Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Skillz to take Brazil tour stop: Rap Compromisso-Alvorada

Its around midnight in Brazil, and I'm on the island of Florianapolis, listening to Illmatic. Pretty appropiate as I reflect on the unofficial final performance of the tour. Nas has been considered a street poet and the quintessential emcee, and in its own way this tour has been as much a story of the streets and the essential elements of this culture.


With the tour winding down most of the time had been spent after are legendary marathon session with Nego, reflecting and listening to Little City (peace Alessio....). Prego had told us before we left Bom Jesus that there was a possibility of us performing with him for a big festival in another favella on Sunday. Sure enough, Prego hit us up Sunday and came through to whisk us away to Rap Compromisso or Rap Compromise an all elements show in a Favella named Alvorada. After a quick pick up of Prego's dj and producer we headed to a large outdoor stage right across from a school.

Rap Compromisso is an all elements show that brings emcees,b-boys,writers,and heads from all over southern Brazil to represent. Think a smaller version of Rock Steady. It was pretty crazy to see all the B-boys and people completely loving the music. Sam and I spent a lot of time in the crowd, freestyling. So many of the heads seemed to gravitate to me. Since Ive been here there has been a kinship shared between myself and the brown people of this country. We share a heritage and they are very aware of it. Between verses I was asked about discrimination and Obama. The young heads told me about their own trials dealing with race. It was crazy, humbling,empowering and frustrating all at the same time. Not only did we have hip hop in common, but this shared struggle and burden on a level, no one really understands. Beyond the impressiveness of the energy and love for the music that they have, Im leaving with a sense of brotherhood that Im happy to have found.

So, finally after about four plus hours of waiting our turn was up. We actually debuted earlier with KBE and Abolitionista but this was our official turn. I forgot to add that their was a sign-up list and most acts were limited to a couple songs. We got on a little past primetime but it was all good....we got to rock with Prego, bust some frees and really connect.

Shouts to SME Crew, Jefferson, Franklin and Nego Prego for once again showing us the real and the true essence of Brazilian Hip Hop. In the Southern Hemisphere they are about skillz, true stories and community. They represent the history and the culture to the fullest. So here we are on the back end and I think I will do one final reflection, and then the video blog..... which really will be about the second half of Porto Alegre and final breakdowns. Stay tuned......WHHHHOOOOOO HHHAAAAAA

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Skillz to Take Brazil Tour Stop-Porto Alegre pt 2. -BOM JESUS

Oi! Como Vais?

Peace y´all, it has been a great 72 hours and I finally have the opportunity to get down on it and write about it. The tour has taken an extended pit stop in the city of Porto Alegre, but for good reason....we are on some historical shit here. When I told you we were Award Touring, I was not playing. My Passport now has a Favela stamp in it. We are going to do this right and take you through the valley first, then the mountaintop.

This is the tour stop you have to read....this is what it is all about


So after one night in the home of Sousa, the brother of Lilo from UR$ Faundo, we got ready for what was technically "The Anchor" show for our tour. Our intentions for Porto Alegre were pretty clear, hit the city hard, and on stage go in. We came to show Brazil how we do it. We saw some flyers postd up the night we spent hanging out on the corner with Sousa, so we were encouraged that this event would be on point. We began to hear even more favorable things about the venue, namely it was *the* premier underground spot in Porto Alegre, the place where heavyweights and the die hard fans came to rock, be seen, and hear the dope shit. The anticipation rose with each hour. Alessio and Zohio were with us, so the vibes in the crew were nothing but positive. Sadly, the expectations didnt quite meet the reality.

We arrived at the club, Garagem Hermetica pretty early for Brazil, but we did so with intent. We wanted to make sure shit would be right. The spot has a pretty profound history as far as hip hop goes. The space has hosted and been the center point for hip hop for ten years, the first and longest running in the city. It also has New York ties, as it is the home base for E.O.W. Brazil. Walking in, the hall was large, and it had that grimy feel you'd expect from an underground spot. The stage was large, and two huge speakers hung from the ceiling. It was hot as hell in the spot, and our anticipation just kept building. Shouts to Felice who put us down and put it together, this show really was the anchor for our trip, but not in the way we had expected....

The sound check went perfect.... And I mean, the mics were crisp and we THOUGHT we spotted all of the problems or obstacles sonically. One of the mics had a loose connection, and we gerry-rigged it with some tape, tested it. No problems. By midnight, only a handful of heads had stepped through the door. We didnt care though, we knew Brazil got down late, but we just were at a fever pitch. *We* were ready. We thought the sound was ready. It was just a matter of time. We watched Felice and his crew do their thing on the decks, good mix of classic shit and some New York indie stuff. Zajazza had invited a number of his friends to the joint, respect to DJ Only Jay, and Debora and her peoples. You held us down for real, and that was love. Respect Due. We also had a very surprising guest come. Nego Prego. Nego Prego turns out, is one of the OG's of Porto Alegre hip hop. He was a very unexpected patron. It was dope that he was cool with Zajazza's people. Another couple hours passed, and things seemed to be thinning. The time was now....

Alessio jumped on stage and introduced us in Portugese, and Rabbi and I almost hurdled the front railing of the stage to rock. We were lions out the cage. And then....Rabbi's mic started cutting out, then mine. We switched kept it moving, and midway through the song...Zajazza's mixer began to short. Our perfectly planned and executed entry dashed, we kept it moving. Unfortunately, the story of our set was that...we spent the next hour, stopping every song, to try and fix the mics or the music from cutting out from Zajazza'a mixer. Welcome to Hip Hop. Our set was bittersweet, we gave it all we had, we never stopped, never bitched, we just spit harder, we did *every* song of the set. It had gotten so desperate, Rabbi literally did *jump* over the railing with no mic and started rapping to people in the crowd. I did my last verse as well acapella in the crowd, no music (clap...clap clap...clap).

What we thought was to be our shining moment in Porto Alegre, was anti-climatic to say the least. Zajazza's people tried to console us, and shockingly we had more then one person who stayed say how impressed they were with us, one of those people was Nego....and that is where things of us started our climb out the Valley.

Thursday-BOM JESUS

Needless to say we all were pretty low after the show. We didnt really get paid, the sound completely sabotaged our set (we figured out that the humidity in the spot, loosened the connections...their was no ventilation, and it was sticky hot...those mics and the mixer sat on the stage stewing for probably three hours after we checked them...only explanation.)and we even got flack from some drunk girl who was in the place. After coming from Passo Fundo were the love, and the energy were so positive, this was not how we wanted to continue.

Its funny though, everything happens for a reason. As I said before, Nego Prego was one of the heads that had let us know he was impressed. WE soon found out how much he was. Alessio got a call in the afternoon from Nego extending an invitation for us to come to BOM Jesus to chill with he and his crew, Ala Dos Pretos Ducorre. Dope! Alessio and Zajazza clued us in to how significant this was. Nego had to be the most respected rapper in the Favela, and was one of the most recognizable and established in Porto Alegre. He was a true O.G. going back almost twenty years repping Hip Hop. His name means "Black Nail" and Zajazza compared his narrative style to Kool G. Rap. Shit is beautiful.

Around 6ish we headed out to a gas station on the edge of BOM JESUS and the city. There Nego was to pick us up and lead us into a Favela that to his and anyone elses knowledge *no American emcees had ever set foot in.* BOM JESUS means "good Jesus" and the full name actually is BOM JESUS 470...the 470 being the bus line that runs to or through this particular Favela. Shortly after we arrrived Nego rolled up in a red ford compact car with two of his crew, one of which we learned was very much a part of a gang war that had been on going in the Favela. He would not accompany us for the whole trip, as to do so could have sparked violence (I will get into that shortly). We got in our car and off we went into Good Jesus.

It was dark, so it was hard to get good photos, and I have some great video that I will upload in a seperate update....but this is one thing, I need to make clear..the Favelas are not "City of God". Our American fabrication of the truth has proven to be so convoluted and even *dangerous* (I will get into that as well....). Imagine half hut/houses, built with corrugated roofs and open exposed brick on the insides and outsides of the homes. Electric wiring completely on the outside of the walls, makeshift run through exposed rafters. Multi level houses were the levels are completely uneven, so as you can see down into the first floor of the house. Stairs constructed of rickety, rotting wood. The roads were half cobblestone, and pavement, and full of potholes. Every building looked either incomplete or in a state of condemnation. Horses with carriages shared the street with cars and motorcycles that were too narrow to hold two at a time. This literally stretched for miles. Our first stop was at Nego friend's Caio, Bar. This was where they hung their trophies....pictures of their shows and with other famous emcees. Everyone was very excited to see us...they didnt get visitors here, and once word got out that we were American Emcees, and a French DJ, their curiousity was really piqued. Why were we here? How did Prego know us? We chilled, snapped photos, exchanged cds.Just kicked it.


We then walked through the Favela down to meet more of his crew.Besides Caio, there was the emcee KBE, who actually rode in with Nego from the Gas Station and we met Alcatraz next, who was the local Barber/emcee. Crazy how hoods parallel, just like in the states in most Black neighborhoods, the Barbers chair was were they chopped it up, gossiped, chilled. WE had a small entourage with us at that point, but we were at total ease. Here, Prego gets maximum respect. If you are cool with him. They are cool with you. Simple as that. It was here that we also met their engineer/producer Aboliaonsta. We followed him to his home which was where his studio was located. Yes, we were about to do the first US/Brazil collaboration with the biggest emcee in BOM JESUS.

Over the next ten hours, we put together the track, "Little City" which is the crown jewel for our release, the Skillz to Take Brazil Tour EP. It only took so much time because 1. We really took our time to chill, and build with Prego and his crew and 2. Technical difficulties forced Zajazza to go back to the apartment and get his computer to finish the recording. During that time I sat down and with the help of Zohio, Alessio, and Zajazza got to speak to Ala Dos Pretos Ducorre. Their name roughly translates to "Circle of Black Men" and I learned that Prego and his crew were geographically and literally in the center of a gang war between the North and the South. It was he and his crew that had brokered a truce and were keeping the peace, but their were still tensions. Prego, Caio and KBE asked me about what was really real in the states as far as the gangsta cred of people like 50 Cent, Dr. Dre etc. All I could tell him was, that much of what they saw on t.v. was more fantasy and real, and Prego's reaction was one of "I knew it".

He explained that while hip hop in the Favelas now was a way for heads to keep themselves away from the crime and violence, it was actually heads trying to copy and live up to the myths and images of American Hip Hop that spurned a lot of the early violence in the 80'S and 90's in the Favelas. One example he pointed to, was it wasnt until heads saw the movie Colors, that drive by shootings started there. Before hip hop, Samba was big in the clubs, and once hip hop took root, that was when fights and shootings happened there. Through all of this, Prego has used his music and his experience to tell the truth about what went on, and to express caution, and alternatives to the violence. He idolized Snoop Dog though, and actually first got into hip hop by listening to Ice-T off the colors soundtrack himself. It was clear though that Prego was about non violence, even if you could tell that you did not want to fuck with him. He is 5'3" pretty brolic and has a very cool, controlled demeanor. If you are in the hood enough, you can identify dudes not to fuck with...Prego is that dude. He doesnt say much, but what he says holds weight.

In the studio, the track was absolutely bonkers. Even with the extended delay, we all managed to get in their and wreck shop. As we passed around 22's of Skol, and talked it was clear that something monumental was taking place.Two worlds that really did not interact with one another were meeting. U.S. and Favela, street and non street. The common ground was the music we loved, and the truth we spoke thorugh it. Real Recognizes Real. The track consists of Rabbi, Prego, Alcatraz,Myself,Alessio,KBE,and Aboliaonsta. Prego also hipped us to more of the history of Brazilian hip hop which had its roots in the eighties with a man by the name of Nelson Triumph (translation). Here it started literally with the Funk and it moved from there.

The crew dynamic within Ala Dos Pretos Ducorre is a little different then UR$ Faundo, from a few perspectives. 1. The Circle of Black Men is older and has been in the game longer, they also are grown men with children, wives. 2. Their Favela is bigger and seems more violent, so the gravity they deal with on a day to day is reflectd in their demeanour. It was interesting to watch how Prego was the general, KBE being something like a lieutenant and Caio the Colonel. Around 5:30am we jumped back in the cars and headed out of BOM JESUS to sleep and really soak in what we were just a part of. It only gets crazier from here....we are doing a show with Nego Prego on Sunday....Skillz to Take Brazil.....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Skillz to Take Brazil tour stop: Porto alegre pt 1

I promise before I leave Brazil I will have a nice little greeting for you all in Portugese. We are lounging in Porto Alegre, where this sun soaked city hás the feel of a tropic metropolis (you like the travel agent brochure lead in?). I want to backtrack though, to our last days and nights in Passo Fundo...


The day after we tore the house down (“ A Casa Caiu”), Jiba, Noleis, and crew hosted a bbq to keep the good vibes alive. With our new found brothas from anotha, we drank, and ate cooked meat, relaying stories and learning more about each other and our respective cultures. Davi, my main man hás been invaluable as an interpretater; passing the messages of respect, love and curiousity between some of us that haven’t been as quick to grasp the language. The Brazilians eat dinner around 9-10pm here, so its been interesting adjusting to the different hours (this makes since, their day generally begins around 10-11am). What happened next to this point hás been the most inspiring and powreful event of the trip.

Imagine a cipher of emcees, with musicians, guitars, and berimbau vibing, laughing and having fun. As we took turn spitting lyrics in our native tongues, Davi broke down what his crew meant to each other, they were family first and foremost. He spoke of how he learned about hip hop through listening to people like Public Enemy, N.W.A., and this being the catalyst for him to acquire “knowledge” (of self....??? Ill let pundits, and revisionist argue that one...for the true, we know what it is....). As I interacted with the group of talented emcees, and listened to Davi break down his experiences, it was so powerful how much it mirrored my own, and what my own crew’s experiences have been as we grew in the music.

What I was reminded of, that is so lacking in the states is that hip hop is community. It is how we relate, it is how we build, it is how we get sharper as artists. It is how we maintain the love, sustain it through gathering, sharing, competing. Its not always about business, sometimes its sitting down to simply chop it up about what is going on, what is happening with each other, debate, fight, share...and that energy being channeled positively and creatively into rhythms. That is what I experienced tonight...


The next day, we woke up to a late lunch, and headed to the studio. This is where we got to experience the Favelas of Passo Fundo, which Davi said was simply called “Westside” (the Brooklyn tag in part 1 is from here...). He showed us some of the local crack spots, drug houses, and places where the gun dealer lived, a place Davi admitted he’s been to before to purchase his own piece, in times when things were a little rougher. This Favela isnt of the size or notoriety of those in Salvador, or Rio but is nonetheless poor and dangerous. Davi and others in his crew have gone to jail, others have passed from the violence. You would never know it though from their easy smiles, and Davi’s bookish demeanor. The studio was literally the renovated Bedroom of one of the crew’s producers, Paulhino aka E.T. who is all of 16 years old. Egg Crates, Foam, plywood and plexiglass; complete with mic booth. The entire crew chipped in with money and monkey grease to make it happen. UR$ Fundão, literally translates to “Union of Knowledge and Respect”. Respect Due.

Again, one of the most hip hop of moments, the studio. A fruity loops set up, and E.T. on the boards, we whipped up a couple of dope tracks in a matter of hours. Noiles came through with his guitar and it was on! Drinking water, coca cola and braving the 90 degree heat in the un-air conditioned space, we listened to beats, took pictures, laughed, and began the process to put two songs together, “Não Tem Pres Yo Não” and ‘Somos Assim”, Priceless Moments/I am like. The first song is the crew shout out, while I am like’s basic concept was each emcees response to the question, “Why am I na emcee?” These two tracks along with others Rabbi and I myself have done with Zajazza, we are putting together as “The Skillz to Take Brazil” EP. When we talk about keeping it real, this is what we mean. 20 young men, from their teens to their thirties building their own enterprise, and doing it on the foundation of their shared experiences. We were presented with t-shirts that they were sellling, the “label” is called Domtalento. You can check their music and gear here UR$ Fundao. The session lasted about 10 hours, and ended once again in a feast of sausage, and deserts, courtesy of E.T.’s mom. Its dope how UR$ Fundão translated the hip hop experience into their own. It hás been as much spiritual, and conscious as it hás been entrepenuarial and enterprising. D.I.Y. is the order of the day, and they are young and coming up..with a swiftness.


Tuesday Morning, we were off and the beautiful countryside I missed on the bus ride down I was able to experience on the return. Alessio, and Zohio made the trip, to watch us rock (and Alessio actually is going to do a couple joints with us!) We rode through a huge lush valley and rolling hills. Livestock and roosters dotted the side of the road, with a river running through. Five hours later we arrived in the city of Porto Alegre. Staying with brother of one of the crew members, Sosa hás opened his home to us. We spent the night walking the streets of Porto Alegre, drinking beer and admiring the local scene. It hás a different flavor but not unlike the East Village in New York. Things are very cheap here, so the equivalent of five bucks will get you about four beers. We hung outside and watched as people went wild for a Grêmio win (one of the two teams in the Rio Grande Sul, they recently one the South American championship, their rival Internacionale hás been a source of conention in the crew, Alessio another one of my homies here is die hard for them, and he gets constant ribbing to their “secondary” status to Grêmio.).

Today hás been walking around the city center (pictures for that and the show, coming in part 2) and soaking up more sun and the city’s rhythms as we prepare for the show at Garagem Hermeeca, tonight. Before my internet craps out again..Im out for now. Part 2 coming.