$1,99 – A Filial
Every semester one of my students will send me a link, inevitably to something by Nas, in order demonstrate what good lyrics are. To which I respond: I take it as an insult you think I dont know who Nas is. And please do not talk to me about lyrics until you know who Bob Dylan and Walt Whitman are. I am tricking them into learning by having them defend a thing they love to an opponent who will never be convinced. Forcing people to re-examine their tastes, predilections, and beliefs is one my jobs. Even though I always play the contrarian, each semester I hope some 19-year-old snot will send me a link to a rapper who isnt ersatz, redundant, and derivative. Every semester I hope one of my students will send me a link to a group like Brazils A Filial. Their first U.S. album, $1,99, is one of those rare diamonds in the rough hip hop fans can use to defend their genre as art. Problem with that argument is it doesnt account for the bulk of rap albums that are boring and childish at best.
But A Filial does not have to defend all of hip hop. All they have to do is channel their city, Rio de Janeiro, make strange, fascinating sounds with the Portuguese language, and lay down tasteful, unique beats. Listening to the album, named for the Brazilian equivalent of the 99 Cents store, one imagines the famous statue Christ the Redeemer sailing high above Rio. Flamenco guitar, Latin American flute, and classic jazz are mashed up to form an inimitable sound that calls up the history, culture, and joie de vivre of Rio. Granted, I cannot understand what they are saying most of the time, but it has made me realize the message of so much rap—Smoking marijuana is fun. Women are purely sexual objects. I will strike you down with my pistol if you insult me—is not necessarily the problem. Though most rappers are in need of a subject change, it is the sound of their words that is so grating. When A Filial rap, they find a perfect balance between flowery possibilities of their language, and the harsh reality of life in a favela, a Brazilian ghetto. When A Filial rap, they are as creative as they wanna be. When A Filial rap, the world will listen.