Whitewashing Brazilian Hip Hop: Do white rappers have a responsibility to recognize “the struggle” and the privileges their skin color brings?

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Whitewashing Brazilian Hip Hop: Do white rappers have a responsibility to recognize “the struggle” and the privileges their skin color brings?

By Marques Travae

A few weeks back, an article on this blog addressed the issue of the difference there is for black and white rappers to make it financially in Brazil’s rap game. When we look at these differences that go on behind the scenes, we have to wonder why it is that it seems that black rappers have to struggle a lot longer for the dedication to their art to pay off. This question of the black rapper struggling to survive in the industry is especially pertinent when we consider that Hip Hop in Brazil, as in the United States, is historically connected to the struggle blacks have in attaining equality in a racist society that has long excluded them. Rap groups and artists such as Racionais MCs, Sabotage, MV Bill, DMN and RZO developed reputations for educating black youth about the realities of being black in Brazil. This responsibility of bringing a certain consciousness to the black masses continues today in artists such as Rincon Sapiência, who freely accepts this commitment. According to Rincon, “The work of rap has been well done all over the world, with years of relevancy in the music market, not only rap but also música preta (black music) in general.”

Rincon Sapiência
Rincon Sapiência

So then what happens when white artists start moving into the territory of Hip Hop and taking the music into a more pop direction that makes the genre become more accessible to social classes that have once seen the sound as a thing “of the blacks” or music “of the poor” or marginals of society? White rappers, many coming from more privileged social classes, more often don’t have this connection with “the struggle”. And further, often don’t have a struggle attaining success and being able to support themselves in the genre. Is this a case of “stealing” a place that should be and was once held down by black artists? Singer Negra Li recently provoked controversy when she made this point about “The King” of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

The issue of cultural appropriation and whites finding more success in art forms created by blacks can also be applied to Brazil. In a recent edition of the Lollapalooza Brasil concert, three rap artists were featured on the bill: Haikaiss, G-Eazy and Criolo. Of the three, only Crioulo is black. Again, similar to the situation in the US, middle-class whites in Brazil have always been consumers of Hip Hop, but they have also been making strides in the creation of the music. The number of followers on the YouTube channels of white rappers compared to that of black rappers is yet another example of the identity politics I wrote about in the Negra Li/Elvis Presley article. Based on identity politics, whites are more likely to support artists who look like them. In Brazil, it’s no different.

Haikaiss
Haikaiss

Going beyond the actual production of Hip Hop, Rincon Sapiência points out a problem when middle-class whites, having completely different social backgrounds than the black originators of the art form, enter the game.

“Whites come from a privileged social class, do not have certain engagements. Sometimes they end up bringing a reading that is not hip-hop. White people don’t have a preparation, a knowledge to enter into the culture. It’s the same thing as me wanting to teach kung fu.”

Costa Gold
Costa Gold

The aforementioned white rap acts Haikaiss and Costa Gold have been successful in bringing more whites into the ranks of fans of Hip Hop but without recognizing the struggle of black Brazilians in social structure as a whole as well as within the music industry trying to make a living on a black art form. “When there is a demand on the racial issue, few of them have the good sense to give in and recognize privileges,” said Rincon.

Further elaborating on his perspective, Rincon acknowledges that white rappers aren’t lacking in skills, but in typical Brazilian fashion, few will admit the privileges that white skin brings in helping them attain a certain level of success that is often elusive and more times than not, takes much longer for black artists to achieve.

“They are competent, yes, that can’t be denied, but the privilege of being white and middle class in Brazil makes them reach things much more easily. I’m an example of this. At 31 years old and releasing my first album. It was not that break for me to be in college with my parents paying the bill and turning and saying ‘I’m going to drop out of college to rap.’ Believing in the work I was professionalizing myself gradually and overcoming obstacles,” he explained.

In essence what we see are the privileges that whiteness brings in the society as a whole continuing into the world of Hip Hop, a space where one would think black artists would have an advantage. But in the same manner that two people with the same credentials applying for a job can either advance or be left behind simply based on skin color, the same factors can come into play when the time comes to break down the profits, popularity and exposure in Hip Hop.

Now, I’m not saying that Brazilian Hip Hop will become completely whitewashed, but I am saying that the pattern is unmistakable. In the 1930s and 1940s, Samba was considered music of lowlife malandros, a “coisa do negro” (black thing), but seeing an opportunity to promote a national culture, Brazil’s elites commercialized it and made it a uniting symbol of Brazilian culture. In the mid to late 1950s, largely white, middle class musicians from Rio, took the Brazilian Samba and mixed it with American Jazz, two black art forms, and created Bossa Nova, a more sophisticated sound for middle class and foreign consumption. In the 90s, Funk Carioca began to emerge in the mostly black favelas of Rio de Janeiro it was dismissed as trash, vulgar, violent and in fact, “not even music”. Today, upper-middle class neighborhoods partake in the funk in ritzy clubs frequented mostly by whites that charge prices that mostly exclude black favela residents who come from the same regions where this music originated.

In the 1940s, Samba musicians faced often times violent repression by government authorities. In the 1990s, rappers were associated with criminal elements of the society. In 2017, there was a bill introduced that would actually criminalize the funk. But it seems that as whites get more and more involved in these genres, the sounds become more “acceptable”.

Is rap music in Brazil going in this same direction?

Well, consider the words of veteran singer/songwriter Fernanda Abreu commenting on her introducing elements of funk into her repertoire:

“It’s necessary that a middle-class white come to legitimize the manifestation of the favela. My role was this, the white girl who came to say that this is cool, just as Chico Buarque did with the samba.”

Really? Well, it seems that the old adage remains true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

About Marques Travae 3033 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

8 Comments

  1. Whitewashing black music and culture has been going on for DECADES. Most of the music that Black people created has a white face on it now and is completely monetized by Whites. Soul,r&b,rock,jazz and even country were originated by Black people and today it’s mostly White artists who are capitalizing and making millions off these genres. Capoeira has even been Whitewashed and there are even White people who have opened up Capoeira schools in the US and most of the students are White as well. If Black people don’t want their culture appropriated, then we need to stop giving it away to other Whites and other non Black people. Plain and simple.

    • black people worldwide are damn idiots and traitors,,,they are selling out their birthright,,,soon there will be nothing left for black people but hopelessness

      • not true. It is the African way to create things and then inspire others to copy it…….. It happened with the notion of Civilization itself (Nile Valley), writing, morality, religion (Christianity and Judaism are adaptations of Nile Valley religion………….

        just about Every music form in the New World is a product of the Blacks: hip hop, ragtime, rock n roll, hard rock, metal, pop, jazz, blues, country, RnB, dancehall, reggae, reggeaton, salsa, bachata, rumba, samba, tango (an african word), negro spirituals, merengue,…………..etc. It is acknowledged that hiphop culture is now GLOBAL youth culture and dancehall is not far behind.

        This process will never end………………the one thing Blacks can work harder on is monetizing their product so that they benefit more.

  2. In the case of hiphop in Brazil its way different than what we have in the US. Black people in Brazil are at least 100 years behind blacks in US or the UK. There are no major black record labels. Individualism is a big problem with the few successful black people in Brazil. They seem not to care to see other black people succeed or mentor the young black youth in entrepreneurship. There are big household name black artist in Brazil who should by now own record labels with strong Afro-Brazilian following but are just contempt with the level of what they have. Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Russel Simons, P. Diddy put a lot of big artist on the map globally today. And from this few people several other record labels sprung up. Hip-hop grew so much between 1990 and now. Who are the Dr. Dre’s of hiphop in Brazil? Who is going to sacrifice for them to have a Brazilian BET so that the black artist can get better airplay? I’m a foreigner and started a website just to focus on giving news and updates on the international black culture. – http://www.oinegro.com.br. I hope to spread the international viewpoint of hiphop culture for Brazilian audience.

    • Hi there. I understand what you think on this topic because I once thought this way as well. But the situation in the US is much deeper than you think. The Dres, Simmons, Diddys are allowed to have such success for a very specific reason. I understand what it looks like but there’s much more to the story than you think. The same for BET, which is no longer black owned but after you discocer the truth you night conclude that it doesn’t even matter…Can’t expand on this one right now but there’s far more to the story than you think….

      • For the case of BET I believe it was largely depended on the business model and change of interest of the original founder. I will like to have further chat with you Marques if there is a way we could have a chat. I’m in Brazil and have some ideas that could benefit us both mutually. You can shoot me a message via @oinegro on instagram or twitter. I didn’t want to leave my email publicly for fear of exposure to spam bots.

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