Emicida: 'People Sample What Is Nearest To Them'

Apr 14, 2014
Originally published on April 14, 2014 5:42 pm

At 28, Emicida is a curious mix of rebel and poet — and one of the biggest hip-hop acts in Brazil. He was born Leandro Roque de Oliveira in the poor urban north of Sao Paulo, Brazil's vast, teeming economic capital.

He says he grew up disadvantaged and black, and that he saw firsthand the racism and inequality that he says defines Brazil.

"Taking a position is always important," Emicida says, "especially in a country like ours, where people many times don't take a stand, and they allow important political moments to pass without notice, as if they didn't happen. But it has to be organic. It can't be a marketing strategy."

Emicida grew up the son of an activist, so speaking about social issues comes naturally to him. In 2012, he was arrested at a concert for asking his fans to flip the finger at the military police, who were securing the event, and at the country's politicians.

His raw anger is clear, particularly in songs like "Dedo na Ferida," or "Finger in the Wound."

He raps in Portuguese:

Black fury rises again,

Auschwitz or the ghetto? Indigenous or black?

The same end, extermination

Emicida's childhood taught him something else that makes his music unique.

"I've been always fascinated by words," he says, "because they were my door to the world. I had a terrible TV at home; it never worked. There were some books at home, which my mother read, so I started discovering the world by reading. I never detached from that. For me, words have a fascinating strength, they make a connection. They create the energy of places. They are the most wonderful tool human beings created, because it makes that connection."

He not only brings poetry and the streets to his work, but also to Brazil's many musical traditions — namely samba. His rap and the drum beat of samba combine to create something almost hypnotic.

Emicida says that mixing musical traditions is what Brazil is all about, as it has always been a cultural melting pot.

"There is a new atmosphere here," Emicida says, "and when I talk about this new atmosphere, it's all about Brazilian music. It's not exactly bossa nova, it's not jazz. It could have gotten some influence from the American soul, or American hip-hop, but it redefines itself from the characteristics of the music we have here, the instruments we have here. People sample what is nearest to them, and it is creating almost a new musical genre."

Emicida's music speaks to a generation here that has seen rapid change — more money, more jobs during the last 10 years of economic boom. He sees the difference in the shanty towns. People are getting an education and college degrees.

But young people here still face discrimination, and are still stymied by the ghosts of the past.

Emicida says there is a Brazilian minority very interested in reproducing Europe or America inside Brazil, and it's curbing all creative strength. The Brazilian people, he says, are extremely creative, extremely willing.

In order to diminish the distance between the minority and the majority, the rapper says this is the moment to deal with the open wounds that are the inequalities inside Brazil.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "1989")

CORNISH: And that's Emicida, one of the biggest hip-hop acts from Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "1989")

CORNISH: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro caught up with him in Sao Paulo, where he's from, to talk about why Brazilian hip-hop is so hot and why his music defies stereotypes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Twenty-eight-year-old Emicida is a curious mix of rebel and poet. He was born Leandro Roque de Oliveira in the poor urban north of Sao Paulo, Brazil's vast teeming economic capital. He got his stage name by being the killer of MC's in the rap battles in which he would participate as a teenager.

In an interview with NPR, he says he grew up disadvantaged and black. He saw firsthand the racism and inequality that he feels defines Brazil.

EMICIDA: (Through translator) Taking a position is always important, especially in a country like ours, where oftentimes people don't take a stand and they allow important political moments to pass without notice, as if they didn't happen. But it has to be organic. It can't be a marketing strategy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he grew up as the son of an activist, so speaking about social issues comes naturally to him. The raw anger is clear in songs like "Finger in the Wound" in particular.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEDO NA FERIDA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He raps in Portuguese: Black fury rises again. Auschwitz or the ghetto? Indigenous or black? The same end, extermination. Because their justice only hunts those who wear flip-flops and they are the victims, he says, but the aggression of people wearing uniforms is legitimate. Butchers win prizes in the land where babies breathe tear gas, he says.

In 2012, he was arrested at a concert for asking his fans to flip the finger at the military police who were securing the event and to the country's politicians, after singing that song. But his childhood also taught him something else that makes his music unique.

EMICIDA: (Through translator) I've always been fascinated by words because they were my door to the world. I had a terrible TV at home. It never worked. My mother had some books, so I started discovering the world by reading. I never detached from that. For me, words have a fascinating strength. They make a connection. They create the energy of places. They're the most wonderful tool human beings ever created because they make that connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HINO VIRA-LATA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the song, "Street Dogs Anthem," he raps: From old black men, from philosophy, pretty words are poetry. Calm down, wake up, be happy, clap, my soul is still a bohemian slave.

He not only brings poetry and the streets to his work but also Brazil's many musical traditions, namely samba. His rap and the drum beat of samba meld to create something almost hypnotic at that times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRISANTEMO")

EMICIDA: A great example of that is the song "Chrysanthemum," about the death of his father during a bar fight. He sings, life is but a detail. It is everything. It is nothing. It is a game that kills. He tells me mixing musical traditions is what Brazil is all about, as it's always been a cultural melting pot.

(Through translator) There's a new atmosphere here and it's all about Brazilian music. It's not exactly bossa nova. It's not jazz. It could have some influences from American soul and American hip-hop, but it redefines itself with characteristics of the music we have here, the instruments we have here. People sample what is nearest to them and it's creating almost a new musical genre.

But perhaps what makes Emicida's music so popular is that he speaks to a generation here that has seen such rapid change: more money, more jobs during the last 10 years of economic boom. He sees the difference, he says, in the shantytowns. People are getting an education, college degrees. But the youth here, he says, are still discriminated against, still stymied by the ghosts of the past.

(Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is a minority, he says, that is very interested in reproducing Europe here or reproducing America inside Brazil. This curbs all creative strength. Brazil's people are extremely creative, he says, extremely willing. This is the moment to deal with the open wounds that are the monster inequalities we have inside Brazil, he says, so we can diminish the distance between the minority and the majority somehow. I think this should be the moment for Brazil to address what's happening, he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.