Portuguese American Journal

Ricardo Farinha: Four Decades of Portuguese Hip-Hop – Interview

By Jeremy Klemin

For as long as Ricardo Farinha can remember, hip-hop has been a part of his life. The neighborhood of Queluz, in the Lisbon metropolitan area, where Farinha grew up, has been a musical hotbed for decades, and his parents were also huge fans, often playing the latest hits around the house. Farinha had always liked writing, so when it came time for university, journalism was a natural fit. He had never intended to become a music journalist, but shortly after graduating, he was already writing regularly for Portuguese publications like NiT and Rimas e Batidas. He also occasionally reports on the scene for English-language publications.

Portuguese hip-hop mixes native sounds with influences from the US, UK, Brazil, and Lusophone Africa, among other places. The scene is not large—it can’t be, in a country of only 10 million people—but its blend of influences makes it distinct from other European countries. Recognizing this, Farinha embarked on an ambitious task: a book on Portuguese hip-hop that would trace its history and highlight the most important names. At 416 pages, Hip-hop Tuga – Quatro Décadas de RAP is a staggering work of journalism. But the book is more than just thorough. Replete with photos, it also manages to capture the scene’s vibrancy.

In this interview for the Portuguese American Journal, Farinha talks about Portuguese hip-hop and his trajectory as a writer. His new book, Hip-hop Tuga – Quatro Décadas de RAP, was published last November by Penguin Random House Portugal.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Portuguese hip-hop and how it has evolved?

A. At the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s, rap in Portugal was still somewhat invisible, but this was when the first generation of Portuguese hip-hop artists began to form, the vast majority of which were influenced mainly by Public Enemy. Many young adults and teenagers from marginal communities and former African colonies (our democratic revolution, in 1974, hadn’t been that long ago) identified with the strong sociopolitical themes. Social inequality—racism and police brutality—were realities inherent to Portuguese post-colonialism.

In 1994, artists from Lisbon’s peripheral communities—particularly the Miratejo neighborhood—put together the first Portuguese rap compilation, which was hugely impactful. At the end of the ‘90s, DJ mixtapes started popping up, which were fundamental to the early underground movement. From 1999 onwards, artists began to release independent records, which led to names like Sam the Kid, Valete, Regula, Chullage, Dealema, and many others. In recent years, new generations have been influenced by trap and drill sounds. Over time, Portuguese rap and music from Lusophone Africa have also become increasingly interlinked. Today, rap is one of the most listened-to genres in the country and is also a dominant part of pop culture.

Ricardo Farinha |© Inês Costa Monteiro

Q. How did you initially become interested in Portuguese hip-hop?

A. I grew up in Queluz, a largely Afro-descendent neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon that has always been closely linked to Portuguese rap. During my childhood in the early 2000s, Portuguese rap was already on the radio and television: names like Boss AC, Da Weasel, and Sam the Kid. My parents are pretty liberal; artists like Da Weasel were always on around the house. So I was a listener from an early age, and even though I went through a punk rock phase during my teenage years, I always followed rap. When I went to university to study journalism, the first publication I wrote for was H2Tuga, a rap promotion website.

Q. How did you become a music journalist?

A. I’ve always been very interested in music and culture, and likewise with writing. I didn’t intend to be a cultural or music journalist when I decided to study journalism at university, but I naturally went into this area because of my tastes. In my last year of university, I started an internship in the culture section of the magazine NiT and became part of the team at Rimas e Batidas, a digital magazine that I’m still part of. The journey was very organic.

Q. Can you talk a bit more about the contemporary scene?

A. It’s a very diverse scene; hip-hop has risen to the mainstream in Portugal in recent years. There are rappers closer to pop, and many others who are more alternative or remain focused on ‘90s sounds. As a result of our links with the former colonies, African influences have also been growing in Portuguese hip-hop, as has the use of Cape Verdean Creole. More than ever, Lisbon is the great center of all this. In recent years, most rappers come from its peripheries.

Q. Can you tell me about how this project came about? I’m struck by its ambitious scope.

A. I thought there was a need for a book that summarized the history and stories of the main names and trends in Portuguese rap, so I proposed the project to Penguin Random House Portugal. I knew that younger generations might not be aware of what had gone on before, but also that older generations might not know the new names that had emerged in the meantime. The idea was to provide a sense of scope, and not focus the book solely on rappers. It’s a book for enthusiasts, but also for the curious or the less savvy to discover stories and get a general idea of Portuguese rap, which has gained more and more prominence over time. But I really wish it had been a lot longer, honestly—there was more than enough content.

Q. I was struck by how beautiful Hip-hop Tuga – Quatro Décadas de RAP is —it’s full of fantastic images, and the layout is quite striking as well. Why was important for you to make a book that was visually engaging, as well as rigorously researched?

A. Hip-hop has such a distinctive visual aesthetic: the clothes, the videos, etc. This is such an important element of the culture that I always imagined the book with a strong visual component. I love photography, and I thought it was another way of telling the story, illustrating how styles have changed. I have several books of this kind on my bookshelf at home, and I didn’t want Hip-hop Tuga – Quatro Décadas de RAP to fall behind in terms of design and visual quality. A big part of the work was collecting photographs for the book. Obviously, only a tiny percentage could be included. But it was one of the parts of the project I most enjoyed.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing the book?

A. I’d say the biggest challenge was reconciling my private life with my full-time job as a journalist and the long work that went into this book. It wasn’t easy, but it’s all been worth it, given the reception and feedback so far. For the rest, it was more a question of being patient and doing the work little by little, one step at a time.

Q. Where would you suggest someone start with Portuguese hip-hop?

A. It’s difficult for me to suggest that someone from abroad start here or there. I would say that the biggest name in Portuguese hip-hop is Sam the Kid, but it would be difficult for a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language to understand the excellence of his poetry. Given its characteristics, I don’t know if Portuguese rap is that exportable.

Q. Who are some contemporary voices that you’re particularly excited about?

A. I’d mention Riça, a rapper who released his first album this year, Diabos M’Elevem. He combines hip-hop with traditional Portuguese folk music and culture; it’s a very original record that could only have been made in Portugal.

Q. What’s next for you, now that the book’s out?

A. I’ll continue to write about artists, albums, and other projects regularly. And I already have other important projects in the pipeline aimed at looking back and celebrating the history of Portuguese hip-hop, which is something I’m increasingly interested in.


Jeremy Klemin is a Portuguese/American dual citizen who has spent extended periods living in Portugal and Brazil, where he was a Fulbright Fellow. He has written for publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic, which recently published a piece by him about Portuguese Americans. He was recently a FLAD Lusophone Fellow at the Disquiet Program, and has also written about Portuguese music for publications like VICE’s i-DBandcamp, and HighsnobietyOccasionally he has translated literary works from Portuguese.


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