The new generation that rhymes in Catalan
Discomplexed and sincere, they have broken with a cliché that Catalan was ignorant of within the genre. They move between professionalism and the underground and add millions of reproductions in ‘streaming’
BARCELONAIn Catalonia we have an infallible method to measure the popularity of a musician: appearing in the choral song of the Marató de TV3. In the 2020 edition there was Miki Núñez, Antonio Orozco, Els Catarres, Nina and Dyango. And Lildami, conclusive proof that urban music in Catalan has definitively entered the collective imagination of the masses. It has taken almost twenty-five years to stop thinking of local rhyme as an anecdote and to start thinking about a scene that is still incipient, but with a promising future. It's a question of normality: if young people from all over the world are asking for urban the native language has to take its rightful place. The wind is blowing in our favour, but the key is the emergence of a number of young, talented and uninhibited musicians who have made a splash. These are the key facts and names of the past, present and future of music in Catalan.
It is not known exactly when the first rappers appeared here, as there were no American military bases in Catalonia, as there were in Torrejón de Ardoz, where historically hip hop has been geolocated in the Peninsula. In the early eighties, BZN was the first group with some impact, but the album that changed everything dates from 1997 Hecho es simple by 7 Notas 7 Colores, the album that put Catalan rap into orbit. At the end of the nineties the national scene exploded thanks to groups that are still referents today: Sólo los Solo, Violadores del Verso, SFDK or ToteKing, then in La Alta Escuela. They were the golden generation of rap in Spanish, the seed of everything that came later.
Not only did the bands multiply, but also the clubs, discotheques and specialised shops. In Catalonia there were some very popular and talented MCs (Mucho Muchacho, Ari, Juan Solo, Payo Malo, Zemo) but there was no one who dared to use the language of the country. Even though Tomeu Penya had already made Taxi rap in 1992, it was just before entering the new millennium that the first rap in Catalan of any significance was recorded Jo no soc polac by El Disop.
The song was received with some mockery, because of the message and the language. Without assessing its quality, it is a moment in which the Catalan language suffers from a lack of credibility. That example didn't spread in the short term, but ten years after that song, which everyone laughed at, there was already a certain movement: Porta, El Nota, Metro, Vazili, Rapsodes, El Gordo del Puru and, above all, AtVersaris. The duo formed by Pau Llonch and Rodrigo Laviña was the key to show the new generation that it was possible to make quality rap in Catalan, with concision and swagger, having the same tour as any other pop band and performing on the best stages in the country. The fuse was lit, it only needed to explode. And this happened four days ago, coinciding with the hegemony of urban music in the world.
"The visibility and the media spotlight was given by the P.A.W.N. Gang: they were innovative and attracted attention, because they broke away from everything we were used to", says Mr. Chen, one of the key names of the movement. Rap based on the nineties was fading everywhere, the youth kept asking for it, but also trap, reggaeton, dancehall. In this sense, the appearance of the P.A.W.N. Gang in 2011 makes them practically the first state reference of what is called urban: not only are they direct precursors of the best representatives of today's urban music in Catalan, they were also of stars at a state level, such as Cecilio G, Kinder Bad and Skinny Pimp.
Then, on April 11th 2016, a teenager from Maresme posted the first song on her YouTube channel. It was in Catalan, it was called Pai and it was played over the instrumental of Work by Rihanna. The singer was Bad Gyal.
A new star
It's bold to say that there is a consolidated urban music scene - the term that has ended up encompassing the genres rap, trap, reggaeton or dancehall - in our language. There is a lack of defining characteristics to get there, but there is undoubtedly greener grass in this direction: it is becoming increasingly common and natural for singers to use Catalan as a vehicle for their work. "It already has its own slang, just like English or Spanish", explained Bad Gyal in an interview with ARA. It's been an ant's work, but if a decade ago there were the normalizers (At Versaris) and five years ago the dynamizers (P.A.W.N. Gang), now we have a star: Lildami.
"I've been fighting for half my life to get here", explains Damià Rodríguez, Lildami's real name, who at the age of twenty-seven is the great reference of the genre in the country. The key? Not to put up any barriers: "I'm happy and I feel very loved, but human beings have a lot of greed, and everything gets small too quickly", he says. Rodríguez organizes big festivals, sings the song of the summer on TV3 and collects millions of streams on streaming platforms. But in 2017 he was already competing in the final of the Sona9 contest with new talents. Two years later came his moment, with Flors mentre visqui (Halley Records, 2019), which contained a couple of singles that catapulted him Pau Gasol y La dels Manel. "In six months everything exploded: it went from being absolutely local to being everywhere", he recalls.
Martí Mora, Mr. Chen, was the producer of that album: "There was a vacuum in the industry. When we appeared we were in danger of being the anecdote, but it didn't happen, more groups have formed, we created a precedent". Lildami's success has not been an oasis and today the panorama is wider than ever: Santa Salut, El Noi de Tona, Lil Russia, Will.x.o, Lauren Nine, Yung Rajola and Baya Baye are some of the most popular. And in addition to the new generation, we must add a group of names that work with the rhyme despite moving through other circuits: Zoo, JazzWoman, Pupil-les, Tribade or Extraño Weys.
"We needed people to make music in Catalan with a clear conscience. This is happening now because there are already referents", explains Chen, at the helm of his solo project, with which he has just published How not to make a trio. These references from which to start building are already there: accompanying Lildami there are a number of groups working with the same professionalism, such as 31 FAM, Flashy Ice Cream and The Tyets.
The 31 HAMBRE, from Sabadell, achieved in 2018 the aspiration of every band with a popular will: to have a generational anthem that coincided with their cover letter. Sincero added millions of listeners, quickly and coming from the strict underground. The Vallès crew, which successfully embraces the entire urban spectrum - trap, reggaeton, R & B - has just released Jetlag, their third album. Also coming from the capital of Vallès, Flashy Ice Cream, a combo made up of DAAX, P.Giancana, Sneaky Flex and C.Turú, debuted withBrillar o morir two years ago. Today his rise seems unstoppable.
If the two groups from Sabadell are direct debtors of PXXR Gvng and Mac Miller, the fourth leg, if we pay attention to numbers and popularity, are The Tyets, a duo that does not hesitate to directly embrace mass pop, collaborating with Els Amics de les Arts and Ferran Palau and opting for texts with space for positivity and the most uncomplicated party.
The future is feminine
As we reach 2021, with a good number of projects underway, the differences are no longer so much about gender and nuance as they are about the degree of professionalism. There are already groups with record contracts and recording in studios with resources, but at the same time there are more and more homemade projects growing from the margins. Among these are the girls of the women artists' collective El Pecado Records, a self-managed label with a gender and class consciousness. Two singers who have seen their presence on stages and in the media grow exponentially in the last year stand out: Cooba and Queency. Together or separately, and from total amateurism, they started making music inspired by names like La Zowi, P.A.W.N. Gang, Lildami and, obviously, Bad Gyal. "It took her spark to make them think about language. For us it was a great example: that of a girl, making songs in Catalan and with no economic resources behind her", explains Cooba. Their formula holds no secrets: having a strong presence on social networks, being committed to political and social issues and, above all, making songs with and for their friends: "I understand underground music as something that makes us free", explains Francina Gorina (Queency), the one who has accumulated more media exposure and offers to take the next step to professionalization. "I've turned them down, for the moment I want to continue recording at home and playing concerts with my mates".
Time will tell if the girls of Sin will end up appearing in the Marató song with Nina. Or not, but it seems clear that to start enjoying something similar to a scene, new steps must be taken. There's talent and there's an audience. What's missing? Possibly industry. "We need to have a label ourselves. People who care, pamper and love the genre". Mr. Chen says it and he is not wrong. We will wait expectantly.