As Chicago continues to get strong looks from the national music industry, there is a noticeable dearth of material from the city's large and vibrant Latino community. Rafael Navarro aims to change that.
Rapping under the moniker Scheme, he maintains a lyrical style that isn't out of place for fans of classic hip-hop from the East Coast. He differentiates himself by switching between Spanish and English with rapid-fire intensity. His new video for his song "La Clika," filmed between a Mexican rodeo in Elgin and the Mexican Independance parade last September in Pilsen, pays homage to his Mexican heritage and serves as a refreshing contrast to the traditional street/club narrative that dominates rap videos.
RedEye spoke to Scheme about his upbringing, the lack of support from the mainstream rap market and the perception of what it is to be a Latino rapper.
RedEye: What was your first experience with rap music?
Scheme: I'm a first-generation American. My parents came to America with a bag of clothes and my three sisters. My first language was Spanish. Between my sisters and school, I learned English. I was born in Humboldt Park, raised in Logan Square. I came up listening to rappers like Biggie, Nas and Big L. They definitely influenced my rap style and me even wanting to be a rapper.
Is there a specific difference between Spanish and English rap? Other than language, obviously.
I listened to English rap exclusively for a long time. Spanish rap is still not really evolved yet. By that, I mean you listen to older rap in English and rap now, you can notice an evolution when it comes to things like rhyme scheme and cadence. Spanish rap sounds dated still. The technicality isn't there yet and that isn't just Spanish, that's any other language being rapped in that's not English. You get a bit of dated rhyme schemes and flow and that's something I actively tried to update and change in my rap style. Look at "La Clika" for example. You aren't going to hear Spanish rappers over a trap beat. Stuff like that is missing in the Latin market. You have a lot of people who aren't being authentically themselves, and it's hurting the whole movement.
Even though you mention that you don't really listen to Spanish rap and are fluent in English, you have a tendency to switch between the languages while rapping. Is that an intentional choice or are you just wired that way?
I think all bilingual kids are like that. If I know you speak both languages, I'll fire back and forth between them and not even think about it. As for when I'm rapping, it's about the cultural references to me. I mean, just like anything you have your own experiences that only relate to people in your culture. There's certain stuff that I'm going to address in Spanish because I want to speak directly to the people in my culture who can relate to whatever I'm talking about at the time. I mean, the Mexican community has a lot of specific issues that are best translated that way, you know what I mean? I mean, I did this video with all the Mexican flags and all that because it felt right. I’m not going to be doing that in all my videos. I think people who do that all the time are corny. You can represent your culture without using it as a crutch.
Totally. It's code-switching. While we're on the subject, why don't you think Latino rappers aren't embraced more? Young Jeezy just did a mixtape reaching out to the Spanish market a little bit, why don't other rappers do so? Do you have relationships with other Chicago rappers out here?
Honestly? I say it like this: if (English-speaking rappers) were smart about it, they would do it. The market isn’t being tapped like it should be. Without a doubt. I think people are scared because they don’t know what to do with me. Let’s put money on it. If you’re good you’re good. I’ve got records with my dude YP, got stuff with the SaveMoney homies. I get props, but it’s at arm's length. They don’t know how to market it or willing to take that task. I’m like, 'why not?' The market is ther,e and kids are dying to hear someone like them.
Do you want to be the one that opens that door?
100%. There are too many Latinos out here. Especially the Mexican population. Spanish cats come to me and say they haven't heard a dude flow like this. Non-Spanish speakers are reaching out to me like, "I don't know what you're saying, but I'm definitely fucking with it." My movement is who I am. I’m not a drug dealer or gangbanger. I’m from the hood, and I'm holding it down for my culture.
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