Don’t Sleep on Brazil’s Febem & His Latest Contribution to a New Wave of Brazilian Hip-Hop

Photo by Jef Delgado. Courtesy of the artist

It’s hard to keep track of Febem’s music endeavors. If he were to have only a couple of yearly releases and loose tracks, any Google Alert would do the trick. Febem’s sound, however, has had a few alter-egos in the past few years. From performing as house DJ Young Clubber to his 2020’s game-changer grime EP BRIME, the Brazilian artist seems devoted to a personal quest of fusing different strands of MCing and beat-making in his own music. His latest project, Jovem OG, is a feat of this intent that boosts a recent wave of refreshing ventures in Brazilian hip-hop.

Released in April, Febem’s fourth album is his second joint-venture with production whiz CESRV. The album echoes their past releases with grime aesthetics or dancefloor beats and is debatably their best yet—like the late ‘90’s Lakers’ Kobe-O’Neal link or Brazil’s 1994 World Cup team powered by Bebeto-Romário. Febem fronts the 10 tracks with his husky, mellow voice as CESRV’s flaunts resourceful sonic tricks. When splitting the stage 50-50, they show an outstanding level of inventiveness.

An outstanding level of inventiveness.

“Sem Tempo,” a two-minute anti-rap interlude at the center of the album embodies the effect of that tight knot. After the soulful intro by Brazilian R&B rising singer Jean Tassy, CESRV gradually paves the way with rhythmic layers that fill the void left by the track’s plaintive piano arpeggios. The build-up leads you to the grainy, cold bassline that storms in after Febem’s first bars. He rhymes with a nostalgic tenderness tainted by rage while reversed 808 kicks and snaky clicks uphold his voice. The air is so thick one can touch it, and the rapper leaves a reverberated punchline floating over the unfinished beat: “Mó saudade do dinheiro,” “How I miss the money.”

Jovem OG‘s lines are charged with Febem’s notes to antagonists that have followed him since his childhood, such as racism and the all-eyes-on-me feeling that lurks his rising hip-hop career. Avoiding a pointless boasty pumped-chest, he moves away from the braggadocio and shameless dissing and opts for pinpointing jabs. In “Crime,” he ties cancel culture to surviving the police brutality in Brazilian underprivileged neighborhoods. He rhymes: “Esperam eu ser cancelado, mas eu só cancelo a estatística.” That is, “They’re hoping I will be canceled, but me, I cancel the statistics”. Cracking a smile at the tokenization of rap, “Me Paga” draws from mumble rapping and horrorcore beats; it also features BET hip-hop nominee Djonga—whose delivery sounds stronger here than in some of his last songs.The “less is more” motto stirs CESRV’s work all over the album

The “less is more” motto stirs CESRV’s work all over the album. Ranging on a quite-thinned set of samples, virtual synths and sequencers, the beats hold coherence while Febem drifts on flashy trash-talk or stories about overcoming the odds against him. It’s a nuanced amalgam that encompasses phonk clipping kicks, hints of footwork and crispy drums. There are even afrobeats flavors in tracks like “Marcha,” the album’s least punchy track despite the welcomed arrival of Vulgo FK and his Roddy Rich-like melodic singing.

Photo by Jef Delgado. Courtesy of the artist
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Jovem OG also displays a ferocious attempt to bend baile funk towards the future. “Balla” is a post-baile song inspired by São Paulo favela parties that pulls up hollow intervals, sinuous bass lines and berimbau’s chords that have been turned into rhythmic stomps. On this song, the duo teams up with Mu540 and Kyan—another Brazilian hip-hop tandem to have on your radar. This particular track can only be compared to other recent baile experiments like Brazilian MC Marabu and his opera funk album FUNDAMENTO.

The “less is more” motto stirs CESRV’s work all over the album.

Almost every featured artist in Jovem OG is signed to Ceia Ent, one of the most up-to-date platforms in Brazil’s hip hop landscape. Overall, the label’s effort in pulling its commissioned artists to the streaming frontlines pays out. When the Brazilian-Nigerian twins Tasha and Tracie hold the mic in “Área de risco,” they depict a party-to-be and the rift between rich neighborhoods and favelas in São Paulo. With a harsh voice and consistent metric, Tracie sounds like AZ in Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch;” suddenly, the supporting role is just as good or even more powerful than the leading act.

Photo by Jef Delgado. Courtesy of the artist
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It would be a long shot to say that Jovem OG represents the peak for these two artists, although it did bring a sharpness in Febem’s nimble lyricism and CESRV’s keystrokes. Rather, the album is a successful concoction of persistent creativity and fair-minded disdain. As he turns his back to copy-paste rap, Febem is not ashamed of performing as an MC. It’s an oxymoron incarnated not only by the album’s content but also by its title: Jovem OG—a blend of Brazilian Portuguese and London’s slang that literally means “Young Old Gangsta.”