Decades of hard-edged tracks exalting the brutality of life on the streets has made rap a typically male-dominated genre all over the world. But just as it has done elsewhere, the game is changing in Brazil. The hip hop scene here has been benefiting from a woman’s touch, drawing on deeper and more diverse inspirations than those found at street level, and with no fear of showing a wider range of emotions than a palette of anger and posturing.
Rappers like Flora Matos, Karol Conká and MC Stefanie are emerging names who fuse the rhythm’s US roots with just the right amount of Brazilianness – and femininity. And in the rapidly developing scene, the paulistana MC Lurdez da Luz is one of the definite standouts.
Currently preparing to release the video for her new single ‘Levante’ with a show at Cine Joia on 22 June, da Luz is hoping it will help consolidate her place as a respected voice on the hip hop scene.
Finding her voice
It’s been a long journey to get here. It started in 1998, when what she saw as a shift in US hip hop inspired her to venture into music, and she got down to the business of crafting her own rhymes.
‘I wanted to produce music,’ she says, ‘but I didn’t have the courage, because the scene was so restrictive. When I discovered that in the US underground rap scene people were talking about other issues, and that the music was much more mixed, I decided it was time I made some music myself.’
On her first, eponymous solo album in 2010, Lurdez drew on issues related to her birthplace, the neighbourhood of Luz, in the centre of São Paulo. Steeped in Brazilian history, the area is also part of her personal history: she even takes her artistic name from the bairro, calling herself Lurdez da Luz (Lurdez from Luz).
The troubled downtown neighbourhood still influences her work today. ‘At first, I just wrote to have the chance to describe my community, which is poor and in decline,’ she says. ‘The first song I ever wrote was specifically about São Paulo’s Centro, and my feelings about growing up there.’
Despite her initial insecurity, these days Luz positively exudes confidence on stage and in the studio. But she admits that in order to do well, you have to know how to set aside any childish tendencies. ‘We (Brazilian female rappers) have a strong male energy. Our way of singing is feminine, but you have to have a certain masculinity in the attitude behind it. Style isn’t just the clothes – wearing a little dress on stage – it’s the way you command the public.’
The new style
One of the main differences between male and female rappers is often their choice of topics, and da Luz is no different. Love turns up frequently in her verses: ‘Rap music made by women is less about the streets in that sense – it doesn’t talk about the male universe but instead considers female emotions.’
Originality and fun are an essential part of what she’s doing, she says: ‘The main players in the female rap scene bring a new sound – our musicianship is more upbeat and less orthodox,’ Lurdez says. These characteristics of female hip hop, she says, help to attract a wider audience for the style in general; but it doesn’t hurt that her own tracks are backed by rock-steady beats.
As for the future of her career, da Luz is determined to make her mark in Brazilian music. ‘Artistically, I’m very anxious. Any time I see that the game is being won in a certain way, I look to do it differently. I want to continue creating relevant music, that has real importance in Brazilian rap.’
And now I'd like to pass the mic ...
Lurdez gives a shout out to the other girls who are, in her opinion, big names – or should be
Flora Matos: ‘She has an amazing and powerful voice. Her melodies stay in your head for days. She’s most definitely a star.’ With the album Flora Matos X Stereodubs, the rapper from Brasília has became one of the most buzzed-about artists in the genre.
Karol Conká: ‘This Curitiba-based rapper brings a light-heartedness – a fun spirit that was completely missing in rap. She’s bold and daring in the way she uses her beats, and she’s extremely charismatic. You just can’t help but fall in love with the girl.’
MC Stefanie: ‘The first rap made by a woman that I ever memorised was MC Stefanie’s song “Minha Parte”. I knew some day we’d do something together, so I invited her to guest on my song “Andei”, and we made a classic together. She’s really down to earth.’