It may be that Bogotá is the capital of Colombia, but Medellín, the second-largest city in the country, is the capital of Colombian rap. Away from the big labels and thanks to the ease that technology gives to record and produce songs, many young people from slums in Medellín have been able to position themselves in the showcase global without having to invest a lot of money.
Although Medellín is now known as one of the reggaeton Meccas, there is another “urban” genre that dominates home studies in the Antioquia capital: hip-hop. The last few years have brought a wave of excellent rap paisa with beats ranging from catchy to environmental and rhyme that talk about social problems, the neighborhood, life, and much more.
For example, the boys from Alkolyrikoz, a trio from the Aranjuez neighborhood, have been doing rap for 11 years and sponsoring new rappers from the city. Although they did not release an album in 2016, they did release a new single, “Equipo de Carretera.” Their beats and samples demonstrate the group’s love for jazz, soul, and funk (in addition to its reference to the Nas classic “The World is Yours”). And in his rhymes, he reminds us of his impeccable sense of humor, his versatility, and his ability to rap as hard as anyone.
On the other hand, in Envigado, one of the Medellín suburbs, Anyone Cualkiera, Sison Beats, and Kairo One form No Rules Clan, a crew (part of the Moebiuz collective) dedicated to rapping, graffiti and promoting urban culture in general in Medellín.
In their most recent EP, Rap Nativo, from 2016, they dedicate themselves to rapping on rap’s favorite songs, which is rap itself. They talk about rhymes, beats, scratches on the walls and records, and the acronyms that they represent on various walls of Medellín, N · R · S.
Another member of Moebiuz and a native of Envigado, Zof Ziro (who allegedly assumed this alias in honor of Mortal Kombat’s Sub-Zero), released an album that was on several lists of the best Colombian music of 2016: La bomba de Ziroshima. The beats on the album are made from jazz samples and acoustic music, which gives it an ambient and introspective air. This is an atmosphere that is reflected in the lyrics from the first line of the first song, “Fatality”: “I like white days, long nights, simple sounds for bitter truths,” and that continues throughout the intricate rhymes that they follow him.
But we can’t stop there. Henry Arteaga, better known as JKE, another resident of the Aranjuez neighborhood, leads the Crew Peligrosos. JKE came to rap from b-boying, and perhaps, for this reason, he decided to open a “university” of Colombian rap in his neighborhood: 4eskuela. The school was named after the Comuna 4 of Aranjuez and the four hip-hop elements teach dance, graffiti, rapping, and DJing. These components of urban art are taught to children in the area. Crew Peligrosos’ commitment to social issues is not only seen in their efforts in the neighborhood, but it is also heard in their albums. In their most recent record, Madafunkies, their aggressive beats are mixed with lyrics about the hard life of living in the neighborhood, the social problems they face with a few tips on how to improve the experience of the community.
But perhaps one of the most discussed, criticized, and praised rappers in recent years is Crudo Means Raw. Fernando Bustamante, a New York native who grew up in Medellín, had been known primarily as a beatmaker (the producer of tracks that other artists rap about) until his 2016 album Everybody’s Got to Eat. Although Crudo had contributed to the crowd From Moebiuz on several occasions, this album takes a very different direction: deep basses, almost soulful or R&B, singing, sensual and straightforward lyrics, and a nearly baroque production, full of details and textures. Due to its deviation from the ongoing style, the album has divided the opinion of followers of Colombian rap. But perhaps this means that there is already a large and growing scene for this music.