Brazil is best known for its samba, batucada, forro and increasingly electronic beats such as baile funk. It does, however, house a lesser known rich historical and exciting future hip hop scene, or ‘hippy hoppy’ as they so wonderfully phrase it in Portuguese.

Brazilian hip hop was first born in urban Sao Paulo and Brasilia in the early 80s, coming to life in the favela street parties where DJs played American funk and soul records to the largely Afro-Brazilian crowds. This created a platform for the early hip hop tracks and the music developed as a result of political, social and racial issues. The lyrical content tends to be highly politicized and scornful of the more US-style lyrics that glamourise drugs, sex and violence, subjects the baile funk scene is lyrically closer to.

As with a lot of music, its interpretation differed depending on the place. Rio fed off the electronic feel of Afrika Bambaataa which paved the way for the Miami bass and baile funk scene, whilst in Sao Paulo the more rootsy style of Grandmaster Flash was more popular. It was not until around 1987 that rappers and DJs joined forces with graffiti artists and B-boys to create a hip-hop ‘movement’ with socially oriented objectives.

In the early days of hip hop the commercial music industry in Brazil showed little interest in the movement so the producers and rappers tended to contruct their own channels to distribute their work. Initially this involved the establishment of an infrastructure of performance venues and means of production but has more recently led into social networking on the internet. The scene has, historically and for the mostpart, been founded on a sense of unia˜o (unity) and as a positive force in regard to African heritage.

The pace and complexity of Brazilian hip hop can make it a challenge for anyone unfamiliar with the Portuguese language. Add to that the fact that the lyrical content is so localised, this can go a way to explaining why it has previously struggled to make a large impact in the international arena. There are also some social barriers within Brazil where people can percieve hip hop, as with baile funk, as uncivilised and uncultured.


Nowadays the hip hop scene has shifted from the suburbs into the mainstream and as in other parts of the world is a strong influence on youth street culture. With a focus on the four main elements: rapping, beats, graffiti and street/break-dancing, it has has given the youth an ideology and sense of belonging that transcends much further than the music itself. Much of the music celebrates and calls attention to the vast swathes of Brazil that tend to be ignored and left behind, despite the country’s current economic boom.

There’s a change every day. Every day it’s a new age, but it depends what street you’re on. And I invite you to walk to the streets. If you go, even to the neighborhoods that appear to be completely forgotten by mankind, you can see an absurd evolution — people maintaining their own dignity, and though they don’t have the material resources, they’re teaching us what it means to be creative, they are doing amazing things.” Criolo.

Rapper Emicida said in the LA Times, “We used to be able to buy pirated copies of ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ from the street dealers around the community… But English is a much more monosyllabic language than Portuguese, so you [English speakers] can find different lyrical solutions whereas we have to employ some more clever subterfuges… Our poetry is different, but the themes were the same: the ghetto, the margins of society, drugs, violence, ascendance.”

“Violence, violence is reality of the street, the nonsense of people starving to death, that is violence” Xis.

A new social movement started to come out of the hip hop scene in the 90s, which involved working with youths from the favelas to keep them out of trouble and away from the pursuasive drug lords. Mr Bongo worked with the group Afro Reggae whose documentary Favela Rising details their amazing story. The non-profit orgnaization formed in 1993, uses hip hop and reggae, alongside Brazilian dance, to offer kids an alternative, positive focus.

In 2003, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture helped ease some of the obstacles from Brazilian hip hop musicians by creating grants for community groups to promote the arts and self-expression amongst the more underprivileged sectors of society. The ‘Culture Points Program’ has led to the creation of projects dedicated to the development of the art form, allowing greater exposure and creativity.



Most early rap of the 80s was strucutred as stripped-down beats from drum machines, occasional scratch sequences and basic bass lines. As producers became more informed they began to explore more into the world of hip-hop aesthetics.

In 1988, Hip hop, cultura de rua (Hip hop, street culture) was the first compilation album to be released. Featuring artists such as Thaide, it marked a turning point in the scene. One of Sao Paolo’s first MCs, Thaide cut his teeth in the freestyling and beatboxing events that took place outside the legendary Sao Bento station. Working with DJ Hum, the pioneering duo had many hits over the next decade.

Also in 1988, the group Racionais MCs was formed. Hailing from São Paulo, they were set to become one of the most dominant forces of the Brazilian hip hop scene. Their tone was energetic and revolutionary and focused on the everyday struggles for young men in the favela. By the early 90s their concerts regularly drew crowds of over 10,000, despite being generally ignored by the mainstream cultural tastemakers – radio, TV and record labels. Their classic albums of the early 90s Holocausto Urbano and Raio-X are legendary. They are set to release a comeback album in 2013.


By the mid-1990s many Brazilian rappers began to experiment with the fast, bombastic delivery and perfomance similar to early Busta Rhymes and Public Enemy.

Groups such as Sistema Racional (Rational System) and Xis 34 promoted positive thought as a way of life. Sistema Racional reworked the legendary hip hop mantra of west siders RZO “that’s the way it is” (assim que e) into “it should be like this” (e´ assim que tem que ser).

Racionais MC’s finally broke through into the mainstream in 1993 spreading hip hop culture from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to the further reaches of Brazil. A multitude of new hip-hop groups were formed on the back of this: Cambio Negro and GOG (Brasília), Faces do Subúrbio and Sistema X (Recife), Da Guedes (Porto Alegre) and Black Soul (Belo Horizonte). During the mid 1990s there was also a wave of popular bands that mixed hip hop with rock and other musical styles, including Planet Hemp with the famous rapper Marcelo D2 as front man and Nação Zumbi.

1998, Racionais MCs released the album Sobrevivendo no Inferno (Surviving in Hell). The album sold over a million copies and is considered by many to be the most important Brazilian hip hop album ever. Following this massive success, the record companies finally recognized the commercial potential of Brazilian hip-hop. This moment opened up the gates to other artists, the main ones being: Z’África Brasil, Sabotage, De Menos Crime and Kamau (São Paulo) and MV Bill, BNegão and Rappin ‘Hood (Rio). MC Rappin’ Hood was one of the first to rap over an old classic samba track, a trend that became more popular later on.

Hailing from Niteroi, the duo Black Alien and Speed were one of the most influential groups of the late 90s and early 00s. They rapped over the new baile funk beats which were becoming increasingly popular. Mr Bongo picked up one of their tracks Quem Que Cagetou which was then used in a Nissan advert and remixed by Fatboy Slim.



Another of Mr Bongo’s hip hop artists, Marcelo D2, started out in the popular rap/rock band Planet Hemp and decided to go solo in the late 90s. He began experimenting with rapping over old-school samba beats. He worked with the legendary Beastie Boys producer Mario Caldato and the results were slick and extremely popular and led him to record six studio albums over the next decade. Unlike many of his Sao Paulo predesessors, MD2 stayed away from themes about street life and violence and leaned towards samba and Brazilian culture. One of his best known hits A Procura da Batida Perfeita (Looking for the Perfect Beat) used elements of the Afrika Bambaataa track of the same name. MD2 has since become a big name nationally and internationally, appearing on Brazilian Big Brother and working with Sergio Mendes and MTV in the US.

Moving into the 21st Century, in 2000 Sabotage had a massive hit with his album Rap é Compromisso. Growing up on the drug-ridden streets of Sao Paulo he met an untimely and violent death in 2003 which shook the foundations of the Brazilian hop hop scene for a long time.

The biggest female rapper to date is Brasilia’s Flora Matos. She worked with Emicida on her 2009 album Flora Matos vs Stereodubs which is a samba-influenced collection of jazzy rhymes and hooks. There are many more lady MCs coming through nowadays so watch this space…


Criolo has been involved in the Brazilian hip hop scene for 20 years but has only recently been given the recognition he deserves as one of the most important musicians in Brazil today. His 2011 album Nó na Orelha is a wonderful combination of poetic hip hop, samba, jazz, soul and reggae and tackles the sociopolitical issues prevelant in Sao Paulo as well as his own disadvantaged youth. He sold 650,000 official downloads in the last year which is huge for someone who does not have a major behind him and indiciates his steady rise to the top in Brazil and internationally.

One of the first rappers to cause a real stir on the internet with the breakthrough hit Triunfo was Emicida whose name is a fusion of the words Emcee and Homicide. Also born and raised in Sao Paulo, his impromtu battle-style has won him a huge YouTube following. A booking at Coachella Festival in 2011, involvement in the Vice Creator’s Project and the soundtrack for the new Max Payne 3 game, mean things are heading worldwide for this young rapper.

Slightly lesser-known than Criolo and Emicida but increasingly prominent is OGI. Of Brazilian and Japanese descent he started the group Contrafluxo. His 2011 album Crônicas da Cidade Cinza (Tales from the Grey City) was composed of 90 song-stories portraying life in Sao Paulo.

The most contemporary sounding hip hop artist comes from Belo Horozonte in the Brazilian interior. Flavio Renegado raps over gritty basslines and surf-rock guitars and his song Minha Tribo é o Mundo (The World is My Tribe) is his anthem.

Brazilian rapper Marcello Silva left Rio de Janeiro in 2011 to spend a few months in New York City. The idea was to take his references and ideas born from Brazilian hip hop and blend them with the NYC sound. This resulted in a new name Dughettu and an album titled BPM021, in collaboration with Redbull.

The MTV Music Awards in Brazil had until recently been the domain of mainstream pop and bland generic boy bands. But 2011 saw a shift with an appearance by Emicida, whose political performance touched on slavery and the workers movement’s land-invasion. Later Caetano Veloso joined Criolo on stage and sang along to his big hit Love Does Not Exist In São Paulo thus confirming the rappers place in Brazilian music history. Emicida and Criolo won all the keys awards on the night proving Brazil’s long-marginalized rap community are finally pushing their way into the spotlight.

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