Cuban music hits different. Whether traditional or experimental, Cuban artistry has long been cultivated at a unique intersection of politics, economics, Afro-diasporic heritage and a hefty dose of persistence. That unwavering spirit, the conscientious force that pushes Cubans forward despite formidable odds, is at the heart of incandescent hip-hop duo Company Yo’s new album, Quien Me Pone Stop.
Released today via foundational urban Cuban music label Guampara, Quien Me Pone Stop is an explosive collection of songs colliding digital trap beats and Afro-Cuban percussion to rapturous, culo-popping effect. The masterminds behind the record are Rositik and Ashlie, two entrepreneurial rappers who started the project in 2003 when each was performing in different hip-hop groups. Connecting over their powerful stage presence – beaming with energetic bars, stalking the stage like lions and turning the party all the way up – the pair decided to link up and chart new musical waters.
“We write about el barrio, society, about life, about what we’ve lived,” says Rositik, lead vocalist and musical director for the group. “I think every artist writes about their life and experiences, about their low moments so others can learn from them, and of the high points as well. In a way, Quien Me Pone Stop is about carrying that positive message in every moment and song.”
Prime examples of the album’s overarching exultation can be heard in tracks like “Yo Me Lo Gané,” a rousing four-minute epic about the band’s deep hustle, alchemizing blood, sweat and tears into hard won accolades. “Nadie me lo dió / pero yo lo sé / yo me lo gané” spits Rositik with the confidence of an artist that has seen talented contemporaries come and go, while she remains on fire. While “Yo Me Lo Gané” is an anthem of tenacity, the title-track is very much a gauntlet thrown at the feet of their colleagues, arguing that when others remained silent, Company Yo stood up and spoke out against social ills like gender violence and economic disparity.
“We always take on social topics,” says Ashlie, the main production force behind Company Yo’s fiery beats. “From the beginning we’ve combined rap and Afro-Cuban music, but these last few years we’ve been attracted to trap because it’s a different, more danceable medium. In Cuba, trap was marginalized because of its misogynistic beginnings, which are not tolerated here. So when we started out, a friend from Colombia even remarked ‘wow, Cubans transform everything and give it a message!’”
Perhaps the most ear-catching element in Quien Me Pone Stop is the transformative fusion of digital beat making and organic Afro-Cuban percussion. When Company Yo brought the album to Guampara, label head DJ Jigüe noticed traditional rhythmic flairs and encouraged they make it more prominent, later putting the pair in contact with longtime collaborator and percussion powerhouse El Menor. Songs like “Yo Me Lo Gané,” “En Silencio” and “AN2,” their latest single, are flooded with tambora, tumbadora and batá, creating a far more tactile experience and strengthening their bond to roots music.
Company Yo have become a vital force in Cuban urban music, looking out for their community as fiercely as they do their own artistry. Despite limited resources, the group self-produces all their music videos and over the years have assembled a small recording studio where they collaborate with emerging acts. They also organize a youth music festival called Creciendo En El Hip-Hop, where they work with children and teens to develop writing, performance and DIY production skills. And still, paying homage to el barrio remains a top priority.
“We have a commitment to el barrio because a lot of kids look up to us,” reflects Ashlie, “so we’re demonstrating that through our culture, through rap and hip-hop, we can help people. A lot of Cuban artists don’t realize that remaining local they can become more international. Since our options are limited, people often think that leaving we can achieve something we think we want, only to realize that working with our own music and sounds is how we’ll be as successful and far reaching as our predecessors.”
“We want El Barrio to remember us,” adds Rositik, “for it to love us how it sees fit. We’re always proud of our barrio.”