Ahead of Brazil’s Election, Emicida Talks About the Importance of Advocating for Social Justice

Photo by Juia Rodrigues.

On the top of the main stage at Lollapalooza Brasil on Mar. 26, 2022, Brazilian rapper Emicida urged young attendees to issue their voter ID and defeat President Bolsonaro in the Oct. elections. “Bolsonaro, go fuck yourself,” the artist shouted to the crowd, who went wild with the anti-Bolsonaro rhetoric that set the tone for the entire festival. Taking a stand through music has always been a premise for him. And when it comes to Emicida, one of the most respected and influential names in Brazilian hip-hop, the social effect of taking a stand is powerful. “When rap music ascends and reaches these prestigious places, rap artists will bring to the stages a perspective that is not necessarily aligned with the establishment,” Emicida tells Remezcla.

Days before the first round of the presidential elections that have split Brazil in two, Emicida sat down for further dialogue on the power of speaking up. He shares: “Our world view, our way of performing, [whether we] want it or not, like it or not, name it this way or not, will always be political. Specifically in this particular moment.” On one side, there are Brazilians who want President [and current candidate] Bolsonaro to remain in power, and on the other, those who wish for his office to end.

Amid the tensions of a politically-divided Brazil that gets ready to vote for its next president on Oct. 30, Emicida has been one of the most influential voices, using music as a channel to advocate for social justice. Through songs rooted in hip-hop but inspired by the essence of samba, Emicida speaks of love, agency, and hope while urging for a new Brazil. Ever since he started his career as a rapper, he has been driven by the urgency for social change. In the early 2000s, Emicida felt compelled to make hip-hop songs after listening to Racionais MCs’ “Sobrevivendo no Inferno” (Surviving in Hell) from 1997, one of the most remarkable Brazilian rap albums of all time.

Listening to it as a Black teenager from the outskirts of São Paulo’s capital put things under a radically different perspective. “‘Sobrevivendo no Inferno’ was the artwork that inaugurated the political consciousness about the reality that surrounds us,” he notes. “Many of us believed that the social issues were personal. For the first time ever, my generation understood that there were structural issues that were responsible for keeping us in the social places we were at.”

Emicida’s journey to becoming an advocacy rapper began at 24 when he released his first album, Pra Quem Já Mordeu Cachorro Por Comida, Até Que Eu Cheguei Longe, in 2009. A 25-song homemade mixtape, the debut LP was responsible for affirming Emicida’s very first single, “Triunfo” (Triumph), and he would soon be called “the Brazilian Jay-Z” by foreign newspapers. Under the independent record company owned by him and his brother, Fióti — Emicida’s career catapulted with acclaimed work that calls for social justice, particularly against racism — a flag he has raised throughout his entire career. 

In 2015, he made a trip to the lusophone African countries of Cabo Verde and Angola, which inspired his second album, Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa. Nominated for the 2016 Latin Grammy for “Best Urban Music Album,” the album launched “Boa Esperança,” one of Emicida’s famous tracks that scathingly exposes the class and race violence that forged present-day Brazil. Its music video features a domestic workers’ rebellion, turning a conservative bourgeois family dinner upside down.

Fighting the violence that shaped Brazilian society through music didn’t stop there. It gained new dimensions in Emicida’s work when he released AmarElo in 2019. Emicida says the album is a testament that “we can do more and better for humanity.” Featuring critically-acclaimed tracks that speak of mental health, structural racism, and the importance of community members looking after each other, and starring guest artists like Larissa Luz, Dona Onete, Pabllo Vittar, and the French duo Ibeyi, AmarElo went even further. To deepen the album’s message, Emicida launched a Netflix documentary in Dec. 2020 that reclaimed the vital contribution of Black figures to the formation of Brazil. 

When he speaks of AmarElo as an anti-racist project, Emicida recalls that, far from arbitrary, the erasure of Black people’s legacy from Brazil’s history is a consequence of an unfinished slavery abolition in 1888. The law, he echoes, “inaugurated absolutely no project for Black people.” He finds it embarrassing that “the slavery abolition document only has a single paragraph that goes along the line: ‘From now on, there is no more slavery in Brazil,’” he says. “It could have spoken of citizenship, access to land, dignity, education of Black people… The abolition of slavery could have become our foundational myth.”

With the progressive tone behind his lyrics, it comes as no surprise that, when he thinks of next Sunday’s elections, Emicida feels hopeful, but also worried. Considered one of the most important in Latin America’s recent history, these elections happen after a four-year-long Bolsonaro rule that has been marked by attacks against Brazil’s democracy and its institutions (including internationally-condemned violations against Indigenous peoples and Black people’s rights, the Amazon, workers, and women). 

“Art is what makes Brazilians dream and believe that reality can be changed.”

For Emicida, it is really no coincidence that Bolsonaro’s government has consistently attacked artists. “Art is what makes Brazilians dream and believe that reality can be changed. It is important to silence those who tell the people that things can be different,” he says. After closing the country’s Ministry of Culture in 2019, Bolsonaro has attacked artists and culture initiatives at least 178 times since then.

Nevertheless, for Emicida, there is something Brazil can not lose sight of. “The country that has birthed Bolsonaro is the same country that has birthed Paulo Freire, Milton Santos, and Elis Regina. We need to build a Brazil worth of Pixinguinha and Elza Soares,” he says, extolling Brazilians that have contributed or stood for a fairer society. 

Continuing, “This is the energy we need to use to give a further and better jump towards a different Brazil.”