Only hip-hop can save us… How do I say so? Well, it’s not apt for me to say. Actually this line is most suitable for the man who has used his craft to bring a world of difference. Not only that he has gained fame in the Brazilian hip hop industry but more importantly, respect and admiration of people across continents. Who is he? Let’s just call him MV Bill.
Although I am not a huge fan of hip hop, MV Bill (Alexandre Barreto), a rap artist from one of the most violent regions of the city of Rio de Janeiro (favela of Cidade de Deus), has earned my adoration. Why? Let’s just say that through him I’ve realized that being a Brazilian activist rapper can be a really cool thing after all.
Serving as the voice and inspiration for many, he had rapid growth supported by the idolization he has received from his community. He has been highly regarded as someone who brings a wider awareness of the inhuman conditions in some critical areas.
He refused to deliver his real name instead used MV, which stands for "Mensageiro da Verdade" (Messenger of Truth) as he has displayed his polemic attitudes - performing at the Free Jazz Festival 1999 with a toy gun at his waist. His music video for "Soldado do Morro" (December 2000) - in which he uses drug traffickers instead of actors as a criticism to the society's hypocrisy - instigated passionate debates, police investigation, and support of the country's Minister of Justice. Sounds cool? I think valiant is the more appropriate adjective.
As a little history, MV Bill debuted in the recording business with the collection in 1993. His first solo album in 1999, CDD Mandando Fechado, was already marked by his influential social criticism. He is also one of the founders of the Partido Popular Poder para a Maioria (PPPomar, Popular Party Power to the Majority), an Afro-Brazilian movement political party.
In 2000, the Brazilian activist rapper embarked on a tour of Brazil's shantytowns. A resident of the notoriously violent Cidade de Deus ("City of God") favela, he spent the next two years talking to teenagers of the slums about their hopes and frustrations in life. Out of the hundreds he spoke to, only 16 stood out as being particularly interesting. Bill shot a documentary footage of each one and compiled their stories for a book on favela life, called Pig Head. Today, all these 16 teenagers are dead.
"I was doing something no reporter could ever do," says Bill.
"When I go to the shantytowns to speak to the kids, I'm one of them, so they are completely honest with me. What struck me most was the hope that they all had. I had barely got back to Rio when I started receiving calls from the mothers of the teenagers to tell me that their children had been killed. My next project was to film all of the funerals. How can I be just another rapper going 'yo yo yo' after that?"
His Cufa organization has also provided basketball courts, computers and audio-visual equipments to give favela teenagers an alternative to drug dealing.
Meanwhile, with two more albums to pull up his sleeves, tour around the world and dates with the Fugees, MV Bill is becoming a spokesman for the people who pose problems for Brazil's authorities.
The rapper deems that the community needs rebuilding over long periods of time, and that people in the shantytowns need to be given opportunities. As for people without education like him, only hip-hop has the power to transform their situation.
It's certainly hard for you to imagine how a rapper dedicates most of his time and money into setting up shantytown youth clubs, and initiating awareness among teenagers, right? But it’s a change that Bill has done through his craft. As he would say: only hip-hop can save us…