Fighting for Hip Hop in Southern Spain
Lasyra and Pejota are a hip hop duo from Córdoba in southern Spain. Previously working as solo artists, they first joined forces in 2013 on “Espejismos” (“Mirages”) off Lasyra’s 2012 solo album Pudriéndose En Oro (Decomposing into Gold). That paved the way for Subestimados (The Underestimated), their first full length release as a group. On Subestimados, Lasyra’s increasingly sharp rhymes and vivid flow proved instantly compatible with Pejota’s cinematic beats that harken back to street symphonies of 90s-era New York hip-hop.
Their latest is 2014’s Checkmate, which consolidates and expands upon the strengths of their debut from the previous year, most notably on the tracks “Abracadavre,” “La Plaga,” and “El Estercolero.” The songs form an anti-conformist attack on the stereotyped version of reality promoted by current society, hip hop culture, and the mass media.
Already at work on their third collaborative project, we spoke to Lasyra and Pejota about their career trajectory, their thoughts on the role of music as an agent of social change, and on the role of women in Spanish hip-hop.
PALOMA + WINSTON: How did you first get into hip hop?
LASYRA: I started rapping when I was 12. I had written poems here and there, but nothing that went to a beat. Writing made me feel like I was opening up mentally and that I could express all my doubts about things I wasn’t cool with. And so, when I did it for the first time over a track, it was something new, like a way to shout or to let go that I found completely fulfilling. I think all people should seek out a form of self-expression, and rapping was mine, and I began to establish myself and to develop depth in this genre of music.
PEJOTA: I was steeped in hip hop as a break dancer and graffiti artist from when I was 12 until the age of 21, which is when I started learning how to make beats. I had musical training from music school and from the local brass band, which was really helpful, and my formal music background in combination with my training in hip hop culture allowed for a learning process that bore fruit relatively quickly.
How did you guys decide to form your group?
L: I met PeJota online. He had heard something of mine, and we started to talk a lot. We shared the music we were making with each other, shared our opinions about each other’s work, and one day I asked him if I could use one of the beats he had shared –which Iended up using for the song “Espejismos.” Later on, he asked me to participate in one of his projects called “FIELES 1,” and from that we began to jive musically, which just led to us starting the group.
PJ: That’s right. I got Lasyra to do the first song that I did on “FIELES 1,” a posse cut with various MCs. After that we kept in touch and decided to do something together, and four years later, we’re working on our third project together.
Your video for “Abracadavre” really caught our attention for its pretty explicit violence. What did you want to get across with this clip?
L: The “Abracadavre” video was incredible to make. We wanted to convey a critique towards the public for its fetish for violence as spectacle. This is reflected in the video by the theater in which one person is being tortured while everyone watches expectantly. Of course, the video ends with a twist.
Where do you find inspiration, and how do you guys normally work together?
PJ: You never know when inspiration is going to hit. One day, you can work away at a track without making anything halfway decent for so long that you just end up walking away in frustration. The next day, you might hear something you can sample, something that speaks to you, and you start looping it or chopping it up, and in a few minutes you’ve got something that sounds good. When I’ve got a good track, I send it to Lasyra, and she decides if she wants to use it, and her choices give shape to the project, like a puzzle with respect to how the tracks fit together.
Do you see your art as a way to speak out against social contradictions or social problems?
L: The great thing about art is that it can be as immense as your imagination, and within that there’s room for both speaking up about social issues as well as for keeping things in the personal domain. With rap, we can’t lose sight of having a protest message about the world around us–that’s what produced the genre in the first place.
PJ: It’s one of hip hop’s reasons for existence, even if it’s almost extinct nowadays. But it’s one of our principles: we always try to transmit a message or to say something to whoever is listening to us. Here in Spain, rap is in a vegetable state except for a few artists, and this social element inside of rap has almost disappeared.
With rap, we can’t lose sight of having a protest message about the world around us–that’s what produced the genre in the first place.
How deep an impact can those political messages have?
PJ: I think our music can help people think about the society that we live in, about the injustices that we face everyday, and about how rotten our country is politically. For us, it lets us blow off steam, but if we could reach a wider public, I think people would like it. Of course, not all of our songs are focused on these goals, but we always try to strike a nerve with what we do.
Are women well represented in Spain’s hip hop scene?
L: People on the outside of the community think there are only a few women, but on the inside you notice that there are quite a few female rappers and that they are neither better or worse than the men. Skill has nothing to do with gender. Maybe female rappers have less notoriety, but this is part of a general cultural ignorance about rap in Spain. I’ve been in situations with people who don’t listen to rap, or who maybe listen to three or four rappers, and they think it’s weird to see a woman rapping, but this is because they haven’t looked past the surface of things. The media is also at fault for this lack of awareness in Spanish rap.
PJ: I have to good fortune to be able to say that I’ve worked with many women who rap. Sadly, in Spain, women MCs are still viewed as a curiosity, but it’s starting to be seen as more and more normal, and more women are being inspired to pick up the mic. From my point of view, they rap better than the men a lot of the time.
What differences do you see between hip hop in Spain and rap in the U.S.?
PJ: There are so many. We’ve never had a solid rap industry here. We’ve always lived rap according to absurd clichés which, fortunately, I think are finally being overcome. The media, as always, spread misinformation, and society has never really accepted it, since they always connected it with drugs and living a bad life. It’s really hard to make a name for yourself here, and there aren’t many ways to get your stuff out there beyond uploading it to YouTube. Nevertheless, I’m committed to always sharing and supporting any growth that represents true, authentic hip-hop, which is still made in this country, even if it’s only by a few people, and I will always fight for it tooth and nail.
What do you have planned for the future?
L: We’re working on a new project, and we want to release the music with videos as well. The new project will be innovative in all senses, since Pejota and I have really wanted to evolve in order to give it a different vibe, without losing our personal style. We must always keep working on new projects and moving forward with the music we make, regardless of the consequences.
PJ: I always try to pursue my own style, constantly looking for the next step forward. In general, right now, I’m very disillusioned with the majority of the people that I’ve worked with, and I don’t really see the love and togetherness in the culture that there used to be 15 years ago. That might sound like a drag, but we’ve been doing this for four years now, and we’ll keep fighting for many more. Thank you for this interview since it serves us as a mouthpiece. And remember that our third project will be out by the end of the year on our site. Un saludo y gracias.