When was the last time you thought about baile funk? The genre had its cultural moment about a decade ago when a young Diplo, on assignment for the FADER, traveled to Brazil and wrote about the frantic dance music that got played a huge dance parties in the favelas. Later on, Diplo released a mixtape of the stuff, and the art-kid baile funk trio Bonde Do Rolê were the first act he signed to Mad Decent. There were a couple of fun compilations, too. But the brash, choppy Miami bass variant never really found its global breakthrough. You can still hear distant echoes of the sound in the music that Diplo and M.I.A., among others, are still making, but baile funk now rests somewhere next to electroclash and Swedish garage rock on the cool-genre rubble-pile. It didn’t go away, though, and kids in Brazil still need ways to blow off steam. I don’t know much about Pearls Negras, a trio of three teenage rappers from Brazil. I don’t know if they’re a straight-up baile funk phenomenon or a cannily marketed offshoot that’s being shopped to American and European tastemakers. They rap in Portuguese, so I don’t even know what they’re rapping about, though I’d guess that most of their lyrics are some version of “I’m awesome.” I do, however, know that their new mixtape Biggie Apple is a delirious 21-minute blast of energy, and I’m happy to have it in my life.
The two producers behind the mixtape, David Alexander and Jan Blumentrath, used to work with Yo! Majesty and Dominique Young Unique, two relative-novelty internet-famous rap entities that never really struck me as anything other than party-rap for people who don’t listen to party-rap. And maybe that’s the case here, too; maybe this is strictly dilettante-level baile funk. But as a baile funk dilettante, the whole things sounds, to me, like one big goofy lopsided grin. Trap-rave bubble-synths and foghorn bass-blurps and proudly cheap programmed snares are all over this thing, and it moves musically in a way that transcends whatever origin story it might have. The opening title track starts out with dinky keyboards approximating the theme from Jaws before exploding into an endorphin-rush dancehall track. “Mr. President” builds a snarling banger out of a sample of Big K.R.I.T.’s frustrated sex-talk on Wiz Khalifa’s “Glass House.” “O Futuro” seems to be built from nothing but drums and whistles and sirens, and it bangs. This is buoyant, fun music, and it doesn’t really matter what the producers’ background is, especially when it serves to lift up three vocalists who are this full of life.
At least according to what I’ve found online, the three members of Pearls Negras are between 15 and 17, and they all became friends at an after-school rap workshop. There’s an easy chemistry to the way they trade off lines, snapping back and forth between giddy rapping and tough-chick singing, each member stepping to the front or chipping in on backing vocals as the track demands. And even with fast, busy music like this, none of the three ever seems overwhelmed by the track. Instead, all three have commanding presences. They don’t just stay on top of the beats; they project breezy, snappy badass confidence all over them. When they try their collective hand at dizzy teen-pop harmonies on “Make It Last,” the sole dud here, it never clicks. But when they’re just rapping hard, as they do for the rest of the tape, everything they do is absolutely winning. And if they do turn out to be the Fannypack of baile funk, who cares? Fannypack were great!
Biggie Apple actually came out at the end of last year, but I’m just hearing it now, and I expect it to pick up more steam in the months ahead. And between this and DJ Angelbaby’s Baltimore club survey Get Pumped Vol. 2, this is turning out to be a banner year for for fringey regional dance subgenres that Diplo was into 10 years ago. If a great Detroit ghettotech tape comes along in the weeks ahead, the circle will be complete.
Download Biggie Apple here.