Moment Of Clarity: Rapper El B Starts Over After U.S. - Cuba Controversy

Moment Of Clarity: Rapper El B Starts Over After U.S. - Cuba Controversy

For the uninitiated, El B is one-half of rap duo Los Aldeanos and responsible for the growing hip-hop movement in Havana, Cuba. Born Bian Oscar Rodriguez Gala, El B alongside Aldo Rodríguez Baquero, became increasingly popular with the Cuban youth and beyond for exercising their freedom of speech at the expense of the communist government. Their songs, laden with complex rhymes and knocking rhythms, often criticized Cuba's centralized ruling and social setbacks. Back in late 2014, the lyrically brazen MCs were linked to a U.S. funded campaign aimed at forcing social change on the island. The sensationalized allegations were almost immediately debunked by El B himself via Facebook, declaring that "never has the Cuban government, much less the American government or any organization, paid us."

Fast forward to earlier this summer and El B is focused on building a solo career in the mecca for fellow exiles. "Living in Miami has opened many doors for me. For the first time in my life, I have a home studio and complete control of my work," the rapper told VIBE Viva exclusively. "I can be in touch with all of those who follow my music in a direct way through social media, something that I could not do living in Cuba."

El B, on the cusp of intercontinental stardom, credits hip-hop greats like Big Pun, The Notorious B.I.G., Talib Kweli, Nas and Cypress Hill. "I’ve listened to plenty of rap in English, even if I don’t sometimes understand fully what some of it is saying," said the 30-year-old. "But the true lovers of hip-hop praise it beyond its lyrics. The first thing that moves me are the rhythms, the flow, the music and its provocation overall."

If the burgeoning wordsmith is any indication of where rap culture is headed, it's apparent the future is carving out a space for hip-hop en español. VIBE Viva sat down with the Caribbean spitter to discuss past controversies, living out his musical dreams in the land of the free, and his latest single "Comienza de Nuevo (Start Over)."

VIBE Viva: What does hip-hop music represent in Cuba?
El B: It’s difficult to discuss hip-hop in Cuba, because the country’s very conditions do not allow for this type of music to emerge from the street, that constitutes the voice of many generations. First and foremost, everything in Cuba functions much differently from all the other countries. Everything is centralized, including music. It’s hard for the youth to dedicate themselves to something like hip-hop, so they end up abandoning it to work in something else. There is no diffusion of the hip-hop culture, in part because there is no money in it, and in part because of its lyrical content. TV and radio would practically be the only way to promote. There is no Internet. There are, however, many youths interested in hip-hop and trying to carry it out.

As an artist, did you have the liberty to say what you wanted?
Let’s say I took the liberty of saying what I wanted to say. I expressed my truth, which is the truth of many people on the island and around the world. Through the music, I made myself a free man, even in Cuba.

Viva Cuba Libre!!!!!!

A photo posted by EL B ️️️⬇️ (@elblosaldeanos) on

What controversies did you undergo?
Mainly not being able to perform in my own country. Not being able to reach the masses on the island, in places where my music is listened to. I lost a lot of people I considered friends because of their fear of the government. My music – due to gaining popularity not only in Cuba, but in Latin America – was subject to manipulation and controversy for many reasons: financial, political, mal intent, etc. But I gained a lot and learned from all the negativity.

Talk about what happened in 2014 when you were reportedly working with the American government to force social change in Cuba…
Only those who reported the news (AP via the Cuban government) knows what happened because they were the ones who published it. At the time, there was a lot going on in Cuba; they needed to compensate with something "shocking" such as this. At the time, I shared my opinion about it on social media which contradicted what was being reported. They spoke of the guy who sings with me and linked us to a secret campaign aimed at sparking social change. But I think it worked in our favor. Until that moment, we were invisible to the Cuban media, even though all of Cuba knew who we were and the youth listened to our music. Yet our popularity was used against us to make way for new relations with the U.S. government, who was always considered the worst of our enemies. Of course, there is a darker history that only they know, that we are not privy to. Those who know my music, know my sincerity.

What’s it like living in Miami, now? Do you have a new found freedom to record as you please?
On one hand, living in Miami has opened many doors for me. For the first time in my life, I have a home studio and control of my work. I can be in touch with all of those who follow my music in a direct way through social media, something that I could not do living in Cuba. I have been able to control my work directly, like all the other artists. On the other hand, nobody wants to have to live outside of their country. I’ve had to depart from my land, the Cuban people, my family, even my son for the time being. But it was impossible to travel and spread my music in Cuba, even though I tried. 

What’s the inspiration behind your new single “Comienza de Nuevo (Start Over)?”
“Comienza de Nuevo” is a subject matter that has had to do with this whole process of accommodating to a new time and place, but from a spiritual point of view. It encourages us to seek within ourselves the solution and force against any adversity. It serves as a motivational song for any difficult situation that stems from the human experience; We must "start over" after any setback. It is only a matter of finding the strength to do so, from within.

What do you wish to accomplish or realize with the new album, Luz?
Each album is a new challenge for me, but they all have a common thread in that they are all trying to give voice to the human being. To the people. To people like you and me. My music provides a positive message. Therefore, the greater purpose is to be able to translate this message to all. The title sums up the spirit of the record: let there be "light" to anyone who listens and can find a reflection, a word, an alternative to a better self. There is so much darkness in this world.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?
My music is my greatest legacy. As I mentioned earlier, most of my work contains an encouraging message, in the voice of the people. My topics talk about the reality of things, not only social, but of the reality of being human and individual. Many times I find myself recreating personal experiences, ones that many around the world can identify with. I can only hope that the message of my music will endure and be carried on for generations to come. That is the greatest legacy I can leave behind, because I know that something positive can and will happen for someone who listens.

Main Image Credit: Lyda Cao