Criolo, Brazil's first 'philosopher-rapper'

Bloomberg (of all places) has a piece on Criolo, a new Brazilian musician hitting it big this year, whose lyrics are socially conscious, and whose mum runs a philosophy cafe in the favelas of Rio:

Criolo, the 35-year-old Sao Paulo rapper, is ensconced on the cover of another fashionable magazine, this time, a glossy monthly called Trip that focuses on surf, street culture, music and scantily clad young women. The accompanying article sums up a good year for Criolo:

Author of the most praised album of the year, lionized by reviews and a devoted mass of fans, nominated for five Brazilian MTV Awards, crowded shows. Criolo is on top, there's no discussion.

There's no discussion that he's on top, but plenty of discussion about what Criolo's unique blend of musical genre-bending and powerful, socially conscious lyrics says about how Brazil's culture is changing. Criolo is fast becoming the first hip hop artist to cross into what's called musica popular brasileira, or MPB -- that is, mainstream pop success. But, as Trip noted:

His success is anything but sudden. He is just reaping the fruits of more than 20 years in rap and of 35 of a dedicated and improbable story of family education.

The magazine's cover features the rapper in front of a wall painted with a graffiti stencil of a wheelbarrow full of books. The painting is in the sprawling Grajau favela on the poor edges of Sao Paulo -- where Criolo is from and still lives. His interview accompanied a special about education in Brazil and was published alongside one with his mother, Dona Vilani, a teacher who runs the Philosophy Cafe in their favela. Criolo too, Trip revealed, was once a teacher:

I worked with children and adolescents for 12 years. It’s one thing to know about things that happen, another to be there. Because my function a lot of the time wasn’t to give classes, teach. It was on the street, to make the first approach, to create a link. To open a dialogue.

Creating dialogue is both a key theme in his music and a motivation. Criolo's songs do not shy away from controversial subjects like the inequality of life in a favela like Grajau. But his attitude toward communicating these subjects outside the favela is positive: pro-education, pro-understanding. On stage he holds up signs reading "More Love Please," praises his parents, and calls for the end of prejudice.

Philosophy is getting huge in Brazil - in fact, it's actually compulsory in Brazilian schools. Practical philosophy in South America tends to be much more socially conscious than in, say, the UK - less focused on tranquility, more focused on inequality and social justice. Anyway, check out Criolo in action (by the way, Bloomberg, this isn't hip hop, it's jazz. Seriously.)