Los Rakas, an Oakland-based hip-hop duo, have played in New York City before, rapping at the restaurant/concert venue S.O.B.'s on Houston Street. With no disrespect meant to the smaller establishment, the pair was fairly stoked to be playing the "big time" at Webster Hall, a larger and more "official" venue. It's similar to how the band's 2014 release El Negrito Dun Dun y Ricardo was the group's first on a major label, Universal Latino.
The duo's rise to prominence all fits into a theme that the cousins, Raka Dun and Raka Rich, have always promoted: Those who start low can finish high. "Los Rakas" is a play on the term "ratataka," a derisive term for those dwelling in the ghettos of the emcees' homeland of Panama.
El Negrito is a double album of sorts in line with Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, each member steering his own half and contributing to the other's. Rich takes a more R&B, "sexy" approach, while Dun's half focuses on the struggles of a Panamanian dealing with a new life in the United States. "Chica des mi Corazon" was written with his mother in mind, after he went more than a decade without seeing her post getting his green card in the United States.
But happier times are here to stay. Finding mainstream radio play for a Spanish-language hip-hop act in the United States isn't the easiest of tasks, but some performers have started coming to them, such as Oakland hyphy hip-hop icon E-40 and, oh yeah, Blondie.
Rich and Dun got a call one day requesting their services for the classic new wave group's new album and didn't believe it. They arrived at the studio, put down a recording and assumed it would never see the light of day. Then in May The Ghosts of Download dropped and Rolling Stone labelled "I Screwed Up," which featured Los Rakas' contribution, as one of the most interesting tracks of the year.
The moral: Always answer your phone. It may be Blondie calling.
Check out this week's Music Times Meets podcast to hear the group's narrative, mission, and to hear host Ryan Book butcher the song titles. He took Latin in high school and appreciates Los Rakas' patience with his Caucasian tongue.