It’s what Rio-based rap trio Pearls Negras used to be called, in their nascent stages, in 2012, after they met at drama school and formed a crew: Mari, Jeni, Alice. They lost a member—Andressa, Alice’s sister, who decided she didn’t want to rap—but they kept at it, and did what all teen girls do, which is record themselves practicing their talents:
God, I wish I had the tapes of the dances I made up when I was 15. But I am old, and Pearls Negras are young, and the above recording is from 2012. In December they dropped a mixtape via Bolabo Records, which is run by Jan Blumentrath and David Alexander, who also produce their beats. (I met Alexander in 2010 when he was producing for Dominique Young Unique and I was conducting her first interview ever; he also helped produce for Yo! Majesty.) I wrote a little background on Pearls Negras for Rolling Stone here, because they are fantastic. H/T: MYSELF. That RS piece is the most contextually informative, but here’s the rest of our Q&A, conducted via email via translator, because I don’t speak much Portuguese and they don’t speak much English. My questions are extremely basic, because I am (and the world is) just learning about them, but I thought they were background-informative enough to put out there, and: I LOVE their confidence and self-assuredness.
You met at a theatre company, is that true? Describe the program and how you knew you would be friends and make songs together?
Alice: It all started in the theater here called “Nos do Morro” where we were acting, singing and taking drama classes. We took a rap class at the theatre with Jackie Brown, who is a well known rapper here in Rio and she began teaching us rhyme classes.
Mari: That day I brought two songs from my father (Claudio Valadares), who is also composer, and Alice brought her own lyrics with her, because she was already into writing songs and playing with rhymes. In the class the Jeckie taught us to rhyme, to understand better the concepts of rapping and making music, helping us to write better words and after a while we started taking it more seriously. Then Jennifer showed up and we invited her to sing a cover of a song by Panteras mc’s with us and we voted to keep her in the group! :)
-What types of music have you grown up listening to? What inspired you to end up with your current sound? Have you been rapping your whole lives?
Alice: We haven’t been rapping since we were babies (laughs) we started only after we met Jackie. I always liked Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, which people always compare us to. And I also love also Rihanna, growing up I identified myself a lot with her.
Mari: I was already involved with music as a child because of my father who is a composer – like Alice, I also really love Rihanna and Beyonce.
-Why did you title your mixtape Biggie Apple?
Mari: It’s the name of the first song on the mixtape and it’s the most catchy song! It rocks and it’s super trendy in the nights haha. It’s very energetic and perfect for clubbing. The title Biggie Apple is about New York (how we call the big apple), just about a big place with energy and fun clubs. We would love to go to New York soon!
I don’t speak Portuguese, but I have read that your songs are an antidote to more traditionally misogynist lyrics in funk carioca. Is this true? (I can figure out some of it, but Google Translate only takes me so far, ha.)
Alice: Yes, female rap in Rio de Janeiro is not recognized very much and we struggle to gain a space here, our songs talk about many different things such as love, fun, parties, and about what is happening in society, about where we live and where we come from.
What’s it like in Vidigal? Is it important to you to reflect your life there?
Alice: Life in Vidigal is wonderful for us, because we are here since we are tiny!haha, and it has a story for us in every little place of Vidigal. People like our music because here is a place of much talent, dance and music. We have actresses, singers, a bit of everything. So now people recognize that stuff that is made in Vidigal has quality and as such are very open to listening to new talent from here.
-How did you link up with the British Bolabo dudes?
Oh, yeah… this was our gig on Morro do Alemão. After the gig Jan from Bolabo approached us, he was very eager to talk to us and we did not understand a word! After we found a person to help the translation we arranged to meet him right here in Vidigal, where he was staying in an apartment.
Mari: We went but did not think it would be anything serious or that would record! We recorded between 7 or 8 of our songs right then!! And he returned to London. After a year him and David returned with the whole production team to make a music video that will leave now.
Alice, you are also an actress in novelas? How does working on TV affect your music group?
Alice: Well, it actually a little busy because of all the rehearsals, its sometimes hard to act as well, we want to give our best on the tour we have in March, so it gets a bit complicated for me, but I can conciliate both at the same time, cause I have focus and faith! I think it can happen to each of us actually, because we are all actresses…but so far everything is working out for us!
You’re doing a European tour this Spring, right? When will you come to the States? What do you have up next–and what do you want?
Alice: What we want is people to recognize our work, We want to mark our space so that people know who the Pearls Negras truly are and how much we have worked to get here. What we want is to rock! And have the success that we deserved and we are confident that we will achieve this! Yes we will be coming to USA soon we hope. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD