AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
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CORNISH: And that's Emicida, one of the biggest hip-hop acts from Brazil.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.
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