Karol Conka
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Karol Conka

Curibita, Paraná, Brazil | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Curibita, Paraná, Brazil
Established on Jan, 2014
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"Karol Conka Sparks an Afro-Brazilian Bass Rap Revolution"

HE FUTURE OF BRAZILIAN HIP-HOP SPELLS KAROL WITH A K
4
By Marlon Bishop
March 11, 2014
When Lauryn Hill was laying down The Score with the Fugees back in 1996, she probably couldn’t have imagined that, thousands of miles away, her rhymes would one day convince a teenage Brazilian girl with big hair and bigger ideas to pick up a mic.

Karoline dos Santos Oliveira, alias Karol Conka, discovered Ms. Hill in high school and was entranced. “I had been wanting a black artist to model myself after. In a lot of ways Brazil is a really racist country, we had a real lack of black artists to inspire us when I was growing up,” says Karol in a phone interview from Brazil. “Listening to Lauryn gave me self esteem. She made me realize I could be a MC, singer and songwriter all at once.”

Over a decade later, Karol is still holding that mic and doing dangerous things with it. Her debut EP, Batuk Freak (released in 2013 in Brazil and due out internationally in April this year), is easily one of the most revolutionary records to hit the Brazilian rap scene in year. Produced by Nave ­­— the producer so ubiquitous these days you could call him the Brazilian Timbaland — the record pairs speaker-busting trap breaks with big Afro-Brazilian percussion samples, laying a foundation that is minimalist and heavy at once. It’s topped off with a synthy, electo-rap sensibility that wouldn’t be out of place on a Drake record, and Karol’s incomparable flows. It’s an album that sounds like global bass and local hip-hop at the same time.



Karol hails from Curitiba, a city in the South of Brazil that she describes as “European-minded” and “very conservative.” Curitiba is known within Brazil as an unusually orderly place, where the buses run on time. Karol says her colorful fashion sense makes her stand out in her hometown — bright neon leopard prints, big jewelry, cropped pink hair. (When I asked about her style icons, she pointed to M.I.A., Santigold and Rihanna) “People think I’m weird when they see me in the street, and I like that,” she says.

Being different has been a theme in Karol’s life since the beginning. She earned the nickname Karol Conka in grade school, ever since a teacher started calling her “Karol com ka” (“Karol with a K”) to differentiate her from the other Carol in her class. When she started rapping as a teenager, she held on to the moniker. She didn’t know anyone in the local hip-hop scene at first, so she started going to shows by herself. She would doggedly introduce herself to any rapper she could find, until they eventually started asking her to open for them. She started a group called Agmenon with MC Cadelis and Cilho and released a few solo mixtapes, steadily earning respect in the underground.

When it came time to produce her first true solo album, she wanted to try something new. “I’m very eclectic in what I like, and I like to explore things I haven’t done yet,” explains Karol. “And I never did something like mixing rap with electronic music before.” For the beats, she sought out Nave, who had done Brazilian-tinged hip-hop beats for Emicida and Marcelo D2, two of the biggest names on the scene today. They worked closely on crafting the Batuk Freak sound together.

In addition to the electronic vibe, it was important for Karol that to have an Afro-Brazilian sound. After all, her grandmother is from from Bahia, the heart of black culture in Brazil, and she wanted to pay tribute to her family background. It may seem like an obvious move to make beats out of Brazil’s rich musical heritage, but it actually hasn’t been all that common in the local hip-hop scene. Early on, producers tried to reproduce the sound of American rap as much as possible, and those funk and soul-oriented beats have remained the preference of hardcore hip-hoppers in the scene.

Of course there have been exceptions — especially Rio de Janeiro’s Marcelo D2, who made his career mixing rap and samba, drawing connections between two distant styles born in black communities. But Karol takes Marcelo’s Afro-centric concept and goes straight to the source. Instead of sampling tidy samba tracks, she’s working with unpolished recordings of raw, deeply African sounds from Brazil’s Northeast. On “Gandaia,” she takes the “Eastern flute” rap trope from songs like Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” and flips it with the traditional Brazilian pifano flute bolstered by big-room synths. Or there’s “Vou La,” where she takes a rough vocal from Northeastern repente music and chops it up, trap-style.



Karol is messing with the status quo lyrically as well. Brazilian rap, since its beginnings in the working-class outskirts of São Paulo, has been hyper-political ­— even borderline militant at times. Rappers generally focus their bars on the country’s many social ills. Karol says she’s a big fan of protest rap, but heavy-handed activism isn’t her personal style. “I try to make rap about happiness and about self-esteem. It’s really another type of protesting in my own way. It’s protesting against depression and feeling insecure,” says Karol.

Karol says she’s heard criticisms of her music from old-schoolers — that her music isn’t serious enough, or that she’s not respecting the Brazilian rap tradition. Newer artists like Emicida have come under fire for similar reasons. “But if they think that, they haven’t really been listening to what I’m saying. And I don’t want to be a prisoner of what’s already been done. I’m trying to innovate,” she says.

Part of that innovation is turning an ear to progressive sounds from abroad. The girl who once rapped along to Lauryn Hill in her room now cites Beyoncé and Mykki Blanco as references in the same breath. And despite the old-school naysayers, she’s starting to get noticed in a wider sphere. Batuk Freak earned a mention on a number of “Best of 2013” lists in Brazil, including Rolling Stone. Her single “Boa Noite” is featured in the FIFA 2014 game and was nominated for an MTV Brazil award. She’s collaborating with the likes of Buraka Som Sistema, and has tours planned in Europe and the UK.

If this buzz leads Karol to blow-up in a major way, she’s ready for it. Hip-hop has always been an underground culture in Brazil, but Karol doesn’t see why it has to stay that way. “As long as I could keep my concept and my own personality, I’d go mainstream,” says Karol. “I don’t raise the flag of the underground. The only I flag I raise is for freedom. So I’ll go if they call me, but in my own way.” After all, she’s no ordinary Carol with a C. - MTV Iggy


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Bio

Originally from Curitiba, Brazil, Karoline dos Santos de Oliveira, aka Karol Conka, first stepped foot on stage, and started her rap career at age 17, while participating in her school music competition. She won the competition. Today, almost ten years on from her stage debut and after years of hard work and underground grinding, the rapper, singer and songwriter influenced by Brazilian Pop Music (MPB) and who once dreamt of being like Lauryn Hill is fast becoming one of the most distinctive voices of the modern Brazilian hip hop scene.

Karol has gained national recognition and status with a nomination at the 2011 Brazilian MTV Awards for the video of her soul influenced single Good Night as well as performing internationally with Brazils hip hop legend, Marcelo D2 on numerous occasions.

Karol released her first ever music video with the company of Nave, which was released in August 2012. Karol was later featured in electronic artist and producer, Boss In Dramas electro single, Toda Dioda in April 2013. Her videos have over 2 million plays on YouTube, thus proving her widespread appeal.

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