Friday, July 22, 2011

Dreams Come True: an interview with Marcelo D2

Photo credit: Washington Possato

Marcelo tells it like this: I was here in New York two times last summer, at the beginning of Summer Stage and at the end. I saw Public Enemy, which was great. And I saw Gil Scott-Heron, who is a huge influence on me. He's since passed, but at the time of the show he was very old, bem velinho! He was playing up there, and the whole band was very old! They were all friends of his, you know? It was so powerful that I cried. I actually cried. I was so moved. I thought: I want to have done something like this my life, in my career. Making music with my friends, playing at Summer Stage. That's my dream.

And now, Marcelo D2 is about to realize his dream this Sunday at Summer Stage in Central Park. And I got to realize one of my dreams, too: interviewing Marcelo D2, the father of hip hop do samba

Although I was already familiar with Marcelo's music, I still felt the need to pull an all-nighter in preparation for the interview. After six happy hours of intensely watching YouTube videos and studying his lyrics, I developed some of my own ideas and observations about Marcelo's evolution as an artist. I couldn't wait to get answers to all of my questions.

To date, Brazilian rapper, Marcelo D2, has five studio albums to his name, produced between 1998 and 2009. Eu Tiro É Onda (1998), was his first solo project after his rise to fame with punk/rap group, Planet Hemp. But instead of continuing to advocate in his lyrics for the legalization of marijuana, Marcelo, in Eu Tiro, and in his following album, Á Procura Da Batida Perfeita (Searching for the Perfect Beat) (2003), makes strong, consistent statements about family, rootedness, and respect for elders. 

Those themes comes from samba. Samba carries this. Samba and rap seem very similar to me, because they both come from the ghetto. There's something simple about the songs [from these two genres]: malandragem (streetsmarts). But rap is more direct, and samba, more poetic. And I love that about samba, so I like to make rap in that way.

Lodeando - Marcelo D2 and his son Stephan

Together, his first two albums cement what I would think of as Marcelo's brand: hip hop do samba, hip hop with a samba beat. I also associate Marcelo with Á Procura Da Batida Perfeita, the name of his second album, but also his noble pursuit of musical perfection. Marcelo stresses that the learning that comes from this never-ending search is far more important than money or anyone else's definition of success.

Á Procurda Da Batida Perfeita

If anything, there isn't enough Á Procura in Marcelo's third and fourth studio albums. In Meu Samba é Assim (2006) and Arte Do Braulho (2008), Marcelo's lyrics become progressively more materialistic. He raps about fame and fortune rather than about a success defined by his noble search. The song, "Desabafo," on Arte Do Braulho and on the Fast Five soundtrack, is an exception, however, where Marcelo stays true to his original brand of incorporating samba and traditional music into his rap. 

There is something that makes me so happy about making music, making rap, and that is reviving old songs. I have a song called "Desabafo". The singer, Claudia, [with whom I collaborated,] hadn't released anything in 30 years. After our song exploded, she returned to singing and recording. That's my vision: to take Brazilian music and show people how much great stuff there is from the past. There's a saying: "Olhando pro passado mas sem medo do futuro" (Looking into the past without fear of the future). To do something new, but with all due respect to the past. That's what I want to do.

Desabafo/Deixa Eu Dizer - Marcelo D2 and Claudia

When I started listening to the tracks on Marcelo's fifth and most recent studio album, Canta Bezerra da Silva (2009), I have to say I was shocked. Until my late-night interview prep-session, I hadn't heard a single song from this album. The hip hop do samba guy had completely dropped the hip hop to cover songs by the traditional samba composer, Bezerra da Silva. For a little while, Marcelo even ditched his hip hop get-up of a baseball hat and t-shit for the traditional samba look of a fedora and short sleeved button-up. It seemed to me like a complete transformation.

The hip hop people said 'Whoa, what happened to the hip hop (Cadei o hip hop)?' I don’t think the album changed anything, though. I wouldn’t have done a samba album had it not been a tribute to Bezerra. It was a tribute. Just that. It’s not going to be my next path. I did this album only because it was so special for me. Bezerra gave me tips about samba and mixing it with hip hop. He was so important to Á Procura da Batida Perfeita. I wanted to show people the affection I have for him. I have a lot of fans who are kids, and I think it’s cool to show them his influence on me and the respect I have for him.

So what could Marcelo D2 possibly be working on now? In his next album, will he return to the music that jumpstarted his solo career or will he throw his fans another curve ball?

The album I’m working on now is international. I’ve already done so much, always Brazilian music. The next step is to bring more collaborators from outside Brazil to this project. To get these people to sing Brazilian music, too. I think by partnering with more foreign artists, I’ll get to share Brazilian music with an even wider audience. I want to invite some American rappers. There’s a new generation of American rap: Curran$y, Smoke DZAStalleyThe Cool Kids.They are saying such cool things, really contemporary. I love it. And not only rap people. Also Esperanza Spalding and Erika Badu. I want to do a bunch of work with European artists, too. I’ve worked with international artists a few times in the past, but I want to concentrate all of it in this one album. I want it to be an album that has a universal language, that is universally understood. I’ve played in 23 countries. I want this album to arrive in these countries and I want people to see how much they’ve influenced me and my music.

What else should you know?
  • Marcelo hopes to release his next album on November 5th as a 44th birthday present to himself. (My birthday is just two days later, so I'll consider the album a birthday gift to me, too.)
  • He's already wrapped up a collaboration with 
    Ponto de Equilíbrio (two songs and two videos), and the fruit of their labor should drop in the next month.
  • He's also making at least two other videos while he's in New York.
It was such a tease to hear how excited Marcelo is for his new project, when I know I have to wait until November for his full album. But Sunday's Summer Stage performance is only two days away! I am touched to have learned how meaningful this performance will be for Marcelo, less than one year after Gil Scott-Heron, who inspired this Brazilian rapper to perform in Central Park in the first place, passed away. The show is chock full of other mini-milestones, as well. Brazilian rocker, Pitty, will be performing for the first time in New York after her first U.S. show in Miami today. After years of informal jam sessions, Bebel Gilberto will perform with Marecelo D2 for the first time in front of a live audience. And finally, Marcelo's 19 year-old-son, Stephan, will also make an appearance in Sunday's show.

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