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Adriana Aristizábal Headshot

Rap, Nas, and Medellin

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This year, the Tribeca Film Festival impressed us with the documentary Time is Illmatic, the story of Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, or Nas, the American super star and rap creator in the '90s.

Tribeca paid tribute to the musical icon exactly 20 years after the debut album that would give him worldwide fame.

Nas grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York, a place where it was common to hear shootings every night, where individuals sold and used drugs on the streets without any control.

As a teenager he left school and began to frequently hang out with friends at the Queens Bridge. He began to sing verses and experimenting with sounds without musical instruments.

To expand his repertoire, Nas studied the dictionary and found thousands of words and began using in his verse and in his music. In the 90's the experiences and stories of his friends inspired many of his famous songs.

Over the past two decades, rap has become a global musical stream, a strong cultural bridge that connected New York with United States and South America. Through rap, youth expressed themselves and their dreams.

This form of urban music being sung in verse and scratching vinyl tracks, has come to the streets of Colombia. The group Los Hijos del Norte shows us how rap has managed to penetrate the youth who have been exposed to serious social problems marked by poverty and insecurity.

The process of adoption of rap in Colombia has come to create complex expressions as Afro hip hop, a mix of urban beats with sounds of instruments of African origin. The stories that inspired the songs are the result of forced displacement of black communities to cities such as Medellin, Cali and Bogota.

One of the reasons why rap has spread rapidly through the communities of cities like Medellin, is perhaps because this is a very cheap way of making music; for rapping, young people do not require expensive or sophisticated instruments, they just need the voice and an old vinyl to create a cocktail with a high content of real-life stories.

This musical style became a cultural revolution for youth living in La Comuna Trece a very poor neighborhood in Medellin Colombia, where 15 years ago paramilitary and guerrilla groups were fighting for territorial control.

Young people are exorcising their demons through rap, but the future for many of them is sadly truncated by bullets. During the last two years 10 rappers were murdered in Medellin and 63 more were threatened.

According to local authorities, the killings occurred because young rappers have refused to become part of criminal gangs. The last case that rocked the city of Medellin was the murder of Juan Camilo Giraldo a child 14 years old, who belonged to the group Seeds of the Future.

The story of the famous rapper Nas is a similar story and inspiration to thousands of musicians that are rapping today in the streets of Colombia. These young people dream of playing for fame and to emulate one of the largest revolutionary music idols of this century.