Combining diasporic rhythms that informed his upbringing in the favela and the type of worldly instrumentation encountered in a mega-city like São Paulo, native son Criolo has penned what could be the definitive paulistano hip hop album. Nó Na Orelha is equal parts rap, soul, reggae, and samba, and takes you from the gritty periphery to the grimy Centro and back again, rooting you in a specific city but submerging you in a broader, transbordered urban culture.
Funky, Afrobeat-infused ‘Bogotá’ opens the album, inviting you to accompany Criolo on a trans-Amazonian trafficking run. Jazzy ‘Mariô’ echoes the sounds of Salvador and Dakar, with its call-and-response choruses over cuíca and upright bass. Brooklyn-tinged ‘Grajauex’ and oriental-flavoured ‘Lion Man’ are the only hardcore head-boppers on the album, harkening back to Criolo’s roots as chronicler of South Zone street life. And even the closing track, ‘Linha de Frente,’ a true Sampa samba, speaks of hard city living, with nary a hazy view of Copacabana in sight.
As much a singer as a rapper, Criolo’s no Barry White, but his voice is soulful, wavering with emotion, both in suggestively androgynous ballads like ‘Freguês da Meia Noite’ and in the solemn ‘Não Existe Amor em SP,’ with its haunting lyric: ‘Aqui, ninguém vai pro céu’ (‘Here, no one goes to heaven’). Amen.