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By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter

MV Bill (left) and Fab 5 Freddy catch up at Circo Voador on Saturday night, photo by Erik Holm-Olsen.
MV Bill (left) and Fab 5 Freddy catch up at Circo Voador on Saturday night, photo by Erik Holm-Olsen.

RIO DE JANEIRO – A genuine legend of hip hop arrived in Rio last week for the tenth and final Hutuz Rap Festival. Since the late 1990s Hutuz has recognized and rewarded the biggest names in Brazilian rap, graffiti and break dancing but finally bows out this year, though it promises that “the train won’t stop”.

A long term associate of the Hutuz organization, over the years Fab 5 Freddy has been responsible for bringing some of the biggest names in American hip hop to these shores including Mos Def and Dead Prez, and was invited to host the awards and two subsequent events as part of the Rio Rap Festival 2009, supported by the US Consulate General Rio de Janeiro.

No stranger to awards shows – Fab produces the annual VH1 Hip Hop Honours – nor indeed hosting – his resume includes the pioneering Yo! MTV Raps and Wildstyle movie – he was in his element when The Rio Times caught up with him at his hotel getting ready to play compere once again.

“I’m over here with (long term collaborator and Graffiti artist in Fab’s Wildstyle movie) Daze for Hutuz and really looking forward to tonight. Hutuz was inspired by the conscious US hip hop of the late 80s and the message they still send to the people is strong.”

That late 80s rap scene was where Fab became a household name the world over, presenting Yo! MTV Raps’ weekend edition and fronting what has been dubbed the most culturally important TV show of all time. In an era where there was no black music on the channel except for Run DMC’s Aerosmith collaboration and some Jazzy Jeff hip-pop, the idea of syndicating a program featuring ONLY rap music to the entire MTV world was not just pioneering but revolutionary.

All of which leaves Fab in a unique position to be able to comment on the scene in Brazil he has supported since first arriving to present Yo! live from the Rock In Rio Festival in 1992, and just what the music represents.

“Brazilians instinctively picked up on the message from the conscious rappers like Public Enemy and KRS One in the late 80s. At a time when they were spreading James Brown’s message of ‘Black and Proud!’ in the US, so the oppressed Afro-Brazilians were reclaiming the previously taboo word ‘Preto’ (black) as a source of pride not shame.”

Without necessarily understanding every word, then, the message from America’s conscious rappers was strong enough to be understood in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and it resonated all the way up the hillsides of the city to find a home in the lyrics of the city’s own emerging rap culture.

“Brazil should not have people in favelas with no government assistance” Fab continues. “A country this rich in resources and with a hugely wealthy elite – that just shouldn’t happen.”

Fab in front of the famous Lapa Arches last week, photo by Erik Holm-Olsen.
Fab in front of the famous Lapa Arches before the show last week, photo by Erik Holm-Olsen.

The group Racionais MCs became million-sellers with albums like ‘Sobrevivendo no Inferno’ – ‘Surviving In Hell’ – and ‘Raio X do Brasil’ – ‘X Ray Of Brazil’ – and turned heroes for those living the lives about which they rapped. Coupling MTV Awards and collaborations with the Ministry For Education’s schools programs gave them a wider audience for the harsh reality of favela life which they represented, and that has changed little since they first arrived on the scene in 1988.

“There is a lot of wealth to go around, but tens of millions of Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people are eating out of trash cans or walking around with M16s. People don’t stop at red lights because they are afraid of carjacking, what is that?”

“That’s some ill shit, that has to be fixed and when the Olympics come I hope they seriously attack all those issues. If you want to be a modern player with other big players you got to handle your business… Don’t just put it under the rug.”

With that Fab 5 Freddy was off to Lapa to introduce his local friend MV Bill and Racionais MCs to the waiting crowds of Circo Voador. Fab is understandably outspoken about a scene in which he sees clear comparisons with America’s own struggle to accept rap music of which he was at the forefront.

It is the sound of a marginalized people fighting for survival, and with radio and record label support, look what happened to their music in the US…

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