Janeiro rapper Marcão Baixada believes that the democratization of access to electronics and sound equipment has improved the situation of low-income rappers. The challenges today, however, are others.
“Today we have access to the tools, we can cheapen the cost of a lot of things having a home studio, producing our own beat. But while not having money makes us have more creativity, I get overwhelmed,” he says. Beyond sound, money for the design of covers and websites, the price of clips and photo shoots and the time spent investing in the artist’s social networks also make it difficult for beginners. “What I would develop better – my rhymes and beats – I end up not developing so well because I have to be connected in all these other tasks and processes.”
In 2019, Marcão completed 10 years working with rap, but still can’t earn more than he spends on his sound. “I was working and had a carteira assinada (Employment Record Card) as an office boy until last year because I felt the need, I needed to get my thing together at home,” says the artist. “But rap has given me a lot of things, from making music to plays, to commercials, to the Olympics in 2016, to even more formal work opportunities. Although it was not with my rap, I ended up finding ways to raise money through rap.”
The difficulty of blacks in the labor market is not an exclusivity, of course, of rap. According to a survey by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2016, in the 500 largest corporations in Brazil, only 6.3% of management positions and 4.7% of management are occupied by blacks. When we specify black women, this number drops even more drastically: 1.6% of management positions and 0.4% (!) of management are commanded by them.
Diomédes’s chat at the beginning of this report, then, becomes even clearer. The money thrown in the air is less a sign of luxury, and more a symbol of freedom, of victory. “The lack of money not only prevented you from knowing various geniuses, but kept you from living. It prevented them from having the most basic right of life: to live,” he concludes. “I come from where not everyone has sneakers. Money is a letter of freedom.”