In 1991, when LL Cool J dropped perhaps his most popular track, "Mama Said Knock You Out," he famously opened with the lines "Don't call it a comeback/I've been here for years." The members of Orishas — a highly influential Cuban rap group that made a name for itself with songs like "A Lo Cubano" and "Represent" — aren't ashamed to call their return a comeback. After all, they've been out of the game for nearly a decade.
The last the world heard from Orishas was 2009. Seven years is a long time to be silent, but bandmates Yotuel Romero, Ruzzo Medina, and Roldán González are speaking up again and making some glorious noise with their latest single, a love song to their native island, "Cuba Isla Bella." However, it begs the question: Why reunite now?
"I know it's strange, but it was a decision we made last year," frontman Romero says. "With all the work I had done with people like Ricky Martin and Chayanne, Sony afforded me the opportunity to start my own record label. I wanted to sign a Cuban product that I believed in. So I went to Cuba looking for an artist that combined traditional Cuban music with hip-hop. When I got there, I realized that what I was looking for was Orishas and that it was looking for me too. I thought, What the fuck? I grabbed the phone, called Ruzzo, and said, 'Hey, are you ready to restart?' He answered, 'I've been waiting years for this phone call.'?"
If it sounds like the bandmates were estranged, that's exactly the case.
"We didn't speak for seven years. When we broke up, we broke up," he says. "It was about as final as final gets. However, the beautiful thing about our friendship is that when I called Ruzzo and Roldán, it seemed like it had only been two days since we last spoke."
Orishas is setting out on a string of dates across the U.S. throughout August and early September. The year will culminate in a very special performance in Cuba, where they will perform a set list containing both old-school hits and several new jams from an upcoming record they plan to release in 2018.
Though some of their music has changed, one thing that hasn't is the cockiness and swagger associated with most successful rap artists. Romero isn't afraid to critique Cuban hip-hop as being a lesser version of what it was in the past and boast of Orishas' role in the grand scheme of things.
"Good [Spanish-language] hip-hop has disappeared. It turned into reggaeton and disappeared. Orishas is here again to rescue hip-hop."