Conscious lyrics, heavy bass, and a big fuck you to Fidel were all in order for El' B's set at Calle Ocho 2015.
The Cuban rapper, who is also a member of Los Aldeanos, performed an hour-plus set, showing the dexterity to rock it a cappella, turn the crowd into a wild arm-waving mass, and drop Biggie references all over the joint.
We caught up with El B after the show, just before he hopped into an SUV bound for SXSW in Austin, Texas. Here's what he had to say about keeping it real, freedom of speech, and what happens when Fidel Castro dies.
New Times: Wassup, yo. Great set!
El B: Que bola.
What brings you here today?
This is my first opportunity to be at or perform in the Calle Ocho Festival. I am proud to be representing here. This is the first time there is an independent rap artist from Cuba performing here, and ya tu sabe, I'm representing hard.
Were you invited? How did you end up here?
I came like eight months ago by invitation, and now I'm here with this opportunity, and I did my thing.
What do you think about the new state of affairs between the U.S. and Cuba?
Well, I am a musician, and my message is about the force of the fight for the people. I don't get political for one side or the other, because I don't believe in either side.
What do you think about Calle Ocho?
It's a festival for the people with free entry where the artists come and perform. Nobody has to pay a cover charge. And it's a great opportunity for artists like me to get in front of the masses.
In your country, can you do stuff like this?
In my country, it's been years since we could do a concert.
What do you think of all the people here knowing your lyrics?
Bueno, there are a lot of Cuban people here, and Latin American people here, and thank God the music has traveled far enough that people know it. And I'm always grateful for that.
You had a song about keeping it too real, or trying too hard to keep it real; what did you mean by that?
Some people think that being real in hip-hop means always being underground. But for me, being real is more than that. For me, being real is being sincere. Simplemente sincero. A sincere state of mind, where whatever it is that you speak on, whatever you represent is your actual reality.
When did you start with listening to Biggie Smalls?
When I was about 12 or 13 years old.
The people here wanna know why you don't move to Miami.
I want to move here. I want to bring my family here. Because in Cuba, I cannot work, and I have a son to take care of. I have a family to take care of, and this is what I do.
Do you think that Americans take the right to free speech for granted?
Well, when you come to a country where people have the legal right to free speech, there are people who use it for the good and people who use it just to talk shit. It's up to each person. You cannot generalize about the North American or the Cuban. There are North Americans who use it for a good cause, with force, for the necessity of the people, and others for bullshit. That's how it is everywhere in the world.
What do you think of free speech?
Everybody in the world has it. Everybody in the world has the right to say what they want to say, whatever message they want to spread. I am for all forms of liberty as long as they don't interfere with that of another person or put in danger the lives of others.
What does hip-hop en español mean to you?
The future of hip-hop.
What makes you say that?
Because it's the truth. You need to listen to hip-hop en español. When you listen to hip-hop en español, hip-hop from Cuba, hip-hop from Colombia, hip-hop from Venezuela, hip-hop from Latin America, hip-hop from Spain, that is when you will know that the future of hip-hop is hip-hop en español.
You wanna do a tour of all those countries?
Right now, I am in one of those countries, thanks to God, and if I get the chance to go other places, that is where I will be.
What do you think about American hip-hop?
American hip-hop is where it all came from. It is the main influence. But me, I represent hip-hop Latino, and the future of hip-hop is hip-hop en español.
Do you think that the spirit of American hip-hop is too much bling-bling and bullshit like that?
No, no, it goes back to what I was saying about the freedom of expression. There are those who talk about bling-bling, who talk about their cars, and those who speak consciously. It's all about what you wanna do with your talent. There are those who talk about the jewelry and their guns, and who live that way. And because they live it, that's their reality. And that's what real hip-hop is, speaking your reality whatever it may be.
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When you going to come back with your group here?
With Los Aldeanos? Whenever we get the first opportunity.
What song went the best today?
Today, the whole day is about Cuba libre. Viva Cuba libre.
What are you gonna do when Fidel dies?
When Fidel dies, I don't know if anything will change in Cuba because there are many people who stand with him, and it just goes from one hand to the next. From one hand to the next. So it's like he never dies. The tyranny dies in Cuba? But if what comes after it is just as bad, then it is what it is.