It takes cojones to lyrically smack down Jay Z. But Problem Kids don't fear the Jigga Man. And they're not afraid of Fidel Castro either.
The six dudes of this Miami-based live hip-hop band insist that if they met that bearded despotic madman in the flesh, they would say nothing. Instead, they'd rely on pure physical brutality to communicate their message.
As for their fans, all Problem Kids hit them with is music. And with upcoming shows and a new studio album on the way, we here at Crossfade spoke with Problem Kids to find out about stacking chips, freedom of speech, and dying in jail.
Crossfade: How was it winning the Ultimate Miami Band competition?
Nick Lebess: That was at the Magic City Casino. We played two cover songs and an original for a panel of three judges and won $5,000. It helped us pay for our "My Ami" music video, and to go into the studio for our full-length album that'll be coming out this spring.
What kind of tracks will the record feature?
Christian Martinez: All hip-hop. Some songs are in full Spanish. Some are in Spanish and English, and it's just very diverse musically, because we have all six people in the band coming up with ideas for it.
Where do you record?
Omar Williams: We have a studio at the house, a studio up north called Artificial Memory, and one down here in Coral Gables called Studio 26.
What does the music sound like?
Christian Martinez: We speak how we feel. It's not bullshit. It's not just words that rhyme on a record. We tell stories. They might take time to decipher. But, like, damn, that's dope. It makes you think.
How did you get into rapping?
Mario Obregon: We were fans before anything. I've been listening to hip-hop since I was a little kid and my parents didn't want me to. We started recording just for fun, and people were like, "Yo, you should really do this!" It might have started as a joke, but when people liked it, we knew that if we took it serious, we could really do something with it.
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What else has the band done in the past year?
Nick Lebess: We put out "Useful Idiot," which was our response to Jay Z's trip to Cuba. And people really felt that song, 'cause it's real what our parents and our grandparents went through over there.
Does the band's Cuban heritage come up on the new album?
Bert Casanova: Yeah, we have a couple new songs about it. One is about Fidel Castro and how he treats the Cuban people. The world doesn't see it, but it's our duty as Cuban Americans to let the world know exactly how Cuba really is.
Mario Obregon: Bro, it's just very poor. And if you're not for the government, there's not much you can do out there. A doctor makes the same as a bus driver. The currency is worthless. I just went on a mission to work at a school. A can of Coke is $2, and a family makes like $20 a month. A can of Coke is a privilege. Here, we take it for granted. But there they have no rights.
What else makes you mad?
Eddy Davis: If somebody builds a school, the government can go and take it without hesitation. They can take anything from anybody at any time. People go there on vacation while the government is beating women. It's a beautiful country, but people only see the nice beaches, the old cars, and the pretty women on TV. They're stuck on an island.
How was the music?
Mario Obregon: They have no musical freedom. If it's not what the government deems right, they put you in jail. It's a touchy subject. A bunch of artists have been locked up with no food and are dying in jail for trying to achieve the freedom of speech that we Americans take for granted.
People do escape, though.
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Christian Martinez: Yeah, and it's infuriating that they have to. But at the same time, it feels good that my people came here with literally nothing but the clothes on their back and made something of themselves. That's why our music's not just about material things. It is what it is so that people can appreciate the struggle and connect.
Problem Kids. Thursday, January 30. Soho Beach House, 4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8 p.m. Call 786-507-7900 or visit sohobeachhouse.com.
Problem Kids. As part of Suenalo's Keep it Groovin' album-release party. Saturday, February 15. The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $18 plus fees via ticketleap.com. Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.